The Dream of the Plant Collector

The Dream of the Plant Collector was a very special event; a celebration of the opening of the walled garden at the Museum in the Park, Stroud. The garden had been neglected for the best part of 30 years and in October 2016 was finally opened to the public for the very first time in its history. Periscope had first worked in the garden as part of the artist group Quercus in 2009, then spent a year as artists in residence in 2011. Gaining access to the garden in its overgrown and untended state gave Periscope a deep understanding of not only the garden and its hidden magic but also of the vision that the Museum had for the garden and its gradual regeneration. The Dream of the Plant Collector came about after months of careful research into the history of the garden, from the first known map from 1819 right through to the 21st Century. The history of the garden was reimagined, presented and reflected through the many creative activities, the source material, maps and viewing devices. Stemming from the imagined characters, the Plant Collectors, the event touched upon ideas of layers of soil and history, time passing and growth, ways of seeing and ways of documenting, and imagination and projection into a possible future garden. Participants and visitors could use their layered maps to navigate through the new-found land of the garden, from the plant collectors’ tent to the propagation shed, past the viewing platform ending up in the plant collectors’ drawing studio.

The Drawing Studio: Inside this darkened, tented  drawing area was intimate and quiet; a place to explore the hidden parts of the garden, under the ground and microscopic details,to listen to and draw the dawn chorus from 2011, examine material under the microscope, use the plant collectors’ inks and view their collections.

The Dream of the Plant Collector: The future projection of a fantasy garden? This played with ideas of the romantic and the idea  landscape in garden design and encouraged people to think what their fantasy garden would contain. Drawings made on cellulose acetate were continually added to the picture window to create an imagined landscape, a wild fantastic layered drawing from the plant collectors’ fevered dreams.

The Signpost: This invited people to travel far-away or back home. Peeping through the viewers and binoculars revealed a surprising glimpse into far away lands a preparation, perhaps,  for an adventure through the garden.

The Plant Collector’s Field Tent: Here the plant collector’s specimens were brought to be studied, sorted, prepared and packed for the long journey home.

The Propagation Shed:  Inside here strange contraptions made possible the multiplication of drawn images. Tools for drawing propagation included the trellis pantographs, angled mirrors and seed tray multi-point pens. Outside new drawing tools were created from plant materials and mark-making explored with liquid clay.

The Viewing Platform: When people reached the highest point in the garden the slide viewers over-layed the present view with a glimpse back in time to when the garden was wild and neglected.

The Light Box: Inside the drawing studio small images on translucent paper showed the unseen or often ignored world of the garden, the tiny creatures and bacteria of the soil. The light-box was used to layer up  and create collections of traced images inspired by things under the ground.

The Camera Obscura: One of many viewing devices along with mirrors and magnifying glasses positioned in the borders that provided and encouraged different ways of seeing and experiencing the garden.

Postcards home: Thoughts, feelings and feedback on postcards were posted in the postbox to be sent  back home to the museum. Some had historic images of the garden, others were blank for new drawings. People used them to tell of their enjoyment of the event, their delight at the new garden and their memories of how it used to be.

Maps provided at the start show how the garden has changed: the tracing paper map set included maps from 1831, 1875, 1938, 2011 and 2016. Pieced together from fragments of evidence they tell of a history that is part-fact,  part imagination and part nostalgia.

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Image above: Paul Nicholls. Image shows staff from the Museum and artists Emily Joy and Alison Cockcroft (front middle and left)

Many thanks to the Museum in the Park Stroud.

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