Bowles & Wyer

How to use sculpture in garden design

Written by Rosa Hinton

How can sculpture be used in garden design? Leading Garden Designer, John Wyer and well-respected Wildlife Sculptor, Hamish Mackie share their expertise…


John Wyer, CEO of award-winning landscape company, Bowles & Wyer, has years of experience in using sculpture within garden design. Wildlife Sculptor, Hamish Mackie, is equally an expert in creating pieces that will not only sit naturally within an environment, but will enhance a landscape.

Why is sculpture important in a landscape?

Hamish Mackie: As a sculptor, I’m bound to say that sculpture should be an integral part of garden design! It’s about enhancing a view, and creating a focal point in conjunction with the landscape and planting.

What should you consider when siting a piece of art in a landscape?

John Wyer: We can all remember some moment from our past when, wandering through a landscape, we were stopped in our tracks by a piece of sculpture. That moment of surprise, then rapt attention and pondering.

Sculptures can be very different in the way they interact with both the viewer and the landscape, but to some extent, it is always a piece of theatre. And like theatre, it needs careful choreography and set design. At the heart of this process is the impression you want to make on others: the feelings you want to invoke.


How should you choose a sculpture?

Hamish Mackie: I believe sculpture should fit within its surroundings. This might be subject matter, shape, texture or even material.

Your choice of sculpture should be fundamentally led by if you like it. The sculpture might jog a memory, act as a statement, make a historical link, create a focal point or simply be an idea either a client, designer or sculptor has.

Most of my sculptures are not made to commission. However I also enjoy working to a brief for site specific sculpture. A commission should be a fun process from start to finish!

But of course, budget plays a part in your choice of sculpture too. Generally, the larger the casting, the more expensive it is.

At what point should you choose a sculpture for a landscape?

John Wyer: Sometimes, the landscape comes first – there may be a spot that cries out for a piece of art. Perhaps it is a restful glade where you want something contemplative, calming. It may be at a focal point, at the head of a long view or confluence of paths. Here you might seek something more powerful or majestic.

At other times, it is the piece of sculpture that comes first. You see something that speaks to you, that reaches inside and affects you in some way that is difficult to put into words. It may stoke a reaction such as excitement, movement, majesty, or peace.

Or perhaps the work simply invokes a feeling of oneness with nature. It’s also important to consider these feelings when siting the piece in the landscape – what impression did it make on you? Are you trying to evoke the same impression for others?


What materials work best for outdoor sculpture?

Hamish Mackie: I work predominantly with bronze, which is the perfect material for outside. Lasting for many centuries, bronze is almost unaffected by the elements – from blizzards to sandstorms, although it may change colour.

The colour tends to darken and even go a little green, due to exposure to acid and salts in the atmosphere. If a client wishes to protect the colour of a patina, I suggest re-waxing every six months with Renaissance paste wax, which forms a barrier between the patina and the elements. But bronze can also be left to weather very nicely, with no maintenance.

Stainless steel can also be used, but it may develop rust-coloured water run-off. However this can be polished or cleaned off – the clue is in the name!

Where should you place a sculpture within a landscape?

John Wyer: As well as artistic considerations, you need to consider the design issues of the site. The size and material (including colour) of the sculpture are important – how will it react visually with its surroundings? For more natural or contemplative sculptures, they are often best set low to the ground, surrounded with a natural environment or planting. Larger, more commanding pieces (both abstract and figurative) need a more formalised setting – perhaps a plinth and a space – back to the theatre again.

Finally, there are practical issues – how will you get the piece into place? Is there likely to be special equipment involved, or a lot of forward preparation? Thankfully, there are usually specialists on hand to answer these questions! Whether you start with the landscape or the sculpture, this should be something very personal to you. And in making it personal to you, curiously it is also likely to make the biggest impression on others.

Photo credit: Hamish Mackie

August 19, 2020