Living sculptures take the best of nature and art and combine them into one gorgeous display. Creating these sculptures is a true talent as it requires careful consideration of not just what it will look like upon completion but how it will literally grow and change over time. Living sculpture artists are working with a medium that can be unpredictable and fragile, and their work is a testament to both superb planning and of thoughtful patience.
Because of the nature of this work, some of it is ephemeral, lasting only for a season before it either grows out or is pruned away to become the canvas for another piece entirely. The beauty of natural art is that it, like us, is always changing.
Here are some of the most stunning and impressive examples of living sculptures across the world.
Earth Goddess- Atlanta, GA
Located outside of the Cascades Garden at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Earth Goddess certainly lives up to her name. Her eyes closed in serene contemplation as she raises a cupped hand spilling water onto the earth, she embodies the peaceful effects of nature. Many different shades of cascading plants make up this 25-foot display.
Green Animals Topiary Garden- Portsmouth, RI
Topiary features a push and pull between the human sense of order and nature’s tendency to override it. More than 80 pieces make up the Green Animals topiary collection including bears, birds, and abstract shapes. This collection of sculptures has a long history, as it was started under the careful attention of the property’s superintendent back in the early 1900’s. The creators carefully carve the sculptures from yew, English boxwood, and California privet shrubs.
The Circus Trees of Gilroy Gardens- Gilroy, CA
Swedish horticulturist Axel Erlandson used a process called inosculation to shape trees into elaborate designs and patterns, creating dozens of living sculptures out of trees on his property in California in the early 1900’s. While some of his creations were featured by Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, by the time the property was bought in 1964, many of the trees had died. Today, more than two dozen of his creations survive at what is now the Gilroy Gardens. You can see a tree with a trunk woven like a basket that you can look right through. The “Revolving Door” offers a 3D cube in the middle of a tree trunk.
King’s Cross Picnic Display by Anna Garforth
U.K.-based artist Anna Garforth makes graffiti with moss instead of spray paint. She uses natural elements embedded directly into man-made structures to create stunning and beautiful displays. One such example is her installation at King’s Cross Picnic, a commissioned piece for the London Festival of Architecture. With geometric zigzags and diamonds embedded directly into the wall, this piece is both calming and intriguing.
These stunning displays of living sculptures are meaningful reminders of our connection and dependence upon the Earth to sustain us just as we sustain it. Putting this reciprocal relationship into a piece of art is a challenging undertaking with breathtaking results. Some of these sculptures (like Erlandson’s trees) will outlive their creators, taking on new shapes over time. Others are temporary displays. Still, others take on different shapes each season, ensuring that no two visits will ever be the same.
Bringing pieces of living art into our own spaces via living walls of cascading plants, topiary, and sculptures can liven up space, bring us closer to nature, and remind us of our connectedness to the Earth and each other. These powerful pieces speak to us on a deep level.