The Trespasser's Garden
Early spring melts away the gray dormancy of winter as chartreuse breaks through the warming soil. Birds sing once again while busying themselves with nest-building in the birches, willows and maples whose buds swell and flush with color. Nature sighs with relief as the night relinquishes its hold and daylight becomes long and productive. The forest understory bursts forth emerald and vibrant against the groggy gray brown slowly awakening from a wintery sleep. Yet this greening renewal belies a tale of woe, for the leafy undergrowth is no longer native ephemerals such as jack-in-the-pulpits, bloodroot, trout lily and trillium, but rather buckthorn, garlic mustard and exotic honeysuckles. Even the maple, ash and oak seedlings wither in the shade of this invasive triad hinting at a future where our beloved hardwood forests are replaced by a scrubby tangle of Eurasian invaders.
The Trespasser’s Garden comprises a series of reduction woodcuts exploring the introduction, ecology and environmental impacts of invasive plants on delicate ecosystems in Minnesota. The ethereal nature of collagraphs created from invasive plant specimens incorporated into many of the woodcut prints evokes the element of time and a potential future where our inaction will lead to a drastically altered landscape.
Seeking to educate and motivate, these narrative works also investigate our culpability in and relationships to these interlopers. Overcome by reed canary grass, cottonwood seedlings have ceased to grow on the Mississippi River endangering not only the stability of its banks and ravines but also the riparian ecosystem which once thrived along the great river. Craving a prescribed burn, sweet clover outcompetes its native counterparts to conquer prairies with aggressive zeal. Growing vigorously under winter’s thick ice, curlyleaf pondweed beats native aquatic vegetation to the light. Exhausted by July, it releases all of its accumulated nutrients into the evaporating algal boil of summer’s heat. These tales may seem isolated and disparate, but the common element is humanity. Ultimately, once acknowledged and documented, blame becomes irrelevant for while we humans have planted, by accident or with the best of intentions, a productive and beautiful garden of trespassers, the success of that garden truly lies with the gardeners.
Emily Gray Koehler, 2015