Garden Photo of the Day

A Sculptor’s Garden

Making art with plants

Today we’re visiting the garden of Syd Carpenter in Philadelphia.

My 20-year-old garden surrounds the house on three sides with semi-shady garden rooms. Plantings focus on leaf colors, shapes, and textures, with flowers an added bonus. As a sculptor, my garden is an extension of my studio work because I view plants as potentially expressive as clay, steel, or any other three-dimensional medium. I plan what might happen, but I understand that the plants and I are willing collaborators. I am always surprised as the season progresses. Some of my best plant collaborators are coleus, caladiums, heuchera, Asiatic lilies, and hosta. Daylilies bring high drama and some flash during the hottest days of July. I combine the entire scheme with lots of large ceramic pots filled with annuals, succulents, and perennials. Including various tropicals with the perennials and annuals adds another layer of unpredictable interest when moving from garden room to room.

Glorious peony (Paeonia ‘Bowl of Beauty’) flowers take center stage in the spring.

A place to stop and enjoy the garden in a cool, shady nook. I love the mirror window mounted on the wall above the bench because it gives the illusion of another garden hidden on the other side of the wall. That bench is almost too beautiful to sit on!

Bright annuals bring color in containers, cooled down by a bowl full of rich blue ceramics.

A daylily (Hemerocallis hybrid, Zones 3–8) so dark red it is almost black.

This complex planting of shrubs and perennials is highlighted by intense orange cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus, annual). The orange flowers look all the brighter for being surrounded by dark foliage and purple flowers.

A narrow path through the garden, under towering lilies, leads to a brick wall decorated with beautiful sculptures.

This mosaic tile in the paving adds a note of color to a cool, green planting.

With so many wonderful coleus varieties to choose from, why not mix up a bunch of different ones?


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View Comments


  1. sandyprowse 01/25/2019

    Oh those peonies! And a brick wall in the garden, so British, and the mosaic tile — along with such a beautiful showing of flowers. Amazing. A splendid garden! It was a pleasure viewing your garden.

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      That brick wall is the side of a neighbor’s art studio. It is in a constant state of disrepair, which makes it look like a ruin. I am starting an espaliered magnolia against this wall. I saw one at Chanticleer and it was so so good. I just had to try it

  2. Brierwood 01/25/2019

    What a beautiful peaceful tranquil retreat! Love your peony and the coleus is stunning! Thank you for sharing what obviously is a cherished garden!

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      All of those coleus are volunteers. If you leave the flowers and allow them to go to seed you will be rewarded in August with hundreds of seedlings that quickly mature. I never know which varieties will appear. Usually they are not any that I have planted. So what you see in that photograph is a total surprise, but one worth waiting for. For the record, that clump is growing out of a crack.

  3. mjensen 01/25/2019

    omg i love this garden,beautiful

  4. Chellemp 01/25/2019

    Your garden is charming and beautiful with non-traditional plant pairings. But the sunlight catching the wall and the edge of the mirror above the bench is breathtaking. It looks like a fine art painting. Nicely done, Syd.

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      I get the most satisfaction out of combining plants. When I visit gardens, I look first for the best leaf combinations, not the flowers. Flowers can be unreliable but leaves last the entire season. They are the backbone of a good planting.

      1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

        Getting good photos of the garden is very important to me. So I wait for good light, usually early morning and around 6pm .

  5. garden1953 01/25/2019

    Stunningly beautiful!! What peace and joy it must bring you.

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      More peace and joy than I can describe.

  6. nwphillygardener 01/25/2019

    It's clear the containers and objects found throughout the garden are as judiciously curated as the handsome plants in the garden beds. Brava!

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      I am in Philadelphia and it sounds like you are too. You are quite welcomed to visit.

      1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

        And I can never resist an unusual pot, so I make my own when I am not making sculptures.

  7. User avater
    treasuresmom 01/25/2019

    So much is just so beautiful but the peony, the tile & that bench & mirror window are especially so.

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      I am a hunter/gatherer. Finding a great piece, like the bench, is as satisfying as snagging a long sought after plant. Sometimes even better because the plant might die and often does, but the garden objects and the art never let me down.

  8. User avater
    vanhatalosuomi 01/25/2019

    Thanks so much for sharing your garden spaces!
    Wonderful to see plants, shapes & colors so well combined. I'm sure much of it comes from having a garden for 20 years - maturity in plants is a treasure.
    Thanks again.

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      It’s been 20 years of trial and error. But I have loved every minute. Looking forward to next season!

  9. User avater
    meander_michaele 01/25/2019

    Oh, my, Syd, I will readily admit to being thoroughly enthralled with the level of talented artistry that is so evident throughout your garden. In every vignette you've chosen to share, there is such a beautiful melding of plant material and objects of ornamentation. The mosaic of the rooster would be delightful in any way of displaying it and yet, you've heightened its impact with the choice of the colorful leafed coleus off to the side...sigh, perfection.

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      No matter how long I tend this garden, there is always something new to do. I have some new plans and plantings on the drawing board....can’t wait to get started!

  10. LauraJaneS 01/25/2019

    what a gorgeous garden! That rooster mosaic is a delight! Bravo!

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      There is an online company where mosaics can be purchased. It’s called Mozaico.

  11. Quiltingmamma 01/25/2019

    A beautiful garden. I particularly am drawn to the bench and mirror window. As said, the reflection expands the garden, but also draws you in to see what there is to a Vermeer painting....I want to see the details of the further layer of images. I also realize it isn't just about the plants in the's also the pots themselves. Lovely

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      You sound like an artist yourself. Plants are a wonderful medium to work with

    2. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      I love making pots for the garden. The next posting in a couple of weeks will show more of the ones I’ve made

  12. DoodleSue 01/25/2019

    What are the purple-blue flowers in the picture with the orange cosmos??

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      Betony is the name of the vertical purple flowers

      1. nwphillygardener 01/25/2019

        I've seen Syd's Betony (Stachys officianalis, perhaps "Hummelo") and later in the day, in direct sun, the color is more red violet than "blue-purple" as it appears in this AM photo.

        1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

          Actually this photo was taken in the evening and the color is pretty accurate. In the morning, colors are less saturated and in mid day they are quite bleached out

          1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

            What’s your name, we have obviously met? When did you come to the garden.

  13. cheryl_c 01/25/2019

    Syd, I keep coming back to the computer to look at your gardens again! I can't decide which grouping I like best - each time I look, a different one shines forth! You've put together the 'secondary colors' and mostly avoided the primary colors - I love it! And, agree that your pots are so beautiful in themselves, they truly complete the picture. Thank you so much for sharing - and let's see some more!

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      There will be a part 2 posting of my garden in a couple of weeks. Thanks for looking

  14. darylsavage 01/25/2019

    Beautiful. Do you have a water feature anywhere?

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      Yes I do. It may show up in a later GPOD posting in a couple of weeks.

  15. User avater
    simplesue 01/25/2019

    Your garden is pure art! Love your style!

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      Plants are great collaborators. They usually tell me what needs to happen next. I also keep a pretty hefty file of photos of each year’s garden and during the winter months use them to decide on what needs changing and what worked. My gardening buddies are always amazed at how willing I am to replant a whole bed. I do the same thing in my studio ....trying to get it better.. I won’t say “get it right” because I don’t believe there is a “right” in a garden

  16. btucker9675 01/25/2019

    The mirror garden "window" is fabulous - what a fantastic garden. You are truly an artist!

    1. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      Plants are a great medium to work with and the garden gives me a whole other audience beyond my studio artwork

    2. sydneyleigh 01/25/2019

      Mirrors are wonderful “extras” in a garden. They can open up a small space, providing reflected light, depth and added color depending on what is reflected in them.

  17. User avater
    bdowen 01/27/2019

    I think we would all love to come visit this garden! The view over the purple betony and orange cosmos towards the sunlight on the gate is where I'd like to pause for quite a while to soak up all the colors and life in that view. Thank you for sharing your garden.

    1. sydneyleigh 02/03/2019

      Photographing the garden is pay day for me after all the work. Waiting for good light and successful combinations just gives me another way to enjoy the garden

  18. [email protected] 01/27/2019

    What is your gardening zone? Never heard of coleus re-seeding, but how fun is that?! Thanks for sharing, and I anxiously await the next posting from you.

    1. sydneyleigh 02/03/2019

      I am in zone 6. And those coleus reseed like crazy. It really is a bonus as fall is coming on to have all this volunteer color appear in cracks and niches all over the garden.

      1. sydneyleigh 02/03/2019

        It’s as if the garden, just when you think nothing new is coming, is saying “but wait, wait! There’s more!”

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