Experimental Gardens

A new feature on the Blu.reV

I will begin posting conceptual gardens I have designed (or found).  These gardens combine Zen planning philosophy with more prosaic materials, generally the mundane stuff of our sprawling cities – asphalt, chain link and razor wire, 55 gallon oil drums, etc. Beauty in these gardens exists, if at all, in the arrangement of juxtaposed form, texture, color, and materiality – all brought together in ways influenced by Japanese gardens.  I guess to me these are my way of trying to find order, meaning, and even beauty in what surrounds us.  Here we go:

Driving down the Western Kentucky Parkway, amid the emptiness, one comes upon coal country.  Thousands upon thousands of acres have been strip mined.  In many places only a thin screen of trees separates the traveler from the devastation.  In some places not even that veil exists.

One can sense the destruction in the wetlands that have appeared next to the highway.  The mining has changed the natural channels, and water now sits in swamps.  You can tell this has happened recently, as the swamps contain the carcases of trees that drowned in the  unnatural water.

Yet there is an eery beauty in the desolation.  The stumps stand in contemplative groups, like stones in a Japanese Garden.  The cattails and other grassy vegetation adds interesting texture and color to the otherwise black water and gray stumps.

Here, I’ve re-created the abstract nature of the scene.  A sheet metal wall surrounds the property.  Rusting and adding heat on a summer day.  Dying trees, nothing but decay. Yet beauty still.  Can we reconcile both?


Here I’ve tried to re-create a small slice of the rural south of long ago.  Concrete block building, oil drums out back, lonesome narrow road, stupidly hot day, nothing stirring for so long until off in the distance a shower is heading this way.  The lights will soon click on, humming as darkness falls.

I guess this is really a stage set.  The “rain” is strands of chain links hung from a wire suspended by old telephone poles. This “rain” obscures the trees at the back of the lot, giving them a hazy, far off quality. The oil barrels become planters for whatever weeds will take root in them. A right of way fence hugs the narrow blacktop.   The deck hanging off the concrete block “garage” becomes the place for contemplation of this scene.


I “found” this one this morning walking to Creative Cities – such a great garden of contemplation.  I love the just the physical texture as well as what it says – destruction.  The fence keeps people from exploring – only strengthening the issue of appreciating beauty in chaos.


Can a landscape be both real and dead? Here, I envision a realm of branches held together by barbed wire, standing in some post-glacial field containing, not meltwater, but mirrors.  Yes, we can walk into this scene, but at what cost? We must confront the falsity of this seeming reality.  Yes, it’s beautiful at first, but it is not real.   And then we see it – harshness, emptiness, dishonesty.  Oh, I AM too literal, aren’t I?


I found the above “garden” on U.S. 68 approximately 2 miles east of Paris.  I call it “disruption.”  Very symbolic of our times.  And very visually interesting as a garden of contemplation.


This garden above resides in a suburban backyard.  The object of contemplation is that holiest of places – a parking spot.  It reposes in a sand base, dwarf evergreens provide a frame.  We have bleachers so that we can invite our friends over to help us contemplate.  Telephone poles form a screen to force our minds upon the subject.  Oil drums planted with Firethorn remind us of our dependency.  Razor wire chain link fence separates us from the “others”, who in reality are just the ones sharing this existence with us.  Beyond the fence we have billboards to remind us of the nature we’ve lost in our cities.  Blue Spruce contrast with the asphalt dump at their feet, reminding us that even in waste maybe there can be real beauty.


Above, in another suburban backyard, we have the element of a Chinese Pleasure Boat, drifting upon layer upon layer of asphalt.   Except the boat doesn’t drift.   It just sits, kinda helplessly, above the brutality of the asphalt. It could be a contemplative scene – but what would we contemplate?  Maybe we better not – too painful.  Nature is outside, walled off along with the “others.”  It is allowed to peak into the space.  Barren, hot, and ultimately empty.  Hope that doesn’t describe where our world is going to.


Above, Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica have been kidnapped from where they belong and placed into a corporate courtyard – paved with coal.  Rounded bedrock crowd them.  As they struggle to grow, they become gnarled.  In October, despite their conditions, they are beautiful again.  The red leaves glisten in the Autumn rain.  Then the cold drops strip the trees bare – but, for a while longer, even the coal is beautiful as the red leaves cover them.  I was inspired by Beethoven’s Sonata in C Minor – Pathetique – click here to listen while you contemplate 🙂


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