Fire and Ice

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:53 pm

By Suzy Bales


The worst weather and the worst conditions for gardening often bring out the best in people.  Take my friend, Les Brake who lives in Willow, Alaska where winter temperatures plunge to thirty below regularly and snowfall averages 110 inches. The snow is so high he has to worry about the rabbits eating the tops off of his Japanese maples. Winters are long and dark in Alaska, from September to May. Living in a one-room cabin, five miles from the nearest town, Les has little company.

To entertain himself and give friends and even strangers a reason to visit, Les has turned his  garden into a fairyland of “fire in Ice”. He makes ice sculptures out of household kitchen molds and lights them with candles. Snow is the glue that holds the pieces together. A Jell-O mold and a bund pan shape many of his ice sculptures. See if you can figure out what other dishes he has used.

Whenever winter gets me down I think of Les and I smile. He is an artist in his own land.



As requested, I’ve added some additional pictures. Can you figure out how they were made?


Les Brake, the artist at work.




  1. How does Les keep the ice from cracking when he unmolds it. I have tried to make ice sculptures and they always crack. I usuually run a little hot water over the container to release it. I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and we get and abundance of snow (in excess of 200 inches per season. I would like to put some sculptures along our sandstone entrance to our house.

    Thanks Jane

    Comment by Paul Norgard — January 5, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

  2. What does Les grow in his garden in Alaska in the summer? How long of a growing season does he have? Again, I’m in Upper Michigan which is zone 4 – not as cold as Alaska, but pretty darn cold. Do you have any pictures of his garden when it’s in full bloom, maybe that could provide a little inspiration for those of us in the colder zones?

    Thanks Paul

    Comment by Paul Norgard — January 6, 2009 @ 1:20 am

  3. Les keeps the ice from cracking by letting each mold sit on his kitchen counter for half an hour until the ice slips easily out of the mold by itself. He never runs cold water over the mold. That is what makes it crack. Once the ice is out of the mold he sets it outside.

    I will show pictures of Les’ garden in another blog. It is quite wonderful.

    Comment by admin — January 12, 2009 @ 10:32 pm

  4. I asked Les how he got the bubble affect in the ice and here is his response:

    ” I’m layering the food coloring. First, a bit of clear water, let it freeze, food coloring, let it freeze, a splash of water, freeze, food coloring, freeze, etc… In other words, I have way too much time on my hands in the winter.”

    Comment by admin — January 12, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

  5. I love the photos of the ice sculptures in Alaska. Very creative. Indeed, fascinating. There is always room for creativity in gardening, no matter the season or the weather….

    Do you have more such photos? I would love to see them.

    In gardening,


    Comment by George — January 12, 2009 @ 11:02 pm

  6. Thanks George! I do have more pictures and I will happily post them.

    Comment by admin — January 12, 2009 @ 11:04 pm

  7. Suzy, I’m glad to see the interest in fire in ice, and I hope my ice-mates down in the States have as much fun with it as I do. When it comes to ice, we’re only limited by our imaginations. Les

    Comment by Les Brrrrrrrake — January 27, 2009 @ 6:37 am

  8. Les is an artist with great talent. His garden is extraordinary—even more beautiful than his ice sculptures. Thank you, Suzy, for sharing your wonderful pictures. Nancy

    Comment by Nancy Goodwin — January 27, 2009 @ 8:53 am

  9. Nancy,

    I agree! I will show pictures of Les Brake’s garden soon. As an exception plant’s woman you certainly know a good garden when you see one.

    He is also wonderful with flower arrangements. I’ll have to feature those too.

    I noticed Les has an article in the Feb. issue of Horticulture magazine. So I guess that means Les is “a man of all season”. There isn’t anything he can’t do.

    Comment by admin — January 27, 2009 @ 9:17 am

  10. Les Brake is extraordinary in more than gardening. His gardens are beautiful year round , true. His compassion is inspirational. I have donated small amounts to many of his causes including national and local. I feel his garden success is the very expression of his compassion and Love of others. His gently touch on this earth comes through in his patience for his neighbors. I have been in opposition of his views and we have never lost our friendshp over it. He has impacted me in a way that will last for my life. I have found more Art in myself from my association with Les and Jerry. We are all very lucky to be exposed to such a man. Thank-You Les.

    Comment by Chuck Pratt — January 27, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

  11. Suzy, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t change a flat tire, especially when the temperature is 27 degrees below zero. Les

    Comment by Les Brrrrrrrake — January 28, 2009 @ 3:48 am

  12. I couldn’t agree more. Although I have never met him in person, Les and I have been pen pals for more than 8 years. First we wrote letters, now emails. He has been so generous with his pictures, garden knowledge and advice. He has raised funds for many botanical gardens even ones far from Alaska. He opens his garden to strangers often, bringing people together. He also makes me laugh. His emails are the first I open. Thanks Les, you’re one in a million.

    Comment by admin — January 28, 2009 @ 8:50 am

  13. These are amazing! I have never seen a fire and ice event pulled off, (mainly because I live in HOUSTON) but this is truly spectacular. I wish I had a season of freezing that we could plan for and host something like this. How fun!

    Comment by Union Glashutte Watches — January 31, 2010 @ 6:48 pm

  14. all the technical stuff aside, this is a magical garden summer and winter.
    three cheers for Les!

    Comment by sandy lieberson — January 9, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

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