Desert Botanical Garden of Phoenix Recognizes Donors with the “Tending the Garden” Wall

If you’ve had the privilege of visiting the Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) of Phoenix, then you know it is absolutely breathtaking. Nestled in the bustling city of Phoenix, the garden effortlessly displays the unique beauty of Arizona’s desert plants. Each section of the garden is designed with nature’s aesthetic in mind. The structures on the premises are treated with the same dignity. So, artist Larry Kornegay, of Kornegay Design®, was proud to be asked to design a custom monument to honor the Garden’s many generous donors.

Showcasing the Donors

Maintaining a garden of this size with so much foot traffic every year (630,000+) is no easy feat, so the Desert Botanical Garden of Phoenix is so grateful for its donors. Their generosity keeps the garden beautiful for all who visit, whether it be locals, travelers, or school children on field trips. In the past, the garden thanked donors with bronze plaques. With so many lines of names on them, it was difficult to make the donors stand out. It was time for something special and out of the ordinary.

Elaine McGinn, the Director of Planning and Exhibits is a forward thinking woman, and she wanted something different, so she called upon Larry Kornegay. Kornegay had designed projects for the garden in the past and McGinn knew he was the artist capable of creating an impressive site-specific statement that complimented the garden and celebrated its donors.

The Design

Originally the site allocated for the project was a west facing wall of a building located near the entrance. However, due to Arizona’s harsh sunlight, Kornegay knew this orientation would have a negative impact on the wall over time. Instead, he planned a second custom-designed wall which was constructed in front of the west wall. The names were displayed on the new east facing wall, this placement allowed the wall to be exposed to less direct heat and visitors could stand in the shade to read the names and other DBG project information. The wall also provides further utility with an attached bench angling out from the side allowing visitors to take a break.

Desert Botanical Garden - Tending the Garden Wall

On the overall direction of the design, Kornegay says, “I made the wall expressive, but at the same time very natural feeling”. The shape of the wall uses forced perspective. Starting at 7 ½ feet tall, the wall slopes down to about 6 ½ feet tall. It forces one’s perspective down to the lower part of the wall, featuring a copper plaque describing the Tending the Garden campaign. In order to make it feel like it belongs there, Kornegay gave the wall texture. “We sand-blasted the wood that framed the walls to fill with a natural colored concrete. On the backside of the wall, we repeated the garden’s mission.” In order to maintain the natural subtitles of the wall, the Desert Botanical Garden logo and mission are embedded in the concrete. Set within the east facing wall are ¾” thick square glass plaques, that are embedded with a photo of a cactus flower and the donor’s name is etched into the front of the glass. This creates a sense of depth, almost as if the name is hovering above the flower. On why he went with this idea, Kornegay says, “I chose flowers that grow in the garden and surrounding desert.” A key explains the range of levels of donation represented by the different flowers. This type of display allowed the glass plaques to be randomly distributed throughout the wall. It also recognizes that every donor of every giving level is important to the success of the garden.

A Natural Phenomenon

Much like the garden itself, the wall is full of nature’s surprises. The top corner of each square glass plaque has a little facet. When the sun reaches past the building around noon, it shines down, hitting the glass on the wall. The facet around the outside catches the light and sends it in different directions, creating little rainbows all over the place. Kornegay was surprised when he discovered this. “I worked deep into the night on the glass and when I came back the next morning and I walked in and there were all these rainbows everywhere and I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t anticipate it, but it was really exciting”.

Only the Best

Kornegay Design constructed the wall using simple, but strong materials:

  • Concrete
  • Copper
  • Teak wood
  • Glass

The plaque describing the campaign is made of copper. Copper was specially chosen because it is a native material to Arizona. It is also a nod to Kornegay’s heritage as he grew up in the copper-mining town in Miami, Arizona. Teak was used for the bench because it a great material for enduring all types of weather. Kornegay also chose it for design purposes. Teak grays out over time and eventually it will become one with the natural colored concrete. All of the materials chosen are of the highest quality and match the aesthetic of the garden.

Desert Botanical Garden - Tending the Garden Wall

What Makes Kornegay Different

It starts with Kornegay’s mind. His humble approach to this project in the garden says it all. When asked about what makes his designs different, he replied, “Uniqueness is kind of in the eye of the beholder. As an artist, Kornegay explains, “I try to make the design work with the site and integrate into the landscape. “It is exciting for people to discover the donor area, rather than put it in their face.” Rather than overshadowing the garden with an artistic piece, Kornegay understands that nature is first and foremost. “I always love projects out at the garden and I love working in that venue of all that nature around you. Projects that are part of that have a delicate balance. The main attraction there are the plants, so when you do projects at the DBG you have to keep in mind that you need to compliment and be part of that. There’s nothing more beautiful than nature. It’s inspiring.”

The End Result

Elaine McGinn, the Director of Exhibits and Planning at the Desert Botanical Garden, was thrilled with the finished product. McGinn states, “Here is what I love about Kornegay Design®: Everything that Larry Kornegay designs is thoughtful to the landscape and elegant in style. His clean contemporary lines enhance the spaces that are fortunate enough to include them. His work is distinctive and easily recognizable”. McGinn essentially allowed Kornegay to take the lead on the project because she knew he could find a creative way to pull people toward the wall. She also knows that she can call on Larry Kornegay if there are ever any issues with his pieces over the years. “There are things that have never been done before so you have to use all of your experience and you have to come up with the best solution. My service is continuous”, Larry says. The Tending the Garden wall will no doubt be beloved by generations to come at the Desert Botanical Garden of Phoenix.

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