The Cave Garden: a garden underground that grows and grows…

Handmade clay flowers on logs covered in moss in the cellar at Leith Hill Place

Artist Philippa Kate Weaver was resident at Leith Hill Place for the spring of 2019 and invited all visitors to the house to contribute to a collaborative sculpture.

Inspired by one-time mistress of Leith Hill Place and creator of the Rhododendron Wood, Caroline Wedgwood, this sculptural project was part of the Leith Hill estate’s 2019 programme focusing on 'outdoors & wellbeing'.

Visitors to the house were asked to choose a handful of clay, create a flower and place it on the wood pile plinth. The work explored the idea of creative making as a route to connecting with others and being happier in oneself. Visitors were encouraged to return to see how the sculpture grows and review its progress.

Inspired by the landscape

The initial idea was to use the legacy of Caroline Wedgwood’s Rhododendron Wood and her mothering nature to create something that could be “mothered” or cared for by visitors. It is thought that Caroline Wedgwood suffered from mental health issues for a time and it was important that the project reflected this. The earth on which the house sits and allows the rhododendrons to flourish, is heavy clay. The concept of “The Cave Garden” was born from a fusion of “garden & woodland”, “mental-health”, “caring and mothering” and “clay”.

Inspired by the house

“The Cave Garden” was in the cellar of the house.  The challenge was to create a workable project within this unusual space. It is a cold room with no windows, an awkward entrance way with steep steps, walls that could not be drilled into, and no power points or proper lighting: all creating some interesting boundaries to the project.  How to use this space became about creating another worldly scene, taking natural products and placing them unnaturally, hoping to highlight for the visitor the natural beauty of the wood and clay in this unusual setting.  Sitting with the wood-piles, listening to the recorded bird-calls, forming clay into objects, placing the objects on display, created a scene in which visitors play or act a part. In doing so, the visitors co-created a sculpture - a sculpture that no one person controls and that has no end point other than a random date.

Benefits of working with clay

There are both physical and mental benefits from expressing yourself by creating something. Art offers an outlet and a release from stress and anxiety. Making with clay can provide an outlet for grief and help with self-identification and self-expression, bolstering confidence and self-esteem.

Making a small object can improve focus and allow an escape from the here and now.  During the process, outside influences don’t affect the maker as time is dedicated to creation. Being able to fully focus on something helps the mind relax and expand, which helps focus in other areas of life as well. Our hands are an outlet for creativity, the sense of touch is of high importance. 'Making' allows exploration and experimentation – expressing creativity is essential to expand who we are and how we connect to ourselves, each other and the environment.

“The Cave Garden” closed 30 June and was sponsored by Grass Direct and Coleman Electrical.