Art brings harmony to gardens

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On Jenny Scown’s lawn five angels form a circle, deep in meditation. A giant praying mantis watches, poised in mid-step. The light catches 500 brightly coloured hand-blown glass balls, still glistening from a recent downpour, enclosed in a steel cage.

Colour my world by Jo Conroy
Colour my world by Jo Conroy

In the nearby herb garden, totara tui and kereru perch on railway sleepers between the parsley, sage and thyme. A couple of elegant iron-clad dancers twirl above the rosemary bushes. A beautiful white marble pod appears ready to spill its seeds across the newly-ploughed paddocks beyond.

Art is an integral part of Jenny’s life. She has been a professional photographer for most of her life and now owns Tamahere’s Inspirit Gallery. So it is no surprise that art also features in her garden.

“Adding art to your garden is an extension of your identity,” she says.

Jenny is passionate about outdoor art and sculpture and can’t understand why more New Zealanders don’t include it in their landscaping.

“I get really frustrated when I see huge lifestyle properties with no sculptures – apart from a concrete birdbath or a generic piece of mock Italian marble.

“Art gives structure and it gives pleasure. The right pieces work in harmony with your garden. It is no different to art inside the home. It reflects you and your personality.”

Angels by Mark Dimock
Angels by Mark Dimock

She says there is also a commercial reason for incorporating art in garden design. “If you chose well, for every dollar you spend (on a piece of art) you will get three dollars in return when you come to sell the property.”

More Waikato people appear to be taking up the challenge. Landscapers are often asked to incorporate a piece of art or sculpture in their designs – as a single focal point for a garden or as a sculpture walk in which pieces are displayed in different parts of a garden or gully. Those pieces often reflect the style of the garden. They may be elegant, eye-catching or even quirky. Ceramic pieces add colour and sheen or a punch of colour to an otherwise dull corner. Water features incorporating sculptures suggest harmony and movement. Zen gardens with large stones placed on raked sand can represent islands in the sea.

Jenny Scown says while it is important that the art reflects the person, it is equally important to get advice about art and its placement. “Any good landscaper will tell you what fits with your landscape, whether that is a beachfront home, a rural property or an urban environment.”

She is a firm advocate of New Zealand-made art because “it reflects the landscape where we live”.

“I’m passionate about New Zealand works. I’m not so passionate about imported marble.”

She says location is important when choosing the right pieces for a garden. “A sculpture might be beautiful in one setting but depressing in another.” Scale is also important. “Also, pieces interact with each other, so that needs to be taken into consideration. Landscapers, who are garden artists, can help with those decisions.”

The main showcase in her sculpture garden features an “infinity lawn” that drops away, leaving a backdrop of freshly-ploughed fields, distant mountains and sky. There is nothing to detract from the artworks.

The twins by Gary Dunn
The twins by Gary Dunn

As a photographer Jenny loves the way the light and weather change the texture and colours of the pieces.

A kinetic piece by Colleen Ryan Priest titled Red Sky at Night picks up the evening light and casts coloured shadows across the lawn. Two immense giant genie lamps, made from recycled hot water cylinders have weathered to a green-blue shade that matches the shade of the hills beyond. “These pieces needed space to breathe,” she says.

Landscapers will often consult Jenny when they are trying to locate a sculpture for a particular location. They may provide pictures of site. “I might know a sculptor whose work would be brilliant.”

Jenny says European gardens have always featured art and she says examples of those gardens can be seen at the Hamilton Gardens. But she also believes New Zealanders are now more exposed to art in public places, especially sculpture trails, so they can appreciate the impact of art in their gardens or outdoor rooms.

“If you love your art, why not have it outdoors as well?’

The angels meanwhile continue their vigil beside the driveway leading to the gallery. Jenny says they have another purpose. “They cause visitors to slow down and look.”

It’s a signal to people to stop, look and discover.

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