Horticulture is the art, science, technology and business of plant cultivation for human use. It is practiced from an individual level in a house or garden, up to the activities of a multinational corporation. However a known danger for those involved in this field is that it can easily adopt a compulsive and obsessive proportion. Driving one to near insanity when no numbers of acquired or propagated plants are enough or when its passion drives you to experiment with plants till you have that something that is just yours – incomparable and one-of-a-kind!
Fedor Van der Valk is a self-described “janitor and website builder” and works at Studio IJM in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He is one whose love for gardening – obviously seeing where he lives – was something that occupied him totally, but he was not happy just enjoying the wealth of the nation in growing and propagating different varieties of lilies, tulips, roses, irises, gerberas and several other plants; his heart yearned for something else, he wanted an interaction, a literal conversation with the plants that he adored, one where their responses to the care he provided would be evident in their obvious behaviour, from an eye-to-eye level!
Four years ago, Van der Valk whilst designing sets for the studio’s stop-motion animation films started suspending live plants in them. “I always liked bonsai, but I never had the patience for it, so I started to experiment,” he says. “I had these little organic pots for my seedlings, which gave me the idea to create an organic shell around its root ball.” He went on to create a system where the ubiquitous pot of the plant is totally done away with, and the root ball of every single plant is exposed and swathed in a self crafted round cover made up of plaster, clay, soil and moss.
He then started hanging these live growing spheres in mid-air with the help of strings, almost puppet-like in fashion. Talking about his quirky, twirling indoor garden, Van der Valk further explains, “The objective of my string gardens was to create a new dimension within our own, in which the plants are dominant. Hanging at eye-level, they trigger your imagination providing a broader understanding of their needs and their environment. Hanging right in front of your nose, they let you experience their posture and movements from time to time.”
“I always use plants that are available in a particular season. Spring starts with blossoming fruit trees, pear, apple, peach, cherry, quince, blueberry and various other flower bulbs like mini tulips, narcissus, iris, fritillaria meleagris and muscari.”
Citrus trees are one of his favourites and the kind he grows – Calamondin, produces flowers and fruits throughout the year without needing a lot of special care. In the summer time he likes to have small and medium sized lavender and rosemary plants; he has even been successful in growing pomegranates indoors!
Where watering of his plants is concerned, yes the ‘string garden’ can become a very tempting proposition, as all it requires is a complete dunking of the root ball of each plant in water for 5 to 10 minutes and you are done for three days!
Van der Valk is currently working on designs for different containers and vases in glass, plaster, and paper – all to be suspended – and plans are in progress to create a permanent showcase of his creations. He doesn’t want to be ‘hung up’ on one design, I suppose..
Text By Mala Bajaj
Photographs Courtesy Fedor Van der Valk