Don’t Call My Soil Dirty!

By Greg Lecker

“All life is powered by the sun, but nurtured by the earth.” – Artist’s Statement of Seitu Jones, describing his sculpture “The Amazing Mother Earth Composter”.

Next to light and water, soil is the limiting factor governing what grows.   This past weekend, I learned about the importance of soil during a tour of Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, a large ecological research site in central Minnesota with natural habitats that represent the entire state.  Small differences in soil makeup – sand, silt, clay, moisture define the type of plant community that is likely to become established and to persist.

Soil scientists bristle when their subject is called dirt, and yet that is the term used by most lay persons, as well as by the Arboretum in describing their special Summer 2012 exhibition and events:  “Dirt-O-Rama”.

On a weekend that brought three art fairs to Minneapolis (Uptown, Loring Park, and Powerderhorn), I explored three of the five juried outdoor sculptures, collectively titled “Art of the Earth”, at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  Here I explore these sculptures, their construction, and their significance.

“The Amazing Mother Earth Composter”

The Amazing Mother Earth Composter

Seitu Jones used plywood, wire mesh and hardware to create the sculpture placed at the beginning of Three-Mile Drive, on the right-hand side of the roadway.

The Americas, the new world, gave the old world new plants, including important food sources, as well as new diseases and pests.  The North and South American continents formed a barrier to the shortcut to the east that European explorers sought.  Interestingly, the continents themselves are connected by the comparatively smallest of ribbons of land, now severed by the Panama Canal.

Our earth spins on its axis; so too does “The Amazing Mother Earth Composter”, a tumbler style bin.

Addition of compost or other organic matter has many positive benefits:

–          Increases water holding capacity of sandy soils

–          Contains plant nutrients

–          Improves ease of cultivation

–          Promotes biological activity

“Ant Venture”

Ant Venture

“Enter into the ant hill and learn the way of these prolific creatures”.  –  Artist’s Statement

Albert Belleveau crafted an eight foot tall and wide ant hill from a steel lattice framework and captured stone.   Outside the entry to Oswald Visitor Center, this ant hill is crowned by an ant earth mover.

When I crawled inside the ant hill and looked up, the sun reminded me of an importance source of energy for life on earth.  And yet other inter-relationships are important to life’s growth on soil.  Insects such as ants affect the soil and plants.  Another relationship, one that is invisible to the human eye is the symbiotic relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and roots of trees and plants.  Mycelium intertwines and fuses with small roots of tree – mycelium derives energy and the tree gains needed nutrients.

“Earthly Coat”

Earthly Coat

“As soil beautifully clothes the earth’s mantle, soil also clothes us.” –   Artist’s Statement

Wendy J. Johnson wove her “Earthly Coat” from wool felt, dyed and un-dyed fibers, steel pipe and wire.  Visitors may try the coat on for size – or at least crawl or gingerly enter the sculpture that sits on the hillside uphill from the Sensory Garden parking lot, to the right of the entry to the garden itself.

The texture of “Earthly Coat” reminds of the importance of the composition of soil: a mixture of sand, silt, clay, as well as the content of a soil’s organic matter.

Soil characteristics affect soil moisture, structure, nutrient carrying capacity, and ease of cultivation, ease with which plants extend their roots

Exploring the art installations are just one of many features of “Dirt-O-Rama” that runs through October 14.   A few interesting hands-on activities include:  Diggin’ for Critters, Discovery Dirt Stop, and Mud Kitchen.  Visit the Dirt-O-Rama portion of the Arboretum website for more information:

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer



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