Garden Photo of the Day

Play on Light: A Unique Sculpture Garden

By Kim Charles

The garden entrance featuring a bronze sculpture, and natural boulders with an axiel view along the serpentine knee wall.

Jay Sifford takes us on a journey through his sculpture garden in Charlotte, NC.

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“As some of you know, I have been in the process of creating a sculpture garden in a forest clearing here in Charlotte. This garden, originally designed to be seen from my home’s windows and not to be walked through, has evolved into a stroll garden with a new meditation area off axis at the end of the path. I also call this garden my Light Garden, as I have designed it to capture and display the sunlight as it moves across the southern sky, eventually backlighting the garden through the trees. You see, I believe that few people other than gardeners and artists really notice the ever-changing light patterns and intensity, so, in this vain, the garden acts rather like a large sundial. I have planted strips and pools of chartreuse foliage such as Everillo carex and Florida Sunshine illicium to mimic and simulate the shafts of sunlight as they pierce the forest canopy. This fall I added 6 vertical podocarpus on the upper hill to mimic sentries standing guard over the space and created “shadows” off of them with mondo grass. 


This summer we built the meditation circle. Since most parts of my garden would be called “abundantly planted”, I wanted an area that is minimalistic and initiates reflective thought. Therefore, the meditation circle includes only three items:  a stone sphere, a honed seating boulder and a vertical sculpture. Natural boulders create steps that lead to this area. The sculpture, while industrial in style, blends well with the surrounding beech trees with regard to color and shape. I call her my “forest person”. She stands in contrast to the steel ballerina sculpture that is close-by. 


This has become a favorite part of the garden for me as it’s indicative of my imagination and current aesthetic, and how I can blend them in interesting ways to speak for the forest that I call home.”


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Close-up of the entrance sculpture.

One of the newly installed podocarpus "sentries" with its mondo shadow.

Steel ballerina sculpture at the far end of the garden, on axis with the home's windows.

The new minimalist meditation area at the far end of the garden.

Stone sphere. I have placed these "rolling down the hill" to simulate movement. I find the shape very soothing.

The stacked stone wall that supports the mediation area. I love the juxtaposition created between the wall and the nearby tree bark.

Industrial sculpture makes a meaningful connection between the beech trees with regard to shape, color and texture.

View Comments


  1. frankgreenhalgh 01/10/2017

    Hi Jay - Well what a wonderful narrative, outstanding design and unique garden! It's all class, and I also found it very educational. Congratulations on your vision and magnificent achievement. I cannot help but think that the true beauty of the garden wouldn't have been fully appreciated if you hadn't made it a stroll garden. Thanks for sharing. Cheers, Frank

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Thanks Frank! I believe that every garden, every piece of land, has a story that it wants to tell. The problem is that story-telling is almost a lost art, and I'm determined to change that. It involves listening, expounding, editing, revising, and knowing when to stop. Whether a tract house in a nondescript development was formerly a farm or a contemporary house sits on land that used to be a creek that has since dried up or been rerouted, it's up to us as sensitive gardeners to listen, uncover, and tell the story. And throwing in a bit of intrigue, hyperbole or scandal never hurt a storyline either! Happy gardening.

  2. user-4691082 01/10/2017

    Good morning Jay- thanks for allowing us a glimpse of your forest. I am so jealous of your podocarpus. It is not hardy in our area. I have to stroll through the conservatory of Longwood gardens to get my fix. Did you make your cement spheres? Everything is so carefully planned and well thought out. I am in love with your ballerina! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Hi Rhonda,
      Longwood isn't a bad place to get your fix!
      The spheres are actually lava rock and came from Restoration Hardware. The ballerina is great, especially when the morning sun hits her. Ben Parrish did an awesome job in creating that piece.

  3. tennisluv 01/10/2017

    Jay, just a stroll through the pictures of your forest is soothing and relaxing. The additions you have made to what nature & God has given you are perfect. Your ability to enhance without overpowering is a testament to your artistic ability. The Everillo carex juxtaposed against the black mondo grass is a wonderful contrast of dark (shadow) and light (sunshine), and I would think, set the mind to contemplation without even being in the meditation circle.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Thanks, Sonya, for the nice words. I think it's important to listen to the land when it whispers in your ear what it wants to become. That then mixes with a gardener's creative brain, and the garden is born. It's also important to know when to stop, which is sometimes even more difficult to know.

  4. user-3565112 01/10/2017

    Good morning Jay, These are some terrific photos of your unique sculpture gardens.
    Every scene stands on it's own & is beautifully designed & constructed.
    Good luck, Joe

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Thanks Joe, and happy gardening!

  5. bsavage 01/10/2017

    What a beautiful and tranquil space. It must be fantastic to walk through!

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Thanks, Brenda. If you're ever in the area, give me a shout and stop by. My garden loves to have visitors.

  6. User avater
    meander_michaele 01/10/2017

    It seems only appropriate that the artful plant choices designed to emphasize the reflection of outer light lead one along to a place that is conducive to the reflection on inner thoughts. Your upright sculptures are all so interesting, Jay, and I appreciate how their multiple parts are balanced out by the pure simplicity of the spheres. I agree with Frank that your decision to include the subtle pathway only enhances the opportunity to enjoy the experience. Have any, if not all, of the artists gotten to see their pieces in place?

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Thanks for understanding my motivation for creating this space! To answer your question, the only one of those artists who have been here is Ben Parrish who did the ballerina, but his visit happened before this garden really developed. I should have him back. With regard to the other artists, one lives in the Morganton, NC, area and the other in Philly. I have sent them photos. I think it's important for them to know what a good home their work has found.

  7. annek 01/10/2017

    Unique sculptures, a simple yet complex design, perfect plant choices and beautiful prose describing your efforts coalesce into serenely flowing spaces. Like others, I applaud your decision to include the path. I enjoy form even more when there is function supporting it. Like Rhonda, I'm curious as to whether you made your mossy concrete spheres.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Hi Annek. Thanks for the poetic words. I hope you are a writer.
      The spheres are actually lava rock and sourced from Restoration Hardware. I have no time to make concrete spheres!
      Happy gardening.

  8. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 01/10/2017

    I'm always delighted to take a virtual stroll through your abundant garden. Even the restrained areas have their own abundance of space, light and structure. The stone spheres are probably my favorite feature, although the intricate stacked-stone walls (especially counterpointed with the vertical bark fissures) are equally thrilling to me.
    And I'd like to point out the incredible restraint I am showing in not making crass jokes about your garden balls.......

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Hi Tim. Thanks for being restrained and polite! I have to say that, on occasion, I am not.
      Negative space is so important, and one that is so easily overlooked by us compulsive plant-collector gardeners. This is one area of my garden that has been a continuing study in the art of restraint for me.

      1. User avater
        Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 01/10/2017

        On occasion I actually am restrained!
        I do overlook negative space in the pursuit of space for more plants, but you are so right about its importance. To learn about the heavy weight of empty space, I delve in to Japanese design, especially sumi-e paintings. If only I applied those lessons regularly. You've done a great job in letting the heavy weight of serene space balance the positive interjections of plants and sculpture.

        1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

          Thanks Tim. And you.... restrained? I don't believe a word of it. I mean, I hear rumors that there are new podophyllums out there somewhere!! ha.

          1. User avater
            Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 01/10/2017

            Only restrained in my vulgar comments. And for an update, 2017 is Year of the Arisaema for me! :)

          2. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

            I'm not sure about which plant the 2017 Chinese calendar holds for me. I'm becoming a bit more interested in viburnums, but prostrate camellias and illicium are ranking high as well. They aren't as interesting as arisaemas, but perhaps my proclivities are settling down, indicative of 2017 hopefully being a calmer, kinder and gentler year than was 2016!

  9. User avater
    HelloFromMD 01/10/2017

    Hi Jay. I think it is interesting that you put the stone to sit upon inside the meditation circle rather than just outside the circle. Is this an internal meditation with closed eyes so you are within the circle rather than a meditation on the circle with eyes open? I like the fact that your new space became a stroll garden. To really perceive and enjoy a garden, I think it is best to be within it. Hence I enjoy my garden most when I am working on it, since that is when I am within it for a substantial length of time. Hence my saying, The best views of the garden happen when one is on one's knees.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Hi. I put the stone "seat" inside the circle because it feels like a perch overlooking the ravine, because the simple shape makes a sculptural statement juxtaposed with the stone sphere and the metal sculpture, and because being inside a circle elicits feelings of well-being and security. I actually love spheres and circles more than any other shapes because of their nurturing qualities. Personally, I think it goes back to being in the womb.
      Happy gardening!

      1. User avater
        HelloFromMD 01/11/2017

        Hi Jay, I love stone spheres as well and curved lines. Here is the only shot I could find for the gI
        granite sphere. The hunt for that lead me to a man who visits Thailand once a year and to the purchase of this lat tern.

  10. thevioletfern 01/10/2017

    Such creativity and fascinating concepts! Your garden interpretation is one I would love to visit. I love that you have created living pockets of light and shadow - amazing!

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Kathy, if you make it to Charlotte sometime, give me a shout and stop by.

  11. Chris_N 01/10/2017

    Another wonderful walk through your garden. Your designs work on both a cerebral and visceral level. It is a sculpture garden in two senses, the obvious one and the fact that the garden itself has a sculptural quality. Keep those photos coming.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Chris, thanks for the kind words.

  12. NCYarden 01/10/2017

    Hi Jay, Your garden is just an artful design. It's obvious how thoughtful you are in its development. The creative use of your space is fantastic. I'm glad you opened the hill vista as a stroll garden. Being immersed in that area as the day and light changes must be magic, and a bit mind-clearing. The structure is amazing - stones, tall trees, art, and well placed plants. I'm always stoked to see your garden here, but if all goes well, hopefully I'll be seeing it with my own eyes this Spring or Summer. If I can make it to Kevin's garden in PA, surely I can make yours in our own state. Thanks for sharing as always.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Come on down!

  13. greengenes 01/10/2017

    Good morning Jay! Great gardens! I so love the peacefulness of it all. We sure need that in our lives! I really like how your sculptures are not obtrusive and in your face with high contrast and color. It seems my favorite is the stone and bark picture though! Iam sure this is beautiful in the snow you have recieved! Some day i would love to have our woods free of so much undergrowth and a stroll through area. Thank you for the tour and explanation!

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Thank Jeanne. I love that stone/bark area as well. We must both be texture people.

  14. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 01/10/2017

    As always, Jay, you wowed me with your ability to see what a garden space can ultimately become. I've grown to like those cares 'Everillo' grasses as they keep their color all winter and bring great light into the shaded areas. You manage to find some great sculptures and I love your stacked stone. I'm curious, though, if you ever find the time to actually meditate in your meditation garden?:)

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Thanks Linda! Time to meditate... hmm... only on the weekends!

  15. sheila_schultz 01/10/2017

    The fact that the 'less is more' concept is so quietly fulfilling in your gardens makes me exhale slowly and smile. Your visions turn into simple beauty... thanks Jay.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Thanks Sheila. The older I become, the more "simple beauty" I want in my life.

  16. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

    Hi Diane. I'm glad you appreciate this garden. I realize that it's not for everyone. To answer your question, I have only 1/2 acre but I back up to a forested easement and the back part of a condo complex that will not expand, so my space feels larger. I can take advantage of it without paying taxes on it!

  17. schatzi 01/10/2017

    Jay, I love your hillside garden - the carefully considered plantings, the spheres, the stone wall - and especially the juxtaposition of stone and bark in that one photo. I enjoyed the insightful comments of our fellow Gpoders. Beautiful.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/10/2017

      Thanks Shirley, for the compliments. Happy gardening to you!

  18. Meelianthus 01/10/2017

    Jay, so lovely to see your creativity again and I so enjoyed the meditative stroll thru your forest. I can just imagine how beautiful the light must be at different times of the day. I am a painter so am always looking for the 'light' to be just right, difficult to find most times. I enjoyed the simplicity of your structures, your forest people and their placement throughout your stroll garden. Very peaceful.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/11/2017

      Thanks! Isn't light amazing? I'm fortunate that this part of my garden captures, reflects and displays it. Throughout the day, the garden changes every 15 minutes or so. Once I recorded that by taking photos every 15 minutes. It was such a great thing to do.

  19. albion10 01/10/2017

    The older I become, the more "simple beauty" I want in my life---
    Hence I enjoy my garden most when I am working on it

    Both of these thoughts from your sharing a garden - pretty stellar.
    I see so much similiar to where we are in southern Oregon. I have not been to your neck of the woods , may be some time. two hobbies strolling and gardening. I stroll often but never seem to clear my head. Sometimes i sit a bit an try as i might i cannot ever take it all in an stroll again.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/11/2017

      Thanks Tim. Strolling, gardening and thinking seem to go together so well. We gardeners are a fortunate bunch. Happy gardening and strolling!

  20. User avater
    treasuresmom 01/10/2017

    Love, love, love that dry stack wall.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/11/2017

      Thanks! The older I become, the more I love and appreciate stone. It has a presence almost spiritual, and a uniquely organic quality. I'm not a fan of manufactured concrete products in most applications. Stone is so much better.

  21. user-7007498 01/10/2017

    Good evening, Jay. Crazy day at work for, I just got home and had no time to look over the blog. Whenever I see your name, I think of those fabulous Chinese doors and the red boardwalk. Your pictures today are wonderful. It is so awesome to have a place for meditation, even if we, as gardener's, don't use it enough. I am such a fan of the stonework in your garden, and I love the stone spheres. I have blue pottery spheres scattered about. The spheres work so well with so many plants. Thanks for inviting us into your terrific garden.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/11/2017

      My pleasure, Kevin. This garden is right above the red boardwalk garden and across my property from the doors. Please come visit sometime if you're in the area. Happy gardening.

  22. Luvfall 01/11/2017

    Jay, I'm a big fan of your seemingly random spheres. They lend a sense of history to the space, as though they were placed eons ago and have been moved by time.

    1. Jay_Sifford 01/11/2017

      Thank you. The spherical shape has always captivated me. They've become a signature part of my garden and in many of the gardens I design for others as well. They are also great for juxtaposition when used with boulders, or in my case, ball clipped boxwood. The boxwood would look silly in my garden otherwise.

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