Sarah Bell from Exeter University discusses the development of a research-inspired garden at the Eden Project that uses a novel art-science-horticultural collaboration.
When I completed my PhD towards the end of 2014, I never imagined that it would translate into anything other than journal articles, summary reports, conference presentations and maybe some interesting policy discussions. In February 2015, however, an opportunity arose to apply for a small pot of funding through a novel University of Exeter-Eden Project collaboration fund.
Discussions with land-based Artist and Sculptor, James Eddy (https://www.facebook.com/JamesEddyArtist/), and Eden Project horticulturalist, Lucy Wenger, catalysed an exciting idea; why not translate one of the central PhD themes into a horticultural sculptural exhibit?
But what form might this take…?
The PhD itself explored how and why people seek out and engage with diverse ‘natural’ environments to maintain a sense of wellbeing and equilibrium through the life course. It focused on two urban communities in Cornwall, involving residents of different ages, in diverse life circumstances, and with varied pasts.
Bringing a novel temporal perspective to how we understand people’s relationships with ‘natural’ and more ‘designed’ green and blue space environments (e.g. gardens, woodlands, parks, coastlines, moors), it soon became apparent that our perceptions of, and opportunities to interact with, such settings can vary significantly through the twists and turns encountered during our lives.
Perhaps, for example, a new career opportunity disrupts pre-reflective nature experiences, causing us to more consciously value and seek out alternative nature-based settings upon relocation. Maybe parenthood promotes a long-forgotten ‘child’s-eye’ view of such places, inviting us to appreciate micro-scale sensory experiences that we had otherwise habituated to. Perhaps periods of illness, fragility or loss cause us to re-evaluate our daily lives and seek out accessible natural environments to engage in both self-care and care of the close family and friends who support us.
As we negotiate such life changes – and the new relationships, responsibilities, vulnerabilities and wellbeing priorities that accompany them – our wellbeing perspectives and natural environment experiences can shift…
This idea of flux captured the imagination of James and Lucy. After wandering around potential exhibit locations at the Eden Project, James sketched out a horticultural ‘River of Life’, inspired by one of the grassy banks in Eden’s outdoor garden that had yet to be planted up.
Sculptural elements would form the river course, from the birth of the river, to a waterfall, a whirlpool, and gradually meandering into an ocean. Lucy complemented this journey with a planting scheme characterised by plants set to mature at different times, from youthful scale planting to ‘middle-aged’ scale trees, culminating with Dawn and Giant Redwoods bordering the sculptural ‘ocean’.
After many months of design, crafting and planting, the first stage of the exhibit is now complete. The trees and planting will mature over time and the coppice-weave river and ocean ‘boulders’ will be ‘hardened’ during the autumn to set them up for winter. In this way, the exhibit will evolve as Eden does.
Viewable from three different perspectives (from the top and bottom of the bank, and looking down from a bridge overhead), the installation aims to encourage visitors to reflect upon their own experiences with nature and how these can (and have) changed over time.
Here we feature research and events that show the therapeutic value of gardens and green space. Our aim is to provide a central forum and to ensure the subject is of interest to a wide range of people. We want to break down barriers and promote serious debate about the role of green space in healthcare interventions.
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