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The artful garden

How to 'punctuate' your garden with art.

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Once gardeners get a taste of working in the soil, they often find it impossible to have too many plants. Before long, their yard is dotted with a hodgepodge of interesting but often unrelated vegetation. What's missing? Art that ties the garden together.

Gardening is an art itself, and looking at well-designed gardens helps us understand what works, just as visiting galleries helps us appreciate paintings.

"To do a garden artistically, you have to think like an artist," says garden author and columnist Tovah Martin. "[Some] gardens can be like run-on sentences. You need a punctuation point."

Punctuation can come in many forms, such as a stone wall, terrace, pathway, tree, bench, or sculpture. These visual guides can help to define the garden's borders and emphasize certain characteristics of the garden. Ornamental objects such as a wrought-iron fence, sundials, birdhouses, Victorian gazing balls, or obelisks can also help anchor a garden in a specific architectural style or time period.

Sculptural forms serve as foils amid the greenery, and their tangible shapes help to draw the eye. "When something looks like a blob, our eyes are more likely to rest on a shape," says Ms. Martin.

The most basic sculptural shape is the triangle, appearing as conical-shaped trees and shrubs or pyramidlike plant supports, sometimes known as tuteurs. People tend to find horizontal compositions restful (think sunsets on the beach), while vertical shapes convey an edgy, raw energy (think mountain peaks). Because many backyards (especially those in newer subdivisions) are flat and often featureless, almost any tall object that breaks up the horizontal plane adds a sense of excitement and vigor.

Even woodland-style gardens that mimic natural forests benefit from the clever placement of art. A perfect example can be found at Garden in the Woods, home to the New England Wildflower Society in Framingham, Mass. This 45-acre "living museum" was started in the 1930s and has since expanded to include nationally recognized native-plant conservation and education programs. As part of its outreach, the garden hosts events that cast a fresh light on its existing plant collections. Currently, the work of eight sculptors is featured through October in an installation called "Rock On!: Celebrating Stone in the Garden."


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