The Garden Studio

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Photo: Maria Riccardi at La Ruche d’Art St-Henri creating art in the garden for the CATA/ACAT Conference at Concordia University.

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Photos Above: The Dragonfly Rock Garden by Myria Rei Solas

“My name is Myria Rei Solas. I am an art therapist living in Peterborough, Ontario. Above are photos of my outdoor dragonfly rock garden. It sits on my boulevard in front of my house. It came about as a healing project for me. In June 2017 I had travelled to Uganda two times with another trip planned for September. These trips were volunteer missions facilitating art therapy with women and girls who had experienced domestic violence in rural Uganda. This is a long story in itself. The reason I mention it is that during my first trip I got very sick with a stomach issue which landed me in hospital both in Uganda and many times once home. I was near death and barely recovered from the January trip before I went back in April. Once home I got very sick again. A friend of mine did some Shamanic journey work for me and said I needed to make a garden and focus on my will to live and bring back my joy in being alive. Thus the garden!

I built the garden over the spring and summer of 2017. I finished it at the end of August. I began with no idea what it would be just working on one large section on the right side of the boulevard and then it began to transform into what you see now. As I built it I began to feel better and stronger and more grounded in my life. I began to find peace with the things I witnessed in Uganda and see that even though I am one person I can make a difference in my own small way, and this has to be enough for one person—me. When I went back in September, 2017 I was well and did not get sick again. My garden thrives and gives much pleasure to my neighbourhood and myself. I continue to be well and feel happy to be alive and thriving and grateful for every day.” (Myria Rei Solas, Art Therapist)

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Photos Above: The Garden Party of The Association des arts-thérapeutes du Québec (AATQ), Summer, 2018, in the garden of Maria Riccardi’s home.

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Photo: An Edible Forest Garden, Blackrock, County Louth. This garden is used for harvesting living art materials for workshops with children and families. Berries, leaves, branches, flowers, herbs and vines can all be foraged from this garden for art making.

A Forest Garden Studio

A community garden can also be a habitat for art therapy, art and participation, or arts and health. Blackrock Playground Park (Blackrock, Co. Louth) has a dedicated edible forest garden. The garden was originally planted with local environmental volunteers, children and families living around the park. Working with neighbours (of all ages) to cultivate a “commons” or supportive habitat within the pathways of everyday life, an edible forest garden is an example of therapeutic gardening that embraces nature as a regenerating source of well being. Edible wild plants, hedgerow and orchard fruits, herbs, vegetables, medicinal plants and living art materials (e.g. willow for living sculptures, plants for natural dyes, and symbolic plants associated with Irish seasonal traditions) grow together as a large scale public artwork. Not only is the food plentiful, its design is self sustaining, engaging itself in its own reproduction and fertility.

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The garden nature table transported to a Dublin Street for Parking Day, 2017.

“If a garden is to mirror [human] nature it must be varied, irregular, random and wild” (Donald Norfolk, The Therapeutic Garden).

A forest garden studio can be foraged for art materials, it can also be the site for installations, walks, photography, writing, sketching, printmaking, journaling, enactments and the making of artist books. Celebrations and gatherings also invite festivity into the forest.

“Gardens are a complex art form because they are in constant motion: plants morph minute by minute, hour by hour, season by season; day and night transfigure form and features; the quality of moonlight or daylight brings out certain shapes and colours and obscures others; rain adds sparkle to petals; leaves open and shut as temperatures rise and fall; and even the gentlest breeze ruffles and reveals” Jane Owen, “Beyond the Chocolate Box: What Exactly is a Garden? FT Weekend Magazine, April 14/15, 2018

Edible Estates, Attack on the Front Lawn by Artist Fritz Haeg

“Today’s towns and cities are engineered for isolation, and growing food in your front yard becomes a way to subvert this tendency. The front lawn, a highly visible slice of private property, has the capacity to also be public…. An Edible Estate can serve to stitch communities back together, taking a space that was previously isolating and turn it into a welcoming forum that re-engages people with one another…. Food grown in our front yards will connect us to the seasons, the organic cycles of the earth, and our neighbors. The banal lifeless space of uniform grass in front of the house will be replaced with the chaotic abundance of biodiversity… Edible Estates takes on our relationship with our neighbors, the source of our food, and our connection to the natural environment….We grow a lawn the same way anywhere in the world, but when we grow our own food we have to start paying attention to where we are… In becoming gardeners we will reconsider our connection to the land, what we take from it and what we put in our bodies.” (Fritz Haeg, Edible Estates).

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Estate owners: Catherine and John Schoenherr
Location: Woodbury, Minnesota
Commissioned by: Walker Art Center for Fritz Haeg: At Home in the City
Established: May 24-26, 2013

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Photo: Green Streets (Published by the City of Vancouver), Green streets are gardens cultivated by Vancouver residents along roads and within roundabouts. These are community gardens within the public thoroughfares of neighbourhoods.

“In the early spring of 2007, I had just returned from a lengthy list with my family. We were supporting our mother who was battling cancer. Anyone who has gone through this understands the enormous toll it takes on everyone involved. Feeling overwhelmed and confused at the prospect of losing my mother, I needed to do something that would renew my spirit and give me a sense of peace and optimism. That’s why I created this garden. It’s really a memorial garden, a true labour of love. Mom always appreciated the beauty of gardens, and of course it has her favourite flowers—peonies. What continually amazes me is how something so simple as this garden has stimulated so many wonderful conversations with the people in my community. This is something my mother always valued” (Words by Patrick McKay)

“Many gardening words and expressions illustrate how steeped the language of cultivation is in the vocabulary of personal growth and nurture…transplanting, uprooting, flowering, blossoming, digging deep, grounded, putting down roots, cutting back, branching out, growing new shoots, shedding, weeding out…” Sonja Linden and Jenny Grut, The Healing Fields: Working with Psychotherapy and Nature to Rebuild Shattered Lives

“Sympathetic gardening is about…helping locality to express itself through the plants and their inclinations to live together with you in certain ways” (Common Ground, http://www.commonground.org.uk, The Art of Gentle Gardening: Thoughts on Linking Plants, People and Places)

The Means of Production Garden, Vancouver

The Means of Production Garden in Vancouver grows living art materials for use by artists and community groups. Founded by artist and activist Oliver Kellhammer and the Environmental Youth Alliance in Vancouver (with land supplied by the Vancouver Parks Board) it offers “open source” resources that are harvested for “community creative use.” Kellhammer believes than an open source landscape encourages experimentation with botanical materials and an investigation into art and ecology.

There is willow for sculptures, flax growing for linen, plants for natural dyes, and foraged natural materials for weaving and fibre arts. Skill sharing, social gatherings, artist residencies and celebrations prevail within this artists’ garden. Kellhammer’s philosophy regarding open source landscaping encourages nature to enter the urban world in unpredictable ways. Kellhammer also believes that self-seeding trees, flowers, and weeds erupting along the edges of urban areas, may also stimulate experiments in community living.

The Means of Production garden is a living art installation. It is a gathering place for community, and an ecological art form. According to Kellhammer it is a biological intervention Inspired by Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics which encourages the practice of art within social environments,  Kellhammer’s living art acts as an event, and ecological improvisation. Curating gardens as art projects, can develop gathering spaces for spontaneous interactions. Gardens themselves are unpredictable happenings, where irregular growth cycles, weeds, decay, and weather all influence ever changing conditions. Gardens can be both public art forms and places/acts of environmental and community activism.

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Photo: Oliver Kellhammer in the Means of Production Garden, Vancouver

Oliver Kellhammer, Artist Statement

“I am interested in exploring the processes of ecological regeneration in the wake of human disturbance, either through passive field observation (what can I not do?)… or by actively engaging the biological and socio-political processes that inform these landscapes by attempting to improve their relationships with each other. The latter approach often takes the form of what I call botanical interventions, whereby I employ horticultural techniques to mitigate problems between people and the landscape, enhancing both the sense of place and the ecological carrying capacity of a given site, as well as addressing such problems as erosion, food availability and the lack of local agency over the design of urban spaces.” (Quotation, Oliver Kellhammer)

Perhaps we can afford to give up a little control to let this second ‘nature’ take its course. We’ll need to learn to tolerate a few weeds, a little uncertainty and a little mess, but we might just learn something” Oliver Kellhammer

In his book An Ecology of Enchantment, Canadian gardener Des Kennedy has written that “a garden is a work in progress, an artistic exercise that’s never finished, but at every stage of its existence stirs with the excitement of the creative process. The notion of the gardener as a pilgrim denotes a journey of discovery, of learning as we go. Gardening is the chance to live in touch with the earth, to find ourselves within its seasonal turnings, and to truly appreciate the extraordinary beauty of each ordinary day”.

Community Gardening: Cultivating an Art Therapy Studio

Benefits to Wellness

  • Skill Sharing and Learning among Peers
  • Collaboration, Mentoring, Teamwork
  • Social Interaction
  • Achievement and Self Esteem
  • Cultivating nature, Enhancing the World for Oneself and Others
  • Working with symbols of Regeneration (Growth) and Cycles of Change
  • Physical release of Tension and Stress
  • Pride of Place, Making a Difference in the World
  • Mind Wandering and Reverie in Gardening and Aesthetic Experience enhances Cognitive Flexibility for Problem Solving
  • Soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae releases Serotonin to Decrease Anxiety and improve Cognitive Functions, Enhance Mood and Coping Abilities.
  • Foraging and Harvesting assist in the release of Dopamine which may promote  Energy and Enthusiasm.

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Derek Jarman (1942-1994) was an English film director, artist, writer, stage designer and gardener. His garden journals, reflections and nature based artworks are profiled in his book Derek Jarman’s GardenWritten before his death the book crusades the proliferation of personality in every garden, rather than codification and regulation. Out of a shore composed of flint and shingle, and near a nuclear power station in Dungeness, Kent, Jarman created a gardening legacy that acts as a stage for not only his own personal experiences, but a catalyst for the pursuits of others who follow his example. An activist opposed to lawns, garden chemicals and the dictation of order, Jarman encouraged a garden’s anarchy and wild abandon. His garden was without borders and conventions, extending in all directions and inwards to meet the realities of landscapes both human and natural. His home, a restored fishing cottage, became his sanctuary and studio for forays into various forms of contemplation and artistic enterprise. The garden is still today infused with the magic of surprise. “I saw it as a therapy and a pharmacopoeia” (Derek Jarman), its essential nature to assist with the experiencing of life cycles.

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Photo Source: Gardenista

“Derek Jarman gave his garden a certain narrative; perhaps he treated it a bit like a film or theatre set. His films were visionary, eccentric, romantic and rebellious, all of which could also be said about his garden. The plants were distinct players in the action…He put wild with cultivated, made art out of rubbish and declared the garden a gallery where nature played the most important part. He sought refuge in his garden, but chose a setting with no boundaries, where everything is an edge: shingle, sea, sun, wind all shifting and changing…It is a weird and wonderful place, but in many ways humble: a small house, a tiny garden, yet the maker showed us all how wild and brilliant our own spaces can be if we’re prepared to look sympathetically at the landscape around us, to make room for the flotsam and weeds in life as much as the jewels.” (Alys Fowler, “Gardens: Planting on the Edge in Derek Jarman’s Garden”, The Guardian, September, 24, 2014

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Photo Source: Kriss MacDonald, Derek Jarman’s Garden