Search results for 'HORATIOS GARDEN'

Plant biographies in Horatio’s Garden

13 Oct

When you look at a plant in a garden , What do you think ?Do you think , how does that structure work, why has it evolved like that ? or probably, less practically , just.. how beautiful.. but maybe other thoughts creep in.
A garden is by definition a gathering of plants, there is and has been human activity behind this gathering. All that human activity has made the moment you look at the plant possible. What if you thought about other human activity going back further in time associated with that plant, a plant biography? (A plant autobiography!?)
These were some of the thoughts occurring to me, sitting in Horatio’s Garden at the beginning of September.


Steven , with one of the residencies collaborative works, showing calligraphy and maps made by him over three weeks.
The reason for sitting in the garden was to develop ideas for a month long artist and archaeologist residency by EnglaID researchers , Letty Ten Harkell , Sarah Mallett and myself , in collaboration with people associated with Horatio’s Garden.


Letty Ten Harkell talking to Denis and other patients.

Horatio’s Garden is part of the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre, it is named after Horatio Chapple, who came up with an idea of a garden next to the unit, having talked to the patients over a summer when he was a volunteer there. Tragically, Horatio was killed at the age of 17 by a polar bear .The outpouring of love and donations ,has resulted in this extraordinary idea ,being realized into a garden, directly attached to the spinal unit.
In September 2013, Zena Kamash and I had looked at the landscape surrounding the garden, and researched its history, its archaeology and produced a drawn , photographed and mapped response of how it was in 2013.
This year, September 2014, I wondered if part of this methodology might be applied to individual plants.
Most garden plants, on an initial search, turned out to have travelled miles to arrive in the garden. If you start looking at origins, this very English garden (and other English gardens) seem anything but English.
‘after the retreat of the Ice Age, Britain had the distinction of having the smallest range of natural flora of any country in the world, yet by the start of the twenty first century, it contained the widest range of any nation on earth’ (1)
Was this wide floral range the result of the much documented Victorian cultivators and plant hunters ? In the small sample of five plants that we choose, this turned out not to be the case. The most remarkably varied stories behind each plant were revealed.

New Zealand Burr

Collaborative work , New Zealand Burr.

The five plants that were chosen were:
Dahlia ‘Honka White’
Aruncus dioicus ‘Horatio’
Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan”
Verbena bonariensis , Tall verbena
New Zealand burr :Acaena inermis ‘Purpurea’

Here are two examples of the plant biographies:

Dahlia Honka White:

Native from Central and South America, these plants were first grown by the Aztecs as a food crop. It was also used to treat epilepsy, while the hollow stems were used as water pipes. These traditions died out after the Spanish colonization.
It was introduced to Europe in 1789 by Abbot Antonio Jose Cavanilles, the director of the Royal Gardens in Madrid. In 1798, the Marchioness of Bute , the wife of the English ambassador in Spain, sent some seeds to Kew Gardens in London, where they flowered the following season but were unfortunately lost soon after.
The flowers proved very popular in Europe and they regularly appeared at various European courts in the early 19th century, thanks to various Royal Gardeners everywhere sending seeds to each other.
The plant’s native American name was ‘Cocoxochitl’ but upon reaching Europe , it was named after the Swedish biologist Anders Dahl.
Dahl believed that the plant could become popular as a ‘new’ vegetable. The trend never caught on, which is why you’ll find Dahlias in your garden and not in your plates.
Sarah Mallett

Sarah Mallett Horatio'S Garden

Sarah Mallett , Vicky and and others discussing the origins of  Dahlias.

Verbena bonariensis or ‘pretty verbena’ is related to the Englishverbena officinalis , which -in medieval times – was thought to have medicinal and magical qualities, as a cure for the plague and as protection against witches and demons. It was also associated with good luck in warfare, and gun flints were sometimes boiled in an extract of verbena officinalis to increase their potency – or so it was thought!
The introduction of its cousin, verbena bonariensis , into Europe occurred in 1726, when two brothers, William and James Sherard, brought it back with them from Buenos Aires. James Sherard was an apothecary in Eltham in Kent, and also an accomplished violinist and composer. He was good friends with the famous composer Handel. However, in the 1710’s he began suffering from gout, and turned to botany as his main hobby. In the summer of 1716 he wrote the following words:

“Of late, the love of Botany has so far prevailed as to divert my mind from things I formerly thought more material”

James Sherard ‘s personal garden in Eltham became one of the most famous gardens of its time, noted for its rare plants.
Letty Ten Harkel


Collaborative work, Verbena

The residency developed, with myself drawing each plant, this is not my usual subject matter, and so it was a challenge!
Letty Ten Harkell and Sarah Mallett, brought the research into the garden, sitting at a table with books from Oxford libraries. Dan Stansbie helped with research in Oxford.
By doing this, many conversations came about between, patients, their relatives, volunteers who were in on those days, on the origins of plants and the human stories around them… Suddenly collaborative work was being made, as the space in the garden seems to allow and support: Steven was making maps and calligraphic headings, Graham was designing pressed flower pictures, Olivia photographed, I drew, Sheila was organizing art sessions and providing materials. Tina, the head gardener was advising us.
A long list of volunteers and gardeners and patients helped with their knowledge of working with plants, sometimes over years,Denis,  Daphne, John, Victoria, Andrea, Camilla and more..

Graham pressed flowers and clouds

Autumn Flower Picture by Graham, ( note the New Zealand burr on the bottom of the picture)
All this resulted in five collaborative images, which at first glance do not seem to be made by so many people, a true collaboration.

Aruncus Horatio

Collaborative picture , Aruncus Horatio.

The end of the project was crowned by an Indian summer lunch, and the five framed works placed actually in the garden. Sixty people attended and even five on beds, coming to be in the sunshine, that is Horatio’s Garden.
A great many thanks to all at Horatio’s garden, their support has been phenomenal and started conversations in Oxford on plant biographies.

Plant Biography self 2014

Myself, at the Sunday event .

(1) Tim Smit , foreword of The Origin of Plants , Maggie Campbell-Culver (Eden Project Books 2001), p 15.



18 Jan

two lives floating

Miranda Creswell , Two lives floating 

pastel, pencil on paper 2008


Rivers can be monsters, as many people who have been affected by flooding will testify. Certainly once the flooding has receded; it is hard to imagine what power, what strength, has caused so much destruction.

Since working alongside archaeologists of the research group EnglaID, I have had many interesting conversations with Tyler Franconi (researcher and Roman specialist) about how humans have tried to harness this power, and how it seems to have shaped them in turn.

My written thoughts for this blog on rivers, cannot be said to come directly from such a researched perspective or from a geomorphological or archeological point of view, unlike Tyler and the rest of the EnglaID team; but rather from the view point of someone who by observation, uses drawing as a way of thinking about rivers. 


 ‘We can never neatly separate what we see from what we know’

E.H Ghombrich , The Story of Art 1950

When looking at a river, maybe one should say that one could never neatly separate what we see, from what we can only guess at? from we do not know?

The body of water which is rushing past you, has come from somewhere else, and been seen and ‘shaped’ by other humans and landscapes, so (unless we have direct information) we can only imagine, where this water has arrived from.

This is a different observation from looking at an oak tree for instance, which is very much rooted to the spot; it does not, unlike water, slip past you.

There is also the question as you look at moving water, of where the water that you have just seen goes afterwards? How long will it be until it eventually flows into the sea?

What we do know, if we stop to think about this, is that the river cannot be ‘neatly separated’ from its banks. It is held by the landscape, the earth around it.

Its depth can never be revealed unless there is a severe drought.


Drawing rivers many times, I have come to imagine a game in which the river becomes a multi faceted tool, (like a pen knife with many parts) with which to think about the surrounding land, for instance:

-The river as a spirit level showing the marked difference between the comparative flatness the water (although not rushing water) and the land it cuts through, a way of measuring ruggedness in the landscape.

-The river as a measuring rod, which can be used by comparing previous observations: using a particular stone or root on the bank indicating high or low water. An interesting refined example of this, as pointed out by Tyler Franconi are Nilometers, this is a picture of the measuring shaft of the Nilometer on Rhoda Island, Cairo, dated circa AD 861.


– The river as a mirror to the sky, which can, in the turn of a head, be linked to the river becoming a lens with which one can look into the depths of the river: two mostly unattainable worlds for humans, seen in the clink of an eye.

– As a store, somewhere to throw things into, why is this so appealing? 

-As a measure of movement: one can watch something float in the river and contrast this with a different rate of movement seen in the surrounding landscape, such as clouds or in swaying grass.    



A sherd of Neolithic Mortlake ware found on the foreshore at Bermondsey , London. 

Photo and description by Courtney Nimura .

Bermondsey flints 29012013

Bermondsey flints: A collection of flint debitage found on the foreshore at Bermondsey , London. Photo and description by Courteney Nimura.


Another question that I have found interesting is where is the most powerful part of an image of a river?  Where is the tension in the image? While walking along the water meadows near Eynsham lock, I noticed that the long riverside grasses where pointing vertically into the river, which was running horizontally.

At that moment, it seemed clear to me, that the most powerful part of this scene, was the meeting place of the horizontality of the bank and vegetation and the vertically rushing water.


In his book Water and Art, David Clarke writes about how the minimalist artist Mondrian early influences, might have been made while observing and painting riverine landscape. Mondrian’s use of the vertical and horizontal, in his most recognizable series, may have been directly linked to early observations of river landscape.


Piet Mondrian, Geinrust Farm with Truncated Tall trees and saplings 1905-7

Private collection

Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red 1937-42 Piet Mondrian 1872-1944 Purchased 1964

Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red 1937-42 Piet Mondrian 1872-1944 Purchased 1964


Bleech works on the Gein 1902 , Watercolour,

present whereabouts unknown


These observed thoughts do not, in keeping with the slipperiness rivers, bring any firm conclusions, but rather an ongoing interest in the many different ways that humans co exist alongside rivers, and with the puzzle that is moving water, and how to respond to it.

One of the more practical methods that I have been using as an artist is to draw each day. Partly in order to immerse myself in landscape, this has always been the subject matter, whether observed or imagined. Some days the landscape drawings are made very fast, other times longer.

The daily rhythm has, however, enabled me to observe river landscape over several seasons and to begin to gain accumulated knowledge of stretches of river, mostly in the Oxfordshire region.

Partly due to this methodology, river ideas have been incorporated into two ongoing EnglaID collaborative projects. One of these is to look at the river Mersey and think about human identity from each side of its banks. The project is called ‘Across the Water’ and is in collaboration with the University of Liverpool, Williamson Art Gallery and Museum and Oxton St Saviour’s School in Birkenhead and St Christopher’s School, Speke, in Liverpool. An exhibition at Williamson Art Gallery and Museum in the summer of 2016 will mark the end of this exciting project, involving over 100 students, archaeologists, teachers, an author and some of the EnglaID team.


The second project ‘Looking Out’ is in collaboration with the charity Horatio’s Garden at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment at Salisbury Hospital.

The project is, in part, looking at the archeology of the river Avon and the surrounding landscape, but also from the perspective of different disciplines and the hospital community. The end product will be an interactive web site and 5 composite pictures to be place in single rooms in the spinal unit at Salisbury Hospital.

More details these projects will follow on this blog, as they evolve!