Photographs show plants and places closely connected to each sitter. © Tessa Traeger
Grabbing her gloves and slinging a fork over her shoulder, 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Journalist Emily Sands made her way to Hove...
If the huge number of horticultural TV programmes are anything to go by, gardening is the new rock n’ roll. With only a DIY attitude and a trowel needed, anyone can have a go and it’s becoming immensely popular.
Featuring more experienced individuals, A Gardener’s Labyrinth: Portraits of People, Plants and Places is on show at the Hove Museum and Art Gallery from April 19 to June 19 2005 and it reveals the relationship between gardener and garden.
Following a commission from the National Portrait Gallery, Tessa Traeger and Patrick Kinmonth have worked together, photographing 50 important British horticulturalists for its collection.
The sitters include leading gardeners, plant finders, garden history writers, designers and artists, all of whom have helped to shape the new attitudes to gardens.
Mike Snowden. People in the portraits include designers who have shaped new attitudes to gardening. © Tessa Traeger
Complementing these portraits are photographs of plants and places closely connected to each sitter, creating a fuller picture of the rich garden tradition that exists throughout the British Isles.
The result is a labyrinth of people, plants and places that represents a cross-section of every aspect of gardening in Britain, examines the history of the British garden and offers a view of the contemporary gardener.
Split into themes of the garden planted, explored, proposed and described, each beautifully shot portrait of a horticulturalist is accompanied by a quote from them, describing their relationship to gardening.
Carol Klein, plantswoman, says: “The garden and the gardener should constantly face up to each other and enjoy their relationship, which is often a battle and sometimes a real love affair.”
The exhibition examines the history of the British garden. © Tessa Traeger
Contrasting with the black and white portraits are colourful photographs of their achievements: wild patterns of flowers, shrubs and vegetables that are almost sculptural in appearance.
In the book that accompanies the exhibition, Patrick Kinmonth explains that he thinks the portraits fill a surprising void in contemporary collections and that this subject has been previously overlooked.
It’s true that viewers may not be used to seeing such genteel subject matter, being more familiar with gritty, shocking issues, but the exhibition is just as important in documenting British life and still tackles major themes.
Artist Andy Goldsworthy agrees. Under his portrait it says: “Nature for me is everything. It is beautiful and brutal and dangerous. The reality of working on the land brings you right into the face of life and death every day you go out.”
Similarly, the writer David Hessayon says: “My ‘Expert’ books are written for the ordinary gardener. In a small garden, the death of a plant can be like a death in the family.”
This makes Hove Museum and Art Gallery an apt venue to be showing the exhibition – it is situated in the middle of well-kept suburban gardens where residents may fancy themselves as the next Charlie Dimmock or Alan Titchmarsh behind the privacy of their garden fences.
The exhibition successfully shows the cultural event that is the British garden and proves that we are as obsessed with them as ever.
Emily Sands is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer in the South Eastern region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.