The garden has a multitude of emotional connections and meanings. They are places of respite, activity, and creativity (often an artwork in their own right). They are big and small, wild and tamed, bursting with life and in need of some love.
As seen in Chris Shaw Hughes’ ‘Woman in the Shadows’ they can be places for playfulness with family: an escape from claustrophobic domestic space indoors, work, and now more than ever, our screens. Drawn from a vintage photograph, Hughes’ piece shows a family lined up amongst shrubbery, posed for their picture to be taken. The group smile as if stifling laughs, struggling to stay composed while a central figure playfully half-hides in the backdrop plants.
Ellie Vandoorne’s ‘Snowdrop Pixie’ similarly shows how the natural world is harnessed for childhood games and whimsy. Upon a swing harnessed between two snowdrops sits a pixie in the form of young girl. The colours are light and cheery and the subject matter plays into childhood fantasies. We are reminded that the garden was once our own place of wonder, adventure, and make-believe.
During the Spring and Summer lockdowns of 2020 across the world, gardens have taken on new significance in our lives. Many have found refuge in their personal green space, and others have longed to have one.
Dawn Beckles’ ‘Pink Door’ shows a manmade garden space. On top of a dark wooden decking various pots are placed containing their plants. The pots, like the eponymous door and yellow building are bright and vivid. Whether a garden is small in size, lacks natural resources, or is on the balcony of a high story flat, these spaces are sanctuaries for the people who care for and use them. There has been a vast amount of research done on the health benefits (both mental and physical) of gardening and spending time in green spaces.
The garden differs from other natural spaces like the park, woods, or rolling landscape. They are loaded with personal meaning and their enclosed nature reflects this private ownership. As written across Benjamin West’s work, the garden offers “wildlife on your doorstep”. In this sense the garden becomes a transitory space between “home” and the “wild”, a place where the beauty of nature can be curated and observed.
The garden has been a popular subject throughout art history. Not only is the garden an easily accessible model, but it can be used as a symbol of domesticity, security, and homeliness.
In ‘Monet Monet Money no. 7’ Wayne Sleeth pastiches Monet’s famous works featuring the waterlilies in his garden pond in Giverny. Monet painted at least 250 oil paintings of these waterlilies during the last 30 years of his career. For Monet, like for countless others, his garden was his sanctuary.