The wonders of creative thinking in the garden

By Richard Wright

Friday, January 3, 2014


The wonders of creative thinking in the garden

The Giant’s Head at Heligan, Cornwall.

GARDENING MUD, mud, glorious mud! My father used to sing that old ditty innumerable times and I was never able to fathom its blood-cleansing properties.

He was an imaginative man but he would never have dreamed of the use the substance was put to down in Heligan.

Of course, there have been clay sculptures created for many thousands of years but down at the Lost Garden in Cornwall there are two outdoor clay creations which create almost as much of a buzz as the rest of the great garden put together.

Now I’d be delighted to be proved wrong but, as far as I am aware, there are no gardens on the Island with anything comparable to either Mud Maid or the Giant’s Head, which are real crowd pullers.

But I would love to hear if anyone has slapped together anything to compare with Heligan.

During dour days of winter, and these have been pretty short of sun and colour, I always hark back to sunnier times when gardens were growing.

One such day was Heligan in July — and the glorious sculptures sprang to mind.

There is always a place in gardens for creativity, not just of the growing kind, and Heligan is no exception.

What artistic brother and sister, Pete and Sue Hill, created in the aftermath of the second Great Storm of the century, in 1990, was truly inspirational.

The garden had lost many of its old giant trees and times were tight as the band of brothers and sisters set about restoring and breathing new life into the old garden.

Giant’s Head came about as a way of circumventing the tricky and expensive problem of how to dispose of a massive oak root ball, upended near what was to be the main entrance.

The pair plastered clay over the roots, spiked in a metal stake around which to form the nose and stopped the clay sagging with twigs.

Green skin was provided with mind-your-own-business (helxine soleitolii) and crocosmia was chosen for the hair, providing a flash of orange at flowering time, augmenting the wavy green foliage.

His eyes came from broken china and glass from nearby Bottle Dump Hill.

But, most haunting to us during our visit, was Mud Maid.

She lies, serene, in the changing seasons, her appearance carefully tended so she is not engulfed in ground ivy.

Mud Maid was pugged around a wooden frame and her face made from a mix of clay and cement with a straw binder which deters plant growth. The hard surface deters plant growth.

Only her wood-sedge hair was planted. Her 'clothing’ of ivy formed of its own volition.

At the Eden Project, down the road of course, there are sculptures of a different kind, including the iconic bee, symbolizing the importance of the pollinator.

Back at Heligan, there are two of the biggest swathes of antirrhinum planting I have seen.

Snapdragons rely on bumble bees for pollination because only they have enough muscle to squeeze between the jaws.

I think the red carpet is A. bleeding heart while the equally effective second border is a colour mix.

Full sun or partial shade are the best locations for snapdragons, which are technically tender perennials although it needs a very mild winter for them to make it through.

They will readily self-seed or the pin-prick black seed can be thinly broadcast on the surface or started in trays in early spring.

The seeds need light to germinate — so resist the urge to cover them, just lightly press into the surface.

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