The Alde Valley Spring Festival is held each year at White House Farm in the beautiful Upper Alde Valley of Suffolk. The farm sits within a landscape that has been planted and cultivated for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Small areas of farm parkland and pightles or pasture are enclosed by hedges of hawthorn, crab apple, blackthorn, field maple, hazel and elm. This grassy landscape is punctuated by free-standing trees : oak, ash and poplars tower above the hedgerows. In places the hedges adjoin patches of deciduous woodland : aldercarr in the valley bottom and larger mixed stands of oak, ash, sycamore, sweet chestnut, hornbeam, willow and hazel on the slopes and tops. And at the fringes of all these are arable fields, supporting crops of wheat, barley, sugar beet, beans, potatoes, vining peas and oil seed rape.
It is a productive landscape, full of plants both wild and deliberately sown or dug into the local soil, which ranges from heavy clay through loams to soft sand and deposits of alluvial peat – sometimes all within a few hundred metres. Among all of these cultivated or nurtured plants are wild survivors of more ancient woodland and forest clearings : shrubs / small woody plants, grasses and herbs, together with the occasional fern and seasonal eruptions of fungi. Many of the wild plants have come to be called weeds – especially when their presence is seen as undesirable in modern gardening and agriculture. But this labeling can often overlook their true character and half-remembered uses. And as arable farming has become more efficient and more exclusive, with a focus on fewer, more intensively selected crop plants [and a plethora of associated ‘crop protection’ chemicals], some of the once common wayside ‘weeds’ have become rare, even to the extent that they are now protected or locally extinct.
All of this farmed, wild and semi-wild botany grows alongside pockets of much more intimately managed land. Here, wild varieties or species co-habit with carefully selected relatives or descendants in the form of hybrids, cuttings, clones, cultivars or imported exotic specimens. These oases of botanical creativity are the gardens of the Alde Valley. They are productive and also decorative. The balance point varies endlessly in many fascinating ways as the mix of plants reflects personal tastes and local history – or in some cases, disinterest or ‘neglect’: a plant may be grown for its beauty, its scent; for culinary or medicinal use; it may have been a gift or part of an inherited flora; or it may be surviving amid a resurgent wave of local wild plants.
In all these cases or situations the presence of a plant in a garden or in the broader farmed or semi-wild landscape is part of a story, sometimes untold and poorly understood or completely forgotten. It is easy to believe that we, as humans, can control our environment - that we can dictate the terms on which we live on this planet. But that is probably a mistake. Plants give us oxygen to breathe, clean water to drink and the raw materials for shelter, food, medicines, comfort and rest. To borrow a phrase, ‘we live in their world’.
For 2019, The Spring Festival Exhibition adopts the theme of “Florabundance : A Celebration of Gardens, Plants and Produce”. The idea is for the Festival Programme as a whole [and the Festival Exhibition in particular] to look at the many ways in which we breed or cultivate plants; how we relate to them; how we select certain specimens to provide names and official descriptions; and how discovering and naming of plants becomes an adventure in itself. The Exhibition also seeks to honour their presence in our gardens and landscape and celebrate the importance of plants in our lives – alongside natural pollinators and seed carriers - through the work of selected guest artists.
This year's Festival Exhibition examines how we relate to plants, both domesticated and wild: how we select certain specimens to be named and given official descriptions; and how the discovering and naming of plants can become an adventure in itself. The Exhibition also honours their presence in our gardens and the broader landscape : "we live in their world".
Artists are listed in the order in which their work appears in the farmyard and buildings at the farm.
The Festival Exhibition includes a striking new bronze installation "3019" by Maggi Hambling.
Emma Tennant. A collection of new ink and watercolour paintings of botanical subjects from around the UK, each accompanied by botanical notes on the plant's history. Emma has visited Great Glemham House to paint in the walled garden. Her show features a small number works on loan from the Cranbrook family – including paintings of plants brought back from Tibet in 1931 by Jock Cranbrook whilst on an expedition with plant collector Kindgon Ward.
Alice-Andrea Ewing. A beautiful collection of unique and limited edition bronzes of fruits and vegetables from the walled garden at Great Glemham. The bronzes were created during a 6 month Pomarius Residency at White House Farm in the winter of 2018/19. In a separate room we are showing a collection of bronze relief 'adpresssions' of marsh plants from Slaughden – inspired by the writing and botanical collections of Suffolk's gritty poet George Crabbe.
Ruth Stage. A series of new paintings in egg tempera of the market garden at White House Farm and the walled garden at Great Glemham House. Ruth is a past recipient of a Spring Festival Painting Residency. All the works on show were completed in the winter of 2018/2019.
Jelly Green. A magnificent solo show of new iris paintings. The works include portraits of iris bred by plantsman and painter Sir Cedric Morris at Benton End art school. Some were painted at Sarah Cook's National Collection of Cedric Morris Irises; others at Woottens nursery.
Jane Wormell. Oil paintings of the artist's garden in North London and of hedgerows found outside the city. These works present deeply absorbing impressions of how an artist experiences their own garden - and the tangled, abundant wildness of country hedgerows.
Tessa Newcomb. In a solo show of new paintings, Tessa returns to a perennial theme - and one of endless fascination: the allotments and market gardens of East Suffolk. The paintings catch people at work, celebrating daily life on their "adorable plots".
Lily Hunter Green. After completing Composed - The No 1 Sound Residency at the farm in 2014, it is a great pleasure to welcome Lily Hunter Green back for her latest video/sound installation Tuning In – which explores sonic interactions between flowers and pollinators.
Perienne Christian. A new collection of etchings, drawings and paintings takes the viewer to the Suffolk coast; to a landscape scoured by the sea and wind, laced with lost stories and coastal plants: some delicate, others robust; and many with long histories of use.
Maggi Hambling. 3019. Bronze installation, 2019.
Emma Green. The restoration of hedgerows and the recovery wildflower populations have been key conservation aims at the farm. Emma presents paintings of winter flowers and springtime blossom made during a Hedge Hut Painting Residency in early 2019.
Becky Munting. A vital pre-requisite for the survival of flowering plants is the continued co-existence of their pollinators. Becky was invited to explore this theme. The result is a gathering of jewel-like paintings on show in the farmhouse – alongside Emma's paintings.
Benton End. In tribute to Sir Cedric Morris and Arthur Lett Haines, "Florabundance includes a small exhibition of photographs and archive material connected to Benton End. With thanks to Sarah Cook, Maggi Hambling, Alistair and Sarah Carr and others.
Flower Paintings by Margaret Thomas. Weekend of 11th/12th May. A selling exhibition of flower portraits by the late Margaret Thomas – with many thanks to Cork Brick Gallery.
Icon Painting in the Alde Valley
We are delighted to welcome Marchela Dimitrova and a selection new icons The Twelve Apostles of Ireland – together with cuttings of a wild rose from the hills of St Finian's Bay in Kerry – where Maggi Hambling first painted the sea.
For more information about the Exhibition or artists’ work please contact : email@example.com