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The only thing gardeners enjoy more than their own plants are other people’s gardens, and there is a massive and magical one on Hwy. 3 in Brooklyn, N.S., just before Liverpool as you come from Halifax’s direction. Here you’ll find Cosby’s Garden Centre, and something more.

Owner, landscape designer, avid plantsman, and artist Ivan Higgins has created a wonderland behind the garden centre. You get a hint of that when you park. A variety of large concrete sculptures greet you. Walk among the perennials, trees, and shrubs, and you’ll find more.

There’s a miniature castle nestled among rocks, inviting you down a path. There are humanlike figures posed as dancers and gymnasts, and wild animal depictions here and there. Before you know it, you’ve walked into a natural looking woodland, where rocks, trees, and shrubs nestle like they’ve always been here. But there also be dragons, and other mythical creatures, among some choice and carefully positioned ornamental plants.

This is Ivan’s garden, where he has installed dozens of huge concrete statues over the past 18 years. It’s his 47th year operating the garden centre — hard to believe when you watch him move lithely around the greenhouse that doubles as a workshop studio in winter, or when he’s preparing to move a sculpture to its new home. Many of his works find their homes on the five-hectare spread that Ivan owns, plus he does commissions. This is his “winter job.” By early April, he’s in garden-centre mode.

The garden centre is called Cosby’s because his wife’s eponymous parents started it, then turned the operation over to Ivan. In 1981 he moved to the current property, where the business expanded over time, including the addition of the remarkable parklike place behind the garden centre.

Ivan has been an artist since childhood. He’s done paper mâché and a little woodworking, finding encouragement in “an eclectic group of friends who were also artistic.” He adds, “I had no training as a kid, no one thought that you could make a living or money with art, but my wife’s mother was very good at promoting me.”

A potentially friendly dragon with a hitchiker on his back greets visitors in Ivan’s gardens 

When the young family started having kids, Ivan put aside art to focus on creating landscapes around the Liverpool area. Sculpting began in the 1990s, when he started making concrete troughs, wind god sculptures, and planters — things he could sell and move easily.

The planned garden began with the five life-sized gymnasts perpetually posed at the top of a ridge Ivan and his crew built in 2008. Every year since, he’s added more sculptures: a cluster of giant tortoises, a sleeping giant (with one enormous eye open), several dragons, a sad clown, a giant Greenman sculpture — a symbol of rebirth from many ancient cultures — and whimsical figures evoking a fusion of Narnia and Cirque du Soleil. The more you walk, the more you discover. Ivan says he has no intention of stopping, so expect new sculptures every year.

Ivan draws his sculpture ideas, then has people pose for many of the statues — sometimes mock poses, as most people can’t stand on their heads for too long. “I hire a lot of young people, who are quite athletic, as are my own kids, and they are often great models.”

Then he begins creating the form, using chicken wire to frame out the subject, before starting with concrete. These works must cure for a long time, hardening to durability. Then the race is on to get the sculptures out of the greenhouse, and the cement chiselled off the floor, the benches moved back in, and the garden centre plants and supplies set up for another growing season.

Unsurprisingly, Ivan’s garden is known far beyond Nova Scotia, with some 10,000 visitors annually. He doesn’t charge admission, simply welcoming people to a magical escape for a little while.

Ivan says he hasn’t named his sculptures. “Maybe mentally, some of them, and someday I’ll do a map of where all the pieces are,” he says. “I’m waiting for my granddaughters to get old enough to do that for me!”

Cosby’s Garden Centre and the sculpture garden are open year-round, hours vary seasonally. See more of Ivan’s work Instagram Logo PNG Vectors Free Download @concretecreationsns 

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