The Hamilton Spectator
(Nov 14, 2008)
Restoring a well-worn nature trail partly paved with decades-old asphalt and overgrown with invasive garlic mustard doesn't sound like a job for an artist, but the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) has recruited one to do just that.
Landscape artist Alan Sonfist, whose creations include a tiny pre-colonial forest in New York's Greenwich Village -- a site that's earned landmark status -- plans to put his talent to work next year on a trail restoration project that marries art and science.
He'll be working with two RBG staffers, botanist Natalie Iwanycki and terrestrial ecologist Lindsay Burtenshaw, who met with him this week to discuss potential sites. Candidates include sections of the Captain Cootes trail at the arboretum in Dundas and the Bridle Trail behind Hendrie Park in Burlington.
"Most urban dwellers have lost an understanding with nature," said Sonfist in the session recorded by a video crew documenting the project. "Ultimately this trail will become a learning trail or discovery trail of the nature that exists within this community or the Royal Botanical Gardens."
He envisions cracking the asphalt and planting moss in the cracks or planting trees whose roots will break up the pavement.
But Iwanycki reminded him: "This is also a science experiment. We don't know which plants would do the best job of breaking. We want to know what would be most productive," suggesting trees with sideways-spreading roots might be better than oaks that grow deep tap roots.
Their conversation was the beginning of a design process that will continue over the winter.
Iwanycki hopes adding artistic elements to the natural area "will draw a different crowd of people than normally comes to the trails, allowing us to connect with other people, to open their eyes to the importance of nature and areas that have been neglected."
Burtenshaw said: "Restoring natural systems is one way we can be creative in our science. Art gives it another dimension."
Sonfist said: "To me, that's the excitement of working with you. The artistic part will come out of the science."
John Grande, curator of the RBG's continuing Earth Art exhibits, has described Sonfist as "a pioneer of public, green art that celebrates our links to the land."
American painter and art critic Christopher Chambers credits the 62-year-old New Yorker with creating the concept of environmental art in the 1960s and calls him "perhaps the ultimate purist of the Earthworks movement." On artoteque.com, he says Sonfist works "never violate or impinge upon the natural order of a place."
Ross Halloran, RBG director of marketing and visitor experience, says the gardens will look for sponsors and in-kind donations for the trail restoration.
How to put the country back in the child
If your kids spend all their time indoors -- whether learning, playing, watching TV or in front of the computer -- they may be suffering from nature deficit disorder.
It's a malady diagnosed by Richard Louv in his bestselling 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, a disconnect from nature that may contribute to mental and behavioural disorders and obesity.
In search of a cure, the Royal Botanical Gardens is bringing together planners, health experts and representatives of environmental and youth development organizations next weekend for a Back to Nature workshop in which they'll explore ways to reconnect children to nature.
The event opens with a public session from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21, featuring Louv in a live, interactive teleconference from California.
Order tickets by Nov. 18 online at www.rbg.ca or by calling 905-527-1158, ext. 270. Credit card billing is required.
Admission is $10 for RBG members, $12 for non-members.