I realized the best paintings like the best gardens capture light.
Sometimes I think now people are like moths with light – a window, a skylight, a view… it’s back to the energy with light… like Turner said, god is light…
Life normalized and I started working again.
I was asked by the architect Alex de Rijke of dRMM architects to design the outside garden space for a new Maggie’s Centre in Oldham, Manchester.
It was as if entire soul experience counted towards my working with them.
And the Maggie’s site in Oldham was an extraordinary site.
The building designed was complex, a one-tiertree house concept – on steel legs, covered in thermally treated tulipwood, with a huge glass window looking out over the low roofs of Oldham and onto the Pennines, disappearing into the landscape – and down into the garden.
I strongly feel that the landscape of a garden has to come from the place itself, which is why it was such an honour to design the garden of the Maggie’sCentre in Oldham; it had to respond to its own geological environment but also to the environment of the soul.
There is at Maggie’s an individual approach to each centre, to give something to people living with cancer and their relatives that is the antithesis of the hospital – a space for the mind and for the soul. After all a hospital fixes you beautifully but it’s still a system with deadlines; but a Maggie’s Centre helps that whole process along. And Maggie’s approach is now being fundamentally accepted, the mind, body and soul approach to healing, health. It’s proven that if you can go for more walks, are less sedentary, the right mindset helps you. The Maggie’s become like families, everyone gets on, has a story, shares their story.
Everything I’d learned about myself through my own life journey came into play. I knew the healing power of landscape. I wanted to bring that landscape back into the garden space within the Maggie’s Centre so that the energy of the places were connected.
So I spent time living in Oldham, walking the streets, walking the Pennine Way.
Then returning to the design studio, I found myself as a painter remembering this landscape. How did it make me feel, what were the smells? Where was the wind? Or, remembering a sheltered spot behind a rock, or the sheep. It’s northern, and visually it’s quite wild.
Then taking all these associations back to the site. And you might have drawn on the computer your ideas as an abstract design, but of course on-site it’s three dimensional, not flat, and no longer an abstracted vision. So, this has to be blown apart. Once you’re on site you understand the direction of the wind, where the water lands during rainfall and from the sides of buildings, the light… you have to play on the structure until it feels right.
So we began. We wanted to capture that textured, ephemeral wilderness. We planted pines and birch trees. And in fact up there in Oldham the air is so pure the birch trees we planted are now growing lichen because they are responding to the place. We put in birch whips at knee height so that the trees wrap around the building, birches at various heights, a successional quality to the trees… a staggered approach, a rhythm, this garden will morph with age and grow into itself…
That’s the extraordinary creative thing when making a garden, where’s the ground water level because the trees will reach out and find it, and where’s the light… the trees will respond to the light; then there’s gravityto consider and the fact that the soil is new and the ground will sink slightly, the canopy will change, actually sometimes sorting it out, it’s like an art installation.