An Annual Border in Mondrian’s Style - Brooklyn Botanic Garden
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An Annual Border in Mondrian’s Style

The arrangement of red, yellow, white, and indigo tulips and other bulbs in this spring’s Annual Border was inspired by turn-of-the-century abstract art theory. Curator Wayken Shaw looked to the De Stijl movement, founded in 1917 by Dutch painter Theo van Doesburg, when planning the design.

“Last year’s border had a wide range of colors set within a very modular, repeating pattern. This year, as a reaction to last, I wanted to simplify the color palette but put it in asymmetrical forms. De Stijl just naturally became an influence,” says Shaw.

The De Stijl movement’s best-known member was Piet Mondrian. He, like van Doesburg and other De Stijl painters, architects, and furniture designers, worked within certain parameters of form and color. The strictest version called for rectilinear shapes in asymmetrical arrangements and a limited palette of primary colors, black, and white, though variations allowed secondary colors and pastels.

For the border’s design, Shaw made a few adaptations. Secondary colors are equally showcased. Different tones were used for variety. And of course the leaves add a lot of green. Though the bulbs are planted in rectangular blocks in an asymmetrical layout, the design lacks the heavy black outlines typical of a Mondrian work, so the color blocks are not as clearly defined as they would be in a painting.

“De Stijl was the inspiration. I knew translating that aesthetic into a tulip display was going to alter things a bit,” said Shaw.

The border’s summer design, which Shaw will plant in mid- to late May, will also have a similar look. Keep an eye out for poppies, marigolds, zinnias, and other vivid annuals later in the season.

More: Watch curator Wayken Shaw explain the inspiration behind his design.

Sarah Schmidt is a former editor of BBG's digital editorial content and the Guides for a Greener Planet handbook series.

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Image, top of page: Blanca Begert