"I leave to the various futures, my garden of Forking Paths." Jorge Luis Borges
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A garden is a site of human imagination. A fusion of natural creation and human artifice - gardens are the setting where we humans project our idealized notions of nature. From Cyrus the Great's walled paradise garden of Mesopotamia to Ian Hamilton Finley's symbolic arcadia in contemporary Scotland, gardens reflect our complex and shifting relationship to the natural world.


The Garden of Forking Paths is a garden about gardens - a contemporary pleasure garden - that re-interprets historical gardens and experiments with new garden forms.

Slowly unfolding as a succession of outdoor rooms, Forking Paths will lead its visitors down a series of both literal and allegorical branching paths. The overall garden layout will mirror the evolution of the garden in the West by transporting the visitor from formal to more naturalistic garden environments. Along the way Forking Paths will take unexpected and curious turns with corresponding aesthetic, philosophical, and psychological journeys. In the sub-gardens of Forking Paths, the visitor might experience: the recreation of an early Persian pleasure garden; the theatrics of a 17th century forced-perspective garden; a tasting orchard describing the history of the apple tree; the "wild" reaches of a meadow of native plantings; or the fantastic nature of a garden featuring an extraordinary tree house.

The hope is to infuse the public with an excitement for being in gardens and to increase appreciation of the garden's unique pleasures and possibilities.



We are currently in the planning phase of what we hope will become a special venue in the San Francisco Bay Area. This current stage involves: 1) researching historic and contemporary gardens in a series of international garden expeditions; 2) creating a robust strategic plan for institutional development and sustainability; 3) presenting "The Garden of Forking Paths" garden salon series; and 4) creating experimental prototypes and miniature gardens in collaboration with local institutions.

The long-term plan is to acquire an appropriate tract of land within a 90 - minute drive of the San Francisco Bay Area. Here an interdisciplinary Forking Paths team will develop the garden in a process of phased development in collaboration with landscape architects, garden historians, artists, ecologists, and other special guests.


The Garden's Name

Conceived as a "meta-garden," a garden about gardens, Forking Paths derives its name from a story summarized here by Allen S. Weiss in his book Mirrors of Infinity:

"Jorge Luis Borge's story The Garden of Forking Paths is the tale of the great grandson of Ts'ui Pen, the Chinese governor of Yunnan, who renounced his political office to devote himself to writing a novel of inestimable complexity, and to creating "the garden of forking paths," a labyrinth so intricate that all who enter would be lost within. Centuries later, no trace of the labyrinth exists, and what remains of the novel is deemed totally incoherent. Yet his great grandson finally unravels the mystery: Ts'ui Pen's book and his labyrinth are one — a labyrinth of symbols. The meaning of this labyrinth of labyrinths is time itself. The very incoherence of his novel is due, paradoxically, to its adequacy as an image of the universe; time, permitting every possibility, demands a narrative where every option is maintained, and where no single plot determines the course of events. For time is the possibility of possibilities."



Machine in the Garden

The Garden of Forking Paths created a permanent outdoor installation called Machine in the Garden: A Pastoral on the campus of The Oxbow School in Napa, California. Located at the bow of the Napa River, Oxbow is a unique interdisciplinary art program for secondary school students from across the U.S.

Inspired by Leo Marx's influential book on American pastoral literature, Machine in the Garden provides a physical framework for reflecting upon a philosophical and ideological conflict that has profoundly shaped the history of the American landscape and how we see it — the tension between an industrialized landscape and a bucolic, arcadian countryside. As a sculptural landscape Machine in the Garden contains the narrative elements of the pastoral genre — idyll, rupture, and resolve — provoking students and visitors to consider their relationship with nature in new ways.

To reach the garden the visitor walks down a long twisting pathway - through a row of almond trees, under two pergolas of wild rose and grape.

Here they arrive upon a slightly miniaturized field of grasses, pear trees, and furrowed beds rising amidst fieldstones. The space is rustic and bucolic with elements of orchard and pasture suggesting the naturalistic as well as the tended — an idyllic spot for daydreaming.

Machine in the Garden Project Team

Marina McDougall, Garden Co-Creator

Founder of the Garden of Forking Paths, Marina McDougall is a curator with an interest in the intersections of art and science, nature and culture. Marina has organized exhibitions and public programs for the Exploratorium, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, MIT Media Lab, the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Oakland Museum of California. A co-founder of the Studio for Urban Projects Marina currently is Arts Project Director at the Exploratorium and teaches in the Curatorial Practice Program at the California College of Arts. She is the co-editor of the Marvelous Museum: Treasures, Curiosities, and Orphans of the Oakland Museum of California: A Project of Mark Dion (Chronicle Books, 2010) and Science Is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painleve (MIT Press/Brico Press, 2000).

Philip Ross, Garden Co-Creator

Phil Ross is an artist, curator, and educator who places natural systems within a frame of social and historic contexts. Phil's living artworks are grown into being over the course of several years, integrating traditional manufacturing techniques with practices and technologies from disparate fields. His recent work includes a trilogy of documentary videos on microorganisms, and the growing of a building composed of living fungus. In 2007 Phil curated an exhibition on biotechnology for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and is the founder and director of CRITTER, a salon for the natural sciences located at the Studio for Urban Projects in SanFrancisco's Mission District. Phil is the Professor of Sculpture at the University of San Francisco, and has been an artist in residence at The Exploratorium, SymbioticA, The Headlands Center for the Arts,The MacDowell Colony, and CalArts.

Machine in the Garden Project Team continued

Richard Johnson, Architect

For the past twenty years, Richard Johnson has worked on a wide variety of design-build projects primarily in the public realm. His research-based practice has lead him, both individually and as a member of collaborative groups, to explore the fields of art and architecture. Rick's projects engage themes of mobility, technology, ecology and urbanism to investigate how these different realms permeate and shape our daily environments. Rick received his Master of Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, and his Bachelors of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute. His recent projects include new exhibition and office space for the San Francisco non-profit arts organization Southern Exposure; residential projects in San Francisco and Inverness; exhibition design for the Exploratorium. Rick is a co-Founder of the Studio for Urban Projects and teaches at the California College of the Arts.

Tim White, Landscape Gardener

Tim White is the principal of Lady Bug Landscapes, a landscape gardening business in San Francisco specializing in design, installation, and horticultural consultation. A musician and composer, Tim is a member of the men's acapella choir Conspiracy of Beards and John Caltrans.

Kevin Binkert, Wood Engraving
John Borruso, Catalog Design
Dagmar Daley, Artifact Consultant
Nicole Cromartie, Research Intern & Gardener
Erica Gangsei, Architectural Model Making
Terrance Graven, Architectural Model Maker
David Gurman, Construction

Packard Jennings, Construction
Monica Martinez, Machine Design
Dawnna McDougall, Artifact Research
Deanna McDougall, Web Design
Michael Sasso, Horticultural Consultant
Stijn Schiffeleers, Landscape Gardener
Mikey Sgambalone, Machine Fabrication

Michael Swaine, Gardener
Gabrielle Teschner, Gardener
Andy Vogt, Architectural Model Maker
Sophia Wang, Development Intern
Joshua Warren, Construction
Bryan Welch, Gardener
Thanks also to Jackie Clay, Julie Whitcomb,
Josephine Zarkovich, and Hannah Wachs.

Machine in the Garden: Photos

Machine in the Garden: Contributors

The Baum Foundation is the fiscal sponsor of this first permanent installation of the Garden of Forking Paths.

Machine in the Garden: A Pastoral was made possible thanks to a generous gift from the Chauncey & Marion D. McCormick Family Foundation.

We are grateful to the following contributors:

David & Carla Crane
The LEF Foundation
Claudia Ceniceros & Eric McDougall
Margit Mondavi
Tin Man Fund
Kenneth Ross
Alfred Sasso Memorial Charitable Lead Trust
Milton & Sally Avery Arts Foundation
Napa Valley Community Foundation/Tulsa and Simone Fund
Hilary Bates & Jerome Simon

Pacific Nurseries
Home Depot, Napa
Girls in the Vineyard
Occidental Arts and Ecology Center

Dagmar Daley & Zak Conway, Stephen Hartman & Henry Urbach, Ann Hatch & Paul Discoe, Mari Johnson, Laura Lazarus, Dawnna McDougall, Hope Mitnick, Margeigh Novotny, Julie Parish, Lisa Silver & Jean Castelli, Marcia Tanner, Sharon Tijain, Robert Tufel, Moira Walsh & Michael McQuaid, Zachary Vella, Zane Vella


There are no upcoming events right now.


If you are interested in further information or in joining the Society of the Garden of Forking Paths please kindly write to:

or contact:

Marina McDougall, Founder and Director

Philip Ross

Milo Vela

The Baum Foundation, a public charity dedicated to art,
education, and the environment is the non-profit
fiscal sponsor of the Garden of Forking Paths.