Sparrow Farm: the Secret Garden of Area Artist Ronda Spaulding

By+Kathy Jonas


Photography by Steve Toepp/Midwest Photographics



Ronda Spaulding considers herself more of a gardener than an artist. But the 10-acre spot she has created for her family south of South Bend – Sparrow Farm – is a whimsical place that could be called a Hoosier version of Monet’s Giverny.  



It is there that she and her 9-year-old daughter, Ella, (which means fairy maiden by the way) have crafted a fairy garden made of little people with acorn caps atop their heads and twigs have been transformed into tiny pieces of furniture. 



It is at Sparrow Farm that she got the idea that has become her passion – making note cards, stationery and home décor from the flowers and greenery from her rambling, vibrant garden. 



Spaulding and her husband, Ken, a schoolteacher at Jackson Middle School, purchased the 1890s farmhouse 20 years ago prior to having children. “I grew up in a similar situation, surrounded by lots of animals, not a farm, but with chickens and eggs, goats, and rabbits. My husband grew up a road over from here,” she said. 



Her artwork came about when she found herself making a sign for the kitchen after being inspired by a book with nature-shaped words. “It’s a combination of things I love: paper, flowers, words. I feel very blessed this came along. It makes me very happy,” Spaulding said.



The original sign was for her kitchen and it said “Sparrow Farm.” She added to that with a favorite Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem “‘Earth’s crammed with Heaven, and every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees, takes off his shoes…. “ She also has a black and white picture of the house that says “Even the Sparrow has found a home…” from Psalm 84:3.



She starts with what nature gave her: fresh flowers and leaves. “I pick them fresh from the garden, create the design or letter and then immediately do a high resolution scan. I have 263 letters catalogued and 320 accent items. She has a library of seven different ‘A’s,” five “B’s” etc.  She’s on the lookout for an orange “S.”



The letters are then combined to form customized artwork for weddings, graduations, birthdays and baby showers. One of her most popular: the word “Grandma” with the names of the grandchildren underneath. 



“I took my first piece to my friend and asked her ‘would people buy this?’ and she took a moment to consider it and said ‘Yeah, I think they would.’ “



As a stay at home mom, Spaulding said the idea of working creatively while raising her three children was appealing. She now works part time at A Rosie Place, a home that provides respite care for medically fragile children. She takes part in about five art shows a year, including ArtBeat in downtown South Bend. Her work also can be purchased at Lavender Hill on Morris Road in Niles and Almost Home in Buchanan. 



Customers provide Spaulding with the best ideas for her art. She sends them a few design ideas and they get back to her. She’s quite up to date on the latest trends in baby names and has had a few unusual ones over the years. She has lots of repeat business due to all the grandchildren that have come along.



The variety of flowers and plants she catalogs is just dizzying. She took a clipboard out to the garden one day and wrote down 20 years worth of her “collection” of plant and floral varieties. The hand-written list is lengthy and impressive, including pansies, violets, zinnias, begonias, geraniums, roses and her favorite, lots of vines and long trailing plants. She has grown 120 different varieties over the years.



“People are most drawn to the nostalgic flowers. They see a passion flower or a bleeding heart and say ‘Oh, my grandma had those!’ I love the old standards, the ones that the housewives of centuries past nurtured in their gardens, like lemon thyme, ivy, mock orange, coneflower, coreopsis, lambs ear, ferns, primrose, phlox, lavender and roses….”



She constantly is buying new plants because she envisions the leaves as great skirts or dresses for her “flower folks” reminiscent of the little toothpick dolls you used to make as a child.  While she knows she sounds a tad kooky, she names her little people and identifies the different girls and boys. For example, “Flossie” is made with a pink daisy face, viola bodice, silver lace vine arms/hands, petunia skirt and a blue spring flower, Spanish bluebell. 



“I like colors that are close together on the spectrum,” she said of her pieces. “I’m not as fond of lots of varying colors being used together. But when a customer asks for bright colors, I have them and I use them.”



Spaulding said she typically doesn’t use white flowers, even though she loves them,  because they don’t scan well, but does sometimes scan them with leaves placed behind them. 



Last summer’s drought was something she took in stride. She said she doesn’t have a sprinkler system and hand waters the garden with a traditional hose sprinkler, but has found that the plants toughen up and grow roots to protect themselves. She is drawn to hearty, native plants that don’t need a lot of pampering.



Always an avid recycler, back in the days when you had to separate cans and bottles and take them to bins, Spaulding said her artwork is a form of recycling nature. “I can’t stand to throw things away.”



Her farmhouse is filled with antiques and old family photographs, indicative of a love of history and Geneology. Pinterest is a new passion. “It just gets the juices flowing,” she offered as advice to anyone thinking of enjoying the creative process.



But her favorite place is her garden. “I love the way the sun plays on the late afternoon garden. I’m just drawn to it.”



Ronda Spaulding expresses herself through flowers. She transforms her gardening passion into customized stationery and home décor, using real garden flowers as an inspiration. For more information, visit www.sparrowfarmcreations.com