Part of the African section of the Tin Miners' Memorial Garden at Geevor Mine, Spring 2017.
I have always had a passion for growing things. This all began as an 8-year-old growing cacti on my windowsill in our London council flat. Now I am custodian of almost an acre of garden and woodland with huge granite outcrops in the far west of Cornwall; somewhere I can now grow succulents and other exotic plants outdoors. This has all gone hand in hand with my development as a 3-dimensional artist, first as a potter and now as a sculptor.
I think that when one approaches the design of a garden, or part of a garden, it warrants the same considerations as a sculpture in that every element needs to work from every available angle or direction. Gardens are living sculptures. It is also very exciting and challenging in that many elements of these living sculptures only reveal themselves seasonally or with time as plants mature from sapling to tree or shrub. Working in my own garden, on the very steep north-east side of the Lamorna Valley, with sometimes fierce coastal winds from the south and east, shelter planting is also an essential consideration. This was particularly challenging in designing the Cornish Tin Miners' Memorial Garden at Geevor Mine on the north Cornish coast, with winds from every direction.
Cornish Tin Miners' Memorial Garden in Pendeen
mining and garden design might seem like strange bed fellows but that
is exactly what I have brought together in the creation of a
memorial to West Cornwall's hard rock miners outside the gates of
Geevor Mine in Pendeen. Geevor was the last remaining tin mine to close on the Atlantic coastal
plateau. It has been a long held dream of the former
mining community of the St Just Mining District to have a statue to
commemorate the centuries old mining heritage of the area. Following a long process of public consultation in which my design and a site were chosen, this community project has finally come to fruition.
In creating a 7-foot bronze resin figure of a Cornish miner, I felt the creation of a garden around the statue would not only provide a sense of privacy, a place for quiet reflection; it would also further represent the
pioneering spirit of Cornish mining families who took their skill and
technical expertise to the far corners of the world as new mining
opportunities emerged. This has been achieved symbolically by
planning the planting scheme according to four continental regions
that Cornish miners travelled to over the centuries: the
Americas, Africa, Australia/New Zealand and Asia. It has long been said that
wherever in the world there is "a hole in the ground”, there will
always be at least one Cornish man at the bottom of it. Lines of iron
stained rock and gravel taken from the last haul from underground at Geevor bisect the garden,
representing not only the lodes of precious ore but bloodlines that
run through generations of local mining families. In a way, the combination of statue, hard landscaping and the planting is the sculpture. The overall final effect,
with the ocean and former mine workings as a backdrop, is very
dramatic. It certainly promises to become one of the iconic
attractions in Cornwall.
This project has been
entirely funded by the communities of St Just and Pendeen, for the
community, and driven by the tireless efforts of a small committee of
volunteers over a number of years. It has only been by their
enthusiasm and commitment that numerous others have also volunteered
their time, skill, knowledge, materials and resources to help make
all this happen; from metal fabricators, stone masons, digger and
crane operatives to local Chelsea gold medal winning nurseries
(Penberth Plants and Kelnan Plants) with generous donations of plants
and knowledge. Most of the money was raised through local
activities including, choir and silver band concerts, an art auction,
a dare-devil extravaganza and countless coffee mornings and pub
events. I was even allowed to set up studio
in the old ball-mill area of Geevor Mine, to create the statue in
public in order to both raise public awareness of the project and generate further
donations from people passing through. This was a huge success.
Further notes on the garden:
I am aware that one couldn't choose a more hostile environment to
site an exotic garden - with very strong salt-laden winds off the
Atlantic and cold north and easterlies off the moors in winter - but
it has been done before at Eagle's Nest, just up the coast where
artist Patrick Heron lived. We are fortunate, however, that in the far south-west the actual climate is conducive to sub-tropical planting, if done properly. It is a calculated horticultural
experiment that will require great patience as we establish shelter
belt plants indiginous to each continental region and provide
artificial protection in the meantime. For example, I am using the sprawling Ceonothus thyrsiflorus v.repens to bring the colour of the sky and sea down into the garden but, even though it is Californian, it doesn't really like salt winds, so I am planting deep crimson hardy fuschias from Mexico as a wind filter between them and the sea. The combined colour, I hope, will create the effect of a spectacular Cornish sunset in the garden, especially with the addition of golden orange Californian Poppies as part of the palette.
I am very excited that Claire Battens of Penberth
Plants, also a member of the RHS Tender Perennials Committee, is keen
to document the progress of this 'experiment' over the coming years.
alphabetical order clockwise from the garden entrance
Agaves including A. americana, A. ferox and A. parryi, Ceonothus
thyrsiflorus v.repens, C. thyrsiflorus v.Victoria , Ceonothus
v.Edinburgh , Cereus jamacaru, Dasylirion
karvinskianus, Eschscholzia californica, Fuschia magellanica , F.
magellanica v.alba, Stipa tenuissima, Various Yuccas including Y.
gloriosa, Y. filamentosa and Y. rostrata 'Blue Sapphire'
Agapanthus, various Aloes including A.arborescens, A.maculata, A.mitriformis and A.striatula, Amaryllis
belladonna, Aristea ecklonii, Buddleja loricata 'Silver Anniversary', B. salvifolia, Cannamois grandis, Coleonema pulchellum, Crassula Lampfire, C. pagoda
variegata, Crocosmia citronell, Diarama pulcherrimum, Elegia
tectorum, Erica glandulosa , E. cerinthoides, E. sessiliflora, E.
versicolor, Eucomis comosa, Kniphofia Incandescence, K. thomsonii subsp.
thomsonii, various Lampranthus species, Leucadendron 'Safari Sunset', L.
'Safari Sunshine', L. salignum, Protea cynaroides, Scilla natalensis, Staberhoa aemulea,
Thamnochortus insignis (male and female), Watsonia 'Tresco Hybrids'
/ NEW ZEALAND
banksii, Baloskion tetraphyllum, Banksia ericafolia, B.
integrifolia, Callistemon citrinus Splendens, Cordyline australis, C. v.Red Star, C. v.Renegade,
Cordyline v.Pink Passion, Eucalyptus Niphophila , Grevillea juniperina aurea prostrata, G. Victoriae, Various Hebe's, Kunzea 'Badger
Carpet', Libertia grandiflora, Olearia traversii v.compacta, O.
solanderi, O. waikeriensis, Phormium tenax, Phormium 'Black
Velvet', Pittosporum crassifolium , Stipa arundinacea, Westringia
fruticosa variegata, Westringia longifolia
Buddleja davidii, including Black Knight, Camellia williamsii,
Hemerocallis fulva, Hydrangea macrophylla Hortensia,
H. macrophylla Lacecap, Leycesteria formosa, Miscanthus giganteus,
Miscanthus sinensis v.Zebrinus, Skimmia fortune
Aloe maculata in flower, early Summer 2017 (left). Aloe arborescens with Lampranthus species in flower, early Summer 2017 (right)
Bordering South Africa to Australia and New Zealand, Summer 2017 (left). The Australia / New Zealand planting, Summer 2017 (right)