Meet Mother Nature, a 5-foot-tall ceramic figure in greens and purples that peers at a screen of tiles of plants Lynn Rushing also created for her Barrington Hills gardens. Green leaves or grasses decorate the base, the purple curves represent her arms and breasts and everywhere texture is important.
Three "pyramids" attesting to the artist's love of gardening also stand in the front yard, combining Rushing's two media -- ceramic stoneware and bronze. These represent various stages of hyacinth bean vine, ligularia and poppy, favorites among plants Rushing grows.
Or perhaps you prefer the bronze heron flying above cattails in a frame resembling logs right by the pond down the hill from her home.
"I'm proud of it," said Rushing. "Sometimes an image in your brain comes out exactly how you imagine it. That's what happened on this. It took me 64 weeks. The branch is five pieces, the bird is three parts, and then there's the cat tails."
Rushing's sculptures, arranged throughout the 5 acres of gardens so strolling visitors "discover" them, are fascinating, but so are her stories.
For example, this all started seven years ago when the woman who had been a seller of real estate and antiques but never an artist woke up and decided to be a sculptor. She started taking classes in Harper College's art department and has never left.
She hand builds her ceramic works as opposed to using a potter's wheel, and most are stacks of pieces because she can't fire things the size she wants in the college's kiln. She casts her bronzes with the lost wax method, which means she creates her sculpture from wax, makes a mold around it, then melts out the wax and pours in the bronze.
While it's possible to envision this rather delicate looking woman striving to get every detail right in ceramic and glaze or bronze, adventures with 30 tons of stone seem farther fetched.
This part of her story started when she learned she needed retaining walls behind the gates to the property. She drove a 2-ton truck to Fox River Stone in South Elgin without a clue of how much stone she needed.
"The woman suggested I start with a ton," said Rushing. "And when I gasped, she promised I could return any stones I didn't use without a restocking fee. Twenty-nine tons later ... I took two stones back to her, and I think she gave me 17 cents."
With help from her landscaper, Rushing fashioned tons of stones into walls around raised beds.
But what amazes stone masons are the paths she and her late brother, Bill Fischer, cut and laid.
"It's the concave cut," she said. "It's very hard to make. "We couldn't use the really big pieces I wanted because Billy wasn't much bigger than me, and we couldn't handle larger ones."
Exploring the garden beds in the rear yard shows the visitor Rushing's variety of sculpture styles.
"Things should be in the garden to be discovered, not flung in your face," she said.
• Alice in Wonderland springs to mind at the sight of a garden crowded with whips about 5 feet tall fashioned from stacks of colorful ceramic cones in glazes from purple to white to blue and red.
• In a garden closer to the pond, the whips glazed all in white await tern heads to top each one. Rushing has fashioned some of the black, white and red bird heads, but lost a few to mishaps such as imperfect glaze and broken beaks.
• In a bed of impatiens bushes sporting flowers that look like bleeding hearts, Green Man holds forth. He is an ancient symbol representing Nature and all things green, and Rushing emblazoned him on a piece that resembles a ceramic garden stool. She made up her own legends about his two companions, Wood Man in brown and the gray Stone Man.
• Here and there throughout the gardens are Rushing's mushrooms, designed after real plants and presenting opportunities for her to test various glazes. One difficult coup required two layers of clay so white stripes could show on a black mushroom. She likes this one so much she glued it back together and put it in her garden after it fell and broke.
• Mary, named after a 91-year-old fellow Harper student, is a series of rectangular boxes -- some with their corners clipped -- stacked on a rod. The all-important texture is a combed, wavy effect made to resemble water. Nearby is another stack of boxes, each with a large tear drop shape cut through it.
"These are very heavy," she said, "and you have to build support inside to hold the top."
After touring Rushing's gardens, no one should be surprised to hear that this dynamo, who will answer almost any question except those about her age, does not spend much time sitting by the pond meditating or enjoying the beauty she has produced over her 44 years on the property.
"I try, but I see weeds or something," said Rushing. "I meditate as I work," which includes a quest for those perfect glazes.