This project began with a walk with Robin Riley, the Chair of Friends of St James gardens. As Artist in Residence at The LIPA Primary, which is situated beside the Anglican Cathedral, I wanted to connect the school to the gardens, and engage the children with their closest green space.
Robin talked me through the history of the site as we walked. He explained that the site was a former stone quarry, and produced the sandstone that built some of Liverpool’s magnificent buildings. As we walked down the sloped path leading into the gardens, lined with gravestones, he spoke about some of the people buried there, and how the the garden was once a ‘sea of graves.’ Natural features of the garden include a spring, sixty-four recorded species of birds, and a variety trees, flowers and grasses.
Robin is an artist, sculptor, writer, historian, broadcaster, and a knowledgeable naturalist. As we walked, we shared conversations around conservation and how, as artists, we choose to translate our experiences of a place. We spent time looking at the garden walls, considering the movements of the pick axes in the stone as living memorials to the men whose toil built the city. What Robin names ‘the old graffiti wall’ has initials engraved into the stone, a testimony to their time spent labouring. The movements, formed like sculptural drawings, each stone, carved individually with lines and marks existing as natural drawings. Each section varies in scale and colour; contrasting tonal changes that have developed over many years. These ‘Living Walls’ – now host diverse species including vines, mosses and ferns, with the rich biodiversity creating individual compositions all along.I began taking photographs to create a colour study of the walls ranging from the palest sea green to warm gold, vivid greens and reds. We collected some of the sandstone from the crumbling walls as we walked. We decided to turn this stone into drawing material, as the distinct gold colour could be a new paint pantone, branded ‘Liverpool Gold’ – a natural alternative for a ‘City of bling’.
The process of taking from one site to create something new with the children, works well with the aims of the group; in terms of encouraging ownership of the gardens in its future custodians.
My plans to create green screens for the school railings, in order to protect the children from the air pollution caused by carbon emissions started by growing our own ‘living walls’ with the species prevalent in the garden. We decided to create wildlife corridors and enhance biodiversity between the gardens and the school. We spoke about Tony Bradshaw, the renowned evolutionary biologists and restoration ecologists who was a great friend of Robins. Tony lived in Liverpool and ‘devoted his knowledge and experience to the city, and helped transform its oldest public park, St James Gardens. Shortly before he died, he was made Liverpool’s first citizen of honour’. We thought a good project to start with would be to spread wildflowers from St James Gardens to the school garden and then to the Oratory grounds (our next project) – while inspiring a connection and love of the natural world in the next generations of naturalists.