Into the Woods is a garden designed and built for the 2018 Chaumont-sur-Loire International Garden Festival, located in France's Loire River Valley two hours south of Paris. The collaborative project led by Associate Professor Phoebe Lickwar, founding principal of FORGE Landscape Architecture, and Matthew Donham, founding principal of RAFT, was awarded the 2018 Prix de la Création. Selected from over 300 international proposals, Into the Woods is featured alongside 23 other works centered around the Festival's theme of “Gardens of Thought.” Now in its 27th year, the Festival draws over 400,000 visitors from around the world eager to experience avant-garde and experimental landscapes.
Inspired by “The Garden of Forking Paths,” a short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, Into the Woods evokes the emotions of the story's narrator adventuring through interconnected realities. As he journeys through a tangled garden with a series of crossroads, the narrator encounters “an infinite series of times, a growing dizzying web of divergent, convergent and parallel times.” Into the Woods interprets this fantastical experience, provoking visitors to get lost in time and space within a lush forest. Maze-like paths wind in and around the dense woods, intersected by balance beams providing a series of elevated short-cuts. At each crossroads, a decision must be made without a clear sense of orientation. Visitors are invited to meditate on their course and interaction with both the space and people they may encounter along the way.
What does it mean to be lost in thought, to delve deep in a dream world of altered time? In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit insists, “Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery.” A garden, like a novel, is a space in which to get lost, and in being lost, to find oneself. At its inception, a garden holds multiple divergent futures; past and future are compressed in the present moment. Time is altered, speeded and slowed, shaped intentionally or inadvertently by human hands.
Into the Woods offers an experience of being lost in the forest of the future. Visitors are invited to follow a meditative path through dense plantations of young saplings which obscure the presence of others within the garden. A secondary system of balance beams, made from wood charred black using the traditional Japanese shou sugi ban technique, provides elevated shortcuts through the trees and a heightened awareness of the body in relation to ground, sky, and trees.
To compose the forest, the designers chose species typically grown for renewable energy production, including poplar, willow, birch, sycamore maple, and alder. Ferns, sedges, wild strawberry, barrenwort, and hardy geranium carpet the ground. The forest is performative in two respects: as the vehicle for a choreographed human experience and as a productive crop for renewable energy. Following in the tradition of avant-garde design at the Chaumont International Garden Festival, Into the Woods explores the potential of a new urban woodland for the 21stcentury, integrating ecology, productivity, and urban culture.
Landscape Architecture Magazine, the magazine of the American Society of Landscape Architects, covered Into the Woods in the October 2018 issue with "Thicket of the Mind" by Timothy A. Schuler. Read the full article here.
The Festival runs from April 24 to November 4.
Location: 27ème édition du Festival International des Jardins: JARDINS DE LA PENSÉE, Chaumont-sur-Loire, France
Design Team: Phoebe Lickwar, Matthew Donham, Hannah Moll, and Andersen Woof
Image Credits: Site Plan - Design Team; All Others - Raafi Rivero