Garden Designers Roundtable: Art or Garden?

I suspect that most people think about art in the garden as a well placed sculpture or even a beautifully designed border, but what happens when artists and designers create a garden as art from the get go?  Do we consider it a garden or is it art?

There are garden festivals  devoted to conceptual garden design that celebrate outdoor space as a possibility for creating ‘garden’ art on a large scale.  I’m a huge fan of these spaces as they challenge me as all great art does…to think.   They go beyond what we typically view as a garden, yet they incorporate plants, soil, hardscape, and found/built objects just as our own gardens do.  Sometimes they’re pretty, sometimes they’re not.

Is this a garden or art or both?  Perhaps it’s neither and just odd.  Whatever the answer, it’s thought provoking.

15 Knots

Designed by ATLAS and Ford Lipschitz  at the 13th iteration of the Festival of Gardens at Reford Gardens in Quebec explores how wind affects our perception of landscape.  Fans behind lathe walls turn off and on.  The landscape changes as the flags blow or not.  The noise is also part of the experience…although I couldn’t include that here. 

A garden or art or both?

Topher Delaney’s garden at Cornerstone in California is closer to what most consider to be a garden, however minimal.  Why?  It has all of the pre-requisite elements–a wall, plants, gravel and a place to sit (the rope spheres).  This space also invites people to interact with it by moving the spheres.  Does an outdoor space need human interaction to be considered a garden, if so is it still art?

Blue Stick Garden

Also at Reford, the Blue Stick Garden by CLaude Cormier has traditional garden elements…plants, a boardwalk and vertical elements.  Garden or art or both?

Whatever the answer, as I said before, they make me think and look at what I do in a new way.  I find these gardens to be inspiring (yes, I think they’re all gardens) to such an extent that I want to visit the most famous garden festival in France,  the International Garden Festival at Chaumont which has happened every summer for the past 20 years.  Maybe next summer…

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

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13 thoughts on “Garden Designers Roundtable: Art or Garden?

  1. Something about the way man interacts with nature says “garden” to me–but sometimes the interaction is TOO intense, nature gets lost, and then a space is an art installation. Which is not a bad thing, it’s just not (to me) a garden.

    1) Having just spent several days at my mother’s while her apartment was dried out by a water extraction company after a plumbing disaster–not a fan of the fans. I know just how loud they are! The title is clever, though. Art installation, for certain. Probably not a garden. I’d have to see it in person to be certain.

    2) Garden AND Art. I like this one. It appeals to me–and I think anyone with a playful spirit would enjoy it. That said, I always feel sorry for the trees in installations like these, though–it may be the lack of depth in the photograph–but they look like they are planted too close to one another. But that’s probably the plantswoman in me.

    3) Art. Visually–this one is my favorite. It’s definitely art. I can imagine that the color shift from red-to-blue as one walks the boardwalk would be visually stimulating. But this one definitely is in the art installation category. Can’t wait to see what others think!

  2. I am fascinated by these conceptual art gardens (brilliant take on the topic, Susan!) and wish there were more venues that would sponsor them for public viewing. I prefer those that encourage movement into and through the space; interaction rather than just “the view.” Of your examples here, I especially like the Blue Stick Garden. It’s a wonderful echo of linear forms and shapes that begs to be walked through.

  3. I’m quite a fan of the Blue Stick Garden — but imagine the maintenance! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about gardens that ARE the art.

  4. Pam–The garden was planted so densly with grasses, lupines, digitalis and others that a weed wouldn’t stand a chance! It was magical to be in the middle of it.–s

  5. Me too, Jocelyn. I think we need more out of the ‘garden box’ venues to challenge the status quo. Not sure about the brilliant part, but it did give me the opportunity to explore the idea.–s

  6. Melanie–the sound was very loud so I understand what you mean. I think all are hybrids and something quite new. Let’s continue to call them gardens though! –s

  7. I’ve heard Topher Delaney speak several times and she is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Her work tends to be polarizing, but to your point, it does make you think. Debating installations like these forces us to go beyond simple observations and sparks much more exciting discussions.

  8. I’m finding myself loving these types of gardens more and more. Every time I visit Cornerstone I’m drawn to Topher’s garden – the use of blue with the stark white and all the verticality makes me swoon. One time when I was there, a child was having fun sitting on one the balls and when her mother saw her she loudly admonished her for messing with the display. I couldn’t help myself. I had to chime in and tell her that the girl was absolutely doing what the artist would want her to do!!! Went over like a lead balloon, though. sigh. Oh, how I’d love to see the 15 Knots garden – I know I’d just love it!

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