Design, plant collections and spectacular, larger-than-life sculptures dominate fabulous Fling garden

It’s always interesting to poll Garden Bloggers Fling attendees about their favorite gardens. Some like gardens that showcase collections, some like gardens that highlight design. Personally, I had several favorite gardens at last week’s Fling in Minneapolis. But this one stood out above the rest, filled with beautiful plant selections, gorgeous design and the heart and soul of the artist and gardener who calls this stunning collection home.

Just across the border into the luscious, rolling hills of Wisconsin farmland, Wouterina De Raad’s Concrete Mosaic Sculpture Garden brought it all to the game. Chicken-lover, gardener, artist, and sculptor extraordinaire, De Raad, a self-taught artist, began creating life-size concrete and mosaic sculptures 27 years ago.

Of Dutch heritage, De Raad grew up on her family’s coffee and rubber plantation in Indonesia. She brings life to her sculpture garden by drawing on her upbringing in the Indonesian jungle. Her collection includes statues of jaguars, pythons, and other exotic and mythical creatures. Leading the tour through garden, she regaled us with the folk tales of her childhood, and the stories from her own life that inspired her unique creations.

Welcome to the garden — come on in!

Her love of the garden and all its inhabitants is evident in this oversized Monarch caterpillar bench, complete with the jungle-inspired monkey on its back. And, don’t miss the exotic bird on the monkey’s head.

The intriguing sculpture vignettes of the garden are bound together by pretty pathways and endless beds filled with beautiful blooms, stitched together like a life-sized garden quilt.

The perfect dog breed for the serious gardener. This one won’t dig up bulbs, eat tomatoes or chase chickens! You’d better watch out, Fletcher and Dakota, you could be replaced!

On one end of the charming clothesline, Momma and her young-un try coaxing a chicken off of the pole.

On the other end, Mr. America holds everything in line.

The garden also sports a seemingly endless array of little cottages, sheds, workshops and other quaint buildings, each its own palette for yet another display of De Raad’s artistic talent.

She wove a spell-binding tale about the jaguars in Indonesia as we passed by this building, closely guarded by her sculptural tribute to the fierce cats.

Sadly, my iPhone notes simply read, “jaguar story,” and I can’t remember the details.

I marveled at every turn at her innate ability to transform the most meaningful impressions of her life’s experiences into beauty and art.

The charming chicken coop, complete with its own namesake statues, was full of reused and recycled decor and several beautiful chickens.

I couldn’t really get any good pics of the chicks, and after all, the garden was calling…

But even the quaint bed in front of the chicken run was an art display. I can’ resist – De Raad left no stone unturned in bringing character into this part of the garden. Each of the border stones were given unique expressions, most of them smiling up at garden visitors.

And then, the chicken chair. Who wouldn’t feel like the queen of poultry sitting atop this perch?

With so much to see in this 3-acre garden, visitors can stop and rest at many lovely seating areas. This perennial border dotted with lilies frames the man and dog sculpture in the background. I didn’t catch the story of the body-less head the man is holding, but I’m sure it’s a doozy!

This seating vignette transports me to Alice in Wonderland…

Most of the sculptures in the garden are also lighted. I would have loved to seen this magical place in the evening, with all of De Raad’s concrete family members shining beacons across the garden.

After hours of editing and prepping, this post only skirts the beginning of this amazing garden. So, stay tuned, another post is yet to come!

My special visit to Our Little Acre’s fabulous garden..

The clouds were foreboding as I started on my garden adventure on Monday, but the day brightened the minute I pulled into my friend Kylee’s driveway in northwest Ohio.  Of Our Little Acre fame, Kylee and I have been gardening cohorts since she came to Austin for the first Garden Bloggers Fling in April 2008.  Earlier this summer, when we were chatting at the Portland Fling, we realized that she lives a short 2-hour drive from Jeff’s family farm in Indiana.  We’re here for a visit this week and I took the day to drive over and pay Kylee and her garden blogging mom, Louise, a visit.

Even in what she calls her Zone 6 garden, Kylee is an avid lover of succulents that find a home in the greenhouse during the cold winters.

 Beautiful raspberries are getting some protection from netting and a new frame.

The edge of the garden overlooks the farm fields behind them.  See those ominous clouds in the background?  It drizzled through most of the day, but we didn’t let a little rain put a damper on our visit.

I could spend hours sitting on this lovely bench on this specially-made custom deck that flanks the pond.

 Glass globes are suspended in the pond below the colorful garden art.

With the day’s rain, everything in the garden was lush and moist, and the grey skies overhead made for a great photo opportunity.
Beautiful echinaacea, flanked by a color guard yucca, and a big boulder, made me feel right at home.

Kylee welcoming me into the entrance to the back garden where more beautifully designed gardens await.

 This may be my favorite view of the garden – a riot of color and texture with the farm fields flowing out behind.

And I had to take time to catch so many of the special details that Kylee incorporated into every part of the garden, like these quaint stepping stones.

Every spot was chock full of plants – and surprisingly, so many of them were plants we can grow in Austin, too.

A closer view of the back garden vignette with its own special garden art.

Oh, look, another inspirational spot to rest in the garden.

I love what she did with the winding line of grass interspersed with with colorful caladiums.

Her husband built this wonderful chicken coop, where her hens live in luxury.

 She wasn’t too sure about me!

 And the girls’ coop is adorned with this giant chicken statue.

 I loved every inch of her garden – and she was so gracious to share it with me.  Thanks, Kylee!

Chickens, chickens everywhere…

No doubt about it, chickens are in.

With surging interest in home vegetable gardens and the growing sustainability movement, chickens are becoming very popular.

They are moving from the country to the hearts of cities as gardeners everywhere branch out into these “pets with benefits.”

That’s how Jessi Bloom describes her chickens in her book, Free Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard.

I’m fascinated by chickens. I don’t have any chickens, but my husband used to. About 57,000 of them. When he was a small boy growing up in the Midwest, his family raised chickens.

I’ve heard lots and lots of chicken tales.

Which I why I was eager to read Jessi’s book when Timber Press announced its contest to win a chicken garden start-up kit as part of its promotion of Free Range Chicken Gardens. They sent me the book to review and I got to learn everything I always wanted to know about chickens but was afraid to ask my husband!

Right now they are giving away a complete chicken garden start-up kit, including:

  • A $50 gift card for chicken feed or supplies from McMurray Hatchery
  • One chicken coop plan from The Garden Coop (a $20 value)
  • 1 lb. of organic chicken forage blend and seeds for chicken-friendly plants from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply (a $20 value)
  • A copy of Free-Range Chicken Gardens

I know my husband would like to have some chickens — maybe just 56,995 or so less of them than he used to. So I figured I’d better do a little research about the chicken and the egg.

Free Range Chicken Gardens is a fascinating and beautiful photographic journey through the chicken gardens of many families, combined with excellent and honest advice for anyone wanting to raise chickens.

It’s practical — it’s chock full of advice about the benefits of raising chickens and how to avoid the pitfalls of having them in a garden.

Bloom outlines the natural soil building capabilities of chickens and how they help to keep weeds and pests under control. In addition to the plants and habitat needed to raise chickens, she provides detailed information and even design plans focused on creating a successful chicken garden and keeping your “other” plants safe. Barriers and fencing and hedgerows are all reviewed with pros and cons. And she recommends a host of diverse plants for the chickens to hide in and browse around.

I had to laugh when I got to the chapter on “The Chicken Infrastructure.” It sounds so technical, but it’s all common sense advice about the 3 Cs of the chicken garden – the chicken coop, chicken run and chicken paddocks.

It also included specifics about the different breeds, where to get them, what to feed them and how to keep them safe from predators.

Free Range Chicken Gardens is filled with information, creative plans, and inspirational photos and stories of other loving chicken gardeners and their pets.

We have a no-chicken policy in our neighborhood, so I guess I won’t be getting any chickens soon.

For now I’ll just have to settle for my other dirt-scratching, digging, plant-eating pet.

Miss Dakota.