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.
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
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
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
is open to groups of six or more. It is best to make a reservation.
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
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
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.
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.
features white urns designed by Milles. You can buy flowerpots based on them in
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.
Finster died, he put up a note in the gardens asking that they be preserved. If
you would like to donate, visit Finstersparadisegardens.org.
The article 'The world’s most fascinating artistic gardens' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.