Choosing a Garden Statue or Garden Sculpture? What’s the difference and does it matter?

Choosing a Garden Statue or Garden Sculpture? What’s the difference and does it matter?

Statues can be sculptures and sculptures can be statues but not all of either need be the other.  Confused already?  Let’s start with some definitions based on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Statue:  A carved or cast replica of a person or animal, especially one that is life-size or larger.  The origin is from the Latin stare, to stand.

Sculpture:  a work produced by the action or art of processing (as by carving, modeling, or welding) plastic or hard materials into works of art.  The origin is from the Latin sculptus, to carve.


Let’s first discuss statues.  There is a huge range of choices for garden statues varying from cast stone reproductions of antique classical maidens to fiberglass resin copies of the Little Gardener by the American artist Sylvia Shaw Judson which was originally commissioned by Jackie Kennedy for the White House rose garden.

Small animals such as rabbits, cats, and even piglets can be made of cast stone, lead or bronze and may be fun accents to scatter around on a patio wall or as a focal point in a flower bed.

Hand carved stone or bronze can copy legendary figures or Asian accents such as Buddha or Ganesh. Prices will vary based largely on the material used and the quality of the reproduction.


As works of art, sculptures vary widely in cost based on the material used but additionally on the success of the artistic endeavor as well as the reputation of the sculptor. At Garden Accents we have abstract sculptures in stone from carvers in Bali, (shown below)

and stone figures sculpted to reflect traditional African themes and abstract themes by artists from Zimbabwe. You will also find iron & steel abstracts by American artists and many other artist’s originals.

It may seem a huge challenge to decide what may be best for your garden and budget. So, what are some ways to start to consider this?



Will the sculpture be seen up close in an established planted bed that you will approach as you walk in the garden?  Will it be seen at a distance as a focal point to lead your eye?  Will it need to be seen from within the home as on a patio?

Will it be a feature that visitors will see as they approach your home? Whatever style you choose, size will be an important consideration. People frequently underestimate the size needed for outdoor features. One guide in using a figurative sculpture is to aim for life size. This can apply to a featured human figure or large animal as well as a rabbit or squirrel to be nestled in a planting. Even after considering the actual life size, the distance from which you will be viewing must be considered.

A figure that will primarily be viewed from a distance may best be even larger. Take a box or other item & place it where you want to put your feature and view it from various directions. If you already have a favorite statue that is less than life size, try using it among dwarf plants or plants with small scale foliage.




Many factors contribute to your choice. Let’s start with the style of your home plus any style already begun in your garden. Fortunately almost any style can be matched or enriched by a sculpture or statue. For a spare contemporary style home with lots of glass, an abstract stone or bronze sculpture may be ideal or accented by a good sized Japanese lantern plus a smaller Japanese style basin with a gentle fountain. If you are so inclined there are wonderful stone Buddhas that could be featured in this garden. If your home is in the style of a French villa, think about continuing the feel with a classic French figurative piece and Anduze pots by the door. A neoclassical home with Palladian columns might be crying out for hand carved stone statues of classical gods and goddesses. There are a few homes with English Tudor revival half-timbered facades as designed by Edward Lutyens who in the UK often had Gertrude Jekyl luxuriant flowered borders. These rarely required any ornaments other than a scattered sundial or stone cupid. Most homes in our area are of no specific historical style and thus not limiting your alternatives for the garden.





The ideal setting for a statue or other sculpture depends on both the item and what point or mood you wish to create as well as the advantages or limitations of your possible setting. A life size or bigger statue is meant to create or emphasize the spirit of your garden. This might be a focal point at the end of a path or slightly elevated within a bed. We have commissioned bronze figures of grandchildren or children that can be easily seen as on a patioPet lovers may want to place figures of dogs or cats near doors or windows. In formal gardens sets of lead or stone figures of the four seasons, musicians, or mythical heroes can be wonderful on the four corners of a paved area or planted bed.  Large scale modern abstract sculptures may be best on a lawn where they can be viewed from various angles. Mood creating sculptures such as the joyous lead “La Brezza” (the breeze) with arms stretched toward the sky can be dramatically effective in a midsized flower bed.Playful statues can be arranged where they are stumbled on as a pleasant surprise.



Of course, these are ideal ways to add personal touches. As discussed before, this can range from figures of children or pets to accents evoking various national styles reflecting your family background. How about adding features from places you have lived before. Think about bringing sculptures (or ideas for sculptures) back from travels that you have enjoyed like these stone figures from China and Mexico. This is presumably what resulted in the appearance of Egyptian obelisks & classical Greek or Roman statues in some of the great English estate gardens. There are many Italian and English statues available in cast stone that can help you recreate a travel experience.



You certainly can create a desired impact in your garden with features made of a variety of materials that affect both durability and  appearance, as well as whether they are new or old pieces. Each of these factors can contribute to the cost with materials chosen often being the first consideration. Cast stone or concrete is usually mass produced but pieces are available in a huge variety of styles and sizes. Cast cement requires the least maintenance, will gradually age which can add a suggestion of antiquity, but with some loss of detail.

There is also dry cast statuary which is more expensive, but achieves and retains much better detail, most closely resembling hand carved stone. Hand carved stone may be an original piece of sculpture but can also be a copy of an old traditional design or earlier work of art. Many hand sculpted statues come from Vicenza, Italy. These are commonly limestone reproductions from classical European gardens. Limestone is a softer but still fairly durable stone that allows the sculptor to achieve excellent detail. These statues develop a wonderful antique patina fairly rapidly but may need some protective silicone coating to keep them from absorbing moisture and deteriorating during freeze –thaw cycles. Some sculptures from Mexico or Bali can be from even softer stone and will not hold up well in northern winters. Granite, for example from Vermont, is so hard that it will last for centuries and consequently looks new in the garden for a very long time.

Lead is the classic material for English garden ornaments. Statues in this elatively soft material need no maintenance and keep a pleasant soft gray color over the years. Virtually all pieces are reproductions of known figures with parts formed in molds and then attached. Lead is heavy and can bend or break if it is not well supported. Quality of workmanship can vary and lead to different price ranges. Lead was originally used as a less expensive alternative to bronze (early lead planters were actually made by estate plumbers) and is still less expensive. Lead allows delicate details which can be important in figurative pieces.

Antique iron sculpture, especially from France, can be wonderful but is very expensive. Antique iron is more resistant to rust than almost all current iron, due to  the quality of the iron, but all iron needs some protective coating. Not much iron statuary is produced today because of the maintenance needed.

Bronze is the Rolls Royce of garden ornamentation materials. Most original garden sculpture in the USA is now done with the lost wax method which involves the artist’s work on a wax model for each casting. This is labor intensive and thus expensive but creates true limited edition art which will appreciate in value. A large amount of bronze statuary is produced in Thailand where there is a long history of making bronze Buddhas. These are not original pieces of art. They are often copies of traditional European figures, but still can be a delightful and long lasting garden feature. Bronze ages to an attractive green hue and needs very little maintenance for a long time. Waxing can maintain the original color patina applied at the foundry.

A new group of materials for garden statuary includes resins and fiberglass. These materials are lighter and easy to move and also extremely durable for outdoor useResins require no maintenance. Figures available in resins or fiberglass vary in cost but are less expensive than the original art that they reproduce. Whatever material you choose for your statuary or sculptures it is important to provide a stable base anchored below the frost line. Without this step, the ground can heave and topple even the heaviest of your carefully chosen pieces.

Information about the age of a garden ornament may be useful but is often difficult to establish. Are there any written records of the purchase time or other provenance? Does the sculpture or statue have evident effects of aging? Aging can, unfortunately, be simulated and hard to distinguish. True antiques can be very valuable and many, perhaps, should be kept indoors as in a plant room.

Originality of a work of sculpture can also greatly increase value and cost. Again, details of provenance can help assure whether your item is an original work of art, and, especially with bronze sculptures, is the piece signed by artist and is it part of a numbered limited edition? Artist like to work in bronze because, even though it is so labor intensive, they know it will last for centuries.

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