The Question Mark and Improv Sculpture Design: Straw Bale Gardens As Environmental Art

Straw bale gardening may not be as mainstream a gardening method as raised beds yet, but who knew it was an emerging art medium? An environmental artist named Susan Leibovitz Steinman, created a straw bale garden at the Arlington Arts Center (AAC)  in Arlington, Virginia as a sculpture that would “appeal aesthetically, innately double as raised planting beds, and would interest and be relevant to the local audience.”

AAC chose the artist to install her “Straw Bale Farm” at their Green Acres Exhibition running through the Fall 2013. The goal of the Exhibition is to visually and spatially engage the public in a discussion around topics related to food, agriculture, urban farming and livability, and to expose the investigations artists are making in these areas. In a recent AAC blog post, the artist explained why she chose the sculptural layout of the straw bales, which incorporates cinder-blocks, trash cans, and blue PVC that make-up the Straw Bale Farm:

These designs coalesce in an improvisational dance of educated intuition, flexibility (replace what’s not working with what can), insistence on function and low cost, attention to place, and listening to local people. No amount of pre-planning in my studio replaces working on the ground, sizing up the real place with real limitations. For example, the first plan had several planting areas. Then the straw bales arrived smaller than ordered, it had to be thrown out. I knew one big sculpture trumped several small ones; and to use low cost soaker hose, bales needed to connect sequentially. I lay down the contiguous “snake” pattern onsite without a drawing. I like using every day materials. Trash cans and PVC are favorite palette stalwarts. Cinder blocks are low-tech (no construction skill needed) and when planted mimic an herbal “rock garden.”

Here’s some photos of the Steinman’s “Straw Bale Farm” (all photos courtesy of the Arlington Arts Center).


Susan Steinman

2013-06-14 16.55.51 July 25 (1)


July 25 (2) July 18 (1)

For more information and the full interview with Steinman, visit the AAC blog:

We are intrigued to see Steinman’s artistic viewpoint towards straw bale gardening. We believe the Children’s Workshop Garden’s straw bale design and question mark layout is a similarly distinctive and a highly functional work of art as well as an effective gardening method.  As with our garden, Steinman’s AAC Green Acres piece was her first experience creating a straw bale garden and we applaud her execution. And as our photos below show, we are proud of our own execution of the Children’s Workshop Garden-as-Sculpture (though we don’t claim the same improvisational talent or artistic vision displayed in Ms. Steinman’s Straw Bale Farm).

Indeed, form follows function.





The Children's Workshop Garden--full view

Tomatoes and Peppers in Bales







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