Friday, 17 June 2016

Gardening the Creative

File:Chicago World's Columbian Exposition 1893.jpg
World's Columbia Exposition 1893, Chicago (Wikimedia Commons)
For some people, looking after a garden simply involves cutting the grass or watering the plants, but for others, garden design is an art form. Recently, my attention was drawn to the art of the garden in two different places:a book by Erik Larson about the 1892-93 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition  and an interview with English garden designer Juliet Sargeant on CBC Radio's arts program q.

Larson's The Devil in the White City tells the double story of Chicago's struggle to create a rival to the Paris Exhibition in the midst of a nationwide financial collapse and of aserial murderer who preyed on the women drawn to the city during the fair. Among the architects and city planners who worked on the fair was Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect who designed New York's Central Park. The  Chicago exhibition was famous for its large-scale projects: an oversized neoclassical city, the first ferris wheel, and the reconstruction of Algerian, Polynesian and German "villages" in the city's people-pleasing midway. Olmstead, however, insisted that the vegetation and pathways that surrounded and connected these works of wonder would set the emotional tone for the entire space.

The "Modern Slavery Garden" Juliet Sargeant has created
The Modern Slavery Garden, 2016 Chelsea Flower Show
A century and continent away, Sargeant put aside her medical training to become a garden designer. In her exhibit The Modern Slavery Garden for the Chelsea Flower Show, Sargeant creates an allegory for the secret suffering in Britain of  victims of human trafficking. The display, which on the surface looks like a proper English country garden, commemorates the passage of the UK Modern Slavery Act. 

Landscape architecture and garden design require the proper selection of plants to suit a theme or mood, not to mention the practical skills required to place living things in and around inorganic materials. My humble backyard garden is nothing on the scale or the intellectual purposefulness of Olmstead and Sargeant works, but like the heroes in Voltaire's Candide, I do my own little work in my garden.

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