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Art and Ornamentation in the Garden: Home

Photo illustrating garden ornaments providing direction, movement and space; photo Courtesy of Flickr cc/ Herry Lawford
Garden ornaments can provide direction, movement and space; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/ Herry Lawson

Experimenting with art and ornamentation is a wonderful way to decorate your garden and ornaments serve multiple purposes. They can be highly functional, used as bird baths and feeders, benches, or even scarecrows. By acting as a focal point or creating an illusion of depth, garden ornaments can provide direction, movement and space. While they are often instrumental in designing garden scenes and rooms, other times they are simply a personal decorative accent.

Let's explore a number of ways to effectively combine art and nature to embellish any garden setting. Decorative elements in the garden can range from an antique table to newly collected seashells. It's important to consider how an object relates to the landscape and what it adds to the scene.

A Japanese stone water basin - chozubachi (tall) or tsukubai (small) - enhances a shady, woodland corner, while a lanky scarecrow is best placed in the vegetable garden. Sundials and armillary spheres complement traditional herb gardens and formal perennial borders, while bamboo tepees and seashells are well suited for cottage gardens and informal plantings.

In the struggle to find the right balance between deciduous and evergreen material, garden ornaments add multi-seasonal interest and structure. When used effectively, ornaments add a sense of permanence and stability. They also provide wonderful contrasts, juxtaposing smooth metal, rough stone and muted terra-cotta surfaces with feathery and flat foliage, and act as a fantastic foil for garden plants.

In the NYBG perennial garden, we have an enormous, terra-cotta urn that acts as a focal point at the end of a long path. Adjacent to the urn is a large swath of astilbe. Its fluffy, pale, pink plumes contrast beautifully with the smooth surface of the urn, creating an eye-catching scene through elegant simplicity.

Ornaments also provide destinations in the garden, guiding us from one point to another, literally leading us down a path. A statue or an urn placed in a shady border can create a sense of depth by leading the eye into the bed. Ornaments can also be effectively used to frame views.  Think of how a well-placed trellis highlights scrambling vines or how containers accentuate their contents.

Arches, Arbors and Pergolas

Arches, arbors and pergolas are overhead structures that create a sense of enclosure. They provide shade and shelter and form rooms or tunnels to move from one space to another. They also add height by introducing a strong vertical element. Arches have rounded tops; pergolas tend to be flat on the tops; and arbors can take on many shapes and usually include seating underneath the structure. They all have openwork roofs that can support plants and are commonly made of either wood or metal.

Water falling over rocks creates a feature in NYBG Rock Garden
Waterfall creates a focal point in the NYBG Rock Garden

Water Features

Water features include ponds, fountains, and bird baths. Swimming pools can also be designed and integrated into the garden setting with well-chosen paving stones and plantings. Streams can be highlighted by building wooden or metal bridges. Stepping stones are another creative alternative.


While rock outcrops are instrumental in rock gardens with small alpine plants distributed through the nooks and crannies and are imperative in creating tension and solemn stillness in a Japanese garden, they can also play other roles. Large rocks demarcate space and instill solitude in a woodland garden while they add a nice basking site for butterflies in a sun-filled garden. Rock features can have a natural feel or can be carved and sanded for a more sculpted effect.

Tuteur in Perennial Garden at NYBG
Tuteur in NYBG Pernennial Garden


Statuary can be old or new creating a sense of history or place. It can be subtle and refined or bold and innovative. Statuary is made in a vast array of materials from bronze and cast iron to stone and marble and many synthetic materials. Price and aesthetics must also be considered. Statuary includes sculptures, urns, wall plaques, obelisks, tuteurs (fancy tepees) and armillary spheres.


Garden furniture plays an important role in decorating the garden scenes. It creates places for rest and congregation, often setting a mood. Garden furniture can be made from many materials ranging from cast and wrought iron to solid teak, plastic and fiberglass. It can be inventive and fun; a comfortable hammock can be the most sought after spot in a garden.

Pots and Containers

Pots and containers can be important decorative elements in the garden portrait. Made of stone, wood, terrra-cotta, faux terra-cotta (poly resin) and ceramic, to name a few, containers fill in empty terrace corners or add height and focal points.

Buildings, Structures and Paths

Tree houses, sheds, greenhouses and gazebos are structures commonly used in a garden. Even play equipment, such as sand boxes and swing sets, can be effectively integrated into the landscape. Paths can also be integral decorative elements. Gravel paths complement dry gardens and xeriscaping; and stone paths, simple or ornate, enhance a multitude of garden designs.


Trellises are vertical structures for supporting and displaying plants effectively screening a wall or fence. Free-standing trellises are often used to support espaliers of fruit trees. Trellises are ideal for growing vines, whether perennials, such as rose (Rosa) and honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), or annuals, such as scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) or purple hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus).

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