Gardens transform into fairytale setting
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.”