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


Apple blossom, Henley Mill

Apple blossom, Henley Mill

I am interested in philosopher Jane Bennett’s idea of apersonal or ‘onto-sympathy’.  She suggests that, although as humans we are caught up in webs of antipathy and domination, we can be pricked into an awareness of shared capacities and materiality with the non-human by recognising a ‘kinship of shapes’.

From ‘It is to the vegetable we always come back’, paper presented by Jane Bennett at IHUM symposium ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ Princeton University, May 2013.