Tag Archives: Chelsea Fringe Festival

Extreme gardening

December 17th, 2013 | 7 Comments »

How hard can it be to go from this…

On the beach in Perth, West Australia

to this?

A snowy day at Glen Villa

Very hard! But it is even harder to go to this…

Montreal on a cold win’ter’s day: the view from my apartment window

When I left Perth, West Australia, on Friday, December 13,  the temperature was 35C (or 95 fahrenheit) — and climbing. When, after some 30 hours of travel, I arrived in Montreal it was still Friday, December 13. The temperature was -22C (or about 7 below freezing). And it was falling.

That’s extreme: a difference of 57 degrees centigrade, or almost 135 degrees in fahrenheit. It’s also extreme in a mental sense, to travel more than 24 hours and arrive at your destination on the same day you left. To go from one continent to another, from a mind at rest to one on jet-lagged overdrive.

The dramatic change in temperature and location started me thinking about extremes in other contexts. I’ve come across the phrase ‘extreme gardening’ a few times recently. I’m not sure what the phrase refers to, whether it is an approach to gardening or a way of describing gardening under difficult circumstances, or merely the name for some commercial product.

Gardening in this locale would definitely be challenging.
Does anyone know where this is?

Comparisons come to mind. Guerrilla gardening, or growing things on land that the gardener doesn’t own, often an abandoned or neglected urban site, implies a community spirit that the phrase ‘extreme gardening’ doesn’t contain.

Xtreme sports seem a better fit. There the words suggest danger, obsession, a craziness that goes beyond the norm, that leads into new and unexplored lands. Gardening is rarely dangerous physically (tell that to a sore back after a long day planting bulbs) but it can be dangerously expensive.  And crazily obsessive.

Obsessively starting anew: less expensive than buying full grown plants.
And almost as much fun.

Gardens reflect their times. Historically, they illustrated social and economic class; they were status symbols that allowed the gardener to demonstrate power and good taste. And in many ways, this remains true.

Most of us don’t live in an 18th century landscape park or in an Arts and Crafts fantasy world, yet our gardens seem to suggest that we do. The two winter photos above show what I’m getting at. The pretty picture of a majestic pine with a snowy lawn beyond offers a traditionally romantic view of a winter world. The urban scene is a colder, harsher reality.

Can extreme gardening help us push beyond the boundaries of traditional garden design? Can it help us find new ways to relate to the world around us?

An installation at London’s Chelsea Fringe Festival by the Montreal landscape architectural firm NIP Paysage suggests that it can. Floating Forest refers to the history of trade in forest products between Canada and Great Britain. It isn’t what most of us think of when we think of a garden, but for me it illustrates how an imaginative use of natural materials can stretch the mind.

Floating Forest, an installation by Montreal’s  NIP Paysage,
was a major element in the 2012 Chelsea Fringe Festival.

Extreme gardening needs an extreme gardener, someone who wouldn’t concern herself solely with plants and plant combinations, and all that those words imply in terms of a world view. Someone who could be crazy, could garden dangerously and push beyond the boundaries of traditional garden design.

I’m not an extreme gardener, but I’d like to be. So I’m searching for new ways to see the landscape that surrounds me. I’m looking for new ways to present this landscape to others. I’m trying to move beyond aesthetically-based gardening to something more substantial, with content and meaning that relates to the present instead of the past.

Heading out towards a different world?

I have no idea whether I’ll accomplish this.  I don’t know how I will go about it. But I’m searching.

Are you?