Girona, Spain’s Temps de Flors Festival Blends Horticulture and Art
September 4, 2016 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
The history of Girona, Spain is as colorful as are the ochre and coral-toned buildings lining the banks of the Onyar river that flows through it. Gustave Eiffel built a bridge there ten years before designing his eponymous tower in Paris. Jews and Arabs once lived side by side in harmony within the city’s medieval walls, and legendary Tour du Monde cyclists take advantage of Girona’s mild weather and varied terrain to train there.
The Annual Temps de Flors Festival
My second trip to Girona, this time I was honored to be invited by the city to co-create a botanical art installation for their annual Temps de Flors festival. For one week every May, this Catalonian city about an hour north of Barcelona bursts with color when the whole place becomes one big living outdoor exhibition–a mix of horticulture and art with site-specific installations composed wholly or in part of flowers and plants.
More Than 100 Works of Botanical Art
In its 61st year, the annual Temps de Flors festival, launched in 1955 as a floral exhibition in the church of Sant Domènec, has since evolved into a citywide event with more than 100 impressive works of botanical-inspired art occupying major monuments, courtyards, and private spaces not normally open to the public.
Citywide Floral-Inspired Decor and Culinary Art
Nearly all of Girona participates in the festival: shop owners dress up their storefronts and windows with floral-inspired decor and little botanical surprises appear in hidden corners and on residential balconies throughout the town. Many of the restaurants offer special Gastroflor menus of edible art with unusual dishes prepared using flowers and plants.
Lymbus: Botanical Art Narrative
For the festival, I was part of a team of designers, artists, and gardeners who co-created Lymbus, a hybrid art installation and performance narrative composed of plants, sound, and light on the centuries old steps of Girona’s Sant Filiu Basilica. Stay tuned for upcoming posts about Lymbus and the Lymbus Project.
My Temps de Flors Favorite Picks
We were not the only group working long hours right up until the festival’s opening day. I really enjoyed watching the creativity unfold as others prepared and built their installations throughout the city. Here are some of my favorites:
Kokedama Stretching the Length of the Eiffel Bridge
I wonder what Gustav Eiffel would have thought of the spectacular series of hanging plants flanking the sides of his bridge. In their interpretation of traditional Japanese kokedama, floral artists from Rosa Valls Formació suspended flowing kokedama arrangements embellished with raffia from each side of the bridge.
Kokedama, a variation of bonsai often called “string gardens,” are balls of peat moss covered Akadama soil substrate from which an ornamental plant grows. With the cascading raffia floating softly in the breeze like dancing plants, the installation complimented the bridge’s geometric lines and symmetry while respecting the integrity of Eiffel’s design.
Eiffel’s circa 1877 iron bridge, Pont de les Peixateries Velles aka El Pont de Ferro (ferro means iron), stands at the confluence of four rivers, one of the 11 bridges connecting Girona’s eastern ancient walled city with its newer western side. Although most tourists do not know Eiffel built a bridge in Girona, it is one of Girona’s semi-secret historical highlights and therefore a special honor for those assigned to create an installation there.
Floral Curtain suspended From Gomez Bridge
From the center of another bridge, the Pont de la Princesa, aka Gomez Bridge, artists suspended a simple but stunning curtain of plants attached to corrugated iron bars.
Art i Argent’s hydrangeas and hanging foil disks rose up steps of Carrer de Miquel Oliva i Prat.
In the Passeig Arqueològic, a taste of lime blossom tea and yours truly posing with teacup and teabag to demo the scale…
As though they were long overgrown from the interior to exterior, clusters of dried branches protruded from the windows in front of the Antic Cinema Modern, a former movie theater a short walk from Girona’s town hall. In an installation that was more a piece to be experienced than viewed, designers brought back to life the disused empty space creating an al fresco theater in back where flowers and plants performed before an audience of empty white chairs.
Rolls of turf, below, leftover from the main cathedral’s installation were infinitely more interesting than the installation itself.
The Jewish Quarter: El Call
Dating from the 12-15th centuries, Girona’s is known as one of the most well-preserved ancient Jewish quarters in Europe. Its labyrinth of narrow streets and courtyards weaves through the Força Vella–the old walled part of the city–where a vibrant Jewish community once thrived during the medieval period.
Girona was the birthplace of an important branch of Kabbalah studies, the mystical and intellectual movement that non-Jews such as Madonna have popularized in the past decade. Until 1492, when all Jews were forced to leave Spain unless they converted to Catholicism, this community frequented their synagogue, bought meat from the kosher butchers, and bathed in the mikvahs, or ritual baths. The Museum of the History of the Jews offers a detailed narrative of the Jews of Girona and Catalonia until their expulsion at the end of the 15th century.
A tribute to the intensity and force of the universe, the power of water, essential to natural growth in Casa Lléo Avinay’s garden in the old Jewish Quarter, El Call. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton.
In courtyard of Casa Sambola, students from the School of Art and Design of Tarragona and Reus tell the story of a couple in love separated by war. The woman, sad and reflective, pulls petals from the daisies day after day as she says “he loves me, he loves me not.” Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton.
Family Affair: Mother Passes Down the Tradition to Her Daughter
My friend and host, festival organizer Angels Artigas Claret, is the owner of Flor a Punt, a gorgeous little flower shop that is a highlight for anyone strolling through the old part of the city. Stop in just for the scents and to say hello.
Tales of Tires and Salvador Dalí
Angels’s mother, Anita Claret Sargatal (below), posing in front of the installation constructed from recycled tires at the Església Sagrat Corin, a collaboration with florists from the Escola Portuguesa Rui Rodrigues.
There’s a backstory to Sargatal’s choice of tires for this installation. She and her late husband Salvador Claret, who had been a mechanic since 1928, returned from a trip to America where they’d observed numerous roadside hotels that offered services for motorists. Upon their return to Girona 1945, they were the first in Spain to open the “American-style” Hotel de la Selva whose large sign was mounted on Pirelli tires. The hotel included a restaurant, garage, gas station, and towing service–everything tourists traveling by car would need. Around the same time, Claret began collecting vintage cars and auto parts which now fill the Salvador Claret Automobile Collection, a museum in Sils.
Sargatal’s daughter Angels told me at dinner one night that her mother was a friend of the Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí who lived nearby in the town of Figueres. Dalí offered his paintings in exchange for several of Sargatel’s vintage Pirelli tires, but she declined to sell them for artwork, instead insisted on collecting the small amount of change the artist could offer. Sargatel now owns a Dalí but the family laughs about the collection of Dalí paintings they would now have if she’d understood then that her artist friend was one of the icons of 20th century art having already painted The Persistence of Memory, his famous work featuring surrealistic images of melting pocket watches.
The next Temps de Flors is May 13-21, 2017.
Disclosure: My trip to Girona was sponsored by The City of Girona and Temps de Flors. I was not paid to write this post; all opinions expressed herein are uniquely mine and not indicative of any sponsor opinions or positions.
Category: Container Gardening, Education & Tours, Experiencing, Garden Design, Public Gardens, Travel
Tags: art installations, botanical art, Girona, Spain, Temps de Flors Festival
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