What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens: Art in the Garden

What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens: Art in the Garden
By Melanie Priesnitz Conservation Horticulturist

We’ve been growing a very unusual species in the greenhouse this summer. They are erratic in growth habit and behaviour, and they come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colours. That’s right, we’ve been growing humans! At the start of the season we moved our tropical blueberry collection outside so the plants could enjoy some fresh air and benefit from the natural predatory insects and pollinators. In the meantime, the blueberry house has been turned into a classroom for humans.

We have a wide range of participants young and old using the glasshouse classroom for our summer art programs. This summer marks the eleventh year that we’ve partnered with Uncommon Common Art to hold Art in the Garden summer camps in the Botanical Gardens. The kids spend their weeks learning about art and nature, mixed with a whole lot of good old-fashioned outdoor fun. Some of the art projects the kids are working on this year include silk-screening, sun prints, painting, and sculpting, with a special focus on painting and drawing native plants and birds. The kids are lucky to be instructed by professional artist and educator Terry Drahos who, incidentally, plays as hard as the kids once the paint brushes are put down and it’s time for a game of tag on the lawn or camouflage in the woods!

Some of the slightly older humans that are hanging around our greenhouse this summer are participants in Twila Robar-DeCoste’s Graphite and Watercolour Botanical Art workshops. It’s rewarding to see the groups taking the time to intricately draw the native plant species that we spend our days cultivating.

During the first workshop of the summer, Twila had participants focused on drawing one of our native woodland plants, bunchberry. They learned that the new latin name for the plant formerly known as Cornus canadensis is now Chamaepericlymenum canadense (try saying that three times fast while holding a graphite drawing pencil!) They also learned the bunchberry has an incredibly fast pollination mechanism (so fast that it is listed as the world’s fastest plant in the Guinness Book of World Records). The speedy part of bunchberry is how it disperses Its pollen. Once triggered by an insect, the flower opens its petals and fires pollen into the air in .05 milliseconds, which is apparently about 800 times what an astronaut might experience during take off. I don’t think the artists were quick enough to capture the release of pollen being sent into the air, but they did a great job of capturing the beauty of the plant and had fun learning about it in both an artistic and scientific way.

We will continue to grow artists in the greenhouse and garden this summer and look forward to another camp and watercolour workshop coming up in August. There are a few spaces left in the August 11 Botanical Watercolour workshop if you want to join us. Contact Twila Robar-DeCoste at robardecoste@ns.sympatico.ca for more information. Art in the Garden summer camps are full, however, they’ll be back again next year so check in with us in early spring.

Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens
Acadia University