Thursday, March 8, 2018

An Art Collector's Garden

with photography by Maggie Sale

There was a time when art collections were displayed in grand homes, and were a sign of wealth and privilege, but with the advent of the internet, the popularity of artist run co-ops and studio tours, works of art have never been more accessible or affordable for the average person.

At her home in Guelph, Ontario, Maggie Sale has gathered a collection of artwork that she displays in her large suburban garden.

"Having an English background, combined with artistic family members, and having travelled throughout the UK and other places where there are beautiful gardens, I have always appreciated art in the garden. I guess it was inevitable that I would find my own pieces, but never set to become an art collector!," she says.  

Maggie is an accomplished photographer and world traveler whose adventures have taken her to far off places like Iceland, Morocco, Spain, Istanbul and Jordan. Last fall Maggie and her husband Julian visited Peru. Then in February, they toured parts of Sri Lanka for sixteen days.

If you have a moment, pop over and take a look at the image galleries that chronicle some of Maggie's travels. From her recent trip to Peru, there are stunning views of Machu Picchu, a 15th century Inca citadel situated on a mountain range almost eight thousand feet above sea level.  There are also images of ancient temples and crumbling palaces, elephants and other exotic creatures from her most recent visit to Sri Lanka.

Maggie's collection of artwork began with a purchase for the couple's English summer home.

"The first piece was purchased in England for our 1850's stone and slate cottage which had a small walled garden. At that time we moved from Toronto, where we had a very small townhouse garden, with no art, to a larger home in Guelph. I began to acquire additional artwork for the cottage and pieces for the garden of our new house," says Maggie.

Both Maggie's passion for photography and her travels have been a great sources of inspiration.

"Travelling certainly helps you appreciate other countries, their culture and uniqueness," she says,"Photography takes this a step further, where you are developing your "eye", searching for interesting subject matter and compositions, whether in natural or man-made environments, or in large or small scale."

"I think there is no doubt that both travel and my photography have influenced my own creativity, which in turn has had a spill-over effect into the garden, an important but more recently developed aspect of my life. Colour, form and texture in the garden and the way plants are grouped, are all influenced by developing ones "eye" just as it does in photography." 

While the focus of this post is art in the garden, I would hate to miss the opportunity to draw your attention to the beauty of the garden itself. 

A carpet of groundcovers, which hug the earth, and low-growing, mounded perennials keep the front garden looking every bit as tidy and presentable as a lawn. This is not to say that the garden is flat by any means. Groups of taller perennials create an gently undulating landscape of hills and valleys.

Even without a ton of flowers, there is still lots of color. In the foreground of Maggie's photograph (above) Creeping Thyme and Silvermound, Artemisia schmidtiana add a hint of blue-green. A couple of burgundy colored Heuchera add warm color into the mix. Yellow springs from the Angelina Stonecrop, Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'.

One clever design trick is the flagstone pathway that links the front yard with the boulevard garden. Even though the sidewalk divides the overall garden into these two distinct areas, the path joins them into a unified whole.

This post looks primarily on the front garden, which I haven't featured before, but you can take a tour of the back garden here.

In this photograph, Maggie has captured a tapestry of shade loving perennials. 

1. Unidentified Fern (an easy-care fern with a similar look–Lady Fern Athyrium filix-femina) 2. Fern-leaf Bleeding Heart, Dicentra 3. Hosta 4. Golden Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' 5. Japanese Fern, Athyrium niponicum 6. Tassel Fern, Polystichum polyblepharum 7. Miniature Hosta 8. Lamium 9. Variegated Hosta

How to choose an Artwork

For most people, artwork represents a bit of an investment. If your spending money, you don't want to get it wrong. Where do you even begin to choose a piece of art? 

Choose artwork that speak to you on a personal level. This makes it impossible to go wrong. 

"As soon as I saw this piece of art, I knew it was the right accent for my rock garden at the front of the house," says Maggie.

"It is visible from the sidewalk and sits on top of a slight berm where it's circular form draws attention. It was made by an artist (unknown to me) in the Ottawa region and was bought from an art gallery in Eden Mills, near Guelph. The slate layers remind me of slate buildings and walls in the UK. The metal has now taken on a lovely rusty patina."

A couple of Tips on Choosing Artwork for the Garden:

• Think about where you want to place a piece of art when your making your choice. A large sculpture makes an excellent garden focal point. By its very nature, the location of a smaller work of art is likely to be somewhat obscured by foliage and flowers. A small sculpture is often a nice surprise that you happen upon as you stroll through the garden. 

• Ignore the rule that says you ought to choose small artwork for a small garden. Depending on the piece, one large sculpture in a small garden can be quite stunning.

• Another rule suggests that artwork you choose should be in keeping with the style of your home. To me this is a little like matching a painting to the color of the sofa. With the right placement, a contemporary piece can look terrific in the garden of a more traditional home and vice versa.

• The impact an artwork will have is somewhat determined by scale. A large sculpture makes a big statement. A small sculpture speaks quietly.

1. Mountain Bluet, Centaurea montana 2. Dwarf Bearded Iris 3. Arabis or Rock cress 4. Heuchera 5. Snow-in-summer, Cerastium tomentosum 6. Sweet Woodruff, Galium odoratum 7. Dwarf Bearded Iris

This is a photograph of the front of the house a little later in the summer. Daylilies, Echinacea and Russian Sage (not shown) are a few of the perennials that add mid-summer color.

Like any garden ornament, a work of art can be something unexpected you happen upon.

"This was the first Shona sculpture from Zimbabwe that we acquired," says Maggie, "It was bought for our cottage from a local art gallery owner, who was a friend of my mother. It introduced me to a beautiful style of African art that I didn't know before." 

"When we sold our cottage 3 years ago, we brought the sculpture and a couple of other pieces of garden art back to Guelph. This small sculpture, almost hidden until you stand in front of the small rock garden in the backyard, complements the plantings and existing rocks perfectly - a happy coincidence!"

A few Tips for Displaying Artwork in a Garden Setting:

• Less is more. Too much visual clutter diminishes the impact of each piece. Don't ask artwork to compete for the attention of garden visitors.

•Aim for contrast to help a sculpture stand out in the landscape. For example, place light objects against a dark background of foliage and set a dark artwork in front of bright flowers and foliage.

• One of the biggest trends in interior design is an eclectic mix that mixes traditional and contemporary furniture and accessories. There is nothing to say that the same approach won't work in a garden setting. Go ahead and mix different types of artwork (example a traditional figure with a modern sculpture). Just be sure to give each piece enough space to shine.

Artwork need not be big or grand to be meaningful. It can be something as small as a single poppy. 

"The red ceramic poppy was a gift to my husband Julian from my brother in England," explains Maggie.

"The poppy is a remembrance of Julian's uncle who died in the second world war. It was one of the red poppies that were part of an art installation at the Tower of London in 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war (the poppies numbered over 880,000 - one for every British service person who died in WW1). The poppies were sold afterwards to the public to raise funds for service charities."

Family members have added their own unique genius to Maggie's collection.

"The cedar driftwood was picked up by my in-law's many, many years ago on one of their frequent fishing trips to Georgian Bay," says Maggie.

"Our son Jayce, who creates art out of found objects, used a piece of red metal (resembling a moth), which he found when the house next door to his home in Vancouver was demolished, to make the piece that fits perfectly into the top part of the driftwood."

The ceramic owl that now presides over this planting is another of the pieces Maggie brought back to Canada when she and Julian sold their property in England a few years ago.

"Every year there was a pottery festival at one of the stately homes near our cottage in Cumbria in the north west of England. Simon Griffiths was a artist who had many birds, animals etc. in his stall there. They were so life-like that I knew it would be a wonderful garden ornament for our cottage, so we bought the Tawny Owl. When we sold the cottage, we brought it back to Canada. We found a post in a local wood and erected it in our garden here," Maggie recounts.

This last piece of artwork owes its inspiration from a place far from Canada.

"We lost a large locust tree in a storm a few years ago which resulted in a corner opening up. I decided it was an ideal place to put a larger statement piece of art. The swirling black stone sculpture made by Sylvester Samanyanga, an artist from the Shona tribe of the indigenous people of Zimbabwe, was bought last summer at an outdoor art gallery near Peterborough called ZimArt's Rice Lake GalleryIt makes a nice focal point in the back garden."says Maggie.

To close this post, I asked Maggie to make a few suggestions for someone looking to start a collection of their own:

• Start small and local

• Go on a garden tour to see what other gardeners are doing with plantings and art. 

• Visit local public gardens and art galleries for a broader picture. 

• Take a studio art tour and learn about and visit local artists - you might find the perfect piece right on your doorstep! 

• Expand your search with the internet, if you are travelling.

• Above all, be patient and enjoy your search! It might take some time to find the right piece(s). Art collections grow with time and can't really be achieved in a hurry - but they are worth the wait!

Great advice to be sure!

 Many thanks to Maggie for sharing her art collection and garden
through this lovely series of photographs.

About the Photographer: 

Maggie Sale is originally from England and has lived in Canada for over 40 years with her husband Julian. Most of her photography is done outdoors, and often involves travel, which she loves. Maggie is a life member of the Etobicoke Camera Club, a member of the Grand River Imaging and Photographic Society and the Canadian Association for Photographic Art. Her photographs have been published in magazines and books in Canada, the USA and UK. Maggie is also a member of the Guelph Horticultural Society and is a committee member and photographer for the Guelph Annual Garden Tour. Her website is


  1. Hello Jenifer .. what a lovely post! .. I'm afraid I shy away with spending money on true individual art pieces (if I had a generous slush fund there are places in Kingston that would burn a hole in my pocket for garden art work) I love glass pieces because of how they reflect the light values. I bought some coloured glass stakes from Plow & Hearth (actually through Zulilly) and I am excited as to how they will look on the shadier side of the garden.
    In any case .. I love the value of surprise when you just notice garden art after the fact of looking at the plants .. subtly is my goal most of the time .. the plants are the main draw .. but oh, that touch of art is so nice to see.
    These are wonderful pieces that you show cased for this gardener : )

    1. Joy, I think you might be surprised to find that art is more affordable than you think. There are so many great online sources with pieces the average person can afford. There is also student works and those of artists in the early stages of their careers. Studio tours are also a great way to find art that won't break the bank.
      I agree with you that plants are the real stars in any garden. Too much clutter and objects lose their impact, but you're right, it is nice to have the surprise of a piece of sculpture in a garden.

  2. I do have a few garden ornaments, nothing like the true art which you show us today.

    1. Garden ornaments are nice to have as well. I certainly have a number myself Alistair.

  3. Jennifer,
    So very beautiful. Good combinations and the art really makes the garden shine. Was at Blooms yesterday - good show - excellent presentation about the RBG new rose garden & the opening on the 21st of June. They're hoping to make a summer to fall display with really dependable roses (using techniques they used in the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden - thinking we may need to do a road trip.

    1. Maggie has created some nice plant combinations, hasn't she? Thanks for the Blooms report. I will have to pop over to your blog and see the full story and pictures.

  4. I really never thought about artwork for a garden, but the creations here are really wonderful. It looks like a lot of thought (and love) went into it.
    Thank you for sharing this here, Jennifer.
    Have a wonderful week!

    1. I think you're right Lisa. Maggie put a lot of thought (and love) into choosing the perfect pieces. Each work of art means something to her and is often a memento of her adventures abroad.

  5. Beautiful Garden! Thank you for taking the time to put these featured garden posts together... I so look forward to them. Seeing other home gardens are such a great source of inspiration for color and plant combinations or new plants to try!

    1. I will pass your compliment on to Maggie as well. The idea for the post was hers. It is always nice to hear that readers find the blog inspirational.

  6. Oh my with your fabulous garden, you are killing me. I can hardly wait to get outside in our flower garden, and try to make it as grog ores as yours. Thank you so much for sharing.


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