Flowers, here

We sat in an elegant, sparsely furnished room at Tintinhull, its dark panels, a blackening fall of rain and the murmur and flicker of Sue Palmer’s film keeping us from the garden outside.


Silent words, slow paced and shamelessly repetitive, appeared on the screen: rhythmic insistence on another garden that can no longer be visited or simply spelled out in words.  Scraps: the baseline hum of bees; a distant voice, calling; the video camera momentarily re-animating meagre stills from a photographic past. 


The next morning I woke to the sound of childhood holidays by the sea.  I sensed their thrill under my skin even as I registered – not for the first time – the pebble drag and swish as workday traffic of an ordinary day.


Eyes shut at Hadspen

Eyes shut at Hadspen

In Flowers, where is the garden – a film that locates the now geographically unlocatable garden of Hadspen – Sue Palmer’s methodology is perhaps that of the dream. Her methods construct the condition of half-waking.  Drugged by her sounds and rhythms, we see and sense for real, a garden lost to us in reality.  And we cosset the lovely ache she has placed in our stomachs as we walk out of the dark room into the day.

Photo credit: Sue Palmer


Loiter like a leaf

Hidden in plain sight here at Henley Mill is an island.  This area of land completely surrounded by water – a garden within a garden – effectively doubles the traditional notion of the garden as a world-within-a-world where we can contemplate modes of being.  The gardener must constantly re-consider her role within the abundance around her – when best to be ‘hands on’ and when ‘hands off’.


Carve (crave)


Carve (crave)
Ornamental vegetable garden, Henley Mill

Grounded in garden owner Sally Gregson’s knowledge of Japanese gardening, Megan Calver adds modest installations on the edge of change.  These easily read fakes and puns are intended to increase awareness of ‘the natural world’ by default.  Poised on the point of elegance (mimicking an aesthetic that finds surprising beauty in unlikely objects), the installations also suggest the added complications of deceit and transformation.  Carrots, appearing ready decorated in the soil, will whiten, be eaten by slugs and rot.  Cups and saucers suggest a tea party, but will sink in the rain.  Plummeting birds are a reminder that the blossom has fallen and that leaves, fruit and birds will also fall or migrate: Autumn has a melancholy air.  Containment and reversibility – of a pun, a garden, an object, a plant, a person – generate a multiplication of meanings on the rebound from each other.  Perhaps, strolling through the garden, the only thing we can be assured of is that we, and all manner of things, are here now.


Plumb (plum)
Orchard, Henley Mill


Plumb (plum)

A quiet celebration of the garden and its mutability is proposed.  Coats have been crafted that will allow some visitors to dress for the occasion.  The coats are designed to slow their wearers down, encouraging things to creep closer and people to become part of the whole.  Highlighting that tension between ‘hands on’ and ‘hands off’, and continuing the motif of reversibility, the double-sided coats, like the garden itself, offer a choice between camouflage and display.


Float (float)
Mill race, Henley Mill

Acknowledgement and thanks to

Sally and Peter Gregson, Henley Mill

Sarah Donoghue, tailor and designer, Sew Vintage, Wells

Mr. Fook Yin Chai, vegetable carver, The Golden Panda restaurant, Tiverton

Commissioned by Somerset Art Works in partnership with National Garden Scheme.  Curated by Zoe Li.  Funded by Arts Council England.

Photo credit: Michael Calver


modeSue2-henleyI wish you could have seen Sue – poised, gentle – bending down on one knee to pick up windfalls.

Shaping up just a little bit like an autumn leaf or the robin singing on an adjacent branch?

Timothy Morton again:

‘What is a person?  Are we people?

Art’s ambiguous, vague qualities will help us think things that remain difficult to put into words.’

‘Identity is a performance…instead of becoming optimal for their environments, living beings do just enough to look and quack like themselves.’

Morton, T. (2010) The Ecological Thought. Harvard University Press: Cambridge Massachusetts and London England



Paper doilies floating on the millpond, Henley Mill

Paper doilies floating on the millpond, Henley Mill

henley-doiliesLaying water on water?

Marc P. Keane’s book ‘Japanese Garden Design’, borrowed from Sally, describes how white sand is used to create a special visual space and to symbolise water (understood as a metaphor for human existence).

And Timothy Morton describes the strangeness of what we call the environment, pointing out that it doesn’t exist apart or aside from its life forms.  He quotes Georges Bataille’s phrase for animal existence in the environment:  it is like ‘water in water’.

Keane, M. (1998) Japanese Garden Design. Charles E. Tuttle Company Inc.: Rutland Vermont and Tokyo Japan

Morton, T. (2010) The Ecological Thought. Harvard University Press: Cambridge Massachusetts and London England



Hydrangea serrata Tiara, Henley Mill

Hydrangea serrata Tiara, Henley Mill

Hydrangea serrata Shojo, Henley Mill

Hydrangea serrata Shojo, Henley Mill

Hydrangeas, including rare Japanese varieties, are a special feature at Henley Mill.  They offer good autumn viewing as summer comes to a close.

I had forgotten that hydrangeas have small fertile flowers and also more showy ‘flowers’ on each head. It’s easy to see these two sorts of ‘flower’ on lace caps like Tiara and Shojo above.


Sol LeWitt's 'Lines in Four Directions in Flowers' at Philadelphia Museum of Art

Sol LeWitt’s ‘Lines in Four Directions in Flowers’ at Philadelphia Museum of Art

lewittI saw this conceptual garden in Philadelphia in June:  flowers in 4 different colours planted in 4 equal rectangular areas in rows of 4 directions.  Visually it was exciting.  And it made me think about the extent to which we manipulate plant material.  Also about the dogged ability of plants to stick to their own agenda and perform their own transformations.