Most plants sit resigned to the ground or confined by a planter. Yet they grow, reaching up to the sun, anchored down to the earth.
Not so for String Gardens. These petals and leaves and roots and shoots grace the open air. Held aloft by a single line, these bright, blooming plants hang freely, defying the ground below.
With a bit of string, a willing subject, and his “secret” ingredients, Fedor van der Valk floats these magical gardens indoors and out. What could inspire such hovering horticulture?
Puppets! A fan of Jim Henson, Van der Valk says his favorite character is Beeker, the clumsy lab assistant. As one who dabbled in engineering and computer science, Van der Valk ultimately found his passion working in filmmaking, scenery, sets, and puppets, while also building websites and pursuing other technical endeavors.
Despite being the creator of these horticultural heavenlies, Van der Valk says gardening's just a means to achieve his art. He finds peace with plants, a love that came from his mother, who always filled their homes with greenery, making Van der Valk feel “uncomfortable in cities without green.” He inherited her green thumb without realizing it: During a visit to his uncle’s home in Curaçao a few years ago, he innocently complimented the gardens. His uncle laughed and said, "I didn’t build this. You did." The artist had forgotten about the young plants he'd started around his uncle’s yard many years ago, plants now grown into lush landscapes.
Van der Valk, who lives in Amsterdam, is humble and grateful. He refuses compliments, preferring instead to commend his mentor, the artist and stylist Frank Visser, with whom Van der Valk works and for whom he built the original string gardens. He also praises Hilde, who first agreed to offer his string-garden designs for sale at her Pompon flower shop.
If this gracious artist can build plants spinning freely through the air, are his dreams for the future any different than ours? He hopes for success at an upcoming meeting. He wants to seal the deal on an inner-city workshop, where he plans to build large, permanent installations to display his puppets, work on films, and do whatever inspires him next. The city owns the structure, so he will have to keep it clean and make it available for community events. The interesting part: This greenhouse rests on land that houses an Amsterdam pump — the very same that keep the city barely above water.
And he stays afloat too, buoyed by inspiration. His art, he says, helps him overcome the troubles and heartache life throws in the way. What inspires him? Creating little worlds and sharing them.
--Carolyn Cotney / photos courtesy of String Gardens & Fedor van der Valk