Residency at Audley End Part I
The year is filling up with projects and the time to sit down and write these posts is shrinking! Having started during the pandemic, although still working in the studio during that time, there seemed to be more space in the day for such things. With the rest of the world now ‘back to it’, such space feels increasingly filled up. I will endeavour to keep sharing some insight into new projects and studio processes but with less frequency.
On this note, it’s been a wonderful start to the latest collaboration with the kitchen gardens of Audley End. I’ve made two visits so far - one during the early days of Spring and more recently in May to see what has developed since. Speaking about planting plans with Head Gardener Gemma Sturges, it’s clear there will be almost too much to choose from as the seasons play out. During my last trip, I spied an abundance of potted fig trees waiting in the glass house. A whole array of herbs, peas, beans and lettuces were also ready in the seedling house, a week or so from planting out. I even stumbled across a baby Sea Kale!
Most exciting for me so far is the beautiful peach tree in the main glass house. I was lucky to catch it in blossom on my first trip. Gemma explained that the variety was popular in Victorian gardens, and grows a particularly soft skinned fruit which melts in the mouth. Looking forward to producing a collection of these peaches capturing the delight of eating such soft sweet fruit. I’m envisioning a mixture of nibbled and whole peaches to celebrate the pleasure of eating a harvest straight from the tree.
I also took some time to walk around the main house. The house and grounds are managed by the English Heritage and are open to the public. In addition to the kitchen gardens, I found I was drawn to the colossal trees growing around the estate. In particular, those supported with great rope and steel cables - tethering wayward branches to the central trunk and helping to hold giant tree-arms a few feet from the ground. Sculptural interventions, ongoing collaborations between groundsman and ancient tree. Easy to see where artists Ai Weiwei and Anya Gallacio developed their arboriculture themed works from when admiring these functional yet striking armatures.
It was also lovely to see the house’s own botanical and natural collections. Prior to leaving the estate to the British Government in 1941, generations of the family had amassed an incredible collection of taxidermy specimens and various curiosities as you might associate with 18th century enlightenment collecting. Reading about the past times and interests of previous Baron Braybrookes and the extended family, it seems botanical interest was encouraged and celebrated across generations. There are hallways of preserved birds upstairs and an abundance of coral and geological specimens in the main hall of the house to name but a few of these collections.
The ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ is a theme I sometimes associate with the works made as part of this series. Vanitas or ‘Memento Mori’ I have mentioned before - Herbariums filled with dried plants or wax imitations feel like an extension of this aesthetic, if more focused on scientific inquiry than existential contemplation.
I also spied that the parkland around the house is the work of the 18th century landscape designer Capability Brown. This style feels very familiar to me given the proximity of Suffolk estates Heveningham and Cockfield to my home, which have had their own grounds returned to Brown’s original designs.
I’ll be returning to the Saffron Walden estate in the coming weeks to catch up. For now, I’ve managed to make off with a batch of giant asparagus stem
I continue to look forward to recording the seasons in this garden…