Conversations in a Garden:
A Year of Wonder and Well-being
“Of all the communities we and wildlife find ourselves members of, the garden is one of the most intimate” writes The Guardian’s Nature Diary columnist, Paul Evans, in his book ‘How To See Nature’.
In Summer 2021 visual artist, Brigid Collins, and poet, Christine De Luca began working together in Dr Neil’s Garden in Duddingston, Edinburgh, where Brigid was Artist-in-Residence, feeling that their work could be complementary and that, together, could become potentially greater than the sum of the constituent parts.
American poet, Stanley Kunitz, understands how the totality of a garden becomes formed in your mind, as you move through it …in much the same way as you have to create the wholeness of a poem in your mind, by means of a process, by spending time in its company. Brigid and Christine were both willing to give time to this process. As Rowan Williams stated in a recent lecture on the Visual Arts:
“Art has a lot to do with time-taking for humans; we grow into our seeing. Epiphany is about acquiring habits of seeing differently, of taking time. It is not a lightning raid on the world but something to probe.”
– Rowan Williams, at New College Festival of Books and Belief (2022)
Brigid and Christine began by simply spending time in the garden, often together, looking and learning, paying close attention.
“The most precious gift we can offer is our attention”
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk
“Attention is the beginning of devotion”
– Mary Oliver, poet
This short film acts as an introduction to a collaboration between artist, Brigid Collins and poet Christine De Luca, during Brigid’s time as Artist in Residence at Dr Neil’s Garden in Duddingston and is an attempt to create a distillation of our experience into something easily accessible by others.
What ensued is a conversation that includes but which transcends what can be spoken, as artist and poet looked deeply and with tender attention into the heart of this one place, that has something to tell us about all places, about the world and our place in it. Brigid reflects how “deeply focused as we were on the wondrous entanglement all around us, we found what poet Jane Hirshfield describes as
“tender discoveries…whose ‘finding’ in some small way
rearranges psyche and understanding.”
Brigid and Christine are indebted to the following for their support: Claudia Pottier, Head Gardener at Dr. Neil’s Garden and to the Volunteers and Trustees. Our deepest thanks go also to the Art and Spiritual Understanding project at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, Dr. Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain at The University of Edinburgh and, for financial support from the Templeton Religion Trust and The Hope-Scott Trust. Our warm thanks also go to Martin Burt, of Native Film, for the application of his attention and skill, throughout.
“… it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Theologian
Poem No. 1
A sufficient quantity
The atoms of the wild rose petals
dance before the eye, create
a heart-shape in the mind, and with
the merging of two such probabilities
(where is the eye? where is the rose?)
decide they like the certainty
the rose brings to the blind.
Sufficient in size is the tiny wild rose
sufficient in staying power: a day
a transience. And the perfume
whose secret atoms break all bounds
all probabilities, conjures a presence.
Of Mutual Things…
Exhibition: 19-26 June, 2022
As Brigid’s time as Artist in Residence at Dr. Neil’s Garden in Edinburgh unfolded and against a backdrop of a rapidly changing world, richly deep conversations – between artist and poet, between us artists and plants, between plants and plants, on a microcosmic level and, on a microcosmic level, between us all and the wider world, between time and space – began to emerge and, in turn, to bring about perceptible shifts in consciousness.
The nature of these conversations has been evoked through a body of drawings and paintings by Brigid, with beautiful responses made by poet, Christine De Luca, all of which have been evoked in a short film by Martin Burt, of ‘Native Film’, alongside a series of Meditations, as a series of three reflections composed by Dr. Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain at The University of Edinburgh. This work, all of which is now made available on this website, took the form of an exhibition at Thomson’s Tower, nestled in the heart of Dr. Neil’s Garden in the midsummer of 2022.
Although many of the original artworks were sold at this time, stunning A3 Giclee prints are available to buy @ ST£100 + P&P. For further details and for prices of remaining original artworks, please enquire using the contact form on this site.
Brigid understands how change takes place on many levels while spending time in a garden, by being amongst the plants and other species that live there: “Watery materials, such as natural inks and watercolour served me very well in Spring and Summer and suited my responses to the flowers that were bursting forth all about me. As my eyes roved around the garden and landed – as do that of the bees that have been doing their thing around me, while I do mine – on flowering grasses, such as the magnificent Dierama pulcherrium, also known as Wand Flower, or Angel’s Fishing Rods (for obvious reasons!), wafting in the warm breeze, the fluidity of watercolour helped me in leaning into this and absorb a cadence, capable of lulling even the seemingly inconsolable state of mind.”
As Autumn progressed, these materials also led Brigid on a journey deeper and deeper into the entanglements of the garden, as the foliage and flowers fell away, causing her to observe “I loved how little pieces of falling plants would land in my paint as I worked!”
The starkness of Winter, although arriving at a slow enough pace, nevertheless felt abrupt and this seemingly sudden starkness seemed to call for other materials and approaches. Brigid describes how, on one bright crisp January day “I incorporated pastels into a watercolour and ink study of Hellebores and Aconites and I feel that this allowed me to transition to a new way of working. The subsequent study, of the Japanese Larch and Tree of Heaven that stand together, down by the Tower, was made using pastels and Conté a Paris and, from here on, everything changed…
All of the studies that I went on to make in the garden, through the Spring of 2022, were made using mostly chalk (soft) pastels, with touches of Conté a Paris. This allowed a depth of field that had not seemed possible for me to depict with watercolour and encouraged me to stay with a group of plants and trees for what felt like days of pure bliss. I’m sure that the changes of the garden and in me as we moved through the seasons are possible to see through the materiality of these artworks.”