Photo: City of Vancouver: Parks Recreation and Culture

“On December 15, 2006, after two short hours of gale-force winds, a storm devastated Stanley Park. Out of the devastation arose opportunities to renew, restore, and respond creatively…Between 2008 and 2009, six artists created environmental art works in Stanley Park by collaborating with ecologists, park stewards, environmental educators, and even the park’s ecology.”

Ephemeral art works

“Natural and organic materials are used to create works that will have a minimal impact on the environment and that will, over time, decay and return to the earth. This type of artwork is dynamic and ever-changing as outside elements, or the activities of animals and insects, will alter the look and aspect of the work. Eventually, only photographs will remain of these temporary works.” Quotations, City of Vancouver: Parks, Recreation and Culture

Ephemeral art by Tania Willard installed in Stanley Park, British Columbia

Artwork: Birth by Tania Willard, City of Vancouver Parks: Recreation and Culture

“Drawn to areas of the park I hadn’t yet explored, I started down Cathedral Trail and was immediately struck by the amazing root systems overturned during the storm. Looking at the root systems, I was struck by how they resembled the branching of vessels in a placenta and how they themselves are organs facilitating many of the same functions for life as the womb and umbilicus. My partner and I had just had our first son, Skyelar, and when I looked at this root system I felt it as if it was a part of me; I felt the land through to my core…For this piece I worked with a large, upturned rootball with an exposed root system. I stripped a layer of bark off of the root system to create a higher contrast and emphasis on the roots. Although the tree and root system are dead, the rootball itself has created new habitat. While working with it, I was awed by the new roots shooting through the soil on the underside of the rootball. Life is sprouting all over, stimulated by the devastation of the windstorms, ferns grow around the base of the rootball as well as patches of growth in the soil that is still held together by the roots. Suspended vertically like a wall, creating this view of the forest we do not normally get to see.” Tania Willard, Artist’s Statement


Artwork: Uprooted by Shirley Wiebe, City of Vancouver Parks: Recreation and Culture

The Therapeutic Garden

February 4, 2015


RHart“Sitting in a wilderness garden you can almost hear the generative power of nature. It is like watching a speeded-up film, when buds uncurl, flowers open and shrubs expand as if by magic. If we were to leave a patch of land free from human intervention – no cropping, mowing, digging or ploughing – it would quickly revert to its natural state…It is this feeling of wild, unfettered energy one seeks to create in a therapeutic garden” (Dondald Norfolk, The Therapeutic Garden)

An edible forest garden is an example of therapeutic gardening that embraces nature as a regenerating source of well being. Not only is the food plentiful, its design is self sustaining, engaging itself in its own reproduction and fertility.

“Symbiosis – ‘living togeher’ or mutual aid – is the basic law of life. Evolution is a holistic process, the development of ever more complex integrated organisms, involving a spiritual element which ensures that the whole is more than the sum of its parts” (Robert Hart, Forest Gardening: Rediscovering Nature and Community in a Post-Industrial Age).

Forest gardening is a practical means of cultivation, as it involves low maintenance in regards to watering and weeding. The forest garden appears chaotic and dishevelled, and yet its layered design is a complex arrangement of companion planting. It is a self-regulating habitat, an ecological system, which benefits both mind and body. “If a garden is to mirror nature it must be varied, irregular, random and wild” (Donald Norfolk, The Therapeutic Garden).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARobert Hart, a pioneer of forest gardening, promoted the virtues of working with nature to produce both food and medicine. Hart worked less than an acre of land in his backyard in Shropshire, England. He planted his garden with a canopy layer of tall fruit trees, underplanted with fruit bushes, perennial herbs and vegetables. Climbing plants were also incorporated, which used the higher layers of vegetation for support. The garden also utilised living mulches (lower level plants) to compete with weeds, which also deterred pests and regulated the growing environment.

“The forest is the scene of incessant dynamic happenings, positive and negative, harmonious and competitive: fighting and courtship, mating and feeding, socialising and display. By miracles of natural alchemy, Gaia and her agents have evolved innumerable forms, rhythms, colours, structures, devices, movements, scents, sounds, and adaptations some of extraordinary ingenuity, many of great beauty” (Robert Hart, Forest Gardening: Rediscovering Nature and Community in a Post-Industrial Age).

Hart was a carer for his brother, born with severe learning disabilities. Forest gardening supported his dedication to providing his brother with a vital therapeutic surrounding, composed entirely from the forces of nature. Hart’s garden was also his art, laboratory and sanctuary. His dedication to experimenting with edible biodiversity has since inspired a generation of ecologically minded gardeners. His spirt lives on within the legacy of the forest garden tradition which supports the rejuvenation and well being of people and earth.


1. Robert Hart Author of a Forest Garden http://www.permaculture.co.uk

2. Martin Crawford’s Forest Garden http://www.earth-ways.co.uk


Creating a Forest Garden Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops by Martin Crawford

Forest Gardeing: Rediscovering Nature and Community in a Post-Industrial Age by Robert Hart

The Therapeutic Garden by Donald Norfolk

“Edible Woodland” by Matthew Wilson (Financial Times Weekend, January 31-February 1, 2015)

Living Tree Sculptures

January 7, 2014


Photo: Will Beckers, The Willowman’s Hamlet, The Netherlands

The winter season is an ideal time to create living tree sculptures from either willow branches or a variety of tree saplings. Willow dens are perhaps the most common living tree sculpture, and are easily created as a result of planting and shaping cut willow branches. Willow re-grows from both branch cuttings and from the trunks of the pruned trees. Willow dens are ideal hideaways for both children and adults. They can also act as trellises for a variety of climbers (i.e. honeysuckle, jasmine and thornless blackberry), and the base of the den can be planted with either wild flowers or cottage garden flowers offering both scent and colour. Tree sculptures are a habitat for people, insects and birds. They can be created by many hands working together to weave narrow branches into fairy tale shapes that feed the imaginations, while creating sanctuary for the mind and body.

Young sapling trees can be easily twisted and trained to grow together, simply by tying branches together, or cutting and binding branches to form a desired shape. Yearly pruning maintains the shape of the sculpture, which can simply be a circle of trees growing and entwining together. An entrance leading to the interior of the tree retreat can be accessed through crawling, or stepped into a more elaborately designed opening.



Photos: David Nash, The Ash Dome

British artist David Nash has produced an Ash Dome as a result of many years of shaping and pruning. Nash planted 22 saplings in 1977 and subsequently worked to train the trees into a circular and intertwining sculpted dome located in Wales.

Photos: Patrick Doughtery, Stick Work

American land artist Patrick Doughtery’s artwork is an striking example of the potential of woven branches to create large scale sculptures that are symbolic of large nests, cocoon and lairs.


The sculptures ultimately decompose creating an ideal hibernating place for mammals and insects, and ultimately the sculptures return nutrients back to the soil. The ephemeral nature of these art forms, portray the passage of time, and within their convoluted passageways we find opportunities to spend time with ourselves.


Tricks with Trees by Ivan Hicks

Living Willow Sculpture by Jon Warnes



“Nature’s Valentines” by Robin Lane Fox, The Financial Times

A recent article in The Financial Times by Robin Lane Fox discusses how artists and poets are using forms of nature as mediums for messages.

The term biosemiotics applies to the use of nature as a means of communication between living systems..

“Biiosemiotics is the study of the capacity of items in the natural world to enhance communication by their lines, structures or patterns” (Robin Lane Fox).

Diana Lynn Thompson is a Canadian artist who writes poetry on leaves. She also uses the lines and patterns insects trace on leaves as organic samples of ‘handwriting’ composed by the passages of slugs, caterpillars, etc.



Poet and artist Camilla Nelson inscribes words and messages into apples. Camilla carves words into young apples, and as the fruits grow so does the lettering. In October the apples can be harvested as memos, or be grouped as a visual apple poem.



Blackrock, Dromiskin and Ardee
County Louth have participated in a series of events celebrating the magic of trees during Springtime. The essence of events held for Earth Day and May Day is the celebration of Spring, new growth, warmth and greater daylight.

The art of decorating or dressing trees is often associated with holy wells, or special places of pilgrimage. A pilgrimage to a special tree, or grove of trees, is often a quest for knowledge. Historically designated trees were places for communities to assemble. Seasonal decorations also mark significant landmarks in the horticultural year such as planting and harvesting.

Decorated trees can also be understood as outdoor studios. The simple acts of weaving and wrapping can focus attention and facilitate a tactile relationship with nature. For children it creates special areas, where they can feel in connection with the natural world.

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”. 

The artist David Hockney has said that trees are the largest manifestation of life that we can see. A winter tree offers a sense of space, and a summer tree in leaf is a container of light. Decorating trees is an opportunity to be close to the dimensions of a tree’s space, textures and place within the landscape. Trees are like human figures integrating depth, latitude and height.

Ardee, County Louth was honoured to be selected in 2011 as the winner of the Tidy Towns Tree Project Award. As a result of this achievement they were asked to host the launch of National Tree Week 2012. The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins opened this festive event which saw a parade of trees, from different generations, walk through the village to the Fair Green. The theme for this year’s National Tree Week was ‘Trees – Our Past, Our Present, Our Future.’ National Tree Week is organised by The Tree Council of Ireland to celebrate the significance of trees in our lives and our environment.

Participants in the parade were members of Ardee Tidy Towns, Ardee Active Retirement, Ardee Traders’ Association, and students from four local schools (Monastery National School, Ardee Educate Together National School, Schoil Mhuire na Trocaire, and Ballapousta National School).

Meeting the President, planting trees, creating with willow, learning from local honey producers and horticulturalists, all added to the excitement of the day. A large crowd gathered to cheer on the town, trees and the themes of Tree Week. 

Monaghan Willow Trail

July 15, 2010

Monaghan Community Forum, with support under Peace III EU funding and in conjunction with Monaghan County Council, have developed a Willow Trail composed of evocative willow sculptures, weaving together the different backgrounds of many local people, exploring concepts of peace and community expression. The willow sculptures are located in Castleblaney, Carrickmacross, Bawn, Ballybay, Monaghan Town, and Clones. The themes of the willow artworks are biodiversity, community building, the monastic heritage of County Monaghan, and working towards enlivening people’s intuition and social consciousness.

Cozy, by artist Shirley Wiebe, is an ephemeral art work located within Stanley Park, Vancouver. Cozy is a gesture of care for a severed Douglas Fir broken by fierce windstorms. Each medallion has been engraved with the “hopes, concerns, joys and philosophies of many individuals.” In her artist statement Wiebe describes the work as “addressing the importance of mature trees in the forest, as they physically and symbolically shelter what remains of this tree. It is a nurturing gesture that acknowledges the care and attention our environment needs in order to continue looking after us. As the cozy covering decays, it will provide habitat in the forest for small mammals and other organisms living in the forest.” The hemp fibers used to tie the medallions together may also be used by birds for nesting.

We Hold Our Hands Up To You

January 15, 2010

The Vancouver Park Board, Stanley Park sponsored these environmental artworks, entitled We Hold Our Hands Up to You, by artists Davide Pan and T’Uy’Tanat Cease Wyss. The carving of first nations indigenous people’s words and the planting of native saplings into tree stumps, symbolically represents the  naturally occurring role of ‘nurse logs’ as hosts for decomposition, insects, bacteria, fungus, and ultimately the germination of tree and plant seeds. Organic wool was placed inside some of the carved words to highlight the indigenous language of the artists. The artists describe their work as follows: “The gathering of cedar bark is something that has to happen when the tree is alive, so the bark is supple and pliable. This gathering has been a practice that is recognised by many coastal peoples. We wanted to honour that presence in this landscape, and to bring attention to it so that people understand the cultural significance and respect it.”