Climate Change Gardening with a sense of purpose.

Found Gallery, the sensational new contemporary art gallery in Brecon, Wales has been complimenting the gorgeous exhibition, Found In The Garden with a series of talks. I was invited to have a conversation with the incomparably wonderful author and forager Adele Nozedar about Osprey Studios Sculpture Garden, (which has just been selected to be part of the National Garden Scheme for 2020) climate change and where this is taking my sculpture.
Punch Maughan and her kind, thoughtful Team made the beautifully lit, spacious gallery welcoming and comfortable with tea and delicious cakes. A lovely, really interesting mix of people came along and the discussion was fascinating, thought provoking and very helpful.
Osprey Studios is at the foot of Cribarth, The Sleeping Giant Mountain, in the extraordinary Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark.
Gardening to fit in with the wild-life in your region really makes a difference. In a wide open, often harsh environment like the Brecon Beacons offering shelter, homes and food counts. Artist/Gardeners Karin Mear and Nigel Evans at The Happy Gardeners know the area intimately and along with others in the group described the long, dramatic evolution of this land that reminds us that the Natural World changes constantly.
Cribarth creates a boundary that holds wild, harsh weather largely on this side of it’s ridge. Just over this horizon, less than quarter of a kilometre away, is Osprey Studios, protected in a much warmer, milder micro-climate with the southern face acting as a sun trap all year round.
Walking out due north from Cribarth across extraordinary geology laid down by a warm sea and then exposed again by glaciers.
Breconbeacons.org : “The carboniferous limestone of South Wales was formed in shallow tropical seas in the Paleozoic era, over 300 million years ago. Much of it is of organic origin, being the shells and skeletons of sea creatures, large and small. Amongst the most spectacular fossils to be seen in the National Park are Lithostrotion corals. Their intricate internal detail is often beautifully preserved.”
Half a kilometre due south is where the wonderful Nant Llech, a very import river in my work, meets the Tawe that runs down to the coast 20 miles away at Swansea. Further up stream is Henrhyd Falls.
Petrified Stigmaria – Lepidodendron (Scale Trees) Root structure. This tree went extinct about 250 million years ago, much of them decomposing into coal and oil.
Walking the Llech’s bed when the water was very low a few summers ago I started finding and collecting petrified wood and other fossils. This fabulous one is in a big boulder. It’s awesome to know that as the river rages even the big boulders are washed down stream and might never be seen again.
Indefenceofplants.com: “As atmospheric CO2 levels plummeted and continents continued to shift, the climate was growing more and more seasonal. This was bad news for the scale trees. All evidence suggests that they were not capable of keeping up with the changes that they themselves had a big part in bringing about. By the end of the Carboniferous, Earth had dipped into an ice age. Earth’s new climate regime appeared to be too much for the scale trees to handle and they were driven to extinction. The world they left behind was primed and ready for new players. The Permian would see a whole new set of plants take over the land and would set the stage for even more terrestrial life to explode onto the scene.
It is amazing to think that we owe much of our industrialised society to scale trees whose leaves captured CO2 and turned it into usable carbon so many millions of years ago. It seems oddly fitting that, thanks to us, scale trees are once again changing Earth’s climate. As we continue to pump Carboniferous CO2 into our atmosphere, one must stop to ask themselves which dominant organisms are most at risk from all of this recent climate change? “
The wet meadow behind Osprey Studios sculpture garden. The hedgehog hotel is here too.

So the earth has changed drastically many times. You feel close to that here in the Brecon Beacons. It has all lead to the beautiful natural world that we know now and that we thought we could control and keep as ours…
This new, massive Climate Change and mass extinction is happening with devastating speed and we understand it: there is no way to sugar-coat it, it is our doing. We can predict what course it is likely to take and plan…
Humans are not innately destructive. Like many cooperative species that live in communities we are very busy. VERY busy…And that busyness can be turned towards cleaning up a lot of this mess.
Will our entirely justified grief, guilt and anger eclipse the beauty, joy and wonder that is still here feeding and sustaining us? Will despair fracture our communities and render everyone helpless and vulnerable? Except for those few profiteers who don’t or can’t care?
Believing we are a toxic force ruining everything we touch is a great excuse to do nothing. But we owe our fellows in the natural world better than that.
Leviathan II, 2015, 53cm H x 79cm L x 36cm D, ceramic.
Watching and re-watching geologist and fabulous educator Dr Iain Stewart‘s programs has helped me get my head around it and that lead to the ongoing Throwdown at the Hoedown Series which has just reached one of those turning points and I have been unsure what comes next. The discussion lead to this:
Eleanor Greenwood (who takes some of the most incredible photographs of this area which she knows extremely well): “My final thing that I wanted to say is that we are coming full circle back to the realisation that we are all nature. Our thinking that we are separate has hurt us in more ways than we realise. Your work is a big clear pointer back to that unity. There is sacredness and magic everywhere and you manifest it. I really enjoyed this eve and thank you for making me see climate change in a different light.”
Flabbergasted/very grateful me: “You are exactly right! And I think you have pinpointed the missing piece that I couldn’t see; the spheres, for want of a better term, are reaching out to us, taking forms we can relate to, but what are they saying? That!! Perhaps it’s just that…return to us while you still can….”
Gardens so often bring us together for the conversations that make all the difference.
Guardian of the Biosphere. The interior of this sculpture has spaces for wild-life to live.
Developing my garden over 9 years from a plain lawn with some old hard features like the cement paths and patio and the deteriorating wooden stable has also changed my thinking enormously. I first put in lupins and flowers and it was beautiful! No-one was more delighted and impressed than the slugs from the meadow at the end of the garden. After one, terrible, battle with them I saw this was not the fight I was willing to take on.
Joining forces with the rest of nature we can share the challenges of Climate Change. You can grow food to share with the other people in your community of wildlife and human neighbours, right down to those in the soil. The garden here is now full of fruit trees, bushes, a variety of strawberries, local wild flowers (slug-proof, bee/bug friendly, beautiful) and cultivated plants that can co-exist happily. Most of the grass has gone and now there is flowering low ground-cover, like cranberries.
There are lots of bird-feeders. And compost bins. You start feel like part of the solution and bit less like part of the problem. We can’t stop the change. But we can make amends as best as we can and ride the wave with grace.
All of nature has always had those who’s role is taking risks; trying out new habitats or times to flower, grow, mate or migrate. It seems very fair that we should make safe spaces for them and help with food and shelter if we can. Forestry Studies have found trees have been migrating in new directions for 50 years. One of my blueberries put out a few flowers this autumn, testing the chances…
This beautiful Acer was a special present to my self for being unexpectedly brave during one of those events that sharpen one’s appreciation of life. Our gardens can become a record of what matters most to us. It then taught me about choosing the right spot and not being afraid or reluctant to move unhappy plants. Or to give unusual plants a chance to make their home here.
Here’s a fabulous bit of drama and a tribute to the tropical past. And future? Changes in the Gulf Stream and other currents are happening now and it’s not clear what the implications are for the western UK. Right now it’s amazing that such a plant will grow here. (I transplanted the Torbay Palm across the garden from a hanging basket thinking it was a grass! It’s 6 metres high now and growing fast!) The interaction with the wild flowers is beautiful : this palm provides support and shelter all year round to a very long-stemmed wild flower that all sorts of insects adore on the edge of the pond. Gardening gets you looking to the future. Slow growing, long lived plants expect to face challenges and can be extraordinarily adaptable which is very inspiring.
Across the meadow at the end of the garden you can see the stand of huge Ash trees on the lower slope of Cribarth that have succumbed to Ash Die-Back. They have started to fall causing a landslip on the edge of a mountain stream and creating a beautiful new waterfall. After heavy rains the water has chosen a new route leading right to where a drainage ditch passes our gate and giving our patch a new shallow pond which fills with tadpoles and sustains other creatures. A few miles east another group of Ash are being watched because they seem to be immune to Die-back.
The movement of water is absolutely key.
This shady corner is full of wild life. All the sculpture plinths are hollow and provide homes for all sorts of people. The ground is always damp and often very wet. Just behind the sculpture is an apple, a pear and some blueberries bushes planted close together like I’ve seen in the woods by the river. They didn’t look too happy at first but a few years on they are taking off and I’m assuming that is because they have befriended each other underground. I had read that if you need a continuous supply over the season rather than big crops then close, varied planting is a good idea. Raspberries love this spot so I weed them out occasionally. A variety of cranberry plants have definitely taken and are quietly spreading among strawberries and various wild ground cover which I clear back sometimes to favour the cranberries but I get the impression they like the company. Everything seems happier with lots of other plants around them. Even my house plants do way better in mixed pots.
Anything cleared out of or from the edge of the pond is left on the side for a few days or tucked into the near-by bed so creepy crawlies can get back to the water.

We started the garden when we moved here in October 2010 with beds marked out with old carpet from the house left over winter and the pond put in the following spring, as recommended. I was so proud watching my sons dig it and it gave me some insight into the ground: 60cms of lovely dark soil down and then clay and big stones. We put in a good, flexible liner and two oxygenator plants and mini water lily. In no time at all it was full of life. Lots of newts, frogs, toads, dragon flies, water-snails (how?!), all sorts. Between them, the hedgehogs, birds and the huge predatory slugs the plant eating slug numbers have begun to balance to the point where the invaluable work they do for the soil offsets limiting what I can plant. Just like they promise on Gardener’s World.
Rae Gervis is an expert gardener growing extraordinary vegetables at Ty Mawr near Brecon. Every week you can order seasonal vegetables from them. Rae had no trouble persuading me not to dig my soil. But I hadn’t expected the results to be so good.
Rae explained: “Soil is the foundation of all life so needs to be nurtured. Soil vitality & biodiversity needs to be protected. Worms and other micro & macro-biota distribute air, water & nutrients far more efficiently & effectively than man can through digging. Mulch with any organic material, preferably well rotted. Soil is then insulated & protected from the elements. Slugs are a good food source for many animals including hedgehogs & they do break down organic matter making it available as nutrients in the soil.”
Building and fencing materials tends to involve horrendously un-green production methods. So we use recycled stuff and make things last where ever we can. The old fence enclosing what was a little pony-yard leading out to the meadow is rotting so I’ve woven a cotoneaster around it to replace it with a living fence which is now much higher and covered in berries. I had found the plant in a container in the hot front garden looking small and wretched when we moved in and I had no idea what to do with it. I plonked it in a stony hole and apologised. It has grown so fast!! Weaving it into flowing shapes is extremely fun.
This area is a cabin and patio now. Before it was a stable, before that a fabulous green house. I would love to pave it but it would be daft, wasteful and the layers of history would be lost. The old cement ground is worn and the mosses soften the look of it so I encourage them instead. Same with the rather rigid cement paths and patio by the house.
Evergreens are gorgeous all year and great for the front garden. And now it’s important to have flowering and/or fruiting plants and ever-green shelter for the creatures that may end up out and confused in mild winter spells. And the arriving refugees.
There are berries at the lower levels, strawberries, raspberries, black currants and gooseberries. Now that it’s moister I might move some of the cranberry’s runners here.
I let all this grow in to see what it would do (ie drop dead?) and I don’t mind admitting I wasn’t expecting it to be so lush! Recently we put in supports and some structure to the look of it.
It was just a nice front lawn with a small brick patio 9 years ago. It got way too hot and very dry out here in the summer and so did the rooms on this side of the house. The paint was fried and falling off the render. A number of my neighbours were having to replace their blistered render at the time so we decided we had better strip off the old paint and re-do it. In the back was a big virginia creeper and the old paint under it was in much better condition!
Now the house is cool and comfortable all year round. The soil stays moist and I leave the falling leaves which quickly disappear into the ground thanks to the healthy wild-life. There are toads and lots of birds. Some are even nesting, glad that the street deters predators. I also find the sense of shelter very comforting.
This is the front patio which I never used before because it was broiling hot. The french doors lead into the Studio where I had to protect sculptures in progress from the heat. Now the vines form a roof and the light falling through it is exquisite. The purple-leafed grape vine stated clearly that it was ornamental and would not fruit but it does! There is jasmine, wisteria, roses, and an ever-green clematis amongst others so it changes and has beautiful scent.
Sweeping regularly keeps the weeds out from between the bricks and gives me a good excuse to go out there and revel in it. There is no joy to be had from herbicides and pesticides.
The parking area is really useful but I don’t miss not being able to see it. I’m building up a brush-pile in this corner for anyone who likes living in it and there is a small water feature here. I’m introducing a range of ground cover plants. Next year I hope to experiment with vegetables in movable pots on wheels on the driveway where I can separate them from the slug’s territory.
Gardening with a sense of purpose.
We are coming full circle back to the realisation that we are all nature. Our thinking that we are separate has hurt us in more ways than we realise.
We are being called to turn back to our natural world while we still can.
When all’s said and done it’s about Community.
Sharing with all our fellows, all the neighbours, great and small, wether we like them much or not, because we need each other. A garden reaches out from your home as much as it sets a boundary or shelters it. It creates links and bonds.
Gardening is a gentle, patient, subtle weapon in a battle we are better off for fighting. Our gardens become a record of, and a contribution to, what matters most to us.

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