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"Earth Art" Course Challenges Students to Design a Garden of Their Own

by Bill Giduz
Kaitlyn McElwee '13 in Ligo class
Kaitlyn McElwee '13 explains to the class her concept for a garden on the Davidson Village Green.

Within the confines of the classroom, Davidson professor Larry Ligo's class titled "Earth Art" employs traditional lectures and discussions to explore the history of garden design and its impact on the natural world.

Ligo covers the historical and technical specifications of different gardening techniques and styles. He notes that – similar to the study of a piece of art – understanding why a garden looks the way it does involves an examination of the politics, religious influences, and historical relevance of the garden.

But Ligo's course goes beyond studying gardens in the abstract. The course also provides students with an opportunity for firsthand experience with garden design. During the last few weeks of the class, each student takes on a garden design project of their own for a garden either on the Davidson Village Green or the President's House lawn.

Students are expected to measure their chosen site and make note of the existent trees and other potential obstacles. Considerable research is required for the project. Students must determine which plants can live in the local environment and which gardening style would best suit their artistic and practical objectives. Applying no restrictions, Ligo instructs his students to "Take what you learned from class, and go!"

After designing their gardens, students must defend their work in a critique session with fellow classmates, explaining their rationale for selection of every element in their design.

Senior Thomas Newbern designed his garden for the President's House lawn because of the appeal of its large front yard. Also, he and others felt that the common-use aspect of the Village Green space generated more limitations for the designer than the less trafficked President's lawn. Newbern said he incorporated numerous gardening techniques and styles in his design to represent the diversity of thought at Davidson.

Professor Ligo toured students
Professor Ligo toured students through the extensive gardens at his home in Davidson.

Early in the semester, Ligo took the class on a walking field trip to examine the Village Green and the President's House, and then took them a short way up North Main Street to visit the extensive gardens he has created in his own back yard. As well cultivated as it is, Ligo cautioned his students that his home garden, like all gardens, will never be finished because there are always improvements to be made.

Newbern took note of how Ligo employed the concept of multiple "rooms" in his garden. Likewise, Newbern presented a garden design that included components of Ligo's Japanese stroll garden, tea-room garden, and an arts-and-crafts style garden. In the interest of maintaining year-round appeal, Newbern used an assortment of plants that included both winter plants and those that thrive in warmer months. The diversity of the vegetation he selected created a broad array of colors and textures.

Another student in the class, Aric Reviere '15, also chose to construct his project in the space in front of the President's House. Like Newbern, Reviere wanted to convey his perception of Davidson as representative of an eclectic group of individuals. He therefore created half of his garden as a mix of Islamic gardens and French Baroque, and half as a mix of 19th century arts and crafts gardens and 18th century English landscape gardens. The fusion of these styles illustrated for him a juxtaposition of man-made beauty and natural beauty.

Reviere reflected on his appreciation for the class, saying "I've gained a new perspective on the importance of gardens, and have a deeper understanding of how gardens can reflect greater ideas relating to a society, even extending to ideas like social media and popular culture."

For more information contact Bill Giduz, Director of Media Relations, at 704-894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu.