'A Language from the Garden' by John Newling

The ruins at Nymans

Monday 16 January - Wednesday 31 May 2017: 10am - 4pm. Nymans is the setting for a major new work of contemporary art by renowned artist John Newling.

John Newling at work in the garden
John Newling at work in the garden

Newling, whose work includes commissions for Forestry Commission and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, will reflect on the fascinating stories behind the creation of this well-known Sussex garden.   

Leonard and Maud Messel at Nymans
Leonard and Maud Messel at Nymans

The Messel family home

Nymans was the country retreat for the Messel family who were pioneering horticulturalists that sponsored plant hunters. However, the family home burnt down in 1947 leaving behind a partially ruined house.

The family, and those who managed the garden on their behalf, were undeterred by this tragedy, although a significant and rare collection of botanical books was lost. Instead they used it as an opportunity to create a garden of experimentation and creativity. Today it's still a place of constantly evolving plant designs and rare and unusual plant collections. It's one of the National Trust’s premier gardens.

Collecting and numbering specimens
Collecting and numbering specimens

John Newling

We particularly wanted to work with an artist who could reflect on Nymans creative history, bringing a strong visual presence to the garden during early spring. John Newling has done exactly that and created an interactive and thoughtful installation for the enjoyment of our visitors.

The artwork will see visitors follow an ‘alphabet trail’ of twenty six sites taking them on a journey around the garden, exploring the language of its plant species and discovering the origin of each letter. It will be at one and the same time an alphabet, a font, and a physical reminder of the wonder of plants.

John hopes that visitors will feel both a connection to the history of the garden and the living set of shapes within it.

Start experimenting with the Nymans font.

" I’m lucky enough to have a garden and I consider it to be a laboratory of wonder where I learn a lot, both spiritual and material."
- John Newling

He said: “It was with great pleasure that I was asked to make a work for Nymans. Nymans inspires me because it is a true material and spiritual demonstration of our desire to learn from an environment that spectacularly shows us that nature is profoundly beautiful. Dedicated volunteers work alongside experts in their field to create a garden that welcomes all people. Everyone can get something from it; no one is excluded. It is a proper garden”.

A Language from the garden
A Language from the garden

The Nymans folio 

Newling has a history of making beautiful books. For Nymans he is creating a bound folio that contains within each of the 30 pages, pressings with their corresponding English letter and its plant equivalent. It many ways this unique book pays homage to the Messel family's extensive collection of botanical specimens and references the books that were destroyed in the fire in 1947.

Newling sees the book as a way of defining and mapping the origins of the unique Nymans language he has constructed; both paying tribute to the site’s past and acknowledging the contemporary importance of all our gardens. The book will be on display in the house.

You can see John’s installation from 16 January 10am – 4pm.