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The Serpent Tree sculpture is part of the Atlanta
Botanical Garden's Niki in the Garden exhibition.

Art in the Garden

First published on on November 23, 2006, by Suzanne DeJohn

Gardens can look a little weary this time of year. After three seasons of color, fragrance, and texture, winter brings a quietude that some people love, and some people find, well, a bit boring. Do you find yourself longing for something to add pizzazz to your winter garden?

Art, in a Big Way
I visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden a few weeks ago during Niki in the Garden -- "the world's largest exhibition of internationally renowned artist Niki de Saint Phalle's outdoor sculptures ever presented." The huge, colorful, fanciful sculptures, often depicting animals, totems, musicians, or women, are embellished with mosaics of ceramic pieces, mirrors, and semiprecious stones. Reaching as high as 18 feet and as long as 25 feet, this is garden Art with a capital A. The sculptures demand your attention, challenge your intellect, and provoke your emotions. Frankly, I wasn't sure I would like it, but I did.

The exhibit has also made me look at my own garden in a different light. I'm usually drawn to natural-looking things -- meandering paths flanked by native plants rather than symmetrically planted petunias, twig fences rather than white picket ones. But now I'm feeling the urge to expand my garden repertoire. I'm not sure how this will play out, but I'm trying to keep an open mind.

Starting Small
Art doesn't have to be big -- or even "art." Art can be as simple as a unique arrangement of stones in a path or an unusual plant in an unexpected place. All gardeners are artists. We use plants to paint the canvas of our landscape. Each of us is drawn to a certain look or feeling and we try to create that in our gardens. However, art can also involve taking risks and stepping outside of what is comfortable. I think this risk-taking is what's missing in my gardening life, and I'll be looking at ways to change that. I suppose it's like adding something unexpected to a wardrobe. Most of us stick to clothing in a restricted range of colors and styles. Try wearing a bright color outside your normal clothing palette and see how different you feel.

You can purchase artistic embellishments for your garden, such as gazing balls, decorative trellises, and sculptures. Or, you can play the role of artist. If the idea of creating a sculpture is overwhelming, start small. Take something functional, such as a bird feeder, and decorate it. Paint some terra cotta pots. As you get comfortable with stamping your style onto functional items, it will be less of a leap to create purely decorative pieces.

Scour thrift stores and antiques markets for objects that grab you, no matter what their original use. Old windows, bed frames, pottery, and coat racks can be the starting point for garden projects. Find inspiration in gardening magazines, craft books, and by visiting public gardens.

As you wander through your gardens this winter, consider where and how you might add your own unique flair. Maybe you're perfectly happy with your garden as is, and that's fine. But maybe your creative juices will get flowing and you'll be inspired to embark on a garden art project. Winter is the perfect time to dive in.

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