Statues & negative space can add a lot to your garden

statues of face, dragon and Chinese warrior in Amherst NY garden
Here is one view of the Asian garden in Jim Bardot’s front yard in Amherst. He got the inspiration for this garden from the statue of the head, which you can see at left. Then he found other pieces to complement it, including the dragon and Chinese warrior. After that, he chose plants. The purple flowers are Hummelo Betony (Stachys monieri), the orange flowers to the left are canna lilies and the flowers to the right are coneflowers. The plants in the back are dwarf fountain grass. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

“I find a statue, then think, ‘What can I plant around it to accent it?'” said Jim Bardot.

The statue that was the inspiration for this garden is the Chinese head, situated in the very center.

“It sat by itself in the backyard for years,” Bardot said. “I placed it here, I placed it there, then I brought it out front and found other things to go with it.”

This Asian garden is one of the seven gardens in his front yard. He shared his landscape in 2021 during the Amherst Garden Walk.

Here are some takeaways from Bardot’s Asian garden that you can use in your own landscape.

overall view of Asian-style garden in Amherst NY
This garden isn’t flat. Jim Bardot built up the center, which gives the statue of the head prominence. Notice how full the garden appears even though there aren’t many plants. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
statues of herons in Amherst NY garden
A pair of herons stand in a decorative dry creek bed. Some of Jim Bardot’s six other gardens can be seen in the background. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Gardens don’t have to be flat

Build up your garden or a part of your garden so it isn’t flat. The center of this garden is higher than the rest of the garden, which gives prominence to the statue of the head. The bridge is a bit higher than the garden, giving you a different perspective of the garden when you stand on the bridge.

Full gardens with few plants

Bardot’s garden looks very full, but I was surprised to notice that there are actually few plants in it.

“My focus is the statues,” Bardot said. “The plants are used to accent them.”

Some of the space in the garden is taken up by the statues, of course. Then there are hardscapes: an arbor, a bridge and a path. There are decorative elements with boulders and stone.

But what you probably don’t notice are the areas covered in mulch. You might look at these as “blank” areas, but an artist would call them negative space. This negative space balances the statues, plants and hardscapes, giving your eye a place to rest. Without these spaces, the garden would look busy and cluttered. This is what artists mean when they say, “less is more.”

Even if you don’t want to build your garden around statues, consider using negative space.

bridge in Amherst NY garden
Large, colorful stepping stones lead to the bridge. The garden looks different from many angles. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
stones as decoration in garden in Amherst NY
Boulders surrounded by white stones have their own space in this garden. Notice how different this view is from the view of the front. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Decorate with boulders & stone

Notice the path leading up to the bridge. It’s functional–and lovely– with large, colorful stepping stones surrounded by small stones.

You don’t have to relegate stones and rocks to paths and water features; boulders and smaller stones can be decorative elements by themselves. In one part of this garden, Bardot has created what looks like a dry creek bed. In another area, there are a few boulders surrounded by rocks.

Create many views

“Hide and reveal” is a feature of Japanese gardens. No matter where you stand in the landscape, you can’t see everything at once. That adds interest to your garden.

Bardot’s garden is an example of this technique. From the back of the garden, plants obscure the view of the statues, and from the front, the plants obscure the decorative boulders.

If you push your gardens up against a fence, you’re stuck with viewing them from only one angle. If you want to experience different views in your landscape, an island garden starts you off on the right track.

Because you can walk all the around an island garden, it forces you to have something interesting in every part of the garden, and the use of tall plants will give you different views.

Get more ideas here on creating views from various angles.

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