Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Process and Progress at the Princeton Botanical Art Garden

This past Sunday's workday at Herrontown Woods' botanical art garden was made even more pleasurable by the beautiful sunlight that slowly shifted in angle as we worked. Complementing the now dormant native plants are the "found" structures that we installed this year--a shed, a gazebo, and the curious dugout boat that some highschool  kids created for their Odyssey project at Princeton High School. 

The gazebo, which we saved from demolition elsewhere in Princeton, is the latest addition. Our work at the botanical garden reminds me of jazz improvisation, in that we are constantly responding to each other's and nature's creativity. Until the light struck the gazebo in a certain way, I hadn't seen how the vertical lines of its balusters complemented the verticality of the bronze-colored broomsedge grasses growing nearby. 

That in turn led to the idea of planting native prairie grasses in a circle around the gazebo, to give mass and color to the garden in the winter when other plants are muted. Though grasslands are also native to New Jersey, they particularly thrived in Iowa, where the person who long ago acquired and then donated this nature preserve, Oswald Veblen, grew up. This is one of many ideas for the garden that come through the serendipity of the setting.

Nature, of course, is the greatest artist, limitless in the scope and variety of its creations.
Our work above all seeks to facilitate and appreciate nature's infinite creativity. 

But we are also collaborators, as when Rachelle turned a fallen tree and trimmed vines into a special spot to sit down and drink in the surroundings.

Though the pine grove that once grew here became the victim of windstorms, the sunlight now reaching the ground is driving the growth of many native shrubs and wildflowers that couldn't prosper elsewhere in the deeply shaded preserve. These catkins of hazelnut bode well for the food forest taking shape in one part of the botanical garden.

An important contributor to the serious fun is Victorino, who combines virtuosic chain saw skills with an artistic sensibility
and a sense of humor. 

Our workdays next to the Herrontown Woods parking lot begin around 10am on Sundays, but often run into late afternoon. This coming year, we hope to apply a similarly collaborative process to other cultural zones in Herrontown Woods, at the Veblen House and Cottage. The aim is for visitors to gain insight into Princeton's nature and history, combined with a healthy dose of delight.