Notes based on a garden tour given 15/8/2016;
The following is principally to inform of the current situation in The Barbara Hepworth Garden from the gardener's perspective. It shall describe the various complexities involved in managing a garden such as this, the issues that we are currently dealing with, and also the direction we are heading in with the garden for the future.
I work very closely with the Barbara Hepworth Estate and the Tate, together we make decisions and formulate short and long term objectives.
A Brief History;
The vast majority of the garden was purchased at auction in 1949. It had belonged to the house next door, Trewyn house, at which point it was primarily a rose garden.In 1965 Barbara purchased and extra piece of land from John Milne, her neighbour, who resided at Trewyn House from 1957 and was a pupil of and then assistant to Barbara Hepworth for a while.Just before her death Barbara Hepworth purchased a small extra piece of land on which to display the 6 part bronze work ‘Conversation with Magic Stones’ in the corner.
I see that my role as a gardener as that of bringing out the natural beauty of individual plants, by caring for the plants health and making them grow well, a plant that is growing well looks good, and also through pruning and shaping. Pruning may be done to simply restrict the growth of the plant or to enhance the flowering potential by ‘stressing’ the plant - to make it feel a greater need to reproduce and flower. Pruning may also be done to enhance the visual beauty and/or health of the plant which involves firstly pruning out dead, diseased or dying material and then very often thinning the plant out to some degree, dependent on the species, to reveal more of the finer details, such as the branch structure and textures of bark, etc, often creating a lighter, more elegant plant. My role is also to bring all the plants (and sculptures) together in to a unified whole creating multiple aesthetically pleasing compositions, viewed from various positions throughout the garden.
In this case, this unified whole can be loosely defined as an historic sculpture garden or even a kind of garden sculpture museum, where our main objective is that we are trying to maintain the garden as closely as possible, or restore it, to how it was at around the time of Barbara Hepworth’s death in 1976. The reason this is so important (to maintain that originality) is that if our generation allow the garden to change by 30%, by introducing new plants and then the next generation allow the garden to change by 30%, quickly it will come about that there is very little remaining of what was once Barbara Hepworth’s Sculpture garden. So this is my, or our, challenge, to try to the best of our ability to maintain and/or restore the garden to how it was in and around 1976. This challenge inevitably involves many complexities, mainly intertwined about the fact that a garden is a dynamic system. Plants grow, get diseased, die, limbs fall off, etc. etc.
Barbara Hepworth's Garden;
A garden is defined by the relationship between the garden and the gardener (Barbara Hepworth), and within that relationship, on the gardener’s side, is intent, or vision for the future (which is rarely documented). A gardener does not plant a young tree whip and expect it to stay as such and of course this vision for the future evolves and transforms through time, with the garden, being influenced by fashions and tastes. It often therefore reflects elements of the gardeners personality. So from this perspective we can now try and relate Barbara Hepworth’s personality to the garden that she planted and created. Fortunately for me her personality is quite well documented and indeed expressed through the sculptures in the garden. From these we can derive that Barbara Hepworth felt deeply connected to the natural world. In 1959 in an interview with J.P Hodin she said;
“[The continuity of life] contains a tremendous and impelling force. In autumn all the dynamics are laid for spring…. Spring is the manifestation of all that is laid down in the autumn. The artist who understands this is feeling his way to an understanding of the structures underlying these impulses”.
These words for me illustrate a great feeling of interconnectedness, on her behalf, of all life, and also, arguably, demonstrate her awareness of the potential longevity of a garden. So this winter we are going to start feeding something back in to the system, to nourish it. We are going to start feeding the soil again, with organic matter to start putting something back into this cycle of life within a garden.
The garden is also a seasonally diverse garden, with the many deciduous trees, which Barbara Hepworth planted, which exert a huge influence and seasonal diversity over the garden and especially with the cherry tree, flowering before it comes into leaf which for some cultures in the world including ancient persian cultures, symbolises the renewal of life.
Also the garden is very informal in nature, again reflecting Barbara Hepworth's appreciation of natural beauty, in preference to that attained through the form and order of a more formal garden design. At one point during Barbara Hepworth’s life one of the main paths was planted with white tulips, although it is said that she did not like this as she considered it ‘too formal’. So we must remain sensitive to her approach and I try and reflect this in the way I am caring for and containing certain plants. We are trying to move away from a topiarized method of containing plants, as you would trim a hedge, to that of a more natural, free growing look.
After Barbara Hepworth's travels to Italy the garden took on a more distinctly mediterranean feel and it is also interesting to note that the many spikey plants such as the Phormiums, Yucca’s and Cordylines contrast well with the more rounded organic shapes of the sculptures.
Relative theories of garden design;
Now just going back to garden design, there are some interesting theories that seek to explain why we find certain types of gardens attractive, based on certain points in time through our evolution.
- The first is that we find woodland gardens or tree lined avenues attractive as this stems from a time when we were hunter gatherers wandering through the forests looking to the trees above for food.
- The second is called the prospect/refuge theory - that seeks to explain why it is considered desirable to have an enclosed place of refuge where we feel safe, yet at the same time with a view out over the land so we can possibly spot in coming enemies, or maybe some wild animals, so therefore high and sheltered land is particularly desirable. So arguably in this garden we have the woodland/ hunter gatherer influence and the refuge of an enclosed space with a view out over the bay, and rooftops and I believe as an artist of natural influences she would have welcomed the wider landscape in to the garden, although the feelings of seclusion within the garden are also of great importance.
- The third theory which does not really apply to this garden is that we find formal gardens attractive because of the form and order which was applied and used during the agricultural revolution.
Now in taking the garden back to how the garden was in 1976, we have to decipher what has changed during that time, and the two main sources of information we use are photographic evidence and a list of plants that was created in 1994. I have a couple of photos here for you to look at. The first is a view from within the workshop out to the garden and the thing to notice about this photo is how much more open to the garden is - there is much more sky and the second is of a sculpture in the second half of the garden surrounded by the purple Cineraria plants - more on this later.
Photographic evidence has revealed that, especially more recently, plants have been allowed to grow to arguably what would be considered too great an extent than is suitable for their situation. Indeed when I arrived here in December of 2015, my feelings were that parts of the garden felt claustrophobic and dark and the balance within the garden between mass, that is planting, and space was too heavy on the side of the mass. This heavy planting mass was blocking sight lines and taking something away from the sculptures. Artwork needs space (that’s a quote from my wife), the sculptures need space so I have been trying, ever so gently to just give some of the sculptures more space, so they can breath. This is also a point that the conservators have raised. They would like to see less foliage over and above the sculptures to reduce debris and dripping on to them along with increasing accessibility to the sculptures for cleaning.
One plant that we have removed is a Cotoneaster that was growing here and blocking the sight lines in and around the pond, especially the view of the sculpture from this position here.
The trees here are also an important point to mention. In the garden today we find we have several very mature trees, which are arguably out of proportion with the garden and sculptures. We are now in a situation where we have quite a few very mature trees in a relatively small area and they are exerting a massive influence over the garden compared to what they would have done in Barbara Hepworth’s lifetime. We have the Fagus sylvatica, the copper beech at the back there which I would guess at being between 150 and 200 years old. All the other trees are between 50 to 80 years old, and of course therefore we know that Barbara Hepworth planted many, most if not all of these. Incidentally she had a South African friend, Priaulx Rainier, a composer, who helped with suggesting plants and planning the shape of the garden and BH also used a book called “Shrubs for milder counties’ by Arnold Forster. But back to the trees, we have a Magnolia Grandiflora here, a Quercus robur, which is the largest and arguably the most beautiful shape of this collection of trees here. It is competing for light and nutrients with the Gingko Biloba which is one of the oldest living tree species. It has been found in fossils dating back 270 million years, which is beyond my comprehension. We have an inedible pear. A Metasequoia glyptostroboides, the common name a dawn redwood, which is the least tall of all the redwoods, but still growing to over 200 feet tall in it’s native environment, which is China. It has that beautiful straight trunk, looking just like an arrow pointing straight up in to the sky. All the trees here will to some extent be having the upper reaches of the canopy suppressed by the salt laden winds. Then we have a couple of hollies, the tree of heaven and of course the most beautiful cherry tree, which is arguably, other than the sculptures one of the most significant features in the garden. I can picture photos of Barbara Hepworth stood leaning against the cherry. Sadly however, it does have rot within the tree, and there is no stopping that once it is inside. So this limb will have to go in the not too distant future and we are currently putting in place long term management plans for the tree.
On the subject of disease, the main issue we are facing is the decline of the Cordyline australis. They are a major feature of the garden and have been for a very long time, creating a distinctly sub-tropical feel, however sadly for us and for the whole of the south west, we are losing the Cordylines to I think, for 3 reasons; a type of phytophthora, a fungal disease and a bacteria. So they are not being replaced here or at other gardens. so enjoy them while they are here. It is a case of you don’t realise what you have until it is gone. There isplant which is being touted as a replacement for the cordylines called Pheonix roebelinii, or the pigmy date palm, which is a beautiful tree however it only grows to approximately head high, so may be of limited use in this garden where sight lines are of great importance. So the Cordylines are being lost and they are being cut down as they die. They are leaving holes in the planting and some massive stumps, which would be near impossible to remove without heavy machinery - which is very hard to get in this garden and destroying paths, etc.
So getting back to a more positive note, we are of course looking to start replanting where holes are starting to appear, either from dying Cordylines or from removal of weeds or more severe pruning. I am allowed to replant as I feel appropriate, but only from a plants list which was generated in 1992, which was an at the time ‘list of the plants currently in the garden’. It is evident from that list that there were many plants in the garden at that time which are not here now, so it is those we will be looking to re -introduce, where possible.
These plants are of course, the weaker ones, which have been dominated over by other plants or where conditions have changed to render their survival more challenging. I am talking here of the changing conditions within the garden environment, and the main factor is the trees. There is a massive difference between a 10, 20 or 30 year old tree and a 70 year old tree, and multiply that difference by the number of large trees in the garden, maybe 6 or 7 and you can see the difference in conditions we are facing. They are of course stealing a lot of light, creating a more woodland style garden environment. Mature trees also take a ridiculous amount of water out of the ground every day. It has been quoted that mature trees can take over 100 gallons of water out of the ground every day. Also with this garden we are kind of in a giant raised bed, with the large granite walls on either side, meaning drainage is very good. So it is a very dry garden and also a very shady.
So a lot of the plants that have been lost over the years are high light level plants - plants that like to be out in the open. These plants adapt to high light levels by evolving to minimise evapotranspiration or water loses through the leaves. These differences in plants can be silver leaves, such as a lavender, small leaves such as Corokias or tea trees, and/or waxy cuticles on the leaves, which gives the shiny appearance on a leaf as you’d find on a Phormium. So some of these plants that were in the garden 15 years ago include Osteospermums, the Cynara cardunculus - the globe artichoke, argyranthemums, helichrysums, Teucrium fruticans, amongst others. It has been decided that we will, as far as possible try and introduce some of these species where possible, by thinning the canopy to try and create some more light to hopefully allow some of these species to grow. Of course we will also have to work with the conditions that we have, identifying the species that can flourish. Some of these more likely successful candidates include Daphne, Crinodendron and Clematis, which we are hoping to re-introduce along the back border after we have replaced the fence and trellis - this is a more long term plan. She did have clematis montana and armandii in the garden amongst possibly others.
Another species which has been lost yet documented in the garden book for sale downstairs is the Cineraria cruenta ‘Stellata’, which I admit I was not familiar with before I took this role. Through research it transpired that this plant is no longer prevalent or commercially available, at least in this country. I did find one website in the USA selling seeds of this particular species, however importation complexities inhibited this option. The plant I am talking about is a purple/blue flowering biennial (so in theory it has a life-cycle of 2 years, sets seed and dies), which produces a mass of flowers of varying shades of blue and purple in approximately late May and June. In the photos of the garden in 1976 the plant appears very prevalent in a lot of the garden - show photos.
As I said the plant is no longer available however there is a more modern cultivar of the same plant now available in garden centres that some of you may be familiar with which is often at or near the entrance to garden centres when it is in flower called a ‘Senetti’. Like I say it is a more modern hybrid producing an almost unnatural quantity of flowers in quite a compact form, a very different plant to the original, more natural looking variety. Seemingly at a bit of a dead end in this line of research I was delighted to identify the plant still surviving in the public garden next door, Trewyn gardens. So I naturally befriended the gardener over there and collected some seed and I now have approximately 20 of these little Cineraria seedlings which I hope to successfully over winter and introduce in to the garden next year. It is on that note that I will end. Any questions are welcome.