This is my personal response to Furzey Gardens, building on the work we did together during the residency, making cyanotype prints with seeds and leaves. It is one element of Not Just a Garden and was shown as an installation in one of the attics of the 16th century cottage at Furzey. Poem: Joan McGavin / Music: Andrew Heath. Installation view, 2022.
Today I read a remarkable book: Bluets by Maggie Nelson
In it she revisits moments of blue she calls Bluets, which she weaves into a story exploring her life, loves and experiences.
My bluets brought me here to Furzey.
It began with a dress.
A dress in a box.
I was six or seven and as a rule my clothes were hand-me-downs.
The sensation of opening this box (do I just imagine there was a ribbon round it?)
is still with me.
I folded back scrunchy white tissue paper to reveal a blue I had never before encountered.
My mother had bought it.
She knew the blue was my blue.
And her eyes.
She lived in bed mostly so didn’t know that I got up at six, put on the blue dress, crept out and went to school.
When I got home I found I’d got tar on it.
If I were to give the blue a name it would be Cyan, darkening to indigo.
And then I was getting off a bus in a Spanish hill village and stopped to fill my water bottle at a fountain. There, lining the stone basin were crystals, glittering with the water splashing and the sun catching the sparkle. It was that blue. Again.
On returning to the bus I was charged with energy by the blue crystals. Nobody seemed to get it. I tried to capture the blue in my sketchbook and could only draw the horizon. Page after Page.
I made it into a book and sent it to her.
There have been other bluets too. The Yves Klein exhibition at the Hayward where I simply couldn’t leave. I was ‘in’ the blue.
Dyeing with indigo. Lifting the yarn out of the vat, yellow oozing into green, then glorious deep blue – indigo – a blue which cannot be cloned or imitated.
It simply is. Indigo.
It became the centre of my working practice as a weaver for years.
I’ve never lived in a room without indigo.
I too could write a book.
For a time babies closed down my creativity. Being a mother. Never enough. I found release in the garden. Moving plants from here to there, observing, creating…
The greatest treasure of that Highland garden was a Himalayan poppy my mother gave me.
Its crystal blue flower content in the damp acid soil, emerging like pearlescent skin from grey-green downy cloth.
I’ve tried to grow it in every garden since, without success. I never stop trying.
The bluets provide me with the thread
that led to Furzey.
I sensed it on my first visit but didn’t understand until I had explored some more.
I went to see what I could find in the archives at Kew about the plant hunter Frank Kingdon-Ward who had supplied the Dalrymple brothers with the seeds with which they laid the foundations of this garden.
I found a list of supplies ordered from Fortnum and Mason for his 1924 expedition, magic lantern slides for his fund raising lectures, letters and drawings of their gardens from his little daughters… and then a handwritten letter to:
‘My Dear Mother,’
where he describes in honest detail the hardships he has faced, ending with:
“…still it is too bad to grumble for we have been successful during these 12 days in finding new plants, new to me at any rate. Our best discovery was a glorious blue poppy….”
My Furzey bluet is cyanotype.
I’ve always known it was there.
For when I was ready to share…
This blue, this colour, this place of memory, of restoration of the soul, this common ground which is at the heart of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, this blue is the way I have found to describe the ‘what it is’ that I have experienced when visiting, and working with, the remarkable community which is Furzey Gardens.
Thank you, all of you, for being who you are and sharing who you are with me.
This year I succeeded in growing two Himalayan poppies. To be honest, I didn’t germinate the seeds. I bought two young plants which arrived by courier, encased in a shocking amount of green plastic. What a way to start life. Anyway. I gave them what I imagined to be the most likely spot in my small town garden where they would be cool, damp and out of the wind… I nurtured them for months and experienced such delight, as the grey furry buds unfurled to reveal the blue of my childhood (I was going to say ‘dreams’).
I was determined not to fail. I tended them daily.
I don’t suppose for one moment that they will make seed and create a colony. They are unhappy. Both the climate and the soil are wrong. They don’t belong.
The seeds I used in my film Bluets, installed in the attic of the 16th century cottage at Furzey, are (blue) Love in a Mist.