An artist’s garden is a fantasy of mine. I have several garden fantasies ever since we got our own garden after living three floors up in a flat for years. One of them and you’ll know this if you’ve read my Amazonian Garden blog post, is to create a tropical paradise in our little Scottish garden (!). There is method in my madness though and somewhere along the line the art and the Amazon will overlap and a beautiful thing will happen right here in Perthshire.
So I’m building a little scrap book of sorts – it’s a form of cramming really, making up for all the years of horticultural pottering that I’ve missed out on. I take pictures, magazine cuttings, tap people on the shoulder and ask them what that gorgeous plant in their garden is and it’s not uncommon to find me watching old episodes of Monty Don’s Gardener’s World back to back until the wee hours scribbling unpronounceable names onto little maps of a garden, that in my head is about three times the size of the one we have.
On our travels around Europe I took so much inspiration from some of the gardens we stumbled across both formal and informal. I remember a row of low level houses beside a canal in Dresden and each owner had created a little paradise on a postage stamp patch of land at the back so that when you walked along the public path at the rear they read as one space with little pathways weaving through fruit trees, vegetable patches and …. artworks. By artworks I don’t mean those plastic pastiche statues you find in garden centres or worse the isn’t-that-clever ‘water features’ in the shape of a shell or some other random object – chintzy ‘jewellery’ that instantly sends what could be a lush chic green sanctuary plummeting into Tweedom. I mean art that could have been created for a gallery or indoor space – expressive art that you introduce outdoors with a bit of consideration and imagination.
We came across some really interesting artworks in an unexpected exhibition in a tiny village in the south of France called Martres-Tolosane. I’m ashamed to say I’ve misplaced the name of the artist but felt compelled to post this anyway so if anyone recognises his work please contact me as I’ve given up rummaging! This was a retrospective of his work to date and the breadth of his work was incredible. It began indoors with giant ceramic vessels and mixed media paintings. Each work had vigorous handwritten text all over its surface with a semi-graffiti like style but more like the compulsive rantings of a creative genius. The words travelled across every surface not just on the artworks themselves but across the gallery walls onto the floor around doorways and ventilation pipes until they raced outside and this is where the magic really began.
As you stepped out into the quiet garden through a painted curtain hung from a wooden frame and wandered along winding pathways, you were led to discover hidden spaces, sit and rest for a while or to crouch down at times enticed by artworks cleverly but naturally positioned along the way. Tall 7ft bamboo poles rose like totems from the ground just at a bend in the path and drew you’re attention to a patch of grass behind -their entire surface covered in hand painted text and layers of paint.
This is such a great way to add structure and navigation within a garden and I plan to source some of these giant poles and get creative with their surfaces to add an element of subtle theatre to my garden. If you fancy trying something similar there are quite a few companies who sell all kinds of bamboo rods and poles and of course you could try Ebay!
Towards the back of the garden there was a make shift table of pallets ( again so simple and casual but effective) placed thoughtfully in the shade of an old tree. On top of the table was a screen printed canvas tablecloth with a complex motif that we’d just seen on one of the paintings inside. This repeated motif along with the continuous ‘palette’ of handwritten text throughout the garden helped to connect the spaces and prevented it from becoming a cluttered mish mash of objects and colours. It’s something to consider whatever type of art you bring in, think about the ‘visual’ conversation – how things connect. They don’t have to look similar but it works better if there is some sort of connection either in colour or form or material.
From the curtain-like doorways announcing that you were entering a new area of the garden to the painted whisky barrels so casually placed for social gatherings and the tiny painted tiles with poetry written so small that you had to stop and crouch down taking in the heady scents of the carefully placed herbs, this was expressive art at its best – not ‘garden art’ but an art garden.
I love art that responds to its environment, that helps you to see or experience the space in a new way. Like my interiors, I like my garden to be informal and intriguing but not too ramshackle. Introducing unexpected materials, colour, sensory details and an element of surprise just as you would with creative interiors, can make a garden another adventurous ‘room’ to discover. The idea of the garden as a canvas and the topography as an armature for sculpture or a backdrop to poetry, I find really exciting.
Artists and gardens have a long history and as it’s spring, I’ve given myself a licence to ramble on a bit more about artist’s gardens over the next couple of months so bear with me. Have you thought about putting art in your garden? I’d love to hear about your experiments, triumphs and ahem, not so successful ventures – we all have them!