Sculpted Beauty

He bought the house without even seeing inside.

Landscape designer Kevin Doyle knew immediately from the spread surrounding the modest saltbox that he had found paradise.

HE BOUGHT THE HOUSE WITHOUT EVEN SEEING THE INSIDE. Landscape designer Kevin Doyle knew immediately from the spread surrounding the modest saltbox that he had found paradise. “When I was looking for a place to live, I was looking for a place to garden,” says Doyle. “The house didn’t have a septic system.” What mattered more to the Boston-based landscaper is that the house sat on two-and-a-half acres cushioned by 3,000 acres of conservation land in Dover, just 10 miles from downtown Boston.

Over the past 24 years, Doyle developed the land into what is now Cairn Croft Sculpture Garden. Doyle and his partner, Michael Radoslovich, open the private garden to the public by appointment and during the Garden Conservancy’s September Open Days, when curious gardeners and horticulturists wander the open lawns, woodlands and wetlands. Sculpture by artists from around the country and world is displayed around a pond, drumlin, formal parterre and courtyard. For Doyle and Radoslovich, the show has become a hobby, as well as a way to educate gardeners about outdoor art and showcase local artists.

Cairn Croft is broken up into garden “rooms.” “Each creates a wonderful place to put more than one piece of sculpture,” says Doyle. As many as 100 sculptures are on display and for sale during any given show. “People aren’t accustomed to seeing sculpture in a garden, but a lot of people leave thinking they could do this in their own backyards,” he says. “It’s a way to show that you can get beyond the pink flamingos and the birdbaths.” Stone sculpture is a common medium, but visitors will also see totems, carvings and bowls that are inserted into a stone wall, as well as work done in glass, ceramic, wood and fiberglass.

Several years ago, Doyle worked with an artist who covered mannequins with organic materials. “One would sit in a swing,” he says. “It was a mannequin entirely sheathed in birch bark, hanging from a pine tree.” Though the outdoor sculpture was outlandish even by Doyle’s standards, it ended up in a collector’s backyard in Cambridge where the owner could see it through her patio doors.

Doyle also collects contemporary sculptures by Boston artist Rob Lorenson. “All of his pieces are metal—polished and brushed chrome,” he says. “Despite the fact that it’s cold, hard metal, I have been impressed by how well these show in a garden.” Doyle once placed a monolithic, 7-foot-diameter sphere in a deep hole surrounded by pine trees. When the light shone on it, he says, “It looked like a sunrise.”

Carving Out a Niche

SUSAN REDMOND, OWNER OF REDMOND Design Group in Sudbury, created an astrological-themed sculpture garden for one of her clients in Weston. “The first piece is a kinetic sculpture knit into the front garden, surrounded by perennials and a beautiful fieldstone wall,” she says. “The other sculptures are placed within the backyard garden—and a few selectively placed within the woodland edge.” The astrology theme was carried out with plants, which were chosen with reference to the planets, either symbolically or using proper botanical or common names, such as the ‘Full Moon’ maple and Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam.’

Planning a sculpture garden means balancing man-made objects with natural surroundings. “One must decide if the sculpture is a focal point or if it is to blend in,” says Redmond. Placing sculptures far enough apart is important for two reasons: It avoids overcrowding and allows each piece to have its own space for viewing it.

“It is often nice to view several pieces through a series of outdoor rooms,” says Redmond, with the space for sculptures distinguished by flowers and plant life. It’s also important that a sculpture’s material has been made for the outdoors.

“The biggest challenge in creating a sculpture garden is using the right pieces in the right application and not overdoing it,” says Redmond. “To me, there is nothing worse than too many focal points. It becomes too busy. Sculpture should be used when a dramatic effect is needed, a place where people stop and take it in, a special place, a spiritual place. Sculpture provides a balance between living and nonliving materials.” This could mean positioning a beautiful boulder at a garden’s edge or adding an ornamental gate in a backyard.

Art Matters

BOSTON SCULPTOR CHRISTOPHER FROST, who creates sculptures you wouldn’t expect to see outside, wants people to stumble upon his work in a garden. “My approach relies on exploration. You could be walking down the garden path and there on a boulder is a concrete grandfather clock,” he says.

At the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Frost’s bronze top hat, A Mile From Any Neighbor, is named after the first line of Thoreau’s Walden. (“The DeCordova is roughly a mile from Walden Pond,” he says.) It sits incongruously atop a chunk of weatherbeaten rock.

Frost created one sculpture on a removable cement base that can be used indoors and outdoors, for collectors concerned about the effects of New England weather.

The sculptures Doyle has collected for more than a decade have fared well at Cairn Croft. “Anyone who makes a garden wants to show it,” he says. “Since I’m a landscaper, plants are my most important medium.” But it’s with plants, art and stone, he adds, that he can really “create the essence of a garden. Garden sculpture is art itself.”