The Hepworth Wakefield Garden 7th Feb 2022

Katy Merrington: cultural gardener

Before she was appointed as cultural gardener to the Hepworth gallery in Wakefield, Katy trained at Harlow Carr and worked in the prestigious Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh, Tresco Abbey Garden and Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. She has been central to the development of the public garden at the Hepworth Gallery from the start of its construction phase and has worked closely with Tom Stuart-Smith

TomjStuart Smith

as a professional gardener to create a continuous wave of colour and texture throughout the year


and which complements the rather stark modernist, external architecture of the gallery itself

Modernist architecture

The idea was to create a cultural link between the art of locally-born Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore inside and the ever-changing structure and colour of the garden outside.

Barbara Hepworth was important as a focus for the gallery. Rock formation and mining in Yorkshire influenced the textures and contours of her work. The city council wished to regenerate the derelict mills of the neighbouring Waterfront where the gallery was to be built and Barbara Hepworth’s family bequeathed her art collection, including sculptures and plaster models to the city.

Outside the newly-built gallery was an acre of grass, and a bit of an eyesore, so the Trustees decided to create a garden to complement and enhance it. Tom Stuart-Smith won the contract in open international competition and his garden plans were voted in by the public. He is well known for his TV work at Hampton Court and Chelsea Flower Shows and has also completed large projects, including the new Kings Cross redevelopment and work for the Queen. His trademark is abundant planting to create a natural feel, with sequencing of flowering year-round. Height-wise, the garden was designed in layers with hedges, trees and shrubs overlying herbaceous perennials and bulbs. Elegant pencil drawings were followed by computer-generated designs

(figure 3). Established trees and hedges were introduced to give a sense of maturity from the outset. Plant choice was influenced by the lower lying, windier and dryer site conditions down by the river and the original sandy clay loam was recycled.

The garden was started at the end of 2019 and unveiled at the start of the pandemic, opening 24 hours a day all year-round and with free entry to the public, as yet with no significant vandalism. Staff do a litter pick and deal with other minor damage each morning. Tom Stuart-Smith wanted it to have a walled garden feel, to screen off neighbouring industry and the motorway (figure 4). Sculpture was also introduced to link to the gallery inside. It was divided into zones of shade, more open space and the entrance with the play area to create year-round interest.

Katy then described the specific plant combinations that provide colour and structure throughout the seasons , analogous to an orchestra and its moments. Details will soon be published, and will be very useful to the gardeners amongst us. Of note, hellebores appear with 10000 snowdrops in February, followed by daffodils and bulbs, 60000 in all, in Spring. Autumn colours are dominated by waves of tree blossom and 100m of beech hedging, all chosen for their rich changing colours and hidden corners. As things die down, everything is left until the New Year, after which there is major pruning of perennials, a single annual weeding and bark mulching up until March to expose emerging bulbs. Hedge trimmers are often used for efficiency. Surprisingly there are no compost facilities on site, so it goes to the council for recycling and resale. Everything is perennial, with no labour-intensive annuals.

A good bit of economic advice from Katy for your own garden was that clusters give a better effect, grouped as 5-7 plants together, and to buy smaller-sized perennials if there’s a choice. A bulb planter is a good idea. Omphalodes cappadocica, a big forget-me-not, was a huge spelling challenge for most of us but apparently gives a great show together with yellow bulbs for shady places under trees.

Katy certainly is a Hepworth dynamo. She gave a great talk. It’s a charity and she with others are busy raising funds at the moment for a permanent tool storage area.

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Blog by Andrew Shorthouse Monday 7th February 2022