Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Visit to "Beyond the Edge: Artists' Gardens"

I finally had a chance to go and take a look at "Beyond the Edge: Artists' Gardens", an 'Agri-art' installation arranged by Canadensis, the Canadian Botanical Garden Society. I went Thursday afternoon and it was a lovely cool breezy day, perfect for a walk around a field.

I wasn't quite sure just where it was, but expected to find some sort of large sign. Unfortunately there wasn't one and I turned off Prince of Wales Drive into a lane that leads down to one of the Rideau Locks. Coming back out I spotted a sign about Beyond the Edge and pulled over. The large wire gate was closed and the fence was well peppered with 'No Parking' signs but I decided to risk it anyway. This is what I saw in front of me:

Going closer, I read the blurb about the project and inspected the map. I read it mostly to get my bearings, missing the significance of the large green rectangle in the middle of the map....  I headed off to the right along the mown 'gosh, this must be a path' strip.

I admired a number of picnic tables (very typical of the genre, all of them) and several huge bright blue garbage cans (statements about our modern culture, perhaps?) and eventually arrived at a small garden-like plot with a number of stick teepees.

This was "From Seeds to Soup: Meet the Cucurbita Family", by Deborah Margo. Having met them before, I moved on.

Far off on the horizon I spotted colour and headed over. I came to "Mood Clusters", by Glynis and Deirdre Logue.

This turned out to be a collection of 5-sided boxes with various colourful plants growing in them. I had to read the sign to learn that these are 'psychoactive' plants....hmmm. But they looked nice, the plants were healthy and the colours were agreeable. The layout apparently relates to the shape of a molecule that occurs in our brains and helps us feel happiness.

I would have felt more of that happiness if the grass and such around the bases of the planters had been trimmed.

The sign encouraged the visitor to 'take a seat to gently touch the leaves for scent'. Where, I don't know, because there were no seats, and many of the plants did not have aromatic leaves.

Onwards. I couldn't seem to pick up the mown path again, but headed over towards the Red Barn.

On my way there, I discovered the second part of the display called "From Seeds to Soup".

I was on the path again, but had clearly gotten a bit muddled. I altered course and made it to a little picket fence-edged garden stuck in the hay field called "Our Lady of Complete Protein" by cj fleury. At first glance, I thought it was a garden of corn and sunflowers, but closer inspection showed that the tall leaves

in certain of the beds inside the fence were not corn. I had to read the sign to learn that they were millet. I also learned that the garden was a reference to the book "Diet for a Small Planet" by Frances Moore Lappe. The large metal sculpture rising above the plot represents "Mother Earth's Fecundity". I stepped back and took the photo above.... . being so far separated from the other displays, the surrounding landscape necessarily became part of the art piece, but  perhaps not with quite the message the artist intended.

The next piece was Karl Ciesluk's "Mechanical Spiral" which I approached from the side away from its information sign:
Having just had the word 'Protein' planted in my forebrain, the hay bale put me in mind of another type of protein. Nothing in the piece itself made me dream that this was in any way a comment on the realities of farming, either 'over 175 years ago' or today.

I also couldn't see it very well. Being only 5 1/2feet tall, I couldn't look down on it, and as you can see above, the grasses and such pretty much hid the spiral. Perhaps if the grass strips had been narrower and the mown strips wider, it would have been clearer.

The last installation was "Red Oak Labyrinth":

Under a beautiful Red Oak, Barbara Brown had installed a walking labyrinth based on an ancient and mystical design using short pieces of split ash wood to delineate the path. At the centre there was a nice cool bench, with notebooks where you could leave a comment:

I sat there for a while and read some of the comments. Not being a labyrinth-ite, I couldn't really enter into the feelings expressed in some of the comments, but I was happy that some people seemed to find meaning in the project. I also enjoyed the cool breeze, the lack of mosquitoes, and the chance to sit for a bit.

It is very difficult to know what to say about "Beyond the Edge". Perhaps I should just mention some hopes for the future and leave it at that.

I hope they will move the intrusive and distracting garbage cans and water containers to where they won't be so visible. The picnic tables, also, could be grouped near the road or back near the Red Barn.

I hope next time they arrange the displays much closer together. Spreading them all around the edge of such a large expanse leaves them all lost in what is essentially a neglected field. I did go back and read the sign to check up on the significance of the green rectangle in the middle of the field, but there was little information beyond the fact that it was an Ag Canada research project; in other words, that the organizers couldn't get the use of the whole field. Given that situation, it would have been much better to place all the displays in the area near the road and around the Red Oak where the labyrinth was.

I hope they invest in some small signs with directional arrows so that those of us who come when the paths haven't been cut for a while won't get lost.

I hope that the OBG group will soon spend some money and make an actual entrance, with a large sign, at least some parking, and information about the group.  If they are serious about having a Botanical Garden, it is high time they started to act as if they are.

But more than anything else, I hope that next year they will invite area gardening groups, gardeners, and artists, to propose displays. Proposals should be carefully evaluated, both as to their intellectual content, and as to their visual (or aural or sensual) content. Intellectual content alone is not enough. Art that depends on a written explanation is only a written explanation.... a picture may be worth 1000 words, but 100 words are only 100 words.


  1. I enjoyed this honest review, thanks. Sheri

  2. Thanks, Sheri. I'm afraid the organizers weren't happy with me, but I figure they're all grownups.

    Like your blog! Your garden looks wonderful, a real 'place' with atmosphere.