Quirky Garden Art

Although nature always out-performs human artists, for millennia people have placed artworks in outdoor settings.  Some are just statements of wealth and power but the most effective are the ones that show a quirky sense of humour.

Hare sculpture wisley

My favourite (currently) is at RHS Wisley in the UK – Spring Hare – which is bursting with so much natural energy it demands a second look just to make sure it isn’t real.

The Eden Project in Cornwall, UK is renowned for making political statements via its sculptures and ‘outdoor exhibits’ and one that deserves the widest exposure is in defence of the Bee – pointing out that life as we now know it would’t exist but for the bumble bee.

Eden Project Bee

Water Birds sculptureOthers are less famous and deliver on a different level, sometimes with just a gentle charm like these waterbirds from a spring garden in the NSW Blue Mountains.

And it seems that all baby animals mimic their parents !

Two dimensional metal art is increasingly popular and allows the artist to express themselves with only a sheet of steel and a cutting torch – this cat and wren from artist Natalia Broadhurst being a good example of simple and amusing garden sculpture.

Cat and Wren sculpture

Most big ‘garden destinations’ (e.g. aimed at attracting large numbers of tourists) have embraced the concept to add to the entertainment factor.

Though there is one in the Loire Valley of France – Chaumont sur Loire that has crowned itself as the art capital of the garden world.  Their ‘International Garden Festival’ is a bit of a misnoma in that it is all about “Art” and just so happens to be outside.  However some exhibits could not be seen anywhere else.

Chaumont Wicker Houses

These Wicker-Thicket-Houses remind me of the wonderful children’s book by Maurice Sendak called ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ which was recently made into a superb film by Spike Jonez.

But no article on quirky garden art could conclude without the Lost Gardens of Heligan ‘Mud Maiden’.

Heligan Mud Maiden

The gardens themselves are a great place to visit delivering on so many levels, but it is perhaps the Mud Maiden that has become the icon of Heligan and the few thousand pounds it cost to commission has translated into hundreds of millions at the entrance gate.

Congratulations to creator/curator of Heligan, Tim Smit for re-envigorating quirky garden art.

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Claude Monet’s Garden at Giverny

Visitors to Paris will see some splendid ‘grand avenue’ gardens which celebrate the status of France in the modern world and are quite spectacular.  But for those who like their gardens to be a more romantic experience, you cant go past a short train ride to Giverny, just 45 mins west of the capital.

Giverney Artful BulbsThese are the gardens of the great impressionist master, Claude Monet who lived here for 43 years and now attract over half a million visitors a year.

Its a place he was drawn to and found so much inspiration that he stayed the rest of his life here.  Monet once said “I am first and foremost a painter and a gardener, I’m not much use for anything else.”  Well, we all know what a great artist he was and now we know what a great gardener he was too.

Giverny Flower BedsThese gardens are his creation, though he did have some assistance, and are split into two parts by a road (which is a pity but doesn’t detract too much).

Monet's HouseThe charming pink and green shuttered house sits at the top of the property with sweeping views down across the semi-formal gardens that are intensely planted and chock full of areas of delight and colour.

Daffodil at GivernyThe gardener teams put a lot of effort into selecting the most Monet-reminiscent colours and also pay great attention to detail while retaining a very casual feel for a formal garden.

Monet's LakeA small tunnel takes the visitor under the road to the lake – probably one of the most famous pieces of water in the world, thanks to the great works of art that have been inspired here.

Monet's StreamA bubbling stream feeds the lake and plantings of bamboo provide a useful backdrop to keep the eye focussed within the garden grounds.  Again the plantings are intense and immaculate, always providing colour palettes to match the romantic nature of Monet’s work.

Monet's PansysFor those who like to know more about the man then the house is also open.  This provides a wonderful insight into life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in rural France and it is not difficult to imagine the gatherings of the ‘artistic elite’ who often met here to talk and exchange views.

Monet's Bedroom ViewMy only gripes would be the sound of traffic dissecting the garden now and again – and of course you do have to share these lovely grounds with a few other tourists.

See full Gardens of the World entry here.

Author: Bob Saunders (www.gardensonline.com.au)