Larisa Kurovskaya: "Siberian Garden" can become a new landscape style

Flowers and lawns that have not yet risen or are already withered, bare shapeless shrubs, then snowdrifts on top of all this "beauty" – this is about how gardens and squares look in Siberia most of the year. Larisa Kurovskaya, landscape architect, candidate of biological sciences, department of forestry and landscape construction of the Biological Institute of TSU associate professor, dreams of changing this sad picture.

For several years the professor has been living with the idea of creating a new style in landscape design – "Siberian Garden". "At the exit" designers should get such gardens that will meet the climatic conditions of the northern region and will be able to please the eye all year round. Recently, Larisa Kurovskaya found a group of like–minded people who supported her idea – from among the participants of the V Siberian International Festival of Landscape Design and Gardening "All in the garden!". The festival was held from July 27 to 31 in the village of Krasnoobsk near Novosibirsk, Larisa Valeryevna became an invited expert and a member of the jury.

The program of the V Siberian International Festival of Landscape Design and Gardening included an exhibition-competition of author's gardens, which were evaluated by leading representatives of the landscape industry from different regions of Russia; master classes and lectures; a scientific and practical conference on landscape architecture and design and a strategic session on the development of the style "Siberian Garden" - it was held on the initiative and under the guidance of Larisa Kurovskaya. And at the conference, in her report, Larisa raised another problem for discussion – landscape design of school areas. Larisa spoke in detail about her thoughts on these topics in an interview.

– Larisa Valeryevna, since you say that the development of a new style under the conditional name "Siberian Garden" has long been begging, a logical question is why it still does not exist?

– I have really been living with this idea for a very long time and have been trying to find like-minded people in Tomsk, since I am the head of the Tomsk landscape club here. In 2017, we designed a square on the street of Designers, then I suggested: we will begin to develop our landscape style – siberian, which will be as beautiful as possible in winter – so that all green spaces are bright, with beautiful shapes, not only in summer. Landscape architects have all the tools for this, and it's not just coniferous plants that can be. But then I failed to motivate my colleagues with this topic.

– It's very strange and it's a pity that they didn't motivate with such a good idea.

– The fact is that all designers are creative people, everyone already has their own handwriting, their own achievements. For example, many designers are passionate about flower beds in the "New Wave" style. The style appeared in Europe when for the first time designers paid attention to the shape of plants in a flower garden, and not to the color.

The flower garden has a problem – only from spring to autumn it is beautiful, bright. And in winter in Europe, the flower garden is withered, or it is cut off. And now European designers have come up with such a technique by which you can create flower beds of year-round decorative. The color of plants, of course, is also taken into account, but they are also divided into groups according to shape. There are cereals, there are plants with head-shaped inflorescences, with shields, with candles-panicles. According to this principle, a matrix is made, plants are planted in large groups and different textures, different shades of brown, brown, yellow and different shapes are obtained. Even in winter it is beautiful.

But this is Europe. And we have all this under snowdrifts, the meaning is lost. Nevertheless, a lot of people in Russia are addicted to this "new wave". But after all, all this was invented there based on their national, natural and climatic characteristics. It is sad that they copy foreign samples, use other people's technologies and models, but do not create their own.

– I understand there was a turning point at the Novosibirsk festival?

– When I was called to the jury for the festival, I offered Yulia Sotnik, one of the organizers, to hold an expert strategic session "Siberian Garden: we define, draw an image". The session was attended by 25 people from Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Kemerovo and Tomsk – landscape designers, nurserymen and representatives of developers and management companies. By the way, during the survey it turned out that only one of the participants had previously participated in any strategic sessions, the rest were not familiar with this format. So we held the first landscape strategy session in Siberia, and it is possible that it became the first professional strategy session in the field of landscape industry in Russia.

– What was it about?

– I told the participants about my plan. In itself, the concept of "siberian garden" is still very conditional. It's just a garden of maximum decorativeness in the conditions of a long frosty winter. But if we talk about a new style, it will not only be about decorativeness, the style should be based on a certain philosophy, idea. She has yet to be found. Then there will be a lot of work to think through architectural planning, compositional and even engineering solutions. And all this should be developed by a community, not by one person, so that for designers these are not alien ideas, but passed through themselves.

– It is clear that the time for this event was very limited, nevertheless, can we talk about any results?

– Yes, of course. We worked in three groups. The participants compiled a list of restrictions that we have in Siberia due to climatic conditions, and the advantages associated with them. For example, one of the advantages is that we have pronounced all four seasons: snowy frosty winter, spring in a gentle green haze, hot bright summer, colorful spicy autumn. Not all regions can boast of this.

And Siberia is very different – there is steppe, tundra, taiga. Here a new question arises. So, different zones need their own recommendations, should the Siberian style have a gradation? Or should it be a priori taiga, since people associate Siberia, first of all, with the taiga? Of course, it was impossible to think about all this during one strategic session, and we agreed that in late October or early November we would meet again, already in Tomsk. In general, following the results of the first meeting, the participants said that they really liked it, they were inspired and are now ready to develop the idea of the Siberian style. Although initially everyone went to the strategic session with a fair amount of skepticism.

– Why?

– They said: none of this will work, our customers often emphasize that they do not need a "forest" on the site. But I answered: "And why do you think that Siberia is necessarily a "forest"?" Another question was asked: why even think about a winter garden if there is nothing to do in the garden at this time of year? People only spend time there when it's warm. But even here there is an answer – what about the view from the window? He is also important. It turns out that not all landscape designers think about this, although the designer must necessarily take into account how the garden will look from different viewing points, including the view that opens from the windows of the house.

Here is another example: when designing a garden, a landscape designer starts from the architecture of the house. I say: don't you think that if we develop the siberian landscape style, then the rules for designing siberian houses will change after that? For example, now the veranda runs along the wall of the house, or maybe it will be located across? You can make a remote insulated winter garden with panoramic windows at home, drink tea there, and there will be a 180-degree panorama of the winter garden in front of you, illuminated at night.

– That is, there is hope that the "siberian garden" can exist?

– Yes, I understand that this is a risky experiment. Landscape styles such as English, French, Japanese, Chinese – they have been formed for decades, if not centuries, under the influence of a variety of factors. But why reproduce something alien? We have completely different landscapes, climate, mentality, we have our own landscape community and, based on our Siberian realities, we can set our own stylistic principles of landscape design, rules for selecting an assortment of plants and creating compositions from them. Then there will be followers, the direction will gain popularity and develop. We already have good nurseries, competent designers and we can create Siberian landscape history together. I think it is quite realistic that this experiment will be successful.

– There is also a lot of work on the school sites that you spoke about at the conference. Tell us, what are the main problems?

– The report was called "The application of the method of design thinking in the design of school sites." At the school, all attention is paid to the educational success of schoolchildren and the technical equipment of the building. But the school is not only a building, it is also a school area, and everyone forgets about it. As a rule, the school yard is a huge paved area, an economic zone and a stadium. That is, it is assumed that the children are standing there on the rulers and doing physical education – that's all.

Although there are occasionally other examples. In the presentation to my report, I included photos found on the Internet –the entire area near the school is planted with annuals. She cited several quotes from an article about this school: "A Garden of Eden in the school yard", "This year more than 50 thousand units of flower seedlings will be planted on the site", "From May to October, the school yard is literally drowning in flowers. In the meantime, flowers occupy absolutely all window sills at school and every year there are more and more of them."

According to formal indicators, everything is fine, well done, bravo to the school director and teachers. Only children have no place at all among this "garden of Eden". And they will not have time to visit there: in May, there is still little that blooms, then the children have three months off, the teachers have two months off, in September everything that has not yet faded is already fading. And then you can look at these flowers only by running from home to school and back. There are no benches, instead of a competent and high-quality road and path network, there are spontaneous paths. Just an empty plot with huge flower beds.

– But school areas have a huge potential.

– Of course! As a rule, the aesthetic, ecological and economic significance of the school yard is taken into account, but the information layer is overlooked. But the school site can still perform the functions of socialization, educational work, training and even career guidance. This requires properly selected elements of landscaping and landscaping. For example, ordinary benches do not imply communication – you can talk at most with neighbors on the left and right. And there are semicircular benches that invite you to a conversation.

Through the elements of small architecture and information stands, it is also possible to "feed" children with information, study the laws of nature, physical processes. There are such examples abroad – "science parks" with various exhibits. In May and in September, with good weather, you can spend part of the classes on the street (on botany, the outside world, art), for this you need an open lecture hall.

Builders are engaged in the design of school sites, while it is possible and necessary to involve children and teachers in this process, because this space is created for them. Such collaboration can be effectively organized by applying the method of design thinking.

– Meanwhile, in addition to school areas, we have flower beds and squares, on the territory of which, in fact, there is no place for a person.

– Exactly! In general, not everything is taken into account in the methodology by which landscape architects are taught. As part of the pre–project surveys, they analyze the territory, the urban situation, the presence and location of engineering networks, assess the condition of plants, and so on - they collect a lot of information at this analytical stage. And at what stage do designers communicate with potential visitors of the landscaped space? The maximum is that they conduct some kind of formal opinion poll and recreational assessment. The frequency of attendance, the number of visitors, how long a person is on the site, and what he is doing is estimated.

But in order to really put yourself in the visitor's place and understand how comfortable he will be on the site, how much he will meet his needs and values, other methods are needed. And the approach of design thinking will be very appropriate here - it is focused on the consumer. There should be in-depth interviews with typical visitors or representatives of the desired target audience (for socially disadvantaged areas). It will be useful to work in focus groups so that the designer can compare his design solutions at different stages, to what extent they echo the requests of the target audience.

– Well, are there any reverse examples?

– After the festival, I drove around Novosibirsk with a designer friend, and I must say, there are residential complexes with such well-maintained territories that Tomsk never dreamed of. Fountains, playgrounds with modern and eco-friendly elements, sports grounds. And there are a lot of people there. It is understandable – when a space is made for people, it is filled with life. And if it is designed formally, without empathy for those who will be there, then empty and unsightly courtyards and squares turn out, where you can only sit on a bench, there is nothing else to do there. We often complain that teenagers are all in smartphones, and they just have nowhere to make activities on the street.

– Also, probably, among the author's gardens from the exhibition-competition of the festival, you could see examples of high-quality work of landscape designers and architects.

– Of course, the leaders were immediately visible there – experienced designers have a balanced garden compositionally, all elements are logically connected, meanings are read. In total, there were three nominations at the competition: "Cottage garden", "Exhibition Garden" and "New names". The uniqueness of the Novosibirsk festival is that all plants, outdoor furniture and building materials are provided by the organizers, that is, participants do not incur additional costs.

The theme of the exhibition was "Roots. Cultural heritage", and many authors turned to our spiritual and cultural values, traditions. Vera Bekesheva's garden about the mountain pass took the big medal in the nomination "Exhibition Garden". Stones from Altai, plants typical of mountainous terrain, a path, in the depths of the garden there is a spring where you can sit down and drink water. Ribbons tied on a tree, as is customary in Altai. A very harmonious natural landscape turned out, plus there were large wooden asymmetrical arches with lighting – they symbolized the peaks of the mountains. Such is a competent technique when the designer does not "head-on", but hints at some images.

Well, the garden of the Irkutsk team was recognized as the brightest work that took the Grand Prix. Their garden was dedicated to Lake Baikal, and again such a technique was used as an allusion to the image. So, Baikal "appeared" in gabions – stones were poured into a metal grid, and large fragments of blue and turquoise glass were on top, and all this shimmered in the sun so much that it resembled water or ice. It was the first time they participated in this competition – and immediately received a big medal in the "New Names" and the Grand Prix.

Images provided by Larisa Kurovskaya and taken from open Internet sources