Mudman plans

mudman pile and beaver pond

Careful observers may have noticed a big black blob in the background of images of the water garden. Above, you can see it behind the bench, echoing the beaver lodge in the background. (I take no credit for any intentionality in the echo. The beavers came after the pile.)

The pile is what came out of the ground when I built the water garden. I hesitated digging the garden for a long time because I didn’t know what to do with what I excavated. What little topsoil I have floats on top of sticky gray clay subsoil, better suited for making pots than growing plants.

But I decided to proceed with the water garden project when I saw these images somewhere. (Apologies that I don’t know who to credit. They came from two different sites and ended up in a folder I keep of design ideas and I lost the links to the websites.)



The pictures are from a garden somewhere in the British Isles. (If anyone can point me to the garden or additional images, I’d appreciate it.) It looks like the base is mostly moss with perhaps daylilies for the hair?

With mine — which I’ve dubbed ‘Mudman’ — I plan to make concrete or hypertufa nose, eyes and ears, and grow ornamental grasses in a ‘Mohawk’ hairdo over the center of the scalp.

Meantime, I’ve wrapped the bottom in leftover scraps of pond liner, and last summer I got a good deal from my friend Marguerite at MotherPlants on some seconds of green roof plants. From the looks of it, the creeping sedum is going to form the foundation of the planting, seeing how the plugs I put in have thrived so far. Some of the others are hanging in, and I’ll be looking for others that might provide contrasting colors. Any suggestions?


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36 thoughts on “Mudman plans”

  1. Oh those brits. There are a number of things I’ve seen in gardens there I’d love to emulate.

    This looks very cool–and fun.

  2. Thanks Julie. Did you do this from memory? Or just surf through 50,000 images to find these?

    Seeing this through the seasons makes me more excited about getting it planted.

  3. Hilarious. I want one (but I don’t want to dig that big of a hole first!). Enjoyed the fungal stuff on the more recent post – some interesting links for sure.

  4. How fun! I LOVE the idea of a mohawk–that will be great, and add such a nice touch of humor to the garden.

    In terms of contrasting plants, do you mean shorter sedums as well?

  5. Hi Kim:

    By contrasting plants I meant low, creeping plants (likely sedums) that will contrast with the really green sedum that is doing so well. I’ve got some that are kind of reddish. I’ve seen others that I’d describe as lime at least during some parts of the year.

    Frankly, one of my big problems with the whole mudman thing right now is erosion. Where the sedums have thrived, everything is OK. But there are other spots where I’ve had blow outs. So my first priority is to get cover on the steepest slopes. Then I’ll work in the other plants — grasses, maybe some day lilies.

    It’s like managing a little farm in hill country.

  6. What a hoot this is. I can’t wait to see your finished sculpture.

    I have a hill of left over soil. I call it the pimple. It probably isn’t as tall as yours but I use regular mulch on it and it holds the soil in. I have a tree, a couple of bushes, varigated mint and a rose bush on mine. Wow, wish I had seen this before. This would really get the neighbors stirred up. đŸ™‚

  7. Must be nice to be within walking distance, Sarah. I don’t claim to be a sculptor. I’m sure my version will be much cruder. Maybe if folks squint, they’ll see a resemblence.

    Love the Mud Maid, too. Is that moss that covers these sculptures? I’m guessing they’re not in full sun and someone wets them down from time to time during dry spells?

  8. I’ve had a closer look at photo’s on the internet and I’m sure that the plants on the Giant’s Head are small leaved and not moss. Do you realise the size of the head?

    The Mud Maid was originally covered in moss, but this has now been replaced with ivy.

    Both sculptures are in woodland which helps to keep them moist, but Cornwall is a green and verdant county due to the amount of rain we get. I’m not sure if they are watered down during the summer, but it would have to be a prolonged dry period for it to be a problem.

  9. Wow. This mudman is the most intriguing piece of garden art I have ever seen. I was actually doing a search for a photo of a moss-covered dragon near a castle-type of building in Ireland that I saw at a used bookshop in a coffee table book filled with photos of the lush and mossy countryside in Ireland. I am wanting to make something like it for my yard. If anyone knows about that statue, please let me know where I can see a photo of it again. It’s made of perhaps stone or concrete and is not terribly detailed.

    About the erosion problem, I am wondering if you could put a thin layer of hypertufa on those parts and just let mostly moss grow there on top. You could maybe make some places where there is just soil for the sedums to grow. Just a thought. Thanks for sharing this with everyone.

  10. Hi Catherine:

    That dragon rings a bell. But I can’t quite place it. I’ll file your email away and if I run across it will send it your way.

    My little project is in a dry and sunny spot. That’s why I’m hoping the sedums will work for me. I like your idea about using hypertufa in places. Maybe I can get them to work like terraces in an Iowa corn field (probably more like an Asian or Peruvian hillside farm). It was looking pretty good early winter. But I’ve had more blow outs late winter. It’s going to take some attention this year to get it shored up.

  11. Hi,
    I was wondering how your “mud man ” turned out and how you were able to pull it off. I am an art teacher, and want my fourth graders to build one. Any suggestions?


  12. I am in love with these mud sculptures. While doing a paper for my art appreciation class I was looking for interesting sculptures to comment on and compare to old world sculptures. I happened across the Heligan Garden Sculptures and led me to this site. I thnk I just amy employ my brother to help me sculpt a figure at my farm this summer. It looks like a fantastic fun artsy project. I am sure the images I use from these sites in my paper for this week in Art Appreciation calss will make my artist teacher curious and he just may visit your site as well. Thank you for the curious project ideas. I thnink I will go home and start laying out plans on paper for a creature to sculpt from mud and plants. I will be interested to see your project as it progresses.

  13. I FOUND OTHER WEBSITE PHOTOS of these beautiful garden people:

    I found some other websites with other mudman / mudmaiden photos to see. One website indicated that these were “The Heligan sculptures were crafted by Sue Hill and her brother Pete, who also have works at The Eden Project in Cornwall.”

    There is an Australian artist named Belinda Villani who designed this one:
    Under search for “waterfall cottage.”

  14. Hello Mud Sculpture People!
    I’m one of the people who made the Giant and the Mudmaid at the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I made them with my brother Pete Hill. We also made Eve at the Eden Project, Tara for the Chelsea Flower Show 2006 and Ardhi for the Earth Festival in the Rift Valley in Kenya. We’re thrilled that you like them and are inspired to make your own. If you would like more info check the website or contact us by email – we have a paper that describes in more detail how we make them…

  15. …and I was so inspired by Sue and Pete Hill’s sculptures that, with artist Karen Popham, I created two picture books for Heligan: The Mud Maid, and The Giant.
    The Mud Maid tells the story of how the gardens came to be ‘lost’ and then re-created, and is told through the eyes of the Maid herself. The Giant takes readers on a walk round the gardens, with children in mind.
    They are really powerful – the MM is in a woodland glade and radiates peace. The Giant pokes his head out at the start of the Woodland Walk, and makes everybody smile. Bees nest behind his ears.

  16. Looks to me that what is Mudman’s hair is a small-ish crocosmia, perhaps Solfaterre. Crocosmia is also known as Montbretia. There are very tall varieties (4 feet), but Solfaterre gets to 18 inches. They multiply nicely, bloom in July-August-Sept.

  17. I too have been inspired and am going to atempt a version of the maiden. You will find both at the lost gardens of heligan in cornwal ( of course! ) truly stunning! I too have a massive pile of mud following re landscaping of my entire garden and a perfect part of the garden that is in the shade always and nothing but shade plants grow, so going to play with moss and maidens!

  18. I really LOVE this! What a great idea. I am always looking to new and different ideas for my garden. I see the last photo you imported was in 2008. Do you have any new pics? I would love to see them.

  19. I don’t know who took the picture, but “The Giant’s Head” can be found at The Lost Gardens of Heligan [ ] in Sussex, Great Britian.

    They have two other moss figures there. To quote from their website:

    “The Moss Maid & the Lost Valley & Ancient Woodlands

    Within the 80 acres of ancient woodland at Heligan there are many intriguing sights to be seen.

    The Giant’s Head, Mudmaid and Grey Lady wait to be discovered along Woodland Walk.”

  20. @Sue Hill:
    Just saw this post! Love your work on Mud Man and all the other works.

    In this post it says you have a paper that explains how to build?!!!

    I’d love to know. I’ve the perfect place and I’ve been working on this or the last month or do!

    Thank you

    Tayna Lorella
    Seattle, WA. USa

  21. I really LOVE this! What a great idea. I am always looking to new and different ideas for my Knowlege.


  23. Oh my, please tell me you have some current pictures, this post was almost 12 years ago…..

  24. I recently read on the Ellis Hollow blog about Craig’s plans to build a Mudman. He was inspired by photos of this sculpture called

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