Posted on

In My Garden

The subject matter and imagery of gardens are often present in my artwork and lino carving.  My relationship with gardening started when I was little, following my dad around the flower beds and learning the difference between the weeds which I could help to remove, and the flowers which he was cultivating and I was not to pull up!  My Dad had a scientist’s approach to gardening and tended to enjoy the outdoor environment through a lens of calm observation rather than judgement.  Even when engaged in the process of weeding the flower beds, he still had an equal level of respect for, and interest in the weeds themselves; showing me how they spread their seeds in so many different and inventive ways; some flicking them into the air when fully dried, others acting like salt shakers in the wind.  And we both found pleasure in discovering a particularly big specimen that we knew the pet guinea pigs would find delicious.

As I began to pursue my interest in art more seriously and became a young art student through the A level and Art Foundation courses, I can remember making sculptures based upon seed forms, being inspired by natural structures, pressing flowers, and sewing dried leaves to naturally dyed cloth…  I also remember a favourite birthday present being seed trays and packets of seeds with which to cultivate my own area of garden in a back corner.  I believe some of the dahlias are still there.

I sometimes feel I have learnt as many life lessons through gardening as I have through art.  For instance, when I acquired a garden of my own as an adult, I set about enthusiastically trying to create a traditional cottage garden to compliment our flint-walled cottage, only to find that these small walled gardens are a perfect host to slugs and not a single delphinium survived.  Open warfare on these slippery creatures was never going to work, but to my surprise other plants sprung up and seemed indestructible in the face of the mollusc army. I learned to interfere less and watch more, as wild buttercups, Japanese anemone and a vast trumpet vine flourished without any need for tending, watering or protection.  The right plants in the right place is certainly a motto that can be useful elsewhere in life.  The creation of something beautiful does not need to be, and maybe even should not be, a struggle.

I have recently begun reading more widely around the subject of gardening.  “Wilding” by Isabella Tree has given me an insight into the complex connections between plants, trees, wildlife and the microorganisms which live soil. I learned to do less and less invasive work in the garden as a result; to allow old branches to rot naturally and beetles, woodlice and fungi to do their important work undisturbed.  “The Garden Jungle” by Dave Goulson taught me the importance of flowering weeds, letting the grass grow long and selecting plants which support bees and other pollinators. I can now spot and avoid a modern hybrid which would have previously fooled me with its good looks, but is actually useless to the insect population.

Learning, observing and going a little more with the flow has given me a relationship with gardening that is peaceful and rewarding, plus a garden that hums with life, takes very little looking after and which delights me regularly with a new surprise – a self-seeded poppy, or a new family of blackbirds.  I don’t have go far to be gifted with new subject matter for a drawing or a print.  If I take the time to stop and look, I have everything I need right there in this garden.

Posted on

Researching a New Project

Sometimes the best laid plans do not lead to quite the results you were expecting…

After spending the winter focussing on the naked branches of the “Winter Hedgerow” series I had been looking forward to getting my teeth into something colourful and celebratory again.  I planned and booked a series of visits to some of the most beautiful gardens of Sussex, anticipating their re-openning and eager to indulge myself in some horticultural delights.  The sun burst forth in April and I thoroughly enjoyed walking, sketching photographing the early blooming plant life.  My camera soon filled with images of blossoming cherry, and my sketchbook with narcissi and primroses.  But what was the subject that, after all this, began to truly obsess me this month?  Well… dandelions.

Maybe it was my recent education in how important these plants are to support the early pollinators who venture out at the beginning of Spring when there is little other pollen available.  Or perhaps it is due to the intensity of the colour which after a long grey lockdown seemed like food for the eyes.  I suddenly felt that these under-dogs needed to be celebrated next, to be elevated to the status of “art”, and given a second chance at being loved and admired by the general population (for whom they are mostly deemed to be “weeds”).

Plants which could prove good companions in the series arose quickly to mind; flowering ivy, who’s structure and silhouette I love, and is also a vital habitat for wildlife with its thick foliage, and blackberry brambles, which horrify many a gardener, but provide nutrient-rich food for birds (as well as many of the local children) each autumn.

A new series of sketches and photography and research developed quite in reverse to the elegantly maintained gardens I had been visiting.  What a surprise! 

But then again, maybe not… Is it simply a matter of looking at the same subject from another angle?  As my Dad once told me; “A weed is no different to a plant… It is just a plant in the wrong place”.