Do you still remember her? The lady with the umbrella. Right next to the piano player. Both of them were standing close to the scurry of mischievous squirrels.
Close by was another woman, probably a friend, next a dolphin and a chair. Ring a bell? All of these were installed five years ago in Chișinău Botanical Garden, following an EU-supported cooperation project with Iasi Botanical Garden. Since then, summers have passed, as have springs, and with them months of April – the most recent of which brought with it a lot of sadness for the Garden’s exhibitions. However, the institution’s administration is convinced that the topiary art will be revived this autumn in Chișinău.
Until the heavy snowfall in April this year, the Botanical Garden’s exhibitions had managed to preserve a few of their permanent objects of topiary art, which were installed a few years ago, with the temporary ones disappearing over time. A few have already been removed from the garden, and the others remind us of the sunny seasons, when many visitors wouldn’t leave without a photograph next to these objects.
“We tend to repair and restore them. Today they are in this situation because after the month of April we focused on eliminating consequences. After clearing the roads and removing the branches we focused on eliminating fire hazards and removing vegetation waste,” says Alexandru Teleuta, Director of Chișinău Botanical Garden.
The roman origins of topiary objects
Topiary is the art of shaping, cutting and transforming plants into ornamental elements. The word itself comes from the Latin word ‘topia’, which means ornamental gardening. Although it is considered a relatively old art, it has become modern and current and is again enjoying popularity in gardens.
More precisely, the art of topiary has its origins in the Roman period and has evolved throughout history, going through several rebirths and declines. The art has always focused on love and admiration for beauty, and on the fascination to create so-called “living sculptures”, which remain green even during winter.
“The cross-border initiative for developing playful topiary art for education and leisure” project, which ran from April 2011 until October 2012, was worth around €156,000. 90% of this amount was obtained from European funds, with 10% self-funded. It was a cross-border project jointly implemented with Romania, carried out in collaboration with Iasi Botanical Garden and Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iasi. In addition to installing topiary art in the two gardens, the project also provided various training seminars and exchanges of best practice between employees of both institutions. This meant that, following the collaboration, Chișinău Botanical Garden had specialists who were trained and prepared for object installation and maintenance.
“The project’s activities were broken down into categories, starting with management and public procurement activities, down to specific issues like exchanges of experience between the staff of the two botanical gardens, specialised courses in topiary art and design, as well as public outreach to explain what we were doing,” said Catalin Tanase, deputy rector of Ioan Cuza University in Iasi, and project coordinator from the Romanian side.
At Chișinău Botanical Garden, there are now six specialists who could revive the topiary art project. They know both the techniques and the tools for implementation. Alongside them, there are other employees who know how to take care of the respective objects.
How is an object installed?
The plants used by Chișinău Botanical Garden are usually conifers or deciduous plants. These are planted and later shaped on metal forms/skeletons to represent certain shapes. Depending on the plants, the topiary objects can be permanent or temporary.
The installation of such an exhibition is more of a scrupulous process than an expensive one, explains Teleuta, who is convinced that, following the implementation of some projects this autumn, the Botanical Garden will be able to re-establish the objects of topiary art using its own resources. “We became infected with love for topiary art, we have specialists and we have to harness the knowledge we received. Moreover, the topiary exhibitions are preferred by visitors.” The Director of the Botanical Garden also talked about the possibility of organising training courses for a fee for gardeners or other people willing to learn the particularities of topiary art.
“Topiary art strengthens the educational and entertainment role of a Botanical Garden, providing the general public with leisure and cultural services, in a newly arranged space,” believes Catalin Tanase.
Civil society – in solidarity with problems encountered by the Botanical Garden after the adverse weather conditions in April
Chișinău Botanical Garden suffered colossal losses due to the bad weather in the month of April, and the rehabilitation works include the procurement of seedlings, the sorting of broken trees, as well as the removal of vegetation waste. “About 50 organisations, volunteers, NGOs and companies have already got involved and helped us. However, everything we have done so far includes only works to eliminate hazards, and not sanitary or restoration works,” Tleuta said.
In the meantime, you can keep company to the lady with the umbrella. Soon the pianist will be back next to her, and together they will recreate the atmosphere of an aristocratic party from old times. The management of the institution is aware of the importance of the garden for the people of the city, as well as for visitors. In addition to the rehabilitation of the topiary exhibits, the director says a Japanese garden will soon emerge, helping to return the Botanical Garden to its former glory.
Author: Alina Girnet