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Two larger-than-life chairs made of plants.

Reality meets fantasy: "Lawn Furniture" is one of 20 juried creations at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum's "Secret Gardens" exhibit, which runs June 3 to Sept. 10.

Wandering the secret gardens

By Pauline Oo

May 30, 2006

Instead of two coffee cans and a cotton string, University of Minnesota student Laura Lyndgaard has opted for 12 funnels and six snaking pipes, all made of copper. Her creation, dubbed "Whispering to the Trees," is one of 20 eye-catching, curious, or whimsical creations in the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum's "Secret Gardens" exhibit.

"My hope is that people find the funnels and talk to each other," says Lyndgaard, who is pursuing a master's degree in landscape architecture. "And if they come alone, they could tell a secret, instead."

The Arboretum received more than 55 design proposals from across the United States for "Secret Gardens," which runs June 3-Sept. 10; and last fall, a jury of designers, artists, and critics selected 20 for installation on the Arboretum grounds in Chaska. Of the winning entries, only one ("giant grass+fairy rings") is by an artist based outside of Minnesota. Entries were judged on several criteria, including environmental friendliness and the ability to engage and delight visitors. Inspired by the popular children's classic "The Secret Garden," the exhibit encourages visitors to explore the private corners of our natural world and participate in hands-on learning and internal reflection or public discussions about plants, animals, the environment, and human creativity.

"Leaf Tunnel," for instance, teaches that no two leaves or twigs are alike. The all-weather-fabric pillows for lounging come in different leaf shapes; the twigs that are intricately laced in domelike fashion are of varying shades of brown and born of four types of trees at the Arboretum. "I wanted to create a place for kids and adults to relax and also to appreciate the Arboretum--one of the best open spaces we have because it's so well taken care of," says artist Gail Katz-James. The Arboretum, with its 1,047 acres and more than 5,000 plant species, draws nearly a quarter-million visitors each year. In 2000, USA Today named it among the "10 great places [in the United States] to smell the flowers."

Another exhibit example, "What Color is Your Garden?," piques one's curiosity as the sunlight strikes its tall, multicolored panels. Place yourself behind one of these panels and soon you'll be musing about the colors that make up the landscape before you or wondering aloud: Are those flowers white or are they orange? Is that blade of grass really green, or is it blue? It's all right if you're not quite sure what color you're seeing, says landscape architect Steven Modrow.

"I wanted to create a discussion about the color in our landscapes and also encourage people to talk about why people, bugs, or other animals are drawn to certain plants," Modrow explains. One reason, he offers, for the abundance of floral and faunal color these days is hybridization.

The winning designers were given a $2,500 stipend to defray costs, and they were encouraged to partner with local contractors, nurseries, and garden centers to build their "secret garden." Lyndgaard, who came up with her version of the tin-can telephone system while working in a cavernous studio with 26 other students, sought the help of friends and family to piece together her garden. The group used materials secured from e-Bay and Home Depot, and after four days, "Whispering" came to life.

U of M Moment

Hear Peter Moe, Arboretum director, discuss the unique qualities of this summer's "Secret Gardens" exhibit, visit University of Minnesota Moment.

"I thought it would be a very interesting way to step into the design world," says Lyndgaard of her decision to participate in the juried exhibition. This weekend (June 3 and 4) from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Arboretum will host an opening reception featuring numerous activities for the entire family and plenty of opportunities to meet and quiz the "Secret Garden" designers about their inventions. The event is free with general admission ($7 for adults, free for children under 15 and Arboretum members).

For more information about the "Secret Gardens" exhibit and related events, visit University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum or call 952-443-1400.