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Insects and gardens

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 17/01) - Diane Boudreau, a biologist who has never worked in that field, radiates with creativity. That's probably why she switched into environmental design -- a line of work that allows her access to the natural world, but incorporates human activity.

Diane Boudreau shows of her work in a neighbour's yard. The environmental designer adds a touch of humour to the scene by placing toy construction vehicles on the site, echoing the activity on McDonald Drive. - Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photos

Boudreau, who studied environmental design at the University of Quebec in Montreal, came to Yellowknife last fall to visit friends and stayed. She works at Ferguson Simek Clark part-time, and also works on an independent project -- a neighbour's yard.

While you or I might look at McDonald Drive and see chaos resulting in neighbourhood angst, Boudreau saw an opportunity to make use of the situation and its detritus. Where we see a mess and turn away, hoping it ends soon, Boudreau seizes the opportunity to organize the mess aesthetically.

"How to create with what's around" is one of her catch phrases.

David Connelly's yard demonstrates how this type of design is a little different than pure landscape design.

Boudreau's materials are "some things you have, common things."

"You just have to apply the imagination."

In this case, the common things are the rocks strewn all over the soon-to-be-paved road.

"When I saw that they were working on the road," she says, "I decided to pick up the rocks."

The result is an innovative rock garden, that plays with the shape of the rocks, organized in some areas to echo the natural topography of the land.

"What I've seen from walking on sites and by plane," she says.

She describes areas out on the land where the massive rock has turned with time, and split.

"And in-between, there's an accumulation of smaller rocks and plants."

This she has recreated stylistically in one area of the yard.

Boudreau also uses a natural material changed by our culture -- core samples. In her own yard, on a gravel walkway, Boudreau has imbedded core samples in the shape of a mosquito, effectively combining the natural world and our influence on it in a way that is pleasing to the eye.

Experimentation is the key for Boudreau. There are the book theories, which she respects, but she likes to try. What happens if she does the opposite?

Pointing to another area, she says, "In the book, they say, 'don't choose round rocks, it's ugly,' so I do the opposite."

Connelly, who admits to having a rather more traditional approach to landscaping, listened with some skepticism when Boudreau first approached him.

"She did an excellent job in convincing me to use natural materials, plants and rocks from the environment. And she prepared a very convincing design," admits Connelly. "I took the leap to trust her."

He wrote a cheque and left town for a month.

Upon his return, Connelly was "totally delighted."

"I'm amazed at how many tourists and Yellowknifers stop and want to talk to her about how she's used (materials) from the local environment."

Boudreau, because she lives just next door, will be monitoring the project, making adjustments. When construction is finished, then come the finishing touches on the yard.