LILA 2023 Special Mention in Private Gardens

At first glance, this garden completely ignores or even challenges all the dogmas of garden design ‘by the book’. However, at a closer look, it offers a number of appropriate statements and manages to remain open to interpretations.

The oversized stairs seem to have no excuse, yet they embody a sculptural dimension whilst providing seating in a peculiar grove of densely planted trees and shrubs. More importantly, the stairs lead out of the garden, through a small door in a wooden fence, into the forest, where a ‘forest garden’ ambience is achieved by almost nothing – a table and a hammock.

There are several different dialogues between pastureland and forest, private and public, an object and its context, inside and outside, but above all, between a garden as a notion and its relation to the surroundings. The design seems to be based on questioning, yet it feels entirely confident at the same time.

This garden is full of deliberate contradictions, contrasts, beautiful strangeness, and the jury was inspired by the scope of questions it poses with so little.

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Spliced into former hillside pastureland, the Betania Forest Garden is a “living diagram” and an ongoing experiment in adaptive forestry and meadow management practices. The garden is located in the village of Betania, which is 1000 meters above and 19 kilometers from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in the climate resort area of Korjori, an area known for its healing forests and clean, cool air. The garden is a mediator between the domestic and the wild, with a simple stairway and forest planting bridging from the home to and leading into the Kojori forestlands and beyond.

The garden is both of, and an intensification of, the surrounding landscape context of hardwood forests of the Lesser Caucasus mountain range. These forests are punctuated by pine plantations, open pasturelands, and steep wooded ravines and cliffs. The project reaches beyond its enclosure through economic, social, and artistic means. The saplings of the forest patch are sourced from a nearby nursery that grows from locally-gathered seed stocks. The homeowners, an architect and interior designer have a young daughter and sought to make a place where she could explore and learn the forms and changes of nature as she grows up with the garden. The design, installation, and evolution of the garden are documented by local filmakers George Kolbaia and Mariam Elene Gomelauri, capturing the seasonal change, modification, and growth of the garden over the coming years.

The first sketches of the garden were made within the house, through a panoramic window. The insertion of the forest patch and stair creates a simple, yet dynamic composition as viewed from the home’s interior. The meadow climbs the hillside and fills the frame of the panoramic window. This compressed projection, seen from the main living space, is like viewing a landscape diorama.

The project builds on the natural phenomena, highlighting the bright figured shadows of the forest patch as they pass across the meadow and the simple stair over the course of a day. On cool mornings, mist gathers between the forest patch and the surroundings, enhancing the alternating open and closed spaces.

The “Modified Miyawaki” forest patch is planted with 12 species of saplings sourced from the Didi Toneti forest nursery, and mulched with a mixed, nitrogen-fixing cover crop. The Miyawaki afforestation method involves planting a multitude of native tree species in a small area to accelerate forest growth. These forests quickly develop into self-sustaining, thriving habitats that enhance biodiversity, sequester carbon, and provide numerous ecological benefits to the surrounding environment. The forest plot in the Betania Garden adapts the typical Miywaki method to add spatial and textural definition. As the forest matures, species like plum and hazel will be pollarded or coppiced to diversify the texture and layering of the forest. The stair divides the forest patch in two, increasing the surface area of the forest where volunteer, woody edge species such as Cornus mas and Euonymus latifolius will thrive.

The slope of the meadow is subtly figured with the traces of former cow paths that continue beyond the enclosure. The meadow will be manipulated via mowing, irrigation, and tilling throughout the years and seasons to create a varied tapestry of wildflowers and grasses.

The garden is a test of very economical methods that can be adapted to larger landscape projects in the region – such as creating forest masses using the miyawaki method rather than planting mature specimen trees. It exploits the “free aesthetic labor” of light, shadow, wind movement, and mist to create drama and interest throughout the days and seasons. As an open, evolving project it foregrounds species behavior, and facilitates and advances local horticultural knowledge through both on-site learning and the ongoing documentation shared on social and traditional media.

Forest species:

Prunus cerasifera
Corylus avellana
Pinus sosnowskyi
Celtis caucasica
Tilia caucasica
Acer campestre
Ulmus glabra
Carpinus orientalis
Fraxinus excelsior
Quercus iberica
Aesculus Hippocastanum
Fagus orientalis

Project Data

Landscape Architecture: Ruderal

Architecture offices involved in the design: About Architecture – Vano Ksnelashvili, FloraFormaFirma – Ana Nikitina Ksnelashvili.

Location: Betania Village, Tbilisi, Georgia

Design year: 2022-2023

Year Completed: 2023

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