Ephemeral Landscaping

If you liked to draw on the driveway with chalk when you were a child, there’s an art festival for you in Victoria, BC. The art is not for sale, and it’s not hanging in wire cubicles lining the street. It’s painted on the street with chalk. The subjects aren’t spaceships or stick-legged monsters – which is what a kindergarten-ish Steve Cannon would have drawn – although they could  be. The “paintings” are fantastically detailed and colorful works in chalk, of every imaginable subject.

Janet and I happened to wander into this festival while the artists were at work. Most of them were using a grid drawn on the payment to transfer a smaller scale original to the much larger scale street canvas. This stuff was seriously good. And seriously ephemeral. Even though cordoned off from being walked on, these paintings would quickly deteriorate. The next rain would obliterate them.

The transience of the street-surface artwork could be an allegory for our experiences that are made exquisitely enjoyable precisely because we know they won’t be there tomorrow. Think of a memorable meal you’ve had at a good restaurant. Think about those densely smokey mushrooms. Would you be enjoying them as much after seeing them on your dinner plate for the 120th consecutive day?

Many of the best things are rock-solid and will last a very long time. A finely made rocking chair can rock you and your morning cup of coffee for generations. Your kids can climb up into the chinkapin oak in the front yard. Twenty-five years later their kids can climb it, and twenty-five years later their kids can climb it.

On the other hand, some of the best things in landscapes, natural and created, are ephemeral. Usually we don’t even plan for them, and if we do, they go unmentioned when walking the client through the design unrolled on the kitchen table. The carpet of flower petals under this crabapple will last a day. If it happens over an out-of-town weekend, you would never know it was there.

I might get bored with that planting of Knock-out™ roses that’s well into its sixth straight month of flowering in October. The fleeting one-day snowy carpet under the crabapple tree – I’ll never get tired of that.



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