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.

RELATED: SIX MUST-SEE SPRING FLOWERS AT THE MOUNTS

“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.

RELATED VIDEO: TAKE A STROLL THROUGH MOUNTS GARDENS

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.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Community

New eating disorders program provides low-cost treatment, support
New eating disorders program provides low-cost treatment, support

Johanna Kandel spent a decade of her formative years battling — and eventually recovering from — her eating disorder. Now 38, she’s spent every day since October 2000 — when she founded The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness — helping others battle theirs. The nonprofit organization’s latest venture is one that...
Leslie Jones: She tweeted “Game of Thrones” from West Palm Beach hotel
Leslie Jones: She tweeted “Game of Thrones” from West Palm Beach hotel

Where was “Saturday Night Live” star and “Game of Thrones” fanatic Leslie Jones doing her weekly GoT tweets from Sunday night? A West Palm Beach hotel. And before regaling fans with her weekly Twitter impressions of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” she made a brief but lasting impression on cancer survivor...
What are the seven best cities for hipsters in Palm Beach County?
What are the seven best cities for hipsters in Palm Beach County?

On the surface, Palm Beach County, with its tony island dwellers and western horse set, doesn’t automatically come to mind as a haven for hipsters, the authenticity-conscious connoisseurs of carefully curated experiences. But there are corners of the county providing places to eat, drink and do stuff with a youthful, iconoclastic flavor...
Photos: When Jerry Lewis made a really bad movie in Palm Beach County
Photos: When Jerry Lewis made a really bad movie in Palm Beach County

Jerry Lewis, who died Sunday at the age of 91, was no stranger to South Florida. He made one of his best movies here — “The Bellboy” was shot at Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau hotel. When he made one in Palm Beach County, though, it was one of his worst. And Palm Beach County didn’t make it easy for him, either...
Seven tips to help you graduate from college in four years
Seven tips to help you graduate from college in four years

SEATTLE — It may sound counterintuitive, but freshmen college students who take a full load of reasonably demanding courses are more likely to graduate from college on time. That’s part of the message Western Washington University has been conveying to its students in a campaign called “15 to Finish,” which encourages students...
More Stories