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Published by Sugar & Cream, Monday 20 February 2023

Text and images courtesy of Vitra Design Museum

25 March – 3 October 2023

An exhibition by the Vitra Design Museum, the Wüstenrot Foundation, and the Nieuwe Instituut

VDM Garden Futures – Prospect Cottage Garden – Derek Jarman

Gardens reflect identities, dreams, and visions. Deeply rooted in their culture, they can unfold immense symbolic potential. The recent revival of horticulture has focused less on the garden as a romantic refuge than as a place where concepts of social justice, biodiversity, and sustainability can be tried and tested. Gardens have become places of the avantgarde. The exhibition »Garden Futures« at the Vitra Design Museum is the first to explore the history and future of modern Gardens. Where do today’s garden ideals come from? Will Gardens help us achieve a liveable future for everyone? The exhibition addresses these questions using a broad range of examples from design, everyday culture, and landscape architecture – from deckchairs to vertical urban farms, from contemporary community Gardens to living buildings to Gardens by designers and artists including Roberto Burle Marx, Mien Ruys, and Derek Jarman. The exhibition architecture will be designed by the Italian design duo Formafantasma.

VDM Garden Futures – Oudolf Garten

Gardens are full of hope and promise. Wherever people stake out a piece of nature to create a garden, its layout and design reveal much about how they relate to nature, be it as individuals or as a society. This is illustrated by the works of such diverse artists and architects as Hans Thoma, Georg Gerster, Athanasius Kircher, Gabriel Guevrekian, Barbara Stauffacher-Solomon, Alvar Aalto, Thomas Church, Vita Sackville-West, and Luis Barragán, all of which feature in a media installation at the start of the exhibition. They show the garden as an idealized space that pervades our daily lives as well as our imaginations – a place in which immediate practical function and profound symbolic, philosophical, or even religious significance are readily compatible.

VDM Garden Futures – Parliament of Plants – Celine Baumann | Liz Christy – Donald Loggins | Calendula Plants – Weleda | Zheng Guogu – Liao Garden

Even the most private garden is more than a personal retreat. Every garden bears the marks of social and historical developments, political and commercial interests, and cultural value systems . This is addressed in the second part of the exhibition, where we learn that many plants forming a basic component of Western Gardens have deep roots in colonial history. The Wardian case invented in the nineteenth century made it possible to send live plants all around the world. Its impact on the plant trade and on private Gardens was significant, but it also contributed to the spread of invasive species and played a central role in breaking monopolies on important crops like tea or rubber, reaping huge benefits for the colonial powers.

VDM Garden Futures – Alexandra Kehaygolu – Santa Cruz River

The nineteenth century also saw the emergence of numerous urban planning concepts that sought to reconcile city and garden. In 1898, for example, the British social reformer Ebenezer Howard published his description of a garden city whose inhabitants would be able to grow their own food. The Green Guerrilla group co-founded in New York by Liz Christy, in turn, has been striving to redefine the garden as a place where social justice and public participation are actively negotiated.

VDM Garden Futures – Highrise of Homes – James Wines | Kebun Kebun Bangsar | Full Grown – Grown Chair | Church Forests

The group formed in the 1970s, but the questions raised by it and its predecessors still remain the subject of much debate: who is entitled to a garden, what is a garden for, and how can Gardens be integrated into an urban environment?

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There are many different ways of answering these questions. The third part of the exhibition introduces nine ground-breaking garden makers from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx (1909–1994) won international acclaim for emphasis on native plants, Piet Oudolf’s plant compositions are attractive all the year round, and author and gardener Jamaica Kincaid takes her garden in Vermont (USA) as her starting point in addressing colonial history, repression, and cultural appropriation. Artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman (1942–1994) faced his impending death by creating a variegated work of garden art in a place where it hardly seemed possible, amidst the hostile shingle on the coast of Kent, England, near a nuclear power station. A community garden in Kuala Lumpur co-founded by Malaysian landscape architect Ng Sek San exemplifies the many grassroots initiatives in megacities and metropoles all around the world. The extensive Liao Garden designed by Chinese artist Zheng Guogu draws on the aesthetic of the »Age of Empires« video game and thus builds a bridge between virtual and real environments. These and other fascinating projects demonstrate how Gardens articulate their makers’ creative approach and show that garden-making – a creative form of expression at the interface of the visual arts, architecture, and design – merits far more attention than it has hitherto received.

VDM Garden Futures – Gardens of Marqueyssac – Laugery | Roberto Burle Marx – Plan Rooftop Terrace | Giovanni Battista Falda – Villa Medici | Ebenezer Howard – Garden City Concept | Friedrich Krubsacius – Garden Concept

The exhibition’s final section examines contemporary projects addressing the future of Gardens. In an age of climate crisis, social injustice, biodiversity under threat, and social isolation, the garden offers a place in which to reimagine the future and develop solutions – a place of healing, spirituality, and learning. The walkable textile »meadow« made specially for the exhibition by Argentinian artist Alexandra Kehayoglou highlights the dramatic threat that climate change poses to seemingly timeless landscapes. How to translate a growing awareness of this threat into innovative action in cities, buildings, schools, and other areas is illustrated in a six-metre scroll by architect Thomas Rustemeyer which, alongside contemporary projects, also features traditional and indigenous practices. In the age of the Anthropocene – that is the message of these and similar projects – the entire planet emerges as a garden that we need to cultivate, tend, and use responsibly.

VDM Garden Futures – Bagh e Shahzadeh | Plant Processing – Weleda | Tree Trunk Bench – Jurgen Bey

Featured artists and designers (selection)
Céline Baumann
, Burle Marx, Mien Ruys, Kieran Dodds, Leonardo Finotti, Formafantasma, Zheng Guogu, Alexandra Kehayoglou, Jamaica Kincaid, Piet Oudolf, Ng Sek San, Lalage Show, Chew Yue Siew, Howard Sooley, Stefano Boeri, Mien Ruys, José Tabacow, Henk Wildschut, Julia Watson, Marian van Aubel, Dan Pearson, Midori Shintani, Full Grown, Fritz Haeg, Catherine Mosbach, James Hitchmough, Bas Smets, Daisy Ginsberg, and many others.

VDM Garden Futures – Commercial – Scott and Sons | Poster Westinghouse War Production – J Howard Miller | Lonza Fertilizer – Hans Aeschbach | Upper Rhenish Master – The little Garden of Paradise

The Exhibition will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated publication including in-depth essays, conversation with leading garden makers, and case studies of pioneering projects.

VDM Garden Futures – Rose – Maria Sibylla Merian | Garden Chair | Altdorfer Chair – Embru Werke | Patricia Urquiola – Tropicalia

Hardcover with cloth binding, 24 x 28.5 cm, 228 pages, c.180 images, ISBN 978-3-945852-53-8 (English), 55.00 €, also available at:

After its presentation at the Vitra Design Museum, the show will travel to the Design Museum Helsinki and the Museum of Finnish Architecture (10 November 2023 – 1 April 2023), the Vandalorum in Värnamo (27 April –13 October 2024), the Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam (November 2024 – March 2025), and the V&A Dundee (April – December 2025). Further venues are planned.

VDM Garden Futures – Bosco Verticale – Stefano Boeri

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