Mys­tic Crea­tures

Gar­dens trans­form into fairy­tale set­ting

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Outdoors - Story by Beth Bright

As vis­i­tors take a stroll through Gar­van Wood­land Gar­dens this sum­mer, they will be greeted by scenes straight out of fairy tales and leg­ends around ev­ery cor­ner. Mys­tic Crea­tures made its de­but on June 1, and will be show­cas­ing the an­cient and beloved art of top­i­ary with car­pet bed­ding to cre­ate “mo­sai­cul­ture” through Aug. 31. It was made pos­si­ble not only by hor­ti­cul­tur­ists and tech­ni­cians on site, but stu­dents, as well.

The term “mo­sai­cul­ture” was coined in the 1800s to de­scribe the qual­i­ties of such sculpted land­scap­ing, which was later paired with more tra­di­tional top­i­aries and shrubs clipped in the shape of birds, an­i­mals and other crea­tures. Later, metal frames re­placed the tra­di­tional wooden branch sup­ports, mak­ing the prac­tice an art.

“This is some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent from what we’ve done in the past, and we’re ex­cited for peo­ple to come see what all we’ve done,” said Sherre Free­man, mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for the gar­dens. “We have an ex­hibit ev­ery sum­mer, but this is some­thing dif­fer­ent for us in that ev­ery­thing was cre­ated in house and it’s liv­ing — it’s an ex­hibit of liv­ing things.”

In early fall of 2013, Bob By­ers, as­so­ciate ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, and Becca Oh­man, di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions, be­gan plan­ning and by Oc­to­ber they were ready to get started.

“Around the first of Oc­to­ber, we had third year stu­dents from the Fay Jones School of Ar­chi­tec­ture at U of A de­sign­ing our pieces and by the end of the month, they were pre­sented to us,” By­ers said. “The next month or so we started get­ting James Scal­lion and Ch­ester Mor­phew and our tech­ni­cians to start build­ing.”

Each sculp­ture be­gan with a sketch and for draw­ing the shapes be­fore cut­ting the in­di­vid­ual pieces. Those pieces were then welded to­gether for the in­te­rior form. This process can use up to 8,000 lin­ear feet of pen­cil rod and three-eighths inch re­in­forc­ing bar for the outer frames.

“At that point, it may or may not look like the crea­ture it’s sup­posed to be,” By­ers said. “Af­ter cov­er­ing the struc­ture in shade­cloth — a type of green burlap — es­sen­tially it’s filled with soil and two-inch holes are punched through­out it and bulbs placed in them.”

The art pieces have been grown in house, be­ing clipped and pruned pe­ri­od­i­cally to sculpt and main­tain their char­ac­ter. And that same char­ac­ter is cul­ti­vated and main­tained through unique sto­ries that will ac­com­pany the ex­hibit.

“Bob wrote lit­tle in­for­ma­tional sto­ries to ac­com­pany each sculp­ture to give the ex­hibit a kid-friendly touch,” Free­man said to which By­ers noted the de­mo­graphic the gar­dens try to reach in the sum­mer is fam­i­lies with chil­dren.

“When they’re on va­ca­tion or if they’re lo­cals with kids on sum­mer break, I don’t think many of them pic­ture a botan­ni­cal gar­den as a kid-friendly at­trac­tion,” he said. “But we’re more than just tulips and hol­i­day lights. We’re an ed­u­ca­tional cen­ter and a gerat place for a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion.”

Each sculp­ture is unique; how­ever, a few of the more ex­cit­ing char­ac­ters to make their de­but are a Mag­i­cal Sea Ser­pent, Sasquatch and the Fairy Gour­d­mother. Many of the sum­mer work­shops will in­cor­po­rate aspects of the ex­hibit.

Ac­cord­ing to Free­man and By­ers, this is the largest ex­hibit of its kind in the South that has been made lo­cally.

“We’re very ex­cited that it’s been made in Arkansas and the in­tent is for it to grow each year,” Free­man said. “Just like the gar­dens be­come a won­der­land of lights ev­ery win­ter, we want them to be­come an enchanted for­est ev­ery sum­mer.”

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