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

flowers, where is the garden – screen based work online


A new screen and print work created in response to Nori and Sandra Pope’s garden at Hadspen, near Castle Cary in Somerset which closed in 2005. (Please select 720HD and full screen for viewing, as it has been edited for exhibition).

The video and accompanying printwork is being shown at Tintinhull Manor House, made as part of the Abundance Garden Trail, Somerset, until Sunday October 6th.  Entrance is free to Abundance pass holders and to NT members.

The work is about the relationship between time, the gardener and the garden – the dispersal of a garden into other gardens through seeding, division, memory, love and loss.

Hadspen Garden was originally brought to recognition by Penelope Hobhouse, who went on to manage the garden at Tintinhull Manor.

More information on the project here and click through ‘Flowers, where is the garden‘ or see past posts on this blog for the making process.


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


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.

Eyes shut at Hadspen June 2013

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‘.

Victoria's list in the Popes book

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.”

Victoria's list of plants

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.

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

Carole Wyatt’s Hellebore from Hadspen Garden

Emma Craigie Oldest Somerset Rose

Emma Craigie sent me pictures of the roses she has, this one being the ‘oldest Somerset rose’ according to Sandra Pope.

Emma Craigie rose

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!’

Gill Palmer Anemone

And from my Mum, Gill Palmer, a photo of a treasured Anemone.