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Artful implants

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REVIEW: Mosaiculture: tenth Chaumont International Garden Festival At Chaumont-sur-Loire until 21 October

A word that made a brief appearance in French language dictionaries at the end of the nineteenth century has been resurrected to provide the theme for this year's Chaumont garden festival.

'Mosaiculture' is, strictly speaking, the art of the flower-bed annual, of municipal spectacles of beautification - a floral extension of the regimental tendencies in late-Victorian urbanism. Thankfully, a good number of participants have not felt obliged to pay close attention to etymology and the response to the theme is diverse.

There are no British practices involved this year. However, Fiona Meadows, a Parisbased British architect, has collaborated with Frederic Nantois and two French artists under the name Groupe Talgo to produce the concept garden Data-Lande. It is the only one of the more progressive gardens to confront 'mosaiculture' head on and does so fortified with suitable quantities of irony.

Essentially, the garden consists of a single central form: a three-dimensional histogram representing the relative commercial success of 16 dominant garden species. The columns are blocks of compost planted with those species. From within, the histogram emits an audio montage of radio news reports. One has the impression, however, that Data-Lande has been rudely separated from its true environment - the 3D imaging programme that first brought it into being.

Its transference from screen to plot is something of a debacle.

Turf arrows, set into the black, granular ground covering, which only have a graphic function in the first place, have simultaneously grown out and been scuffed over to become almost illegible. But the main problem derives from the failure to find a satisfactory solution to demarcating the limits of the Data-Lande plot; that is, the limit between nature as an ironic representation of itself and the common-or-garden nature that surrounds it. The chosen solution - a screen of florescent-green, plastic sheeting - only highlights that failure.

Architects Avignon, Clouet and Cortella have also opted for a central, sculptural form and an artificial ground covering (this time in black, granulated rubber). Its 'From Mosaiculture to Mouldculture' includes a chrysalis-like tunnel, with an outer layer in plasticised lace and an inner core in flexible styrofoam sheeting. This is lined with the garden's mosaic: ribbons of petri dishes, each one containing a different microgarden of mould.

Along with burnt-black tree forms, abject brambles at both orifices of the tunnel and the smell and texture of the rubber ground, this makes for a potent exposure to what might be called perverse cultivation. The use of black ground-textures in these two plots has a significant precedent in a truly perverse garden described in JK Huysmans' novel Against Nature (1883), which had paths strewn with charcoal and a pond filled with black ink.

There are a number of stylish gardens that use clearly defined geometric patterns as their link to the mosaic. Cura, Felix and Schneider have produced an aquatic garden that plays off an ellipse of duckboard walkway against bands of algal growth and submerged metal panels. Glass, plantcontaining spheres float in the corners at the intersections.

A German team - Keim, Stecker, Strunk and Bartholomey - has devised some heavy-duty garden furniture that inspires thoughts of an urban garden laboratory.

The geometric knot in the centre of the plot is formed from oxidised steel planters mounted on rollers; in effect, a series of mobile beds.

In general terms, this year's gardens fall into two categories: art or concept gardens and plantation spectacles. The concepts amount, essentially, to sculpture and rely largely on man-made objects and materials.

What are not really in evidence are a successful production of concepts from plants and a true equation between natural and artificial systems.

Robin Wilson writes on landscape, art and architecture

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