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A mythical woodland water garden-The Hidden Woods

In 2023 I was asked to come up with an idea for a garden as a permanent feature for one of UKs most successful festivals.

We had previously fallen into setting up temporary installs at events over the course of 15 years and after lockdown, having been given the opportunity to create a permanent garden for a festival site in Germany, I proposed the same idea to events we had previously worked with.

Creating a permanent water garden has the huge advantage of using materials and features that would prove too challenging in a temporary situation, with the use of stone and soil- the fundamental base for a real garden. The plants could be planted to suit the situation and as restorative to the damaged land of a festival site. They could grow and spread to restore soil, cover walls and climb over sculpture to bring the whole space alive. A real garden, as opposed to a show garden.

Having studied Permaculture and my partner an environmental educator, the popular festival scene very much went against our principles as both hugely hedonistic, wasteful and unsustainable, something we experienced consistently after each event.

For many years we proposed ideas for events to change festival goers wasteful behaviour during the events, through story, responsibility and empowerment. It was also something we tried to do in the sculpture garden spaces we created, both with an ethic of sustainability and raising awareness. Unfortunately when an event doesn't focus on this as a core ethic, we often felt it was a losing battle and became more and more disillusioned with certain events.

So when there was a positive response for creating a permanent garden I felt perhaps it was moving in a positive direction, at least for what we proposed for events.

I was asked to create a series of three gardens over the course of three years.

It was an exiting prospect and seemed that the project was to go ahead after site visits and deposit. Although I've learnt over the years of being in the creative industry, not to expect it to happen until it finally does.

The design focused on looking at what would have once grown and thrived in the landscape before thousands of years of farming and deforestation had dramatically changed the landscape, depleting it of biodiversity and life. Wild dense forest would have once grown there, a home to a huge variety of plants and animals, a landscape so much richer than its current state.

The garden also brought in elements of local pre-Christian history with a mythical edge of ancient stories, and of humans who would have lived amongst those rich landscapes. Something I thought very relevant to what this event was built upon- A story line.

The landscape would have once been covered in dense forest - Oak, Elm, Beech with the different layers or strata of the forest, each element feeding the next layer of flora and fauna, a complex network going from canopy to sub soil. A web of community that seemed to poetically reflect a vibrant and functioning festival.

What might seem like pure chaos in a wild ancient woodland is actually a highly functional system. To take away elements is to break the web with unforeseen consequences. Manmade landscapes have tried to mimic parts of those natural webs but in doing so have lost the fundamental systems that make a healthy living landscape.

Fortunately the knowledge we've gained over millennia have lead to a fundamental understanding of how a biodiverse natural landscape functions, therefore a knowledge of how we can design and restore a landscape to its former biodiversity, with a wider positive impact on its surroundings.

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