The world’s most fascinating artistic gardens
Chandigarh is a junk Alhambra, born from one man clearing himself a small garden. (Hira Punjabi/LPI)
Artists’ imaginations have turned these gardens into offbeat wonderlands. Get your green on and go wandering!
Las Pozas, Mexico
Edward James was born to a fabulously wealthy family and for years lived it up as a patron of the arts, sponsoring many of the surrealists and helping found the New York City Ballet. But a yearning for Eden caused him to give it all away and head for Mexico in search of his perfect garden. He spent the rest of his life transforming Las Pozas (in the northern mountains, named for the descending river pools on the property) into his dream jungle paradise, making immense concrete surrealist sculptures and follies to adorn it.
William Ricketts Sanctuary, Australia
Head up to green Mt Dandenong, near Melbourne, to find this whimsical sculpture garden. It is the work of William Ricketts, an Australian artist with a before-his-time bent for environmental and Indigenous issues. He spent a lot of his life living in Aboriginal communities in central Australia before settling in the Dandenongs. Some think his sculptures of Aboriginal people as spirits of the land are twee, but set among the ferns and mountain ash they have a tranquillity and power, seeming to grow right out of their surroundings. Ricketts lived here into his 90s, sculpting to the last.
Chandigarh Rock Garden, India
Nek Chand, a government official, was clearing himself a small garden and used the rubble to make a wall and a couple of sculptures. It seems he was hooked: over the ensuing years, working at night and in his spare time, he fashioned a fantastic edifice of found-object mosaics. It was eventually discovered by authorities, who liked it so much they not only spared it, but gave Chand a salary and helpers to keep building. Today it is a junk Alhambra, with waterfalls and thousands of sculptures of animals and dancing girls set in arched mosaic courtyards.
It is a three-hour train journey from Delhi to Chandigarh (if you catch the fast train). The garden is in Sector 1 of the city.
Giardino dei Tarocchi, Italy
When you think “Tuscan garden”, you probably do not think this. Niki de Saint Phalle, an autodidact artist and sculptor (and, in her day, actor and model) created the garden over years, basing it around the figures of the tarot cards. As you would expect from someone who as a girl painted the fig leaves on the school statues red, the sculpture garden is a larger-than-life riot of joyous, bulbous figures. Highlights are the Magician with his gaping mouth and mirrored face, the exuberant Sun, the Moon upheld by crabs and dogs and the massive pink High Priestess.
The Tarot Garden’s website has detailed directions from Siena, Rome and the Leonardo da Vinci airport.
Tilford Cottage Garden, England
Artist Rod Burn and his wife Pamela, a holistic therapist, created this garden around their 17th-century cottage in Surrey, and at first glance it seems like a typical charming English concoction, with a bog garden, a wild garden and a Victorian knot garden. But that is before you spot the steel giraffe looming out of the trees or notice the topiary figure falling head-first into a hedge. Or the tree with its bole painted gold. Or the apple orchard growing parallel to the ground. As well as sculptures and visual gags scattered around the place, the plants themselves have been tweaked out of the usual: check out the birch trees twisted into a screen.
The garden is open to groups of six or more. It is best to make a reservation.