As spring thoughts turn to the world outdoors, a new book invites us to greet it with a fresh eye. Avant Gardeners looks at the point where conceptual art meets landscape gardening and highlights the work of 50 designers who, for the past decade or so, have reacted to the glassy, razor-edge precision of modernist architecture with creations that go way beyond raised flower beds and mounds of perfect lawn. "These gardens are about ideas first and foremost," says author Tim Richardson. "They're not mainly about plants and they're not really about function." Instead, they use surreal scaling, vivid colors and otherworldly shapes "to disrupt the modernist feel of rational, calm, ordered spaces it sometimes looks as if some sort of earthquake has occurred."
Many of the conceptual gardens in the book, like the Lullaby Garden created by Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot in Sonoma, California in 2004, with rolling hills of nylon carpet behind a fence of fishing line, were temporary installations for festivals. Others are permanent works of odd beauty commissioned by open-minded clients (see Claude Cormier's neon-pink Lipstick Forest for Montreal's Palais des Congrès) or those looking to make a lasting statement like the fountain memorial to Princess Diana in London's Hyde Park by Kathryn Gustafson and Neil Porter. "Think of them as gardens that tell stories," advises Richardson. "Even if you're not always able to understand them."