Ways of seeding: the designer changing the way we look at gardening | Gardens

Overseeing the gardens of a metropolis museum is a considerably atypical publish in the gardening world, however a unbelievable one (as head gardener at London’s Backyard Museum, I ought to know). Horticulture is mixed with historical past, schooling and storytelling, which inform plant selections, design and presentation. Errol Fernandes, head of horticulture at south London’s Horniman Museum and Gardens, which homes the assortment of the Nineteenth-century tea dealer Frederick John Horniman – says conversations with guests repeatedly stray past gardening into the realms of artwork, collections and curation.

Fernandes, who took on the function final spring, oversees 16½ acres of tropical, medicinal and rockery plantings, mature timber and huge areas of parkland grass. He attracts inspiration not solely from his horticultural research and expertise, however a background in artwork and curation (he initially studied advantageous artwork, portray and images). A painter’s eye, due to this fact, informs his strategy to planting and backyard upkeep.

We meet on a gloriously vivid, late-autumn morning in the museum’s award-winning Grasslands Garden, designed by plantsman – and Olympic Park panorama designer – James Hitchmough to mirror North American and South African native prairies. Fernandes is busy modifying the backyard in preparation for winter. Historically, perennials are in the reduction of solely to floor stage in autumn, or in early spring forward of new shoots. Nevertheless, Fernandes argues that, with thought-about modifying, these gardens could be loved all through the winter.

Errol pruning Eryngium yuccifolium
Errol pruning Eryngium yuccifolium. {Photograph}: Cian Oba-Smith

“Although we hold as a lot in place for wildlife as attainable, we’re additionally reducing away bits which are letting down the image,” he says, indicating a bit not too long ago labored on: an array of shimmering decorative grasses and perennials which have lignified (grown woody), glowing gold, silver and maroon-pink. “In the previous, these beds have been left till February, however we’re recognising that there’s a stability between naturalistic planting trying meant and looking out unkempt. I believe it’s actually vital to step again and observe.”


Describing his strategy to composition, Fernandes makes use of phrases extra widespread in images and portray: apical factors, triangular repetition, aspiring in the direction of a way of stability. “We’re all very used to pointing our digital camera at issues and I encourage my group to do the identical – to think about the viewfinder and assess what’s spoiling that picture. Has a plant collapsed? Is there one thing there’s an excessive amount of of? You need the vegetation to have the ability to jostle collectively however not outcompete one another, so shut consideration to what’s occurring on the floor is vital, too.”

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He sees the autumn into winter interval as a time of changes, the place he would possibly chop again a plant “if it’s flopping an excessive amount of” and let others die again progressively to lengthen curiosity. “I believe the up to date horticulturist seems at construction and kind in a special way. We’re trying at seed heads, sepia tones. We frequently speak about how a plant dies – does it die gracefully? That’s actually vital right here.”

Horniman’s gardens
Horniman’s gardens. {Photograph}: Cian Oba-Smith

In the Grassland Backyard, tall seeding plumes of goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) and wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) distinction with the darker tones of echinacea and false indigo (Baptisia australis); the sharp define of the tall sea holly (Eryngium yuccifolium) sits in opposition to feathery bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) – all perennials with unbelievable winter attributes. “It’s vital to have species that present distinction,” says Fernandes, “and an excellent vary of textures, too, from tender to inflexible and spiky.”

Earlier than turning to skilled gardening, Fernandes labored in trend editorial then in outreach roles at the Tate and the V&A, earlier than doing an MA in artwork psychotherapy. Being launched to horticultural remedy impressed him to retrain as a gardener, learning at Capel Manor Faculty in Enfield, on the edge of north London.

The course supplied Fernandes a way of belonging: “It felt like, lastly, this was the place I wanted to be. That is what my ardour is.” After graduating, nonetheless, he was stunned at how arduous it was to safe a horticultural traineeship. “I attended interview after interview. Many nationwide, main horticultural establishments repeatedly fed again that it had been between me and an equally sturdy candidate; my faculty tutor was scratching his head saying: ‘Why aren’t they giving it to you?’ It simply felt odd that it was such a wrestle.”

He finally landed a traineeship at the esteemed Chelsea Physic Garden and went on to work at Kenwood Home on Hampstead Heath earlier than becoming a member of the Horniman. Nevertheless, his experiences have led him to query a scarcity of range in horticulture (he’s a British-born Asian of British immigrant mother and father from Africa). Fernandes grew up with an curiosity in it – his mom was a florist. “However I couldn’t think about myself in that occupation; I didn’t see anyone like me – an individual of color – inside it.”

Errol in Horniman gardens
Errol retains a painterly eye on planting and backyard upkeep. {Photograph}: Cian Oba-Smith

It is a complicated problem, he says, and deeply rooted. “My mum used to take us to varied homes and gardens, and generally we’d get fairly a frosty reception. We knew what it was about, although my mum tried to defend us. I believe the business, and society as an entire, typically discover it troublesome to think about individuals from various backgrounds working in horticulture, significantly in higher-level positions. In an odd way I’ve needed to combat by way of my very own bias to be right here.”

However there are encouraging indicators, he says. He not too long ago met three younger college students of African and Afro-Caribbean descent at a Horniman gardening examine day: “I requested every of them about their journey into horticulture. It felt like a profound shift.” Fernandes’s enthusiasm for making horticulture extra inclusive and various is properly suited to the Horniman, which is endeavouring to interact new audiences inside its south London group.


Proper now, his artistic power is popping to contemporary tasks in the backyard – plans for 2022 embrace planting a micro-forest to supply a inexperienced buffer between the gardens and the busy, polluting South Round street; and an academic border stuffed with drought-tolerant vegetation. Decreasing mowing to extend biodiversity is a precedence – roughly an acre of garden is given over to lengthy grass and mown paths – as is a extra sustainable strategy to planting, with plans to exchange the conventional annual bedding in the historic Sunken Garden with longer-term schemes.

“Bedding is so wasteful,” he says. “The fixed intervention that it requires has a damaging impact on the well being of the soil. So we’ve been pondering extra fastidiously about what we plant now, together with extra ‘perennial’ bulbs – tulips, narcissus and hyacinth – that may keep in the floor for 2 to a few years.”

Fernandes can also be eager to deepen the hyperlink with the museum’s inside shows. Its in depth musical instrument assortment is mirrored by way of plantings equivalent to bottle gourd (from which percussion devices are made) and Arundo donax (used for woodwind reeds). Fernandes is now trying to interpret the taxidermy hen assortment, with illustrative, informative new planting.

Gardening should proceed to deal with points equivalent to sustainability and waste, and the problem of our changing local weather. However creative imaginative and prescient can encourage change, too: there appears to be an rising crossover between artwork and gardening, championed lately by galleries equivalent to the Hepworth in Wakefield and Hauser & Wirth in Somerset (and earlier than that Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage in Kent). “For me, gardening is an inventive, artistic course of,” says Fernandes. “I entered into it for love, after which ardour acquired ignited.”

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