I love gardens that reflect the character and personality of the garden owner. It is often the quirky creative elements that make garden unique and memorable. Sometimes gardens can be a bit too serious and one way to engage kids is to make sure that they are fun. In this way gardens can stimulate all of our six senses – the usual five plus a sense of humour.
From when we first bought the property, I wanted a circular driveway out from my front door, which meant I needed a central focal point. A fountain is not me and, although an old wagon or dray would have worked, I really wanted something unique. My friend, Irene Stone-Pearce, has created many dragon, goanna and sea serpent sculptures in community gardens and local primary schools, so I asked her to help us build our own dragon. I would love to say that the primary reason was for good Feng shui or perhaps to celebrate the Year of the Dragon (2012) when she was born but, basically, it was just to have some fun.
And so ‘Luscious’, our 7m-long, 3m-wide dragon was born, and since then one of the three eggs (rocks adjacent to her on the lawn) have hatched with twin baby dragons named Scrumptious and Delicious. There is not a day when I walk out my front door, or get home from being out, that she doesn’t make me smile as she lies patiently on our front lawn, guarding our home and like a faithful dog would, waiting for us to play on her or with her. Many a morning tea or meal is shared as we lounge around on her and she loves to be adored by not only us, but all the children who visit our open gardens.
This was a big project and did involve some planning and extra pairs of hands. We invited friends and their kids or grandkids whom we thought might like to be involved and learn how to create their own sculptures in their gardens.
How to build a dragon…
Step 1. Collect the materials. We used any rocks and rubble that we had lying around such as broken concrete (kerbing, fence posts, pots and paving) and old or broken bricks and pavers. You could even use hard building materials left from home renovations such as broken toilet bowls and hand basins. It is a great way of cleaning up your yard and that of your neighbours and friends. In the end we needed to get one trailer load of seconds and broken bricks from the local brick yard. You also need concreting sand, bags of Brighton cement and bags of Brightonlite cement.
Step 2. Work out the shape & prepare the site. Work out the shape you want and when you are happy, mark it with marking paint. I had a dragon on a terracotta urn that I used to get the proportion right. Make sure that the ground surface is solid. Ours was on the driveway so the ground was very compacted. If you are building something on a lawn dig down till the ground is hard or create a solid base of bricks or pavers.
Step 3. Build the skeleton of your creation. We used large rocks for the body and head, and stacked bricks for the arms, legs and tail. We created flattened sides on her body using bricks to make seats. Make a mix of 5 parts sand to one part cement in a wheelbarrow or with a cement mixer and use this mixture liberally between the bricks and rocks to secure the skeleton.
Step 4. Cover this with a tarp so that it dries slowly. In hot areas it would even help to keep it a bit damp by misting it lightly with a hose before it goes rock hard as this helps to prevent cracking.
Step 5. Flesh it out. Make a mix of the light cement using 4 parts sand to 1 part cement. An oxide can be added at this point if you wish to colour your sculpture. Use a trowel to slap on a very thick layer of this mix, starting from the ground up and working from one end to the other. Keep it moist while working on it and build it up like adding up flesh and muscle to a skeletal frame. Once the frame is covered with flesh, use a wet sponge to smooth it over, taking care not to knock off any render.
Step 6. Decorate your creation. The finishing touches all need to be done on the one day so if the project has been going over a number of days, make a final thinner coating of the light cement and add the details as it starts to set and go hard. Build and carve facial features and we used a trowel to mark out scales. Finally we glued two green glass pebbles for her eyes. Luscious was built over three days with a flurry of people and activity in the first day and a half.
Step 7. Leave it to cure for 3 days, keeping it covered and moist with mist several times a day during this time. The longer it takes to dry the stronger it is and the less likely it is to crack. If you want to age your sculpture quicker, paint it with spoilt milk or yoghurt. This did not work for us as Ruby, our ever hungry Labrador, licks it off so we allowed ‘Luscious’ to develop her patina naturally.
Step 8. Celebrate. We had a christening for ‘Luscious’ and invited everyone who had been involved, whether for just an hour or a day, to come together and celebrate our creation. Luscious is now part of our family and she lies patiently guarding our entrance, much as a faithful dog would, waiting for us to come out and play on her. We sit on her, share morning tea and lunch on her, and our kids run along her spine and make up games jumping from place to place on her expansive frame. We have planted 3 Jacarandas around her which in time will create glorious shade and decorate her in an abundance of purple blooms, and are developing a native lawn of ‘Nara’ turf to keep her cool.
Below is the poem written about her by our dear friend Jocelyn Fairley. We had a celebration when Luscious was completed and read this poem, christening her with champagne from our glass running down her nose.
There lives a mighty dragon
Luscious is her name
Her spirit is so wild and free
That only kids can tame
She loves to feel their agile feet
As they run along her spine
They climb, they sit, they laugh and play
She knows the world is fine
They ride upon her ridgy neck
And fly with legs astride
Come on now precious Lucsious
Take us for a ride
Adult kids can play there too
As they sit upon her seats
As long as they forget their age
And dream of glorious feats
The dragon lady made her
With tender love and care
With many hands to help her
The hard work they did share
You’d never know what lies beneath
Her rough and textured hide
But those who did create her
Her inner depths have spied
Her body’s wide, her claws are long
Her tail is carved and curvy
And if you try a spin on her
She’ll send you topsy turvy
Sometimes in the dark of night
She spreads her wings and flies
Up there with the shining stars
She plays in moonlit skies
But always when you wake at dawn
In restful peace she’s there
Watching with her big green eyes
Her silence fills the air
Luscious is as Luscious does
And Luscious lets us know
That life is rich with fantasy
Adventures galore to go
She will rest beneath the Mount
A hundred years or more
She will store your memories
For now and ever more
23rd January 2012