Look closely at the 23 oversized sandboxes scattered around the grounds of Harbourfront Centre. Each is conceived and planted by a different artist, with a turnover of two or three a year.The works that result are as diverse as the plant life on display, ranging from thoroughly engaging to bland. The two new gardens on display this year sit at either end of that spectrum.
The most memorable aspects of Michael Davey's and Delwyn Higgens's Toronto Island Construction Site are the plant names: foxglove, beardtongue, chocolate boneset, golden-rod, purple Stokes aster, to name a few.
Otherwise, it's pretty tourist-oriented Canadiana, covering beaver, hockey and cottage themes. Amid the plants, a faux tree has been felled as if chomped by a Toronto Island beaver. Two artists' renditions of hockey sticks poke out from the log, each with a drawing of an Island cottage, one rustic, the other more modern. If they'd included an RCYC ponce in a lawn chair and a log ride you could skip visiting the Island altogether.
In contrast, Libby Hague's Whirligig Garden is delightful, witty and teeming with movement. At one end is the frightening garden, with plants that twist like arthritic hands and flowers with sharp angles and violent colours amid beds of sharp thistles.
Small whirligig children run away from the scary place, pursued by evil whirligig clowns with oversized features. The clowns' legs spin madly in the wind as their arms reach out to clutch the children and drag them back into their realm. Arms and legs pumping, the children succeed in escaping to their mother, who awaits them in the tender garden -- as in time-lapse photography, we can see them with her there.
It's a wonderful narrative, accented by the colours, movement and sounds. The mother holds a small bell that tinkles in the breeze.
Even if you happen to be there during a dead calm when nothing spins and all is quiet, it's still a fantastic and dynamic firstname.lastname@example.org
Libby Hague and Michael Davey & Delwyn Higgens Artists' Gardens, Harbourfront Centre (235 Queen's Quay West), to October 1. 416-973-3000. Rating: NNN