When lockdown began in March 2020 the daffodils were blooming. It was an unusually warm spring day and the garden was coming back to life with Forget-me-knots, Mascari, Cowslips and Primulas all cheerfully smiling from their pots on the patio.
I have always loved my garden, a long, narrow east facing plot which I have looked after and enjoyed for 25 years. Not because I am any great horticulturalist but because this is where we have birthday celebrations, firework parties, simple Saturday lunches and more ambitious BBQ’s. It is the place where my children first learnt to walk and explore the world. I am rooted to this space – it is my sanctuary and it holds my memories.
When we moved here there was an established garden (our house was built in 1937) with mature trees, a green house and a set of irises which still bloom to this day. Over the years I have tried to make my mark on the garden experimenting and exploring with numerous vegetables and flowers, some more successfully than others. It is not a perfect garden, it is very much a continual work in progress but I can remember at the start of lockdown how fortunate I felt to have this outdoor space, a haven and a privilege in such dark times.
Over the Spring and Summer of 2020 the garden came to life. Having more time to nurture seedlings, to water the growing plants and to pull up weeds the garden seemed more alive than it had done for many years and it made me happy and invigorated.
Since then I have begun to appreciate the therapeutic benefits of gardening and have been reading and thinking about the uplifting powers of tending the soil. Growing plants involves outdoors and exercise and gives us Vitamin D. I have learnt that part of the pleasure of this activity is the smell of the wet earth – apparently the aroma has a pleasing and soothing effect on most people. Also the exercise can help regulate serotonin levels which in turn can control our body clocks. All of which is good for mental health. For me, I have noticed that I particularly love the simple tasks of weeding, watering and dead heading – I find them both calming and restorative.
In my creative practice my garden has featured. A latex dress pinned to the shed was left to the elements, its transience recorded on time lapse. Flowers, many from the garden were collected and used for print and embroidery to create a set of herbaria and the shadows of the giant hollyhock provided stimulus for recent experiments.
Recently however, I think because of my reflections on gardening in lockdown and my developing awareness of the benefits of gardening, there is a shift in emphasis. My hope is that my garden can become central to my practice creating a connection to this place that is so special to me and forming the narrative behind my work. I am aiming to create a sense of place and capture the essence of the garden and with luck my experience of it.
I have started this process by creating my own dye bed. I dabbled with this previously but I have now got a specific area to grow plants to colour cloth and thread. My plan is to use madder, dyer’s chamomile and other dye plants grown in my own garden to make patchwork, print and embroidery and in doing so my practice will become fully engaged with the garden.
The main project I am working on at the moment is a large ecoprinted patchwork. The subject of this work is a climbing rose which was a present from my parents when we first moved in and has been a continual presence in my garden ever since. I have learnt how to care for it, how to prune it and when to feed it. I love to pick the blooms and enjoy the gentle fragrance in my home. Its form symbolises the comforting stability of the natural cycles that occur unerringly in my garden. The rose specifically its leaves, have been used to explore the alchemy of ecoprinting, experimenting with the effects of mordants and modifiers. I have 84 small prints which are all individual and together have a deep connection to the place where they grow creating a tangible link between art and surroundings and for now that feels right.