Cultivating Urban Gardens

Simone Nemes as TAC Horticulture Intern

What can an urban garden – an oasis of nature isolated amid a concrete landscape – bring to a city? TAC recently had the pleasure of hosting Simone Nemes as a horticulture intern within our sculpture program who explored this question. She conducted research around TAC’s perennial gardens in downtown Providence – a garden dotted with sculpture pads. While TAC has entered a strategic planning phase around the sculpture program, Simone’s work focused on the composition, care, and future direction of the gardens. During her internship, she also created a sculpture series entailing larger-than-life representations of perennial plants. 

Simone is a multidisciplinary artist based in New England. Drawing from her undergraduate experience working with scientific illustration and her background as a horticulturist, she combines botanical imagery with colorful and bold illustrations. She is pursuing an MFA in Illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, and she is inspired by 16th century medical and botanical textbooks, comics, and outsider art.

She explains that TAC’s perennial garden is a mix of design and natural forces. The initial plan for the garden has evolved with the forces of nature — some original plants died while others have grown in their place. Thriving plant life includes oak leaf hydrangea, bluestar amsonia, day lilies, and panicum grass. Milkweed has also sprung up spontaneously alongside other pollinator plants like catmint and bluemist. She notes that native and solitary bees utilize and cultivate the garden, interacting in unique ways. A cyclical blooming cycle ensures that the garden is always changing for viewers.

Despite its evolving nature, care of the gardens focuses on its overall health. “Even if it looks wild, it’s intentional,” Simone says.

Simone believes that strengthening the relationship between the gardens and the community they live in can be furthered by thoughtful artwork to communicate better with viewers. In her future work, she hopes to work with the public to create meaningful art projects on a wider scale.  She wants to incorporate ecological facts and local histories and stories about the value of urban gardens and how they impact people’s lives. She believes these stories are complex – whether urban gardens push people out or enrich communities can depend on many factors that require thought, careful design, and community input.