Art in the Garden

I love a bit of art in my garden and public gardens like art too!  Now what do I mean by ‘art?’  Of course that would be a question for the sages to decide.  Though I’ll give it a try and say that I see it as an element made by human hands that mixes in with the natural elements of our gardens.  Certainly at the Desert Botanical Garden Dale Chihuly’s glass art has been mixed in with the natural world to great surprise and delight for thousands of visitors.  The excitement of such art draws local visitors in when they might overlook returning to a familiar garden.  Across the country public gardens work with this idea and as you travel this summer prepare to be surprised and delighted by art in the garden

In the Memphis Botanical Garden in the spring of 08 during my visit the gardens were in their full glory.  The landscape danced with spring daylilies, iris, & hydrangeas bloomed surrounded by bright shades of spring green.  The leaves and stems, so clean and strong, were equally beautiful emerging from the dormancy of winter season.  Color, scent, breeze and splashing water provided a feast for the senses.

Wandering out of the garden through the visitor center my attention was attracted to a photographic display of the peoples of Turkey.  The exhibition featured the photos of Atilla Durak.  These giant portraits taken against the backdrop of kitchens, streets, and places of worship were a kaleidoscope of colors. I went to the garden to find inspiration in the flowers, and colors of green.  My visit was doubly inspired by this burst of color and humanity in a photo visit to Turkey.  Such a bonus prompts my mind to consider a distant land, an unknown people and our shared humanity in the love of color and the hopes and dreams all people desire.

Art in the garden takes all forms, it can be the glass art of Chihuly, photography or sculpture.  In Urbana, IL, the Meadowbrook Park has reclaimed nearly 80 acres of prairie reminiscent of the early 1800’s and added art in the form of grand sculpture.  The Illinois prairie that greeted the European settlers was called “a sea of grass.”  In theHistory of the Prairie on the Native American Seed website, it includes words from one of the early settlers in 1841, “for miles the prairie gently sloped, hardly presenting a bush to relieve the eye. In the distance, the green skirting of woods, which fringed either border of a large stream, softened down the view. Occasionally a deer would jump suddenly from his noonday rest, and scamper off…”

In the early 1800s as the new residents came they brought with them their wooden and cast iron plows used in New England were they had worked in the softer, sandy soils.  The farm tools could not cut through the deep roots of the original prairie grasses. But a solution arrived, a little farther north of Urbana, in the person of John Deere, a careful and creative blacksmith who had migrated from Vermont.  Deere studied the problem and formed the solution, according to John Deere corporate history, in “1837, using the steel from a broken saw blade.”

Steel plows made it possible to plow up the prairies nearly two hundred years ago.  Today steel in sculpture form now sits atop the reclaimed prairie.  In the time since the prairies were plowed we have benefited from the fertile Illinois farmland and reminisced  about prairie life lost. It is rare to find wide-open space and to reclaim the sense of prairie as it was in the early 1800’s has been a 30 year project reintroducing the Illinois Tallgrass. This patch of reclaimed prairie gives us the old and the new in one space.

Wandering through the prairie walk a ring necked pheasant ran across the path in front of me.  Plentiful deer have returned to graze.  In the vast sea of grass you can watch the giant clouds of an often turbulent Midwest sky.  Along the path sculptures interject a laugh, a question and a sense of awe.  Art mixed in with nature.  In the Walker Grove a savanna prairie restoration is in progress among immense and wide spreading ancient oaks.

A garden with art does not only surprise and delight but can provide also reveal a glimpse of a life without gardens, display a grand passage of time, or a fantasy of art glass that stretches our imagination.  What a gift we receive in our public gardens when they give us art among the landscape opening our minds to interesting ideas right along side buds opening in bloom.

“What a gift we receive in public gardens which give us art to open our minds to interesting ideas right along side buds to open our eyes to new blossoms.”

originally published

@http://cals.arizona.edu/maricopa/garden/mgcentral/uploads/RSMay09.pdf

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