A series of posts on Somerset Art Work’s ‘Abundance Garden Trail’ blog reposted here, about research and process for the making of the video and print work for ‘Flowers, where is the garden’.
For a very long time after Hadspen Garden closed, I had wanted to write to Nori and Sandra Pope, thanking them for their garden. Research on the internet over the years told me they had returned to Western Canada, and I tracked down a connection via mention of a talk they had given, with the right postal address confirmed via a friend of theirs who contacted me from the ‘call out’ for plants.
7 years later, a letter.
A visit to see Tintinhull, the proposed venue for showing the work I make about Hadspen.
Tintinhull has a connection – Penelope Hobhouse came here in 1979, after leaving Hadspen, and her husband. Penelope married again to a professor and a gardener (Mallins), and managed the garden at Tintinhull for the National Trust for 14 years.
Penelope had different interests and aesthetics to the Popes, who picked up the garden at Hadspen, after it had been neglected for some years after her departure, so I wasn’t looking for strong connections between here and Hadspen. But in the border to the side of the house, I saw a few: a single Snake’s Head Fritillary, some Solomon’s Seal just up, and Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’, all of which I first saw at Hadspen, and have in my own garden.
One of my favourite plants is Cerinthe. I first encountered it at Hadspen growing around the place. My gardening friends in Sicily have the yellow one growing everywhere and almost consider it a weed. For me, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ with its dense purple and grey green pearlescence is structurally fascinating. The bees change the tone of their buzz when they go up into the flower bell – the pitch shifting to a high tone – ecstatic perhaps?
Here is the 9th generation of Cerinthe from the original plant I bought at Hadspen Garden growing in a pot outside. Every year I collect the seed and then set it off come spring.
In focusing on the ‘extinct’ garden of Hadspen for the ‘Abundance Garden Trail’, I’m paying extra attention to all the plants growing in my garden that came from the nurseries there. I’m considering their qualities, and why I like them so much. So of course, there is a resonance between the growth of the seedling and the slow forming of the piece that I’m making.
How a seed becomes a squid
“And above all the need – indissociable from my very nature, from my way of seeing and thus of thinking – to go see everything very very close up so as to see, and consequently, the development of a vision that is hyperattentive to details, my approach as a scrutinizing ant, my sensitivity to the least sign.“ Helene Cixous
Exploring the Astrantia ‘Hadspen Blood’ seed with my microscope and camera:
Focus, how to bring a garden that no longer exists into focus.
Placing a seed on my plant label for the Astrantia ‘Hadspen Blood’ plant that I bought all those years ago at Hadspen Garden.
Language, naming, typeface, form, growing tip, tentacles, squid.
I saw a live octopus come out from under a rock, as I lay face down on the surface on the water, in Sicily. It was so compelling, so alive, I knew I could not eat one ever again.
These seeds are reminiscent of squid, and remind me of commonality across nature, as well as distinctiveness.
Conversations with gardeners
Gardeners have been responding to my call out for people to make contact with me, in response to ‘Do you still have plants from Hadspen Garden in your own garden?‘
My work for this commission will include a print work – I want to find some way of ‘mapping’ this dispersal of plants, and how Hadspen still grows in other peoples’ minds and gardens.
I’ve been thinking how specific I need to be in taking forward the research: do they have to be plants directly from the Hadspen nursery from the Popes time at the garden? Do they need to have visited Hadspen themselves? What about plants I’ve split and passed on to friends? How much do I want to push it? Wait and see what comes back?
Soon after the circulation of my ‘call out’, there are phone calls and emails, a flurry of responses and conversations.
I met two people at the launch of the Abundance Garden Trail back in March who I completely enjoyed talking with – I seemed to psychically sense they were 1) gardeners, 2) into Hadspen. Abundant conversation.
I liked it when Bridgett Combe said: ‘I battle the bindweed.’
And ‘I never throw anything away, nothing is wasted.‘
That connected me to artist John Newling‘s extraordinary work which Zoe had recommended I go and see, and my resonant conversation with him around his show at Nottingham Contemporary, during which he talked about a ‘material sentence’ – materials transforming, how one thing becomes another, travels on through form and shape, and ‘the growing of time’.
The print work will be language only, no photographs, so here are some of the photos that people generously sent me:
Carole Wyatt’s Hellebore from Hadspen Garden
Emma Craigie sent me pictures of the roses she has, this one being the ‘oldest Somerset rose’ according to Sandra Pope.
Emma wrote to me: ‘We totally adored the gardens and visited them very frequently when our children were little. Only a couple of weeks ago we were remembering the tea rooms there and my 18 year old son welled up!’
And from my Mum, Gill Palmer, a photo of a treasured Anemone.
Penelope and Victoria
Two very significant conversations.
The first with Penelope Hobhouse in April.
About Hadspen, and the history of the garden, and her life in that garden. Plants, about the relationship between the gardener and the garden. About Central Asia, tender evergreens, Iranian plants. Self-seeding plants, and an increasing love for them. And her allotment back at Hadspen around 2007 (as the garden redesign was happening) sewn only with poppies from Kabul – poppies that will continue to self-seed around Hadspen probably for years to come.
Talking with her was great. I liked seeing how she gardened now, in her own garden, away from management or expectation, and a sense of knowing exactly what she wants to grow, and to look at. Cerinthe seedlings around and in the greenhouse. A shared love of green flowers.
“I love self seeders. I do have to edit them. I love seeing where they turn up. I love the fact that they’re happy enough to do it.“
Our conversation recalled something Mary Keen wrote in the Telegraph in 2012 in relation to Hadspen and ‘a garden never lasting’ …
“There is an exemplary no-dig patch and until very recently Penny Hobhouse had a plot where she sowed opium poppies collected in Kabul. Now they seed all over the garden in shades of coral and raspberry pink and blackest purple. I suspect they may continue at Hadspen for hundreds of years, like Reseda luteola, the plant Romans used for its yellow dye, which surfaced after the excavation of a Roman site near Cirencester. It is, in the end, the seeds of former crazes that remain in gardens long after the designs their owners planned are blurred with wilderness.”
The second conversation with Victoria Glendinning later in April, who had moved into the Pope’s house when they retired and left England.
Victoria very generously showed me round her garden, pointing out plants that remained, or she herself had acquired when Niall Hobhouse and Nori Pope had invited gardeners to come in to dig up plants from the parabola, before the garden redesign began. Victoria had prepared a list of plants that she had from Hadspen or from the Popes, and rather brilliantly, had written it in the back cover leaf of the Pope’s book ‘Colour by Design’.
We talked about the plants she had inherited or acquired from Hadspen Garden, in particular some dusty corms in a box which turned out to be ‘absolute thugs‘.
And Victoria had created a special border which she had titled ‘Homage au Popes‘ –
“They adored plants with dark red or dark foliage, so I moved them all here to this bed.”
A return, loss and gain
An opportunity is given to me, to return to Hadspen to see the garden, and discuss opportunities for filming there.
The house has been for sale for two years, and is now being sold, on the cusp of changing ownership, from over two centuries of being in the Hobhouse family.
For information about the history of Hadspen Garden, please go to this page on my own art and horticulture blog, Inquiline.
I return for the first time in 9 years to the garden.
Half of it is so nearly the same, half of it is so very different.
The smell of the former tea room, as I opened the door to the small empty cottage, is time travelling.
Allium Sicilums are in full flower, bumble bees.
Ancient nails on the parabola wall.
I spend a few hours – longer than intended.
A few weeks later, I receive an email that the new owners would rather I didn’t use any footage that I had filmed there, and that it would not be possible for me to return to film again. Understandable perhaps, given the complex recent history of the garden. But also short-sighted.
In some ways it was a relief. Even though I never intended to make any kind of ‘peeling paint’ video about Hadspen, now there was no option, although documentation of the garden as it has changed over time, as it is now, is so valuable and powerful.
I went in through a window.
I stayed too long. I didn’t stay long enough.
phaeum, fireglow, cosmos, gold heart, ….