Finding Neverland: Transforming an Ordinary Garden

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A tile mosaic of a garden diva with a butterfly on her leg at StoneCrop farm and sculpture garden in Platteville, Wisconsin.
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An herb-spiral garden wall with white sage, petunias and nasturtiums at StoneCrop.
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The author's wife, Lisa Kivirist, plays chess with life-size pieces at Inn Serendipity.
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Reflective of the fantasy-like atmosphere at the Legs Inn in Cross Village, Michigan, this sculpture entertains visitors while they savor the restaurant's authentic Polish cuisine. The twisted limbs, roots and driftwood collected by the former owner are displayed throughout the garden.
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An old candy-striped barbershop pole sits in the alleyway gardens of an East Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago.
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An artistic garden couch is set among ferns and flowers in Chicago's Podmajersky alleyway gardens in an East Pilsen neighborhood.
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A manure spreader is transformed into a colorful floran arrangement.

Early one spring my son, Liam, and I haphazardly planted colorful gourds on our 5½-acre organic farm. The gourd vines crawled along the bamboo poles and sturdy sunflower stalks, up and over a juniper bush and into our flowering crabapple tree. They found their way over bushes, along garden walls, around small evergreens–it was nature running its course, and all we had to do was plant the seeds.

Our farm can accommodate large, flowing plants. It’s a place where both plants and people are allowed to follow their free wills. At the ecological and renewably powered inn my family and I run, Inn Serendipity, guests dine al fresco, surrounded by tiger lilies, cascading ferns and hostas. Our gardens follow nature’s whimsy, evolving with the seasons and our creativity.

I’m lucky to have an acreage, but you too can bring whimsy to any garden, anywhere. In one example, Chicago development firm Podmajersky replaced cement alleyways between buildings with community garden spaces that also feature tenants’ artistic creations. The gardens reconnect and delight everyone in the neighborhood, offering sanctuary from the urban bustle.

Enticed? The first rule for creating whimsical gardens is that there are no rules! Reread your favorite children’s book or watch a fantastical movie for inspiration. The following tips will help you get some good things growing.

Visit: Inn Serendipity, Browntown, Wisconsin; (608) 329-7056;

Mosaics in the Garden

Instead of a gazing ball, why not cover an old bowling ball with your own mosaic design using tile scraps? Or try the technique on a garden pot or sculpture.


• Hammer
• Tile scraps
• Low-VOC (low in emissions from volatile organic compounds), water-based, waterproof adhesive
• Grout (sanded or unsanded, with or without tint)
• Popsicle sticks, putty knife or spatula
• Low-VOC, water-repellent, waterproofing sealant
• Sponge

1. Choose an object for the mosaic; tile can be applied to almost any solid surface. Make sure the surface is clean and can support the added weight of tile and grout.

2. Collect tile scraps from previous projects, or contact local flooring companies or construction   exchanges for samples and odd boxes. You also can use marbles, dice, old jewelry or broken china and pottery.

3. Wearing safety glasses, place the tiles inside a pillowcase. Then break them into small, random pieces.

4. Lay out a pattern, or just start gluing the tile to the surface. Make sure your low-VOC adhesive is also waterproof to withstand the weather.

5. After the adhesive has dried for about two days, apply grout between the cracks using popsicle sticks, a putty knife or a spatula. Wipe away excess grout with a damp sponge.

6. Apply a water-repellent sealer. Avoid spray varieties; choose a type that can be applied with a paintbrush or cloth.

7. In climates where winter temperatures dip below freezing, it’s best to store mosaics indoors during the cold season to prevent cracking.

The first rule for creating whimsical gardens is that there are no rules! But here are a few guidelines:

• Create a mini focal point in a garden bed by adding reclaimed, weatherproof artifacts such as an old piggy bank, a vintage red-and-white barbershop post or a propped-up section of old wrought-iron fence.

• Light up the night with soy candles and energy-efficient LED holiday strings.

• Many varieties of cacti thrive in the heat-island effect created by parking lot pavement. Complement carefully selected prickly pear cultivars with lavender, sage or bee balm.

• Create tunnels, caves and towering greenscapes by letting vining plants such as gourds, clematis, squashes and ivies crawl up twine, bamboo poles, trees and rooftops. (Bonus: Growing fruits off of the ground can reduce insect infestation and fungi.)

• Let large plants such as shrubs and sunflowers provide privacy and pathways, creating a “secret garden” effect.

• Fill an old cart, vehicle or trailer with collections of herbs and flowering plants.

Mother Earth Living
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