Ice garden to capture Antarctic life

An evolving ice garden with a two-metre high towering iceberg, a developing ice sheet and an ocean abundant with plants representing marine life comprises the Christchurch International Airport’s Antarctic Garden at the Ellerslie International Flower Show in March.

A metaphor for the Antarctic landscape, An Icy Oasis (pictured above) is designed by Christchurch landscape designer and Ellerslie International Flower Show mentor Dan Rutherford.

The ice will melt and grow during the five days of the show to symbolise how the Antarctic landscape changes, he says. “The shifting light, sounds and weather of this frozen continent will form an integral part of the exhibit.”


The garden will provide visitors to Ellerslie with a full sensory experience of actually being in the Antarctic, watching, hearing, smelling and even touching the landscape as it changes. Dan Rutherford says while the Antarctic appears to be a barren landscape, parts of it are abundant with life.


“While there are only two flowering plants in Antarctica, if you look closely, there are some striking and beautiful life forms. Mosses and lichens cling to cliffs and rocks, turning them green, orange and black. Red and black-coloured snow algae actually live in snow and ice, as their name suggests. The ocean is often considered to be the garden of the Antarctic. The most prolific organisms are frequently tiny, even microscopic, and live in the ocean, under the ice shelf and icebergs,” he says.


“Whole eco-systems cluster around icebergs which are rich with the minerals and nutrients that have been ground off the rocks on land. These are sprinkled into the ocean as the ice melts and is pushed out to sea. Ice algae and phytoplankton thrive on the underside of icebergs, providing a food source for krill and other marine life.”

Dan Rutherford’s design draws on the beauty of these underwater and ice-encased entities, drawing attention to them by representing them metaphorically. While he compresses whole parts of the landscape to fit them into the available space, he also expands the size of microscopic elements to make them visible to the naked eye. He cleverly uses garden design elements such as flowering plants, sculpture, and lighting, to effectively represent algae and marine organisms.


The Christchurch International Airport Antarctic Garden is one of the key features in the Starlight Marquee, a popular exhibition space introduced in 2007 at the last Auckland Ellerslie International Flower Show to showcase innovative and bold outdoor lighting.


An Icy Oasis will be designed in three parts. Large chunks of ice, representing an iceberg will sit at one end of the exhibit, and slowly melt to reveal a rugged sculptural sphere representing the planet, plate tectonics and the millions of years of plant life frozen within the layers of ice. This run-off will move across an ice shelf, refreezing and preserving mosses and lichens in ice to create a new landscape. At the other end of the exhibit will be a garden covered by water and ice, representing the abundant marine life.


Dan says much of the Antarctic has a floral structure from crystals and snowflakes to the ice and marine life, making it rich in floral elements for a striking exhibit at the Ellerslie International Flower Show.


Christchurch International Airport Company Chief Executive Jim Boult says their sponsorship of the Antarctic Garden was a natural fit, given that Christchurch is the gateway to Antarctica.


“There are so many flights to and from Antarctica during the summer, and we have a long-standing relationship with that icy continent,” he says. “For this reason Antarctica NZ also jumped at the chance to be a subsidiary sponsor, as did Canterbury Museum, which has a special Antarctic Gallery of exhibits.  For people who can’t travel to Antarctica, this ice garden at Ellerslie pays homage to the forces and materials of nature that exist there.”


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