Diane Katsiaficas, an artist and professor emerita of art for the University of Minnesota, has been in Mati, Greece, renewing a garden after a fire destroyed it in in 2018.
When the pandemic began, Katsiaficas sent — to a mailing list of about 200 people — a daily photograph that documented regeneration and new life in the garden. “I thought this was especially important for my Minnesota friends who were confronting both winter and the isolation of lockdown,” she says. “I did this for seventy days until spring arrived in Minnesota.”
In Minnesota and in Greece, gardens have had an impact on Katsiaficas’s art for more than 30 years.
She developed with her late husband “a garden on an acre of abandoned vineyard that was surrounded by Mediterranean pines on a cliff above the Aegean sea,” she says. “We experimented with what to plant in an increasingly dry Mediterranean climate, noting when to plant annual edibles, when flowers bloom, when to spread compost and manure, and when to harvest. We created raised beds to abate water runoff.”
Her husband passed away in March 2016. Katsiaficas, with the help of others, continues to maintain the garden, free of errant flora and debris.
“On July 23, 2018, a massive forest fire destroyed our area. The firestorm was ruthless; the surrounding plots tragic scenarios. My garden was devastated. The garden shed [disappeared]. We lost all supplies and tools,” she says. “Since then, we have worked diligently, clearing the destruction, planting new trees, now with an additional criterion for fire resistance: pruning.”
Katsiaficas created a book of artwork, “Survivors,” which reflects on the fire’s physical and psychic aftermaths of destruction and regeneration.
“I care deeply about the garden. It is a challenge that embodies hope,” Katsiaficas says. “At a small individual level, its saga can perhaps offer some practical lessons for how we can tend our environment in the face of climate change.”
For more information about Diane Katsiaficas’s work, visit dianekatsiaficas.com.
She was part of a 2010 Changemaker team recognized by Minnesota Women’s Press for their multifaceted, month-long project titled “Women and Water Rights: Rivers of Regeneration” (WWR), which included a two-day symposium called Global Policy-Local Action, performance art, and more.