top of page

The Future Gardens for ArtMill in the Czech Republic, embrace the Harrison’s initiative of other

gardens of the “Force Majeure attitude”, planned as artistic experiments in a warming climate,
“a nationwide proposal for the co-generation of farming, healthy topsoil, and biodiversity” 1 The
facilities and site of ArtMill provide an ideal landscape, both socially, educationally, and
environmentally, to grow ideas about a resilient ecology of land, water, and co-habitation. We
propose a Future Garden that may or may not be tended by humans, but will be amenable to
other creatures, four-legged beasts with hooves or claws, and those that are fabulous seed-
spreaders with wings. Into this mix we invite the large grazing herbivore named “horse”, who
has roamed our regions since the ice-age, co-creating pastures and removing flammable
biomass grasses.
Our region, in Southwest Bohemia, in Central Europe, was once heavily forested, giving way to
destructive agricultural practices including the recent (in geo-glacial terms) clearing of the land.
Due to the unique political consequences of the totalitarian government of the 1950-s until late
1989, the land suffered similar poisoning as other industrialized countries with the introduction
of pesticides and mechanized cultivation techniques. Ironically, many of the forests on the
border zones were preserved since they were “no-man’s lands” and closed off with barbed wire
at risk of death to humans if crossed. The remaining bio-systems of this in-between zone with
Czechoslovakia and Germany, thrived. Like other ‘socialist’ states under the communist regime,
a brutal system ensued to eliminate small family farms.
This transpired first by coercion and other aggressive techniques, and later by the more direct
practice of shooting family horses that were the backbone of age-old plowing rituals that had
maintained both independence and inter-species reliance on the farming unit of each village.
This final blow to small farming families most often meant they were forced to join the ‘co-
operative’ of the State-owned agricultural complex, leaving them penniless, or in debt,
destitute from the loss of their beloved horses, and victim to the manipulative conversive
system of State agriculture.
Our project proposes a series of stone rings, approximately 5-8 meters in diameter, that re-
create the rich hedges that supported thriving eco-systems in the fields, and diverse botanical
life. These traditional hedges were natural barriers between the fields, built over generations of
hand-plowing and cleared rocks from the tilled land, that in turn created the rich bio-tropes of
habitat and living systems within the boundaries of designated community and family lands.
The po-Šumava region we are sited on, home to our (grown) children’s family since time
immemorial, is a hard climate to live and grow in, made up of rocky soil and winters that, in the
past, could continue for nine months. Growing seasons are short, and horses and mules bore
the tasks of clearing the fields each season of the ever-surfacing rocks, as well as hauling out
fallen timber in seasonal forest maintenance and chopping of lumber. Beasts of burden were
integral to life in the hills and mountains of Bohemia, and the murder of them by the regime
was often the final psychological straw that broke the back of the farmer’s free will. Horses
were often considered family members and treated with love and respect. Not only for the
physical work they contributed to the farmer’s life, but the manure they returned to the land,
1 Email Letter from Newton Harrison, November 25 th , 2020.

and the aeration created by their hooves that tilled the land in a uniquely symbiotic dance that
no mechanized tractor can ever duplicate.
It is this relationship of horses, earth, rock, and form that our Future Garden will embrace, as
we plant the new hedges in botanical spirals that mimic the eco-systems of the Mediterranean
where our climate is predicted to imitate withing the next fifty years. The broken horse troughs
of two centuries ago, once carefully carved from stone and now cast asunder around our lake
as water barriers, are being rescued and placed into the garden. They are an ode to the four
hooved creatures that once roamed these hills wild, and later domesticated by humans in an
integral relationship to growing food. These broken stones are mixed with collected flat rocks (a
specialty in our region due to the geological formations of ions ago, when the earth created
slabs of stone like thin pancakes (thus the name “placky”, in Czech) into the circular gardens.
Surrounded by the ubiquitous blackthorns and wild grasses, these hedges will create new eco-
systems for the fowl and fauna of the meadows.
Situated on the Northwest slope of an ancient mound that faces the lake, these will also work
as barriers to the frozen winds of the winter, that envelope the areas from November to April.
In fall, we plan to weave spherical ‘roofs’ on the rock foundation, that will allow light in but also
provide shade from the next summer’s heat. These dome-like shapes echo the Future Garden
project in Santa Cruz, California, where the Harrison’s were able to re-utilize some geodesic
domes of their friend Buckminster Fuller. Our woven roofs, created with master weaver
(Mountain Maidu) artist Denise Denis, bring full recollection of our shared cultural heritage as
Americans and Czechs, both continents that still carry the tradition of weaving. Created from
willows gathered on the site, they will eventually create their own sculptural forms, perhaps
intwining with the hedges or left to rot and create humus in the soil beneath as years go on.
Supporting art and science includes on-going drawings, films, installations, performances, and
paintings that engage the land of this hillock, the lake, the horses, the history of the ecology of
place, and complete botanical documentation of on-site plants. In this early stage please find
sketches of the site, maps, words from Newton Harrison, and a project based on a CIA file from
1954 that documents the destruction of small farms in the former Czechoslovakia. These
sketches “Five Pages of an Interrogation from an Unnamed Defected Czechoslovak Farmer”,
present an early view of how any regime, capitalist or communist, try to destroy local food
production with top-down control via mechanization and chemical fertilizers.
Our team consists of two generations of women, (mother and daughters), a lifetime of herbal
lore and food gathering from their respective grandmothers, and scientific collaborators on
both sides of the Atlantic. We are indebted to Leslie Ryan, Josh Harrison, and his team at the
Center for the Force Majeure. Our plan, originally conceived some years ago with Helen and
Newton, is to extend this Future Gardens across Central Europe, allowing the botanical systems
to extend beyond boundaries of nationality and geography, following rivers and climate
currents instead. Our partner in Serbia, Nada Milijkovic and her family, as well as Oto Hudec in
Slovakia and his collaborator Janeil Engelstead of MAP, have been encouraging and we look
forward to the development of this work long into the future. Although no longer with us in the

physical plane, the strong spirit of Helen and Newton Harrison hover through every thistle and
dew drop of this project.


Barbara Benish
Santa Cruz, California
& Miřenice, Czech Republic

bottom of page