How to Use Sculpture in Your Garden

Landscape designer Jay Sifford explains the basics
Jay Sifford
Granite orbs imported from China.




Charlotte is home to beautiful landscapes behind the tree-lined streets that have helped establish the city’s identity. Often, these landscapes, with their sprawling lawns and azalea-filled natural areas, lack individuality. Homeowners may be at a loss when it comes to injecting their unique personalities into their spaces. Here, Charlotte landscape designer Jay Sifford explains how to use sculpture as the starting point to transform your landscape into a personal garden retreat.


SCULPTURAL PIECES are as individual as those who purchase them. Metal pieces, traditionally cast in bronze, are now available in stainless, mild and rusted Corten steel, aluminum, and copper. Concrete, ceramic, and stone pieces have also become more common. Glass pieces, either cast or blown, are options for those who don’t mind that the occasional falling tree limb could leave a permanent mark on their investment. Here’s how to choose a piece that speaks to your personality and integrate it into your garden. 


Blown glass sculptures by Victor Chiarizia.

An educated consumer is one with few regrets. If a sculptural piece really speaks to you, consider why. Does it appeal to your whimsical side, your intellectual side, or your philosophical side? Determine if that is the part of your personality that you want to reflect in your garden. As a landscape designer, one of my prime directives is to reflect the personality of the owner in each space I create. Even if the style of the piece does not mimic the architectural style of your home, it may still be the perfect piece for your garden. Far too many people choose garden art based on architectural style rather than their own personalities. Remember: This is your garden. 

There are ways to integrate modern or rustic sculpture into a traditional landscape. Doing so can allow your space to come alive. Consider juxtaposition with these four criteria in mind:  size, shape, color and texture. Make sure two or three of these criteria match in both the landscape and sculpture to provide interesting contrast while still complementing each other. Matching one may not be strong enough to make a connection; matching all four may read as predictable or forgettable. For example, a rusted steel or patinated copper piece may do well paired with shrubs sporting orange or copper foliage such as Coppertina or Center Glow ninebarks, or an Orangeola Japanese maple. At the front of this grouping, contrasting blue foliage such as lyme grass or blue star juniper will add a dose of excitement and pick up any patina that the piece may develop.  An extremely vertical sculpture may do well planted against similarly vertical plants such as bamboo or Northwind switchgrass, with contrasting low mounding shrubs such as abelia or yaupon holly in the foreground. By paying attention to these four criteria of juxtaposition, even the most modern sculpture can be grounded in a traditional garden, or vice versa.

Jay Sifford

Efflorescence, a bronze sculpture by Bill Barrett. 

How large is too big, or how small is too little? Remember that your overhead tree canopy or the sky is the ceiling of your garden room, so it is quite different from your interior space. I find that people generally err on the side of going too small. If your sculpture is intended to be a focal point, consider what you think is an appropriate size and increase it by one-third. If your pieces are to be tucked alongside a garden path, however, smaller is appropriate. Don’t forget the subtleties that small pieces such as stone spheres or ceramic leaves can bring to a garden.  

Where to site a sculpture is of paramount importance. If the piece is to be a focal point, consider placing it on a visual axis with house windows or with a terrace. If it is to be in view from several focal points, look at it from each point before placing it. Sometimes moving a piece just six inches to the left or right can make all the difference.

Multiple sculptures can be good garden mates if each is carefully sited. Meandering paths provide the perfect environment for a growing collection of sculpture. Be advised that no more than three pieces should be in view from any one point of your garden. This keeps your space from looking cluttered and piques interest as to what’s next on the journey. After all, your garden should be a destination waiting to be explored, and a reflection of you, its creator. 

Jay Sifford has worked as a custom landscape designer in Charlotte since 2008. Contact him at or


Categories: Outdoor Living