Power without flowers: Researcher selected to design garden for international festival
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
MANHATTAN — Jessica Canfield is creating a garden half the size of a basketball court without planting a single flower, shrub or seed of grass.
Canfield, assistant professor of landscape architecture at Kansas State University, was selected from more than 300 international applicants to bring her synthetic garden design to life for the Domaine De Chaumont-Sur-Loire International Festival of Gardens, which features 25 separate gardens. Canfield will travel to the festival site, two hours south of Paris, on March 14 with a group of former and current students and professionals to construct her design.
"This feels like winning the Super Bowl of landscape design," she said. "I've always loved the whimsical gardens at this festival. They're more about elements and experiential moments than they are about plants. It's an opportunity for people to have a fun escape into dreamy little getaways."
Canfield is bringing her graduate research assistant, Katie Leise, master's student in landscape architecture, Omaha, Neb.; two landscape architecture graduates and an additional volunteer on the two-week trip. This year's festival theme is "Gardens of the Deadly Sins," and Canfield's garden is "Green without Greed."
The shape is consistent for each of the 25 plots and includes a 7-foot hedge on each side that must remain untouched. Canfield's fully synthetic garden installation consists of two play berms — custom ramp-like structures with built-in benches — covered in artificial turf, on which children can play. In the middle of the garden sits a large gazing globe, similar to smaller versions found in home gardens.
"In developing my conceptual narrative within this year's theme, I was thinking about the American lawn," Canfield said. "People are obsessed with the perfect lawn; almost greedy. That's where my idea to use synthetic turf came from — it's instantly perfect and lush. Because the festival likes to see innovative material applications, I thought synthetic lawn would be fun to try."
The project received $17,000 in award funding, all of which will go toward construction of the garden. The garden's gazing globe is being sent from China and the synthetic turf is coming from Belgium.
Canfield has attended the festival twice as an observer, and submitted a design entry once previously. In December, she was notified that her latest submission was a finalist and would be built for the 2014 festival. Canfield said turning her conceptual ideas into working drawings has been fun and exciting, but a challenge. Sourcing international materials, working in metric measurements and dealing with language barriers have all been difficult, but Canfield said it's a worthwhile effort.
"I don't often get opportunities to actually see my designs come to life," said Canfield. "It's exciting to see this garden come together in such a short time frame. I teach beginning design studio courses, and we discuss how designs can be informed by more than just function — they can be inspired by something greater, something seemingly abstract. This project will strengthen my design abilities and enable me to show students how they can strengthen their designs as well."
The clearest understanding comes from working side by side with the researcher, and Leise said she has learned much through the design and construction process. Leise's role in the project's preparation involved materials research and acting as a sounding board for Canfield's ideas. Once in France, Leise will work alongside the building team to construct the garden.
"I'm excited to get my hands dirty," she said. "It's been an interesting experience transferring between imperial and metric units and tracking down materials in Europe. Professor Canfield and I have been working on this project for so long that it will be surreal to touch and walk through what we designed on paper."
Leise said there are limited opportunities in the classroom to physically construct designs, a process known as design-build. Taking a design from paper to construction will give Leise a better understanding of how the pieces fit together in reality.
"Knowing what was drawn and then putting together the plywood and boards will be an invaluable experience," Leise said. "This trip will help me strive to design things that are not only meaningful, but also functional."
The exhibit will run from May to October 2014.