Dead Spaces

A dead space in a garden is any area no one has a clue how to fill and is usually an embarrassing waste of garden space. Yet there are spots where the sun doesn?t shine, where breezes fail to move the air. Urban gardens, alas, are prone to such spots because of our proximity to one another, with our garages and sheds; and large extensions.

Anne and Allan Fotheringham have a back courtyard oasis par excellence where they hold legendary summer parties. It had one flaw: a dead space about 2M wide and 5M deep where an addition to the house had created a cul de sac ending in large dining room windows.

?No matter what I did,? says Anne Fotheringham, ?I couldn?t drag people down into this area.? She tried putting the bar there hoping people would mingle, they didn?t; the food table wouldn?t keep them longer than grabbing a canap?; and steps for sitting, eating and socializing held no allure. The ultimo dead space.

?People are attracted to bright colours and are intrigued by them.? she says ?And when I saw an blank area at the Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, I asked St. Catharines artist Paul Gosen to fill it with a mural of the history of the institute.? The result so enchanted her that she asked him to tackle her dead space.

What Gosen came up with is a compilation of the Fotheringhams’ life in the arts (he?s a writer, she?s an art consultant) and their interest in opera. The cut-out images have an almost commedia dell? arte look to them as they gaze toward the house and appear to crawl upwards to the second storey of the house (about 10M high and 2 M wide). They look as though they are having a pretty delicious party of their own. How could you not move in to see them more closely?

The trick worked. It gives depth to the space and it also dictated the palette she used for her annual plantings this year: bright reds, salmon, blue and white. The mural in fact has acted to pull all the elements of the garden together: the large pasha-like tent, the comfortable wicker furniture and the bright plants along each fence. You could be in the Turks and Caicos, the feeling is so exotic. And gives it a humourous breezy element to things.

The large images are executed in oil and covered with multiple layers of varnish to make them completely weatherproof. And if the Fotheringhams ever decide to move, they can take it with them by easily unscrewing each piece.

What the Fotheringhams hadn?t counted on was the appreciation of neighbours. As one said,? ?You brightened the view of every house around. I look at it with pleasure every day.? Filling a dead space should add something glorious to the garden, attract visitors to the space and provide something to look at from indoors.

No one can afford to waste a bit of garden space.