One hot summer day of pulling weeds and trimming shrubs is enough to convince anyone of how gruesome gardening can be. Though we’re sometimes shamed into giving our yard some much-needed attention by our neighbors’ passion for keeping theirs up, truth be known, the bulk us hate being out there amidst the heat, humidity, and gnats. If those around us would only return their overly fertilized insecticide saturated lawns to nature, we would gladly follow suit.
Some of our species are enthralled with planting, nurturing, and maintaining all things horticulturally related. Some take things a bit further. They are artists who mix their inspirational visions with nature in the form of sculpture gardens. Collins English Dictionary defines this as a “garden that showcases sculptures in landscaped surroundings”.
Sculpture gardens are not modern revelations and some have taken decades to complete. Sometimes artists allow mother nature to consume their creations while others prefer more structured conditions, dictating what will grow where and what will happen to it when it does.
These are but a few of the absolute best sculpture gardens in the world. Consequently, they are also some of the oldest and most famous.
Antoni Gaudi’s Park Guell – Barcelona, Spain
Antoni Gaudi’s original intent was to build a top-notch housing community for wealthy aristocrats, far away from the belching smoke of Barcelona’s factories. His “build it they will come” philosophy didn’t work out so well when the first two houses he built didn’t sell. Gaudi ended up living in one of the houses until his death in 1926.
This does not mean Gaudi didn’t accomplish something terrific prior to his demise. The vacant land caught the eye of Eusebi Guell who figured if the wealthy didn’t want to live there, they should at least have a magnificently beautiful park in which to recreate and relax. This in mind, he commissioned Gaudi for the job.
Gaudi was strongly influenced by natural shapes and possessed a vivid imagination. From the colored tile adorned dragon fountain which greets visitors to the twisted pillars that seem to grow out of the ground like tree trunks, Gaudi poured every ounce of his soul into the park’s creation. Even the seating area on a terrace overlooking Barcelona is intricately tiled in vibrant colors.
The house in which Gaudi once resided is now a museum containing furniture which he also designed.
Edward James’ Las Pozas – Xilitla, Mexico
Edward James was a dear friend of Salvador Dali’s and at one time owned the largest collection of surrealistic paintings in the world. It’s safe to assume what he ended up creating is a bit on the abstract side. To finance his art project which cost him a cool $5 million, took 3 and a half decades to build, and gave careers to 35 full-time employees, James sold his art collection. However, the inheritance James’ father had received from Edward’s wealthy English merchant grandfather was eventually passed on to him so finances were never really an issue. It has been rumored Edward James was actually the illegitimate grandson of the Prince of Wales due to his dear old grandma taking more than a liking to the royal prince.
James’ Las Pozas sculpture garden sits within 80-acres of rainforest just north of Mexico City. He and his crew constructed massive towering concrete structures interlaced with walkways, pavilions, bridges, pools, fountains, and waterfalls. James refers to his creation as a “Surrealistic Xanadu”. Some of the structures are the equivalent of being four stories high.
The House of Flamingos is a haunting looking pavilion overrun with deep green rainforest moss as if telling a chilling tale from days gone by. The Path of 7 Deadly Sins is entered through a circular structure which leads to a stone trail past looming pillars and overgrown vegetation. Oddly named “The three-story house that could be five/The Three-Story House That Might Have Five”, this piece is a wonder to behold with its pillared doorways leading to nowhere, outdoor stairways which abruptly end, platforms, and other head-scratching oddities, all shrouded in flowers and plants of the natural rainforest variety.
The Gardens of Bomarzo – Lazio, Italy
This one dates back to the 16th century and is often referred to today as the Park of the Monsters. Just to the north of Rome, grotesque statues and architectural nightmares are set deep in the forest below the castle Orsini. Moss and fungi encapsulate stone carved figures scattered about with no semblance of order. Some of the art is carved and sculpted directly into bedrock.
The park lay forgotten and abandoned for centuries until Salvador Dali made a short film about it in the 1950’s which created enough interest to have it restored. The Bettini family spent nearly 20-years on the project, finishing in the 1970’s, but they delicately restored it to maintain the integrity of the natural fauna which has become as one with the sculptures. The land remains private property but is open to tourists.
The art was originally commissioned by the very wealthy Pier Fransisco Orsini and designed by Pirro Ligorio, but Simone Moschino is credited with the actual sculptures. Orsini was in mourning over the death of his wife when the art was commissioned. Some believe the eccentric twisted and ghoulish sculptures were intended to signify his mind being in grief and disarray.
Nek Chand’s Rock Garden – Chandigarh, India
Nek Chand’s Rock Garden is a sprawling garden filled with artwork constructed from colored stones, broken glass, concrete, and pieces of crockery. Nek Chand was a road inspector who just for kicks began collecting things he found on the side of the road and piecing them together as art. His pieces depict traditional Indian life as well as nothing other than the artists’ profound imagination.
Because he was building his sculptures illegally on protected land, Chand kept them a secret for a decade. When the fruits of his passion were discovered by authorities in 1975, they were so impressed with what he had done that rather than destroy what he had accomplished they gave him a salary and 50 employees to continue his work.
Today, the rock garden consumes 25-acres with over 1000 amazing bright and colorful statues on walled pathways and deep gorges. Nek Chand’s Rock Garden, once hidden from society, now receives over 5000 visitors per day.
There are amazing rock gardens located all over the world. Some are new. Some are ancient. Wherever your travels may lead, do some research ahead of time and see if there is one close to where you’ll be. It’ll be well worth the time spent to pay one a visit.