Tag Archives: landscape

We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

2 Dec

At the same time that I was contemplating tackling a photo book for the Land in Hand exhibition, I began to think about another artist book.  For some time, I have been gathering photographs and more latterly a series of paintings loosely on the theme of woodland and how people use and abuse them.

The series of paintings already had a title “We’re not out of the Woods yet”.  This suggested a number of different meanings and interpretation.  The  U-turn by the Government on selling off woodland was by no means an end to  selling off public forest and “wild” land, so I raise an alarm that we may still have forests, but we shouldn’t take them for granted.  It references the time of austerity, but also on a wider cynical note it could refer to the fact that in many ways human cultural development has barely made it beyond a time when we lived in the woods.

I had run out of steam and inspiration with the paintings, but the series did not feel like it was sufficient to make an exhibition.  Combining images of the paintings with photographs seemed to fit well.  Then on reading haiku by Colin Blundell, I realised that many of his poems included specific trees, conjuring images very close to those I had actually painted or photographed.  So the logical conclusion was to collaborate with Colin and include a selection of his haiku alongside my images.  Arguably, since haiku is supposed to capture a moment objectively  without emotion, it seems “wrong” to link them with an image in this way, since the image impacts on the poem to create a new meaning.  But that in itself is an interesting experiment.  My photos and Colin’s poems describe independent moments, so putting them together creates a dialogue across time.

The book was put together as a “concertina” folded single stream of images constructed with 6″x4″ prints so that each image is on 8″x6″ unfolded double spread. 

We're Not Out of the Woods Yet

“We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet” – the finished book

Each spread was carefully edited to size and position the image and text.  The individual images were compiled so that they formed a loose narrative. 

I produced a limited edition of 25 of the books, currently retailing at £36 and their numbers are dwindling already.

A selection of images from the book is shown below:

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Coton Hill Allotments – Winding down

5 May

My last visit to the allotments to take photographs was on 26th October 2012.  I didn’t manage to get to the site during most of the harvesting season, but there was still much produce still in evidence.  Some of the winter crops, like leeks and sprouts were also well under way.

It was also good to see that at least one of the bee hives in the neighbouring field had been salvaged.  The bee colony had not been in great condition but hopefully it will thrive.

It was a cool damp day, but the Autumn colours of the leaves were particularly vibrant this year.  Colourful chard leaves also brought some brightness to an otherwise quite sombre day.  There were plenty of mushrooms around in the adjacent fields.

Some people were hard at work just starting out on preparing their plot and putting up fencing ready for next year.

Coton Hill Allotments – it was all worth it

3 May

By 21st July, the site looked fully established.  Another 15 plots had been created and were being prepared, albeit quite late in the growing season.  It was quite astonishing how mature the allotments appeared, as if they had been ongoing for some years.  There was a general relaxed air of satisfaction about the place.

Most of the plots already had plenty of vegetable produce.  One lady was watering her magnificent crop of cabbages and she allowed me to take her portrait with them, albeit that our conversation was somewhat limited by our different languages.

It was quite a warm balmy late afternoon, and it was just the time I had imagined way back when the project started – a late summer’s afternoon when one could relax after working on the plot, have a drink and may be enjoy a barbecue.  I could see that one or two folk had already tried out this particular blissful experience, but there were no barbecues on the day during my visit, so I missed out on that photo opportunity unfortunately.


Coton Hill Allotments – Summer?

24 Jun

It was a beautiful warm sunny morning when I visited in May.  After the warm weather in March, its been mainly wet and unsettled.  But there’s always a plus side for allotmenteers, as that means we don’t have to keep visiting the plot just to water the plants.

For me two of the key signifiers of an allotment are sheds and bean pole supports.  And they are certainly well and truly established at Coton Hill.  I’m fascinated by the character and care that goes into these constructions.

Most of the plots look immaculately well tended, whilst some begin to show signs of the torment of the owners’ struggle against weeds.  But I was delighted to see radishes being harvested in abundance.

Coton Hill Allotments – Open…its official!

15 Jun

I attended the official opening event on Saturday 21st April.  Thankfully the showery weather held off, just long enough for speeches of thanks and congratulations from Simon Howard, Lady Berwick and Cllr Andrew Bannerman.  The sun shone, and there was a tangible feeling of celebration of all the hard work, and relief at getting this far.

Most of the plots are now well developed in terms of fencing, sheds and other infrastructure, and plants are flourishing.

I left just as the hail showers started up again.

Coton Hill Allotments – And so it grows…

27 Mar

Suddenly with an incredible spell of warm, almost Summer-like weather at the end of March, the allotment has become an industrious place.  Its a busy time of year, but I managed to make a visit to the site early on 23rd March. 

I had a chat with the enthusiastic Martin Howard, who has done most of the work in developing the site.  He was continuing to work on the fencing and gates along the northern edge, having completed the work on the main entrance gates at the bottom of the access track.  He was awaiting further instructions on proceeding with the water connection to be made from the Berwick Estate. 

The most striking thing for me, was to see not only the immediate impact people have made on their respective plots, but the diversity of their approach.  As vegetation is not yet well established, the most obvious impact was the new sheds, greenhouses, cloches and other various structures.  Hard landscaping.  The idiosyncratic use of found and reclaimed materials is already evident, in addition to some brand new materials.

Some folk have gone for weed control and mulching – I fear the nettles will bite back.  Others have gone straight for digging and improving the soil.  Several of the plots have impressively neat rows of potatoes planted.  There is already a wide variety of vegetables and fruit bushes.  The most powerful signs of Spring were the few heads of rhubarb bursting out of the soil with an almost palpable energy.

The buds are emerging on the surrounding trees and the battle over territory with the rabbits goes on…

Coton Hill Allotments – Making an Impact

13 Feb

By the time of my visit at the end of January, I could see a huge amount of progress even though there were not any plots quite ready yet.

The site when it was taken on was overgrown with nettles, and there were several trees and hedges that needed cutting back quite severely.  Some of the old tree were taken out, as they were not in great condition anyway.

A more difficult task was the dismantling and clearance of a dilapidated shed structure, which had some bonded asbestos sheeting.  This then required the lower area of the site to be carefully examined and scanned for other asbestos.  Simon and a fellow colleague from an environmental and engineering consultancy, based in Shrewsbury, undertook this work with great professionalism, and carefully bagged up the collected materials for appropriate disposal. 

In order to get the site underway, there needed to be some basic infrastructure.  So a water pipe was brought to the lower part of the site, an access road was constructed down a fairly steep old track using brick rubble, and new fencing/hedges were put up around the boundaries.

Finally, a community shed was erected on a concrete slab foundation.

Coton Hill Allotments – the little details

9 Feb

I spent the first visit wandering around the site noticing so many details of insects, vegetation, old rusty debris and I was most fascinated by the ancient lichens on the old fruit trees.  I took some macro photos, but difficult to get good shots without a tripod – something for a later visit.

On later visits I saw more of the signs of animal activity, such as hazelnut shells left by squirrels, stripped corn cobs amongst straw, and birds’ nests.

I’m also always drawn to the little signs of human activity, such as the rusty gates tied up with rope, shed doors, corroded corrugated sheets and barbed wire.  Given the site’s historical use as an allotment, it will be interesting to see what ancient objects turn up as the earth is dug open once again.

The allotment even when new, will surely be populated with found and adapted tools and other objects.  I like the ramshackle dishevelment of allotments, which on closer inspection reveal many layers of creativity, ingenuity, humour and general thrift.   

Coton Hill Allotments – The Land

3 Feb

The landscape around the allotment site comprises a series of rolling hills or mounds, which could be glacial drumlins.  An old river bed of the River Severn loops around some distance to the north of the site.  It is thought likely that much of the landscape was originally formed by erosion caused by glacial melt waters, which in turn created the original route of the river. 

The Welsh ice sheet is thought to have reached as far as the Coton site, so the drift geology of the site could be a mixture of glacial boulder clay and various glacial or fluvial sands and gravels.  (see paper by Richard Pannet and Steward Sutton, November 13th 2002).  From what I could see of the top soil, it looked rich and fertile and quite well drained.  While the area to the west of the site towards Round Hill is a low lying marshy area, which could be a spur off the old river bed or may be just an old glacial hollow.  There is a ditch or drain running along its length, so possibly it was just an area created to drain the surrounding areas.

The area of the site is known as Corporation Gardens, presumably because the old allotments that were on the site were managed by the local authority.  The area is within the loop of the “old river bed” which can be clearly seen on OS maps and is easily recognised on the ground in various places as low lying marshy ground or ponds with reeds and other wetland vegetation.  This loop of river was believed to have been cut off around 5000 years ago.

When approaching the site along Corporation Lane from Coton Hill, there are two housing developments underway.  I first noticed the inexorable march of houses out into the rural landscape here back in 2008, when I first started walking the Shrewsbury Edgelands.   The housing developments are gradually filling in the space between the railway and Corporation Lane, heading outwards towards Coton Grange.  Already the scenery I observed then is unrecognisable and it will not be long before the new allotments will sit directly alongside new housing estates. 

The “green lane” alongside the site now, is a wonderful and peaceful place, which gives a sense of medieval woodland cart tracks, long before cars.  So the character of that side of the site will inevitably change.  However, the site is quite well shielded by hedging on the nort east side, and it then slopes down towards the low lying ground to the west, which I presume to be part of the Berwick Estate.  Perhaps this aspect will survive intact for longer before the edge of Shrewsbury eventually engulfs the area.  Perhaps also the “community woodland” created around the edge of the older Coton Hill housing will be preserved to hold back development heading further out to the north, so that future development concentrates along Berwick Road.

The history of the Berwick Estate is fairly well documented.  The estate dates back to at least the 14th Century.  The English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest states: 

“Thomas Powys purchased the Berwick estate in 1728 (Leighton, 1901: 15). In about 1731 Powys employed Francis Smith to build Berwick House (Pevsner and Newman, 2006: 74). The house replaced an earlier building and stood within a landscaped park. The estate had its own chapel and a U-plan range of almshouses, both dating to about 1672 (Pevsner and Newman, 2006: 74).”

Berwick House is situated over a mile away from the site to the west, beyond the B5067 Berwick Road which heads out to Baschurch.  The part of the estate where the allotments are to be located remains pasture land with a mixture of “mature deciduous trees and 19th Century coniferous trees and specimen trees”.  These appear to be located mainly around the area known as Round Hill.

The area around the site is well used by walkers, particularly those with dogs, and is clearly well liked.  Having visited the site a few times now, I think it has a special atmosphere linked with its historical and geological origins.  I am beginning to imagine the satisfaction the allotment folk may feel on a warm summer’s evening as they sit back on their plot and enjoy the view, after some hard work and perhaps picking some delicious strawberries…

Coton Hill Allotments – Thinking …

31 Jan

I was informed that the site was historically used for narrow allotments as shown on old maps dating back to the 1800s.  The site was used as such until comparatively recently.  Something I want to research further.  I observed a number of old fruit trees (apples, pears and plums) around the site.  In addition to this though, I noticed many different free food sources, including blackberries, sloes, hazel trees.  Even nettles and hawthorn can be a source of nourishment.  I was reminded of the books “Food for Free” by Richard Mabey and more recently, “Wild Food” by Ray Mears and Gordon Hillman.

This made me think about the historical use of land for agriculture by humans, and I realised that this project has a resonance with that period in the landscape when Neolithic man turned away from hunting and gathering to become a settled farmer.

There could be an interesting relationship and contrast between images of the “wild food” already obtainable and the cultivated food yet to be grown on the site.

In many ways the landscape around the site could be almost unchanged for centuries, but then one begins to notice the details of the tree planting, the fencing, the telegraph poles further away and further away still, the houses.  The signs of the old allotments are not immediately apparent, so I wonder what impact the new allotments will have on the landscape and the surrounding flora and fauna.  I am interested from an environmental, scientific point of view, but I am also interested in the visual impact and what effect the project has on the “atmosphere” of the landscape.

Having shared an allotment with Julie for a few years now, I am aware of the sense of place one has with what could otherwise be an anonymous plot of land.  There is a desire to impose some shape and character to “your” plot, and through the growing of food we can regain some meaningful connection to the land and, as importantly, to the passing of the seasons. 

So besides documenting the transformation of the site, I will explore the direct impact that the people involved in the project will have on the land.  I am interested in recording how the project affects their personal perspectives and the local community in general. 

The trend for managing an allotment is nothing new, but in a time of increasing pressures on the environment, increasing population and a struggling global economy, it is ever more relevant.  Taking some control over the food that we eat must be a good thing, in so many ways.  Perhaps, the images I can capture may illustrate that.