For your average landscaper, the suggestion of throwing 64 tonnes of salt onto a garden would induce paroxysm. But that’s exactly what the experimental design lab UrbanBs did. Its garden, called Fleur de Sel (literally “flower of salt,” punning on the French term for hand-harvested sea salt), is now on display at the Jardins de Métis garden festival in Quebec. Drawing inspiration from newly fallen snow on green terrain, it recreates the way plants, footprints, and objects are hidden during the winter months. The visible white surface hints at what’s beneath, letting the visitor’s imagination complete the picture of the garden below.
Of course, landscaping with mounds of salt is not as simple as dumping it directly onto the ground; high salinity increases the osmotic pressure of soil, rendering it toxic to most plants. A complex system of barriers were constructed to prevent salt from leaching into the surrounding soil, one comprising layers of PVC, geotextiles and gravel. And while the undulating mounds of salt remain exposed to the elements, a filtration system and pump retrieves salty rainwater for reuse.
This unusual approach to gardening is typical of UrbanBs, a collective of four architects and urban planners who also operate independent practices in Montreal, Milan, and Lausanne, Switzerland. Marco Asciutti, Farzaneh Bahrami, Enrique Enriquez, and Matteo Muggianu combine their different backgrounds, professional and cultural, to come up with unique approaches to design and urbanism.
What happens to all this salt when the gardens close in October? When the fantasy snowscape gives way to the real thing, the salt-cum-snow will come full circle: it will be reused to de-ice nearby roads.
Fleur de Sel and the other gardens making up this year’s festival will be on display until October 2, 2011.