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Owl Garden, South Africa
Miss Helen, who created a private world of her own in her house and garden, is a classic example of an outsider artist. She was a recluse in the conservative village of Nieu Bethesda; she shunned company and was regarded with suspicion. She decorated her house with lovely, outlandish murals made from coloured glass. In 1964 she hired a sheepshearer, Koos Malgas, to help her construct a sculpture garden of camels, shepherds, donkeys and sheep, all facing east. The owl was her totem figure and she used it over and over again. At the end of her life, fearing she was going blind, she killed herself – by ingesting crushed glass.

Give the Owl House a call on 049-8411-733 to arrange your visit.

Jardin Rosa Mir, France
Something like a homemade Parc Güell, the Jardin Rosa Mir in Lyon is the creation of Jules Senis, a Spanish tiler who dreamed up the garden and vowed to make it a reality while he was in hospital battling cancer. The garden is named after his mother. It is not large, but makes up for that by being crowded with found materials (rocks, shells, coral, even snail shells) that make elaborate mosaics on walls and pillars. Teamed with lemon trees, succulents, ivy and geraniums, the effect is surprisingly charming.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, Pennsylvania
Isaiah and Julia Zagar are mosaic evangelists. They moved to Philly’s South Street neighbourhood in the 1960s, took a look around, and evidently thought “this place could use some colour!”. At the time the district was in decline, and the couple were able to buy several derelict buildings. They did them up with bright mosaics inside and out. Isaiah Zagar’s biggest work is the Magic Gardens, which he built on a vacant lot near his house – a mammoth mosaic labyrinth incorporating local trash, mirrors and tiles. It depicts events from his own life and world history. When the owners tried to sell the site, the community rallied to save the Gardens.

Millesgården, Sweden
This dreamy space outside Stockholm is something like a Swedish Isola Bella. Carl and Olga Milles, both artists, and architect half-brother Evert, transformed the rocky slope surrounding the couple’s home into a series of terraces gracefully leading the eye downwards. The garden is littered with architectural finds like the marble archway from a hotel. Milles’ sculptures – immense saints, gods and angels held aloft on pillars – hold sway on the lower terraces. The most touching part of the garden is Little Austria, a loving recreation of Olga’s much-missed homeland.

The garden features white urns designed by Milles. You can buy flowerpots based on them in the Millesgården shop.

Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens, Georgia
This garden is a gift from god. Finster was a Southern preacher who received a vision telling him to make art, and untrained as he was, that was what he went ahead and did. His paintings are done in a naive style, often with text. For Finster, the art was all about the message. The Paradise Gardens are a jumble of mosaic materials (bottles, mirrors) and found objects. There is a chapel and a folk art gallery. It might not be everyone’s idea of paradise, but you are sure to find something you like.

Just before Finster died, he put up a note in the gardens asking that they be preserved. If you would like to donate, visit


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© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘The world’s most fascinating artistic gardens’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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