Why is Mounts garden spending $500,000 to let visitors ‘walk on water’?


Lajos Heder stood on the lip of a sand pit to describe the water garden taking shape below his feet at Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach.

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“The water will be a couple of inches below the walkway,” said Heder, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based artist who specializes in large-scale public art projects with his partner, Mags Harries. “You’ll feel like you’re floating.”

That sense of walking on water will be a key element of the Windows on the Floating World installation scheduled to open in June after three years of planning, fundraising and construction.

The $500,000 project on slightly more than a quarter acre is the largest individual garden Mounts has ever created, said Rochelle Wolberg, who is serving as interim director and operations manager until a new garden director is chosen next month.

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Part garden and part art work, the Windows exhibit will bring viewers down a long, sloping path to a shallow pond created from the garden’s existing waterway, near the garden’s bridge, itself a work of public art. See-through platforms will suspend them slightly above the water.

The pond’s walls are created from boulders of Florida cap rock limestone imprinted with the remains of fossil plants and animals. A waterfall will cascade over the rock and into a mini-Everglades of native aquatic plants circling the central walkway, said the project’s landscape architect Kirsten Siegel of WGI, a West Palm Beach engineering firm.

The center of the walk’s geometric shapes will be planted in a rotating mix of aquatic plants such as water lilies, papyrus, canna and Amazon lilies. The effect, Heder says, will be a labyrinth-like stroll through a work of art that also teaches viewers about Florida’s fragile wetlands.

Wolberg said garden staff selected the duo’s design because of its insistence on educating viewers, in keeping with Mounts’ mission as a teaching facility.

While Heder and Harries have completed dozens of public installations in parks, city plazas and municipal buildings, Heder says each site makes its own demands on the design.

“We don’t come to a site knowing what we’re going to do. This is unusual. Most artists have an artistic vocabulary they rely on, but we haven’t done this same thing anywhere else,” said Heder.

To that end, a large cypress tree and its encircling cypress knees have become artistic elements, along with exiting trees and shrubs that Heder says will enhance a sense of discovery as people approach the pond.

“Public art is confusing because it doesn’t have clear edges,” said Heder. “It blends in with the things that are around. We don’t want it to look like something separate placed here.”

The installation is a big deal for the Mounts, which has struggled with its direction in recent years while trying to attract more visitors to its idyllic 14-acres of rare plants and trees.

Palm Beach County paid $35,000 for the Windows project, said Mounts officials, with $465,000 coming from private and corporate donations, as well as the non-profit Friends of the Mounts group, which raises money through plant sales and an annual Mother’s Day garden tour. Contractor Hedrick Brothers Construction is providing an in-kind donation.

Although Windows won’t open until mid-June, those on the Mother’s Day Mounts Connoisseurs Garden Tour will get a sneak peak when its among nine gardens on the tour, May 13-14.

Heder says visitors should expect “a kind of magic garden.”



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