All about how life happens at Grizedale Arts gardens and headquarters.
Check in here for natural and human drama, wonderment, vegetables, visitors and things we find under rocks.
Goodbye to Lee Borthwick's lovely rush wall - a solution to planners banning the proposed window on the West elevation of our hostel living area - and hello to a picture window (1st floor) and larder (ground floor) extension designed - as the 2009 interior space was - by Sutherland Hussey Harris Architects.
Excited to be about to open the new autumn / winter round for applications to volunteer here at LP.
There are 16 places across the months - we look forward to hearing from you.
Artist Estelle Woolley volunteered in February 2019 and sent us the following diary about how it was for her:
"I wasn't quite sure what to expect during my week at Lawson Park with Grizedale; I wasn't sure if I'd even like it. You can read information on the website but you never really get the true sense of a place until you experience it through your own eyes.
Adam Sutherland, director of Grizedale Arts, has a posh country gentleman persona that goes down well when he tries to fit in with the locals. His partner Karen has a friendly Scottish accent (but don't be fooled by this, she will have you pushing several wheelbarrows of soil up a hill before you've had chance to catch your breath!) Together they are a witty, eccentric double act, who seem to be able to turn their hands to anything. They have transformed the land and really created a nurturing environment for artistic activity.
The hostel part of the building where I stayed with three other artists wasn't really what you would expect from hearing the word hostel. I walked into a huge double room with an en suite bathroom, view of the mountains, lake, and Anchorhold sculpture. There was a bongo drum in the corner, a customised dressing gown hanging on the door, and a signed Andy Goldsworthy book by the bed, and in that moment, I felt at home.
The dining area had taxidermied birds flying over the table incorporated into a trendy spider chandelier, and a cabinet of curiosities. The lounge had Laure Provoust's Wantee tea pots displayed on the wall (from her Turner Prize winning video created at Grizedale Arts), and I also spotted a Marcus Coates photograph of him sitting in a tree, 'being animal', pretending to be a bird of prey.
One of our tasks as volunteers that week was to help Adam clear out the pottery sheds, and I kept spotting Bedwyr Williams' pieces. It was because of Bedwyr that I applied, as he'd previously mentored me as part of his digital commission 'Hypercaust' at Storyhouse in Chester, 2017, and he's been a long standing associate at Grizedale for many years. It was exciting to keep discovering things he'd made and see the legacy he had left behind.
Grizedale gave me a renewed sense of curiosity for different ways of making and ways of being in the world. It gave me a renewed appreciation for objects and their functionality. It gave me headspace and a welcome distraction away from the stresses of home life. Having a routine of starting work at the same time each day, having regular breaks, good food, good company and getting out in the fresh air and getting jobs done felt so beneficial and satisfying. The tasks, some of which were quite physical yet repetitive, allowed for lots of conversations to develop with the other artists I was working with. From collecting branches to weave a fence, digging and wheelbarrowing in the gardens, cleaning out sheds, to less physical work like making pottery and cooking, there was a whole range of things to keep us all busy, and often it was tailored to our interests and capabilities.
The pottery workshop on the last day felt like a nice reward for the more physically demanding work at the beginning of the week. It was so therapeutic working next to a log fire, with a view of the mountains, and pressing clay into handmade wooden moulds. It was a new learning experience for me as I've always admired pottery, so it was great to pick up a few skills.
Overall I had a very enriching week and would recommend it to anyone."
Emma was one of 2019's first volunteers, and we invited her to write about the experience:
"Grizedale holds a special place in the trajectory of my arts career. I was fortunate to be invited to begin 2019 at Grizedale Arts Lawson Park residency as a volunteer, several years after I originally volunteered back in 2013. A week of toil on the land—coppicing trees for fences, painting functional sculptures, cooking mangelwurzel soup, and fixing poly-tunnels—took me back to my roots whilst re-establishing my faith in the unbounded possibilities of contemporary art.
I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know what triggered it, or if it was just my destiny (to frame it in a ridiculous construct), but I knew from a very early age that I wanted to pursue art. I don’t come from a family of artists, or visited galleries until my early teens, but I was around 7-years old when I declared to my parents that I was going to be an artist and around 8-years old when I opened my own private art gallery under the stairs in our family home. Art has remained an unshakable force in my life, it’s been engrained in everything I’ve done, it features in all my most vivid memories, and at times has disappointed me to the point of heartbreak, but my enthusiasm for it has only ever expanded.
I was raised in an agricultural family with the freedom to run the countryside, to be inventive and creative through play. My family were creative, as a child the clothes I wore had been lovingly crafted by my Mother who had also made most of our home furnishings from scratch, my Father had packed our home with alternative technologies, heating our rooms with a system run from a coal fire which always had the latest batch of laundry drying above it. Outside, we grew vegetables, composted and recycled all our household waste. My family life was overtly different to the rest of my peers, but I never considered it to be creative until much later.
Art remained a common force in my life, and I eventually enrolled in art school, a grown-up version of the creative space I had occupied as a care-free child, just here, in the adult world, it was called ‘experimenting’and cost money. I spent my precious vodka money on expensive art materials—paint, canvas, readymade textiles, haberdashery—to produce art that was of a market-standard, ready to sell. I churned out painting after painting, but it always felt a little pointless producing rt that had no useful function once completed. It went against everything I had learnt as a child; it felt wasteful.
After graduating I entered the art world and continued to paint whilst earning my rent (and vodka) money working in the institutions who decided what artists work was worthy of public attention. I never really understood the system, exhibitions would come and go, people would worry about signage, ticket prices and what themed goods the gift shop should stock. This all felt so far away from the exhibitions I had hosted in my under-stairs gallery and I was left wondering if there was another way: then I spent week volunteering at Lawson Park with Grizedale Arts.
Lawson Park is a space where my old life and new life merge together into a heady mixture of agriculture and contemporary art. After my first visit, I was inspired to leave my institutional role and widen my exploration of art, heading out to South Asia, where I have lived and worked for the past four years. In South Asia I learnt how the art world operates outside Western institutional models, engaging with projects that have found alternative routes for creativity to flourish, including the inimitable Somiya Kala Vidya who provide design education to traditional artisans. I established projects with my peers, which put the power of art in the hands of those not usually given the freedom to explore their creative reflexes, such as Katab: Not Only Money, which recently brought the art work of female Katab (patchwork) artisans to UK audiences.
I returned to the UK in October, and after taking a few months to regroup, I knew I needed to start the next chapter of my arts adventure at Grizedale. It’s an organisation which makes absolute sense to me and reaffirms my faith that art can affect positive changes within society, whilst also having a useful and sustainable function within it. Where my next career steps will take me, only time will tell, but I remain inspired by Grizedale’s example and have the motivation to carve out an alternative trajectory for myself with others who share my passion: to make art useful and to celebrate the ordinary as well as the extraordinary."
Sometimes a plan comes together fast - James Herd, our favourite waller, spun by in May and helped raise an existing drystone wall so that its bed within could be flat and better drained - sounds easy, but involved tonnes of soil and many plants getting lost forever in collateral damage - however, the work was worth it and new plants such as salvia seem to be liking it. The idea is that this bed - being visible from the house all year - needs to be more winter-focused, so out with the fluffy summer plants and in with things like white stemmed rubus, box from the Schwitters' Merzbarn site, and other delights.
This spring's guest mulchers came from Belgium at Easter - Als and her sons - teenagers that in the end got right into it!
We've had our large, unheated polytunnel (circa 8m x 12m) for three years now and more than ever before, the mild winter of 15/16 saw us right thorough with greenery in there - parsley, perpetual spinach, salad (Lettuce 'All Year Round' especially, pea-shoots, mustard greens of all sorts....). We've one deep raised bed running north south and one shallow and several smaller beds opposite them, and though surrounding hedges have started to shade it somewhat, it's overall been a fantastic investment and a joy to be in on those wet wintery days. I also have small permanent bed of the Mediterranean herbs that hate the wet here - lemon verbena, thyme, rosemary etc. Keeping seeds warm, growing on small plants from mail-order, propagation - you name it, there's room in the tunnel for them. As I type (early June) I have only just ripped out the perpetual spinach (sown in July 15 and bolting only from early May 16) and filled the beds with tomatoes (a cold tolerant one 'Latah' and the ever reliable 'Sungold'), courgettes (which dislike being outdoors up here), cucumbers, cornichons, climbing French beans and squash 'Crown Prince' which I'll grow vertically as much as possible, up ropes hung from the tunnel crop bars. Last year I started cooking with the overexuberant side shoots, having seen that done in Sicily, and they were delicious. Like nose to tail eating, only with vegetables.
A big departure has been the reuctant admittance of defeat on the Paddies - our big, deer-fenced and terraced field that grows great veg one year in every 6 :-(
This winter we turned several terraces there over to young fruit trees - Westmorland damsons, Plums 'Quillan's Gage' and 'Marjory's Seedling' plus 2 seedling damsons from the Cartmel home of our waller James Herd. We've put large mulch mats round each tree and also sown white clover in between - it will be interesting to see if this can dominate the sward and bring fertility to the trees - theoretically it should, We also have replenished the tiring strawberry bed with a new one nearby with varieties such as 'Red Gauntlet', 'Rosie' and 'Rhapsody' - all doing very weed-free and well so far. The currants thrive as ever and the fantastic blueberries will be netted against the birds this year in very good time thanks to work by recent intern Graham.
To trial an idea we're using at a new project 'A Fair Land' for this summer at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, we've planted a straw bale veg garden, on a sunny spot near the hostel. A rather weird technique pioneered in the USA, the bales decompose and create heat to encourage the plants, which - implausibly - grow happily in pure straw! So far, so good, seedlings take to it very well and the regular watering hasn't been too much hassle so far. At IMMA we'll only plant courgettes though, so it'll be a slightly different kettle of fish. Many veg varieties are being grown here in normal soil raised beds AND the strawbales so we'll have some interesting comparisons later in the season.
Having visited the inspirational gardener / writer Charles Dowding in Somerset last year, I am growing my veg (in the tunnel and outside in the raised beds) using his no-dig system. For sure I've had to shift a lot of mulch (this year's is composted council green waste, weed free and lightweight) to cover all areas in about 4cm, but as I usually only plant plug plants out so far it's been very manageable and labour saving. The dry spell lately seems to have (touch wood) discouraged the anticipated slug onslaught, and Charles notes lower levels of slug damage as one of the many benefits of the no-dig system. I had some concerns that the mulch would have the opposite affect but so far it's looking good, and trust me, we've slugs you could get a saddle onto here, and many a year entire crops have been wiped out in one night.
A very significant change is the felling of all the plantation trees that grew in Grizedale Forest to the east of the building here and gave Lawson Park its rather dark ambience for much of the year. We now have early and late light we never had before, and winter will be lifted from the gloom - we expect much more vigorous growth will ensue in most of the plants. Also, the Forestry stalkers have done good work on the deer that ate most of 2015's flowers and fruit - fingers crossed, we seem to have been free of predation this year so far.
The relentlessly wet winter of 15/16 has caused - I think - a few deaths in the family, notably a ten year old magnolia ovata grown from seed and planted in the main herbaceous border, and a rare green-flowered bottle brush shrub that had done very well to date. In early May our beds were still saturated in many places though, so it could have been much worse.
No garden area gives me more pleasure than the young orchard of 21 trees - mainly apples, plus a few pears and quinces, which I lavish attention on - careful pruning, potash winter feed, grease bands, seaweed spray.... must have something to do with the pip-grown tree in Largs that spurred on my love of gardening as a child.
Local apple variety Keswick Codlin overdoes it every year and the others follow the usual cycle of good then bad years. Later to flower than most this year is Duke of Devonshire and Yellow Pitcher, but generally blossom has been very heavy contrary to what I'd expected after the bad summer of '15 (which should mean a lack of rip fruiting wood the next season, but somehow hasn't). The Snowdon Pear has had to be tethered downward with canes and string to stop it growing so strongly and encourage fruiting wood. I've seen this in various posh gardens and my worries were confirmed when the tallest tethered branc snapped as I'd tied it down too keenly. Quince 'Serbian Gold' - a lovely tree in its own right - has a new friend ('Champion') to hopefully help pollinate it this year but it flowers so elegantly it could excuse itself from fruit quite respectably.
And lastly, Grace our wonderful gardener has sadly had to resign her position (though - happily - because of impending motherhood) so if you'd like to replace her one or two days a week in the garden, do apply within.
It's been a splendid gardening year here at Lawson Park. True to our contrary form we seem to have had much of the opposite of the narkiest weather suffered elsewhere in the country - very early 2014 saw horrific rain and floods most places but here, though it was a very mild winter here too, with lots of early spring growth in bulbs and shrubs (spring usually being late April / early May here). I planted onion sets on the Paddies in very early March for a change - Red Baron and Sturon mainly - and panicked when a frost followed that night. But no harm done, in fact we had a bumper year for onions, which often get mouldy from late summer rain here - but the excellent summer ripened them really well.
Blueberries were netted against birds in time this year - hurrah - and at the time of writing (late Nov) we are still harvesting autumn raspberry Joan J !! But oddly not a great year for our usually reliable currants - we have an annual sawfly on many redcurrants that needs prompt biological control (we usually don't notice till too late) and somehow the blackcurrants set less flower than usual - a freaky late frost, or bird damage?
Literally wheelbarrow loads of strawberries this summer - mostly Mara de Bois cultivar.
Apples in the young orchard had a good year based on the ripe wood of 2013's good summer - lots of fruit on 5 year old espalier Lord Derby apple (trained on the house) and in the open orchard heavy yield on local Keswick Codlin, and on Hawthornden and Monarch amongst others apples. The lovely blossom that appeared on the East European pear Humbug didn't set, and nor did the Serbian quince - so this winter we plant anothert quince to try and shift the pollination along a bit.
In the upper Paddies polytunnel (blown away in the last few weeks for a second time :-() we enjoyed purple broccoli Rudolph all the way till April, and a few Aquadulce Claudia broadbeans yielded early and were worthwhile too under cover. Overwintering pea 'meteor' vanished though. in the larger lower tunnel we had great perpetual spinach all winter long and good flat leaf parsely and salad mustards too. In summer in the tunnel, decent Japanese pumpkins, late cucumbers and some good sweetcorn all fared better than our always reluctant tomatoes.
Elsewhere we had great success with yellow beetroots - with their delicious leaves too - though we don't find them as tasty as the red. Our bulb fennel bolted but I found pickling the bolted stems fast stops them being wasted. Our kohl rabi was not great this year - very slug friendly - but swedes and green broccoli (the latter a lesson in not yanking out a miserable looking plant too fast) both thrived despite plenty of slug and caterpillar attacks.
Coming up trumps for flavour has to be lettuce 'Reine des Glaces', and our swiss chard, with leeks a close second - all still harvesting right now in November!
I'll gloss over the fact it's been 10 months since the last update here - suffice to say spring 2013 eventually came and a shockingly warm and consistent early summer came after that - our first decent growing season for veg in years.
We had successful garlic, celery, onions, brassicas, salads, runner and broad beans, peas, spinach, fennel, chinese cabbage and all sort of asian greens. Hell the soil even dried out enough for us to discover how hoeing can actually work even here. As usual our currants were wonderful and new raspberries 'Joan J' established and fruited well in the Paddies. Our new very big polytunnel gave us lots of cucumbers, courgettes and gherkins though even the decent sunshine didnt really help our rather meagre tomato harvest along.
We did get caught out by our inexperience with having fully grown crops to deal with mid summer! We left our lovely onions out too long and late summer damp meant they didn't store well for us. And for the first time our blueberry crop was devastated by birds, we usually find they ignore them.
Our planning for winter into 2014 under plastic really worked this year - by making polytunnel space in September we have small winter salads, broccoli, endive and beefy perpetual spinach to enjoy now in the depths of winter.
All UK gardeners stand with bated breath at this time of year, but this Spring is a marked contrast to the last few here, where really warm days and droughts have not been uncommon. Though the rest of the country probably notices this year's very cold spring much more than we do here - where the growing season always starts late and finishes early - the last few days of warmth have been the first to break the unremittingly cold and snowy last few months.
Teensy green hawthorn leaves are beginning to unfurl in hedges, and our cherry plums, tough as boots, are just starting to flower (usually this happens mid / late March). The daffodil we have here, 'February Gold' (clue as to what it should do is in the name) has just opened its blooms, mid April.
The advantage of all this cold is that we can keep planting bare-rooted trees, a job we are way behind with, and start this season's big border clear up and mulch, which has usually all happened by now. So the suspended Sprin is a bit of a blessing for the disorganised like me :-)
Debris from 2013 = Compost for 2014
I have recently returned home after spending a week with Grizedale Arts in the Lake District. The week was highly enjoyable and a unique experience. From the first day I spent my time working on a range of tasks, such as feeding the pigs/geese, cutting down holly for the Christmas decorations and cooking apple pies for a village meal. A less successful task was my attempt at unblocking a drain in an icy puddle which confirmed my fears that my southern roots where not made of tougher stuff! Informing friends of my recent activities, there seemed to be a consenting confusion and an asking of ‘Why? ‘. My answer, which I can say more confidently in retrospect of my stay, was ‘Why not’.
Art comes in many different shapes, sizes and pretentious prices and thus Grizedale comes as a refreshing change as an organization that is concerned with the little things that help a community sustain and grow, as well as maintaining a respected presence in the big, bad art world.
I left Grizedale with a clearer and stronger understanding of art’s relationship with society, however my plumbing skills, sadly are yet to be improved.
Lord knows it's been a rough year for anyone in cahoots with Mother Nature.
Even in a good weather year we do have to work at getting Lawson Park productive in the fruit and veg. department. We have a short season, with soil temperatures only reaching the optimum for seed germination (8-10 degrees) in May usually, and plentiful wind and rainfall all summer. To top it all off we get slugs so big you could get a saddle on to them. Each year the Paddies get a bit more fertile with our green-manuring and general soil improvement, but this year may well tread water as the low temperatures, rain and low light levels have left the soil empty for much of the season apart from rampant couch and buttercups, especially sad as we had a garden intern for the first time ever, the irrepressible Ben Preston, who valiantly tried to counteract the summer apocalypse that beset us. We've sown some late green manures and will need to think a bit more about how to prevent what little goodness is in the soil from leaching out over the long, wet winter ahead - plastic sheet being impossible on such a large scale. Soft fruit - apart from the mice invasion that nicked our strawberries - was excellent as ever, currants galore and blissfully trouble-free.
This year we did have the foresight to erect a large new polytunnel in March, without which we really would have empty trugs and plates. In it we have done much propagation as well as growing a fair crop of very late tomatoes, plus some experiments with early carrots, lovely basil and other tender herbs, and dahlias for cutting. It's bliss to be in there with the rain hammering down outside.
So, a few notes on the best and worst trials this season:
Our very young orchard had a fair show of apples on three trees - varieties Keswick Codlin (very local), Monarch and Bardsey Island (a Welsh heritage variety). Eastern European pear 'Humbug' has made healthy growth too.
Like many, we tried grafted tomatoes alongside our seed grown this year - from seed we raised 'Stupice' and 'Latah', both from the wonderful Real Seed Company, both eastern European cool-weather hardies. ' Latah' is a bush variety but we grew it as a single cordon as usual, and both are still cropping well (to be honest they didn't start till September). Stupice has the better flavour and rather endearingly odd shaped fruits.
Of the grafted varieties we bought from Suttons, old fave Shirley did best in flavour and cropped reliably. Santorange is a yellowy-orange large cherry type and we liked its flavour and healthiness. Conchita tried to make very long cherry strings of fruit but set was very poor - weather probably. Belriccio has large, tasty, ribbed fruits, which set well. Elegance cropped heavily but isn't such a good flavour for us. Cupido has small and tasty cherry type fruit and plenty of them. I'd agree that cropping is heavier and plants are more vigorous than seed-grown ones but you'd need a decent season to truly test the grafted varieties to the max.
Our pale green indoor courgette 'Segev F1' continues to fruit healthily in mid-October. Leaves are now slightly mildewy but its been mighty impressive, the cropping starting in late June. Potatoes Cosmo and Red Duke of York remain reliable for us, and mangetout pea 'Shiraz' has yielded a heavy and beautiful purple harvest for weeks outside. Lettuce 'Reine des Glaces' had a superb flavour and stood well in the ground, and pea 'Kelvedon Wonder' never fails to crop well here.