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Breaking National News POSTED AT 5:08 PM EST Friday, Mar. 5, 2004

Signs of spring

Globe and Mail Update

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The grass is not always greener. Sometimes it's black.

Three-year-old Maya Auchincloss steps onto the black turf and the cushiony ground sinks beneath her feet. The smell of rubber masks the scent of nearby hyacinths and daffodils, but it doesn't repel her.

She runs her fingers through grains of tire mulch and soon she is hanging off the black PVC tubing jungle gym and shrieking like a monkey.

It's easy to forget you are in the middle of Canada Blooms 2004, the eighth annual horticulture show that kicked off Wednesday at Toronto's Metro Convention Centre and will last through tomorrow (SUNDAY). It is expected to draw 110,000 people.

The Parallaxe Boogie-Woogie is one of the feature gardens.

Ekip, a group of Montreal designers - Sinisha Brdar, Patrick Morand, Marc Pape and Thierry Beaudoin - designed the hulking asymmetrical labyrinth that looks like a scene out of the movie The Matrix..

They originally made the garden for Reford Gardens at the 2003 International Garden Festival in Grand-Métis, Que., using 9,000 kilograms of tire mulch. The entire garden costs $2,500. The mulch is made out of old tires that are frozen then shattered. Not a new concept, the mulch is also used to deter soil from compacting in athletic fields that are heavily used.

Once the Parallaxe Boogie-Woogie is dismantled, the mulch will be sold and reused.

When asked whether she would like a similar playground in her own home, Maya's mother, Lara King, said, "Absolutely, they're both climbers," also referring to her five-year-old son, Samson.

Another visitor, Wally Poole of Grand Bend, said: "It's neat. [The mulch] is an alternative use - [it] beats landfill." But others dislike this interpretation of a garden.

"I like nature better," said Stephen Dawson of Peterborough. But he suggested that the mulch might make a good material for a pathway.

Although Margaret Glew of Toronto said the mulch is "nice to walk in," she would not like it for her own garden.

"Too little plants," she said. "I garden because I love plants. I like the colour." And to see the colour in this garden, you have to follow the maze until you get to a large square planter. The inside is painted neon green and it's filled with white tulips, azaleas, campanulas and paper white narcissuses.

Pete McCutcheon of Toronto said about the garden, "It smells horrible and a big part of the garden experience is the smell."

Mr. Brdar, one of the designers, agreed. "It's not a pretty smell, but it's not a pretty garden, either."

He explained the inspiration behind the labyrinth: "It's a place where the very idea of the garden and landscape is re-questioned. We wanted to take one of the oldest figures of human [ancient Greek] mythology and gardens [Daedalus made the Labyrinth, a maze, to confine the Minotaur] and interpret it, give it a fresh spin. We wanted a garden that was participative and active rather than contemplative and passive."

"It could be an inspired, inexpensive playground," said Alexander Reford, director of Reford Gardens. "I'm not sure what the neighbours would think.

"It's interesting how new materials appeal to the child in everybody," he said.

Carly Demczyk of Whitby thinks so, too.

The two-year-old scoops up the mulch and throws it in the air. "I'm in the playground," she yelled gleefully to her mother, Debbie Demczyk.

But Ms. Demczyk is wary about having it in her own backyard. "I don't know if it fits in with my decor," she said. "There is not quite enough colour."

Mr. Reford is urging people to rethink their traditional notions. "A garden is not just flowers, it's also design, also structure, it's also fun. It's not just work."

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