Transformative Preservation:

Energy + Environment

Making the Invisible Visible


Rosetta Elkin

Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture

When we think about a landscape, whether designed or natural, it’s easy to focus on the biggest elements: big graceful trees and large swathes of grass. But what about the smallest elements of a landscape? Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture Rosetta Elkin’s Tiny Taxonomy brings plants that would normally be ignored into sharp focus.

Planter, part of the Tiny Taxonomy exhibit shown at the Jardins de Metis International Garden Festival On view at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Rosetta Elkin
Planter, part of the Tiny Taxonomy exhibit shown at the Jardins de Metis International Garden Festival

The Tiny Taxonomy exhibit highlights 25 different species of mountain wildflowers and alpine perennials, literally putting them on a pedestal for our inspection. They are organized by the features that enable them to thrive in difficult environments, and they invite the viewer to consider the tiny adaptations that make them so beautiful and tough.

But purely aesthetic delight is not Elkin’s only goal. There are also important lessons for the designer and the landscape architects in appreciating the exquisite diversity of the plant world. “It seems that as the world around us gains complexity and intricacy,” she says in her introduction to the exhibit. “Our biological world is tending towards monotony. As our experiences become more and more uniform, our capacity to apprehend transformation and beauty diminishes.” Tiny Taxonomy considers micro-features a design opportunity suggesting subtlety as an attraction while inviting attention, respect, and even delight.

Tiny Taxonomy is not just a collection of pretty flowers, it’s intimately connected to Elkin’s work, both as a landscape architect who looks for ecological solutions to complex urban issues, and as a teacher, bringing GSD students to a fuller understanding of the challenges and solutions that the natural world provides for us.


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