Paradise Garden

Photos by Drew

Dress: Minimarket Nena Dress, c/o Goodstead
Shoes: Dolce Vita
Bag: vintage, Ebay
Sunglasses: Super Ciccio Sunglasses, Madewell

I didn’t write about what we did last weekend because I was sick and spent most of the time sleeping and reading and being lazy.  It was too boring.  But this weekend was completely different—it was sunny the entire time, hot (not complaining yet), and perfect for being outside.  So on Saturday we finally made it to Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens, a place I’ve been wanting to see ever since I came across it on Roadside America. It’s around an hour and a half drive northwest of Atlanta, and when we drove up there the only thing I could do was hope and cross my fingers that it would be open.  Paradise Gardens has been in the news a bit lately; after 10 years of neglect it’s being restored, and just kicked off its season with a music festival.  But when I went to check their website it was down, and so when we made the drive I wasn’t really sure if we were going to get to see it after all.

But we lucked out.  When we parked in front of the place there was a woman sitting on the front porch, and she greeted us with a wave, handing us maps and setting us loose into what has to be one of the strangest places I’ve ever been to.  Some backstory first: Howard Finster was an Alabama-born preacher-turned-artist who bought a few acres of land in Summerville to create his own little Garden of Eden.  He also fixed up bicycles, and one day while working on one he had a vision and realized that his calling was to create sacred art.  So he began painting bible verses on wooden signs, building sculptures out of all sorts of found objects, and making a lot of original art, painting everything from Jesus to Elvis to Coke bottles and Delta airplanes.  After a while he became something of an outsider art star, becoming friends with Michael Stipe and making album covers for R.E.M. and the Talking Heads.  He died in 2001, but as far as I know the place has been open off and on ever since, deteriorating somewhat, but is now undergoing a little renovation.

Based on the pictures I’d seen of it online I knew Paradise Gardens would be strange, but I wasn’t really prepared for just how amazing it would be.  There was so much to see that I didn’t know where to look, and even though we spent two hours there I could easily go back and discover so many more things.  There were signs and paintings nailed onto buildings, mosaics and painted verses decorating the walking paths, little buildings made of cement and found objects (Coke bottles, photographs, toys, jewelry, mirrors, even a full bottle of pills stuck into the walls), overgrown gardens and dried-out streams.  And then a little chapel that held a coffin that I assume held Howard Finster’s ashes—and right next to that a giant wooden Coke bottle, just because. Creepy and fascinating, and like something out of a Flannery O’Connor novel.

The rest of the weekend was good too. On Saturday night we went out with friends, and then Sunday Drew and I did old married people things like go to Home Depot and then back home to work in our yard for a few hours. I never really cared about gardening and planting before, but suddenly I really love it. I keep checking our herb garden every day; I’m so scared I’ll kill something off. Jamie surprised us with a beautiful new cactus terrarium to replace our old (dead) one, and I promised I won’t kill this one off.  It’s too good.

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  1. Posted May 21, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    lovely dress!!!!

  2. Anthe
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    What a cool and interesting place to visit! Your dress fits right in with
    the gardens and paintings!

    • Rhiannon
      Posted May 23, 2012 at 4:12 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Anthe, you would like it! Such a funny place–kind of like South of the Border/Rock City, but better. :)

  3. Posted May 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I love how colorful your outfit is – it’s perfect for the location!

    • Rhiannon
      Posted May 23, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Liz! I’m so obsessed with bright colors lately, which is strange for me. ; )

  4. Posted May 21, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I have always wanted to visit Paradise Gardens! Your wonderful pictures and lovely writing have inspired me to try again to get there.

    • Rhiannon
      Posted May 23, 2012 at 4:08 am | Permalink

      You really should! I always thought it would be a funny place to visit but it was so much better/larger than I was expecting.

  5. Posted May 21, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Such a great place to visit and explore! Lovely dress! Glad you are feeling better

  6. Posted May 21, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Wow that place looks amazing! I love reading your blog and discovering quirky places you feature.

    • Rhiannon
      Posted May 23, 2012 at 4:10 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Gemma, glad you like them! I don’t go to enough quirky places–need to track down more.

  7. Posted May 22, 2012 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    wow thanks for this post, it was a great and interesting read before bed! i am very much in the mood to travel to paradise gardens now. i had never heard of it, so learning something new was great. i love the first picture most of all. the toning of the photo as well as your outfit just fits perfectly, the photo is just so lovely. it is so cool to know places like this exist.

    xx rae

    • Rhiannon
      Posted May 23, 2012 at 4:08 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Rae! Funny, strange places are the most fun to visit. : )

  8. bee
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    That mosaic wall is fascinating. You look great – by the way, are you extremely tall, I have always thought that you look as though you are! Also, randomly, I found out today that there is going to be a Carson McCullers biopic Thought you would be interested with your love of Southern writers!

    • Rhiannon
      Posted May 23, 2012 at 4:10 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Bee! I’m not really tall. I used to be 5’7 but when I went to the back doctor she said I shrunk half an inch. I just like to wear tall shoes. (trying to break the habit though).

      And thanks for the info on the movie! I’m kind of nervous, even though Carson McCullers’ life would probably make a good movie (if a sad one)

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