Curatorial Essay

How Does Your Garden Grow?

By Liz Wylie

And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.

― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Okanagan-based artists Wanda Lock and Rena Warren have collaborated on making a truly magical garden in the Rotary Courtyard space of the Kelowna Art Gallery this year that is sure to delight visitors over the entire four seasons it will be in place. Drawing on the awareness they have as artists of various subjects such as mythology, archetypes, and the power of images, they began with the idea of an enclosure with a fanciful cage that is vacant. Has a creature escaped, perhaps still lurking about? Visitors are immediately put on their guard, and are left in a state of not-knowing. The lush planted greenery in the enclosure, and in various urns around and about the space, including four beautiful potted Japanese Maples are pleasant and soothing, but underlying the beauty a feeling of darkness and danger persists.

We might eventually notice the Narnia lamp in the urn that bears a relief lion’s head. Another three-dimensional lion in the form of a mass-produced garden statue sits nearby. Our minds may begin to whir, working to make meaning from these assorted images.

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High up on the rear wall a beautiful old blue-painted wooden door floats over the scene. Is this a metaphor for escape, or for an opportunity in life – to make the next move, opening a door to future possibilities? Morning Glories have been planted, and climbing strings for them set in place, so the door may become somewhat obscured and overgrown as the growing season continues.

There is a reference to the archetype of the medieval Marian Garden – sequestered meditation gardens on the theme of the Virgin Mary – with the inclusion of a garden statue (lovingly aged by the artists) of a calm, standing woman, holding flowers across her chest.

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None of these readings needs to be specific, and none is necessary to appreciate the calm beauty of this wonderful garden in the Gallery’s open-air courtyard. But for a true artists’ garden, surely we expect some charm, some symbolism, some conjuring of magical realms. And in these aspects, Lock and Warren have succeeded beautifully.