Garden art is cool again

Features - Industry Trends

Well-crafted décor that enhances landscapes is making a comeback.

April 8, 2016

Garden art is trending to be more sophisticated, as is the landscaping around the sculptures and other features. Photo of Chihuly sculptures taken at the Dallas Arboretum.

Getting ahead of trends and driving them, is key to a thriving garden center business. One green industry trend that’s emerging, or reemerging, as people renovate and build new gardens is that of designing with art in mind. Gardeners and landscape designers are arranging sculptures and décor in a way that makes them more prominent features. Do you know what today’s customers are looking for in garden décor? Here’s a hint: Garden flags alone don’t cut it anymore.

Overall, it seems homeowners are taking a more sophisticated approach to their outdoor spaces. Be it efforts to make their landscapes more sustainable and useful to local wildlife or extending seasonal use with outdoor rooms, furniture and fire pits, homeowners are putting as much emphasis on their outdoor spaces as they do the insides of their homes.

Trent Mohlenbrock, owner of Changing Seasons Landscape Center in Marion, Ill., says he’s seeing shifts in preferences for higher-end décor.

“Last year, we experienced a very large increase (400 percent in gross for this category) in sales in art/sculpture and high-end pottery for landscapes,” Mohlenbrock says. “Items such as the Face Collection by Castart Studios; larger sized glazed pottery pieces and large terra cotta fern fiddleheads by Big Grass Living are doing extremely well. It’s early in the season in southern Illinois; however, we project strong sales in this category again this year.”

Gardeners and landscape designers are searching for unique, unusual pieces that will stand out in a garden and enhance the plants and landscape features surrounding the art.

There is a growing desire among our customers to create landscapes around featured pieces such as sculptures, specialty containers and water elements. Some use sculptural pieces to complete their garden stories. It’s not enough to surround a sculpture with a formal boxwood hedge anymore. Rather, the featured piece must complement and be complemented by the surrounding plant choices. The art and the garden become integrated and harmonious. To create such harmony, garden décor should echo or enhance the colors and shapes of the plants and other elements in the garden.

With harmony in mind, gardeners and designers are seeking out unique artistic pieces that will have a lasting effect. Gardeners seem to be prioritizing quality construction or repurposed materials over disposable ones. That’s a logical preference, given that homeowners and gardeners are investing more money in sophisticated landscape designs and higher quality outdoor furniture. They want their garden ornamentation to reflect the quality of those choices.


Over the past several years, handmade garden sculpture has become more popular with customers. Whether it’s hand-blown glass hummingbird feeders or garden flourishes, bird houses and wind chimes; or metal sculpture and hand-crafted pottery, more independent artists are getting into the garden décor game.

As handmade pottery is experiencing a resurgence of popularity, even it is becoming more sculptural in its nature and use. As I wrote in a recent article on emerging bonsai trends (July 2015, “Breathe new life into an ancient art form”) there has been an upswing in the creation and popularity of handmade pottery. With container gardening continuing to gain popularity, gardeners are turning to their planters as sculptural features.

What’s hot

Many other objects that were once primarily utilitarian are also going through artistic transformations. A great example is the fire pit: sculptural fire pits are now the thing. They were quite the attraction at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show, and I’ve seen more of them featured in sophisticated landscapes. Jump on and you’ll find more than 70,000 images of fire pit installations. Search for sculptural fire pit and you’ll find even more. The large steel globe shaped fire pits are particularly impressive and mesmerizing.

Get wet

Rain barrels, which can be an eyesore in the landscape and often require camouflage, have also been getting an artistic upgrade during the past several years. Artists have taken to painting the barrels with beautiful murals so that they become not only an important garden water management tool, but also a unique ornamental focal point or feature in the garden.

Partner with local artists to bring color and life to rain barrels to help sell more and encourage homeowners to use them. Painted rain barrels can also be used during fundraisers. Students from Lebanon School in Lebanon, Ohio, painted the barrel pictured here, and the Cincinnati Zoo auctioned off the item to raise money for conservation, education and sustainability initiatives.

There are a number of city water management programs and environmental groups that hold artistic rain barrel events, where they bring in local artists to customize rain barrels. These pieces of functional art are then sold or auctioned off to raise funds and awareness for the respective organizations. The art serves as both an excellent conservation teaching tool and a community outreach opportunity.

Pop over to Pinterest for a search on “artistic rain barrel” and you’ll be rewarded with a bevy of beautiful specimens. Yet, I haven’t seen many independent garden centers taking advantage of this opportunity, even though it’s a perfect fit for our customers. Rain barrels already provide a healthy average sale for garden centers in the business of selling them. Try hooking up with local artists to customize them for your customers for a boost in profits.


Repurposing objects as sculptural features in the garden is also a growing trend. Salvaged items and artifacts with an industrial feel are being incorporated into gardens as pieces of sculpture and plant containers. Artists are getting very creative, especially in the kinetic sculpture and wind chime departments, by upcycling everyday items into unique garden features that function both as eye-candy and a source of soothing movement and sound in the garden.

Fire pits, once seen as a utilitarian object for producing heat to extend outdoor enjoyment, are going through an artistic transformation, as producers add extra embellishments and features.
Vintage style

Another growing landscape design trend is era-appropriate design and vintage garden pieces. As savvy homeowners are leaning toward landscapes that better match the design era and architecture of their homes, they’re also seeking out complementary vintage (or vintage-inspired) pieces of sculpture and garden art to echo the style of their homes.

A cool comeback

Just around the corner from my home in Dallas, and across the street from the Dallas Arboretum, a new shop called Curious Garden just opened. The entire shop is devoted to antique and vintage objects, sculptures and containers specifically meant for decorating the garden. The new shop is a satellite extension of the owner’s original and successful antique mall-type shop, called Curiosities. There was so much demand and opportunity for unique, vintage and repurposed items meant for the landscape, the owners decided they needed a dedicated garden art location. The message here? Garden art is cool again.

The price tag

Don’t get sucked into the quicksand that is price prejudice. While higher-end garden sculpture and décor can come with a much steeper price tag than your average garden flag or flamingo, that doesn’t mean your customer won’t buy it. They simply may not be accustomed to being able to find such unique specimens at their local IGC. Perception is everything, after all. If you allow your own price prejudice or fear to keep you from bringing in higher-priced, unique pieces, you could be leaving many sales on the table.

It’s up to you to best identify how your customers are evolving their outdoor spaces and meet their demand. If you want to start catering to customers seeking finer garden art, consider installing some special pieces in your own street side landscape to reset their expectations and provide inspiration. Do some research on sites such as Etsy, Pinterest and Houzz to see what type of handmade garden art is trending, then work with your community of local artists to source local treasures.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, digital content marketing, branding design, advertising and social media support for green industry companies.