Enhance nature's artistry using art elements in your garden

garcano@idahostatesman.comMarch 14, 2014 

I'm a gardener who finds incorporating pieces of art - from statuary to found objects to seating - into the planting scheme fraught with challenges (not all of them financial). So this year's Northwest Flower & Garden Show, theme "Art in Bloom," was an eye opener.

Yes, the professional display gardens at the Seattle event in February were as beautiful as ever, and the blooms delighted the senses. And obviously plantings and rockwork can be more or less artistic on their own. But the way these gardens worked in human-created elements was inspirational. What I found:

THE UNEXPECTED: A school of footlong ceramic fish on stakes undulated over a sea of plants.

COLOR AND UNITY: An Asian-themed garden with a traditional red-painted bridge included a matching Adirondack chair - the unity of color made the multicultural combo work.

SYMBOLISM: The same Asian scene had a stone bench with a tiny raked gravel Zen garden - almost anyone could fit such a serene scene into their own yard to get a taste of Japanese aesthetic.

RHYTHM: The geometrical severity of a large rectangular pool was offset by groupings of 3- to 4-foot-tall glass pitcher plants - complementing the real but much smaller insect-trapping pitcher plants nearby.

WHIMSY: A wall and tall evergreens were fronted by a series of boldly painted birdhouses on tall poles. One birdhouse would get lost, but a dozen or more make a great display.

VERTICALITY: Wall gardens were again popular this year, including some outstanding examples using blooming epiphytic (air-rooting) orchids and Tillandsia (air plants). One wall treatment featured blown glass balls enclosed in frames with Plexiglass on both sides. It would look lovely in natural light.

REPURPOSING: A cottage-style garden achieved unity with found objects and mismatched plant containers by painting them in bright colors. But my favorite recycled piece was a tool-holder made of an old metal bedspring.

SURPRISE: Gates and curved paths that conceal or reveal selected parts of a garden may add mystery to even a small yard. But gazing on another scene through a huge rusted iron circle probably could not seem more magical, as one display suggested (it's not the same when all you can see through the circle is the crowd).

TROMPE L'OEIL: The French phrase means "fool the eye." In the garden, mirrors can make a space seem larger, for example, or a window painted on a wall can look like a real view. A design in Seattle took this concept another way: a mostly flat mosaic that at certain angles looks like a 3-D globe on a patio.

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