Say “garden” and a mental image bursting with flowers appears. But outdoor space that provides visual interest can be far more varied.
Sculpture gardens, though set in sweeping lawns, are primarily devoted to static figures or structures. I remember my first visit to Pepsico in Purchase and being amused by the figures seated on a bench that seemed alive.
At the Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, there is the Stone King Wall designed by my favorite environmental artist, Andy Goldsworthy. It is 2,278 feet of a sinuous drywall stone fence snaking downhill around boulders and ending in a small pond.
Years ago we wandered through Zen gardens in Kyoto, Japan, composed solely of raked sand and weathered rocks. I remember patterns raked into the sand without a single blown leaf to mar the surface. Suffice it to say, the concept of a garden embraces more than flowers and plantings.
In Jerusalem, we are most familiar with the Rechavia neighborhood, and for years have been passing a garden creation in the front of the apartment building at 14 Saadia Gaon St. It seemed an unusual collection of castoffs, and this year I decided to stop and try to chat with the creator.
By stopping a person emerging from the building, I quickly learned the artist was Yisroel Daniel, and I knocked on his door. His wife Rachel answered, and without any ado, she invited us into the apartment. It was immediately evident we were not the first people to knock on their door, and they graciously told us the story of the garden.
Rachel, was born on a kibbutz to Yugoslavian parents, speaks excellent English, and was a teacher of Hebrew as a foreign language, and she took the conversational lead.
Yisroel was born in Azerbaijan and came to Israel in the 1950s as a child, and later became a bus driver. He is comfortable handling tools and proudly showed us many improvements he has made to their furniture and other household items.
Retired 10 years ago, Yisroel enjoyed growing fruit trees. Then came a drought year with restrictions on watering. Taking a lesson from drip irrigation, he took large, empty plastic jugs, drilled small holes in the bottom to allow water to trickle out, and was able to keep the trees alive.
Living on the second floor with an overhanging balcony, Yisroel decided he liked the color added by the jugs, but felt the garden still needed something. He decided it needed movement!
And so he started adding pinwheels, rotating ventilator caps, windmill wheels created out of cooking spoons. He was very emphatic that all of the materials used were recycled from everyday objects.
People in the neighborhood took an interest and started leaving items for inclusion in the garden.
In 2009, Yisroel was honored by Jerusalem city officials for adding to the beautification of the city. A quiet man with a poetic spirit!
But we also have a unique garden at 12 Fanshaw Ave., in Yonkers. Once again, I had been subliminally aware of this garden, but never thought to inquire further.
I took a chance and called and spoke with Bruce and Joan Neufeld. An engaging couple with a large touch of whimsy, they welcomed me to their interesting home filled to overflowing with a huge and colorful variety of collectibles — figurines, signs, exotic fans, agate eggs, and so much more.
Bruce is the director of an assisted living facility and has perfected meshing organization and ebullient fun. Joan is a medical administrator and is amused, but accepting, of Bruce’s quirkiness.
The Neufelds have lived in Yonkers for 25 years, and Bruce has tinkered with his garden for much of that time.
Meant as an amusement for neighborhood children, he specializes in animal figurines. Recently I saw rhinos, flamingoes, a tiger and a buffalo. Most of the figures are made of plaster, although there was some wickerwork.
The fence is still hung with bunting commemorating Fourth of July. Additional color comes from bright flowers as well as windmills of colored fabric.
The children are indeed entranced as testified by a package of treats found one day in the mouth of a rhino.
But Bruce also dresses up for his audiences in holiday-appropriate suits and shoes. I actually saw him once in a red, white and blue suit for Fourth of July with matching tie and shoes.
My home garden only consists of plants. Both of these gardens and their creative artists have moved me happily from my usual comfort zone.