I was asked a question last week which set me thinking; where outside of my workplace would I head to for inspiration?
Well I have to say that I do work in an inspiring place. It’s an art gallery and museum, and a real hive of activity and creativity. It is situated in a shallow, sculpted valley with a ribbon of water through its middle, and the surrounding hills are cloaked by farms and woodland.
In its midst sit a cluster of strong, mellow toned stone buildings commissioned by a wealthy Lord; all linked with renowned architects of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The venue is sprinkled with native and exotic plants and is a wildlife haven, playing host to a wide range of birds, badgers and rare bats; even visiting deer and otters add to the scene.
After-all said and done though, it is work, no matter how much I love and value the venue. The work is fascinating with plenty of responsibility, and there’s a real sense of achievement, even if the days are short and tasks refresh more often than the email list. It would be foolish though I know to fly buzzard-like around that same sky, not making an effort to pass beyond the hedge to see what delights, or lessons, lie across those fields.
Hence I return to that question: where outside of my workplace would I head to for inspiration? My initial thoughts were: there are so many gardens, I must pick a smart one! I therefore opted on the spot, for a favourite and a high quality 18th century garden called Rousham, a garden that in historical terms is most definitely dressed to impress.
Following my response, I have though spent a little more time thinking of where I would actually go for inspiration or revival – should I make the time.
As in my general approach to life, the gardener within me always endures; that need to grow, to nurture, to tame wild things; and so it is to gardens that my escaping mind turned first, and to almost any garden open to visiting – aren’t they all by and large safe places to be, to relax, and to grow?
I therefore let my mind wander to some close by gardens, and I thought of Charlecote Park. Charl-coat, as spoken shares many of the challenges my own work place does, albeit unique and distinctive, and is a place with which I can readily identify. Moreover, as with every venue other than my own, it is a local place where I carry no responsibility, and I can visit whilst letting my mind freely explore the simply beauty of a quality parkland and garden.
A little further away is a real jewel of a garden, the incredible Hidcote Manor, another horticultural landmark and a definite masterpiece. You could place me in any ‘room’ within the Hidcote garden and I’d easily drift away. I’d relax whilst observing people collecting pictures of unusual flowers, lichen clad shrubs, or arty topiary for Instagram.
Hidcote is a place where real horticultural history comes to the fore, through classic topiary, strong design and plants. Be they common or rare, the plants are beautifully staged and the creator’s energy and achievements are celebrated fully.
Broadening my search somewhat, I look also to architecture for inspiration; real, historic, solid, hand-crafted architecture. A carved balustrade, a rustic garden shelter, a Georgian mansion or Tudor manor house – there can be so much interest and intrigue locked into a building. Like the gardener’s garden, I often see architecture in heritage venues as very personal creations by someone, and so again, my mind is drawn locally to one such place; Robert Dudley’s enduring Kenilworth Castle.
The castle is an immense construction even by today’s standards, and its fabric creates countless moments that seize upon and tease my imagination. Those moments take me back to a time when horsemen competed for honour, and privileged folk walked upon sandy paths whilst devising their loving conquests. Architecturally staggering it is, but again, it’s the Elizabethan garden that captures my imagination, and of the courage shown to tackle a garden revival of that scale. I followed the restoration closely, and visit it now to catch up like I would with an old friend.
Wilder, natural places call me too, and often it’s the endeavour of getting there, of making the effort to walk that path or climb that hill that make them worthwhile. I still can’t help but think that it’s the botanical blood in my veins that draws me to these places, for whilst the hills, rivers and valleys are enticing enough; it is often the plants that draw me in, and draw me on.
A twisted thorn on a hillside – was it hand reared, planted and nurtured to grace the scene, or was it a seed dropped by a passing bird that endured? Either way, I’m engaged. Tufts of marram grass on a wind driven beach; they demand my respect with their persistent form proving beyond doubt that perseverance can win the day. Wild flowers, how could I not mention wild flowers! Their variety, adaptability, resilience, and their value – I’ll always be inspired and in awe of wild flowers.
It has to be more than plants though, and I know this. It is, as the often quoted Pope wrote, ‘the spirit of the place’, that must be the link between my need for revival and any given destination. The place, as hinted at above could be historically significant, it could be shaped by design or industry, or it could simply be a corner of a field, a naturally developed wilderness, or my own back garden.
And so to close my little inspiration consideration, whilst I still hold with my destination ‘Rousham’ for inspiration, I could easily seek emotional or artistic refreshment in a range of outdoor locations – as long as they have spirit!
Each place, however distant can be a world away from ‘my’ work place, and each can offer me that moment of valuable inspiration I may knowingly, or unknowingly be seeking.
In case you’re wondering, yes I would love to hear where your ‘Inspiration Destination’ is...