In or Out: The Grotto as a Garden Element

4 min readNov 7, 2022

by Greg Balondo and Princess Villarama

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash


Grottos are normally of two types: natural caves and man-made ones. Natural caves are usually found in mountains, cliffs, and other elevated areas where water has carved out a path for itself, creating a cavity over time. Man-made grottos are designed by humans to look like real caves.

In this article, we will look into the grotto as a garden ornament. Designers have been incorporating grottos into their designs for centuries. It was initially used to create an artificial cave filled with religious statuary, but today it can also be found in contemporary gardens as an interesting design element.

A grotto is an artificial, usually rocky chamber generally located in a garden

The origin of this word is unclear, but it’s likely derived from the Greek word “kroton,” meaning cave or cavern. Often constructed with stone and mortar, they are found throughout Europe and Asia dating back to ancient times. Grottos were often used as places of worship for monks or priests; however, today, they are typically used as ornamental features in gardens or parks.

In the late 19th-century and early 20th-century versions of the grotto, they were often built to surround a swimming pool

Grottos as garden ornamentation were popular in the late 19th century and early 20th century, often built within or surrounding a pool of water and with statuary such as angels or cherubs placed inside. In this way, it resembled an outdoor altar — a household worship space.

Today, though rare, some contemporary gardens still feature grottos

Grottos in contemporary gardens are usually positioned on the edge of a lawn or patio and as a central water feature. They can also be incorporated into the design of a garden by being constructed as focal points in their own right or by using them as frames for planting beds.

Grotto designs vary greatly depending on their purpose; some may be purely decorative. Others may serve as practical features, such as seating areas where you might have an open-air dining experience (think: stone seats with cushions).

Grottos can be an interesting element of a garden

Grottos often create a sense of mystery and awe. They can also hide unsightly features in spaces. Grottos can be used as barriers, creating the illusion of depth in your garden. This is especially useful if you have a small area where you don’t have room for many plants but still want something interesting around which guests will gravitate when they visit.

They work well as focal points because they draw attention away from other areas of your yard and give viewers something new to look at when they come through your gate or driveway.

Criteria in designing grottos

If you are considering adding a grotto to your garden, check these several factors to make it stand out:

  • Size: The smaller the grotto is, the less likely visitors will notice and appreciate its beauty. Choose a location where visitors will have their backs turned when they enter or leave the space, so they don’t get distracted by its presence.
  • Materials: Choose durable materials such as concrete block or stone for constructing your grotto; these materials will last longer than others and won’t fade over time like wood does if exposed to too much sunlight (which causes fading).
  • Decorations: You’ll want decorations inside your cave-like structure so that people can see exactly what’s going on inside it — this way, nobody feels let down when there isn’t anything at all! You can embellish it with shells, coral, shiny stones, or mirrors. Statuary such as that of the Virgin Mary is often used in grottos, especially in Catholic countries.


Putting a grotto in your modern garden is a matter of style and taste. Choosing a design that fits in with your garden’s theme is essential. You can decorate the grotto with stones, plants, and flowing water to make it a central feature.

And finally, remember that before using it as an ornament for your garden, make sure it will withstand the weather conditions in your area. It should be made with materials built to last such as concrete and natural stone. However, if you’re planning to move or replace this item again at some point down the road, consider another design element that is not expensive to build.

Grotto design in a modern garden by Ashley Ramirez




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