Embellishing the Outdoors

Art – and outdoor art – can be as serious as a commissioned statue or even just plain stuff.

A refined bronze eagle obviously qualifies as a work of art, but so does a steel object re-purposed from industrial construction debris. And what about the piece of metal that was a gate in another life that now forms an unusual screen by the patio?

Today, it’s quite trendy to bring varied objects into our yards and play them off the landscape. They keep outdoor interest alive throughout the four seasons. Picture a bronze sculpture dusted with an early snow – or an architectural element that becomes a night-time filigree when entwined with tiny lights at the holidays.

Any one item – or an assortment – can enhance the mood of the landscape. A simple wind chime brings a touch of whimsy. Bronze herons placed next to a winding water feature remind us of birds landing beside a mountain stream. A particular shape thoughtfully placed in a Zen garden adds to its serenity. Art simply works alongside the plants to provide contrast and enhance enjoyment of the outdoor environment.

Many types of art work outdoors

• Architectural elements can be as simple as part of an old metal fence or as elaborate as an imported Asian gate. The shape, color and material add interest among plants. Reproductions – or pieces inspired by ancient artifacts – are also available.

• Use dual-purposed art. Some artwork can become a trellis for vines, a habitat for birds or a privacy screen to block out the neighbors. Its interest and appeal are partly what it looks like and partly what it does.

• Sustainable art is a new trend for the outdoors. New objects are re-purposed from everything from metal or stone construction debris to twigs and branches pruned from plants. Some art will have a long life in the outdoors, while twig baskets, for example, will disintegrate and fade into nature over time. Often, this art provides a habitat for birds or other wildlife.

• Art for its own sake. These objects are meant to be enjoyed in their own right and can include objects made from bronze, marble, steel, copper, wood, concrete, stone or any material that can be placed outdoors. These pieces create a focal point at an entrance, depict the owner’s passions or just add interest among the plants.

Know the maintenance requirements before committing to any piece of outdoor art, know its composition and possible maintenance requirements. Depending on the material, place art where it has some protection and where it will not be covered up by plant materials as they grow larger over time.

For long-term life, select pieces that are weather-resistant and need little maintenance. For example, wooden art may need a hardy paint or finish to give it a long life outdoors.

Other materials like metal and stone are very well-suited to the outdoors. Bronze and marble are quite durable and only need occasional cleaning or polishing. Steel is typically left to rust. Copper is allowed to develop an aged patina.

Still other pieces are made of materials that are intended to go back to nature. Be aware of that when you choose a twig bird habitat, for example. Enjoy it for what it does and as long as it lasts.

If you have a sprinkler system, notice where and how it operates in relationship to where you might place the artwork. The best option is to position artwork so it is out of the range of all water from the sprinklers. No matter what the material, water should never be aimed directly at artwork.

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