Gracing the Garden

Credit: Terry Guscott

I have my eye on a birdbath. It’s not at all like the basic pedestal-and-bowl one I remember in my grandmother’s prairie garden. This one is a true work of art. It stands four feet tall, with a rectangular bowl carved from stone and a delicate, windswept, leafless tree of metal that arches above it. I loved it the minute I saw it on display in the garden of a local art gallery. As I wandered this garden, I discovered many other artworks, some whimsical, some functional, and a couple that were just plain thought provoking.

Gallery owner Trudy Van Dop talks about the garden as an extension of the home, an ideal place to display and put functional art to use.

“Handmade work has a very different feel from mass-made items – it has a much more personal connection. It gives something back. The piece might be whimsical or functional, but for some reason you have a connection with it. Maybe it brings a smile to your face or evokes memories of people or special places. When you take time to work or relax in the garden the piece will evoke those thoughts.”

Garden art becomes a focal point, often enhancing the definition of plants and flowers with a contrast of hard and soft textures. Just as you would plan a garden or choose art for your home, it’s best to approach it in steps and stages so you can get a feel for how the artform fits the space.

“Take time to enjoy a piece for a while,” says Van Dop, “and then you can take delight in each new addition.

“Go to garden shows, to stores and to artists’ studios and galleries – make it a journey of discovery. There are so many great artists in B.C. and in Canada, so the process can be as enjoyable as the pieces you acquire.”

Van Dop has another tip: as the art collection in your garden grows, change the location of pieces from year to year. You’ll find they take on a different feel depending on the light and the surrounding plants.

The beauty of garden art is that it can be purely decoration or both ornamental and practical. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. Plant stakes and unpredictable embellishments for fences and gates are a good way to begin.

That’s where I started. For my sister and her husband I purchased a sign, “It all began in a garden,” which now hangs at the top of the gate to their incredible prairie garden. And I couldn’t resist a copper-haired Victorian garden fairy for myself: “Maeve.” (Since then I’ve added “Sweet Pea,” “Robin” and “Autumn” to my collection.)

As for that birdbath, I still think it’s breathtaking, and I know that if it were in my garden – no, let’s say when it’s in my garden – I’ll take as much pleasure in looking at it as I will in seeing the birds enjoy it. I know my grandmother would have loved it too.

For more information on the Van Dop Gallery, located in New Westminster, call 604-521-7887 or 1-888-981-9886 or go to

Peggy John gardens and writes in New Westminster.