From Fenja Gunn, artist & plantswoman
Recently I was asked if, as an artist, I ever painted imagined plant combinations and then translated these into actual schemes for my garden. Why did I feel guilty when I replied that I rarely did this? I only had to remember and quote from a brilliant talk on colour in the garden by Timothy Walker, the Director of the Oxford Botanical Gardens. He showed our local gardening club slides of the same group of plants photographed at different times of the day. At each stage the colours of the plants changed dramatically as the light and direction of the sun altered throughout the day. There is no way one could capture this accurately on paper in a one-off painting of an imagined group of plants. It would require a whole series of paintings and this would drag you away from the pleasure of actually getting your hands into the soil and working with real material. I prefer to visit gardens and nurseries, look at plants and then imagine them in my garden. If you put a plant in the wrong place – I frequently have – it can always be moved together with several watering cans’ worth of water.
The one part of the garden which I planned meticulously on paper was my rose garden. But this was a diagrammatic planting plan in pencil: the colour scheme of the roses I planned from seeing actual plants, using books and the expertise of Peter Beales rose nurseries. I wonder if every garden lost its share of plants this winter? We certainly did. But the roses have emerged triumphantly: more beautiful, healthier (I hope a gremlin is not reading this over my shoulder) and first covered in buds and, now, a mass of blooms. My colour scheme is of cream and pinks from the delicious soft pink of ‘Felicia’ to the wicked deep purple of ‘Cardinal de Richelieu’. It always annoys me that even the most well-seasoned gardening journalist insists that all old roses only flower once. This is total rubbish. My rose garden is made up of old shrub roses and many of them continue to flower throughout the season; ‘Rose de Rescht’, ‘Comte de Chambord’, the hybrid musks ‘Prosperity’ and ‘Felicia’, pretty little ‘Mousseline’ and that favourite of Gertrude Jekyll’s, ‘Old Blush’ – a China rose that begins so early and finishes so late in the season.
Although I love roses and they appear everywhere in my garden and not just in their designated area, it’s the interplay of a wide variety of plants that gives me pleasure. I think in terms of drawing rather than painting – by this I mean the outlines of different plant shapes, the structure of foliage. We have a garden of flowing borders that slope upwards from our house. It is essential – or seems to me to be so – to punctuate the borders with architectural plants to contrast with my scheme of exuberant and naturalistic planting. Colour of course is the magical element in any garden. At Mariners, I think of the place and its plants as a painting, but not one which could be interpreted on paper or canvas. It exists in three dimensions in the open air, with shade, light and the movement of air and wind constantly mutating the picture.