The Spode Rose Garden
^Initial plan for renovation of a segment of the Spose Rose Garden, 2013 ^
Stage One (2013)
During the British Ceramics Biennial 2013, AirSpace Gallery renovated a slice of the garden, attached to the Spode China Hall, off Kingsway, Stoke, to act as a physical proposal for the renovation of the entire space. Then, in 2015, we returned to renovate a new segment, plus introduce over 30 newly developed real Spode China Roses to the site. The proposition's intent was meant as an example of what could be the future for the space, and was meant as a way of gathering support and interest to raise the funding and resources and build the necessary partnerships to see the full space renovated by 2017.
^ (l-r) how the garden looked, 2013 | cleaning, 2013 | finished, 2013 ^
The centrepiece of the first stage of the garden proposal was a circular raised bed, built with bricks salvaged from the Spode site. Rising from the middle of the raised bed is a plinth, holding a glass dome. The glass dome houses an artwork: The Spode China Rose - a beautifully crafted, bone china rose, that forms the crux of the Spode Rose Garden project to date.
The Spode China Rose is itself, an idea. It is a promise of new life, development, and the future. The Victorian Language of flowers rather aptly, saw the giving of a China Rose as a symbol of beauty, always new. The physical proposition, made through the renovation of the garden, is underlined by the bone china rose, which is a representation of the real Spode China Rose now populating the Garden.
^ (l-r) making the ceramic rose with Rita Floyd, 2013 | meeting Gareth Fryer in the Rose Field, 2013 | Selecting the Rose, 2013 ^
We collaborated with Ceramic Flower maker, Rita Floyd, in the creation of the design for the Spode China Rose. We took a prototype to a series of meetings with lots of rose breeders. At one of these meetings we struck lucky. On seeing our prototype, Gareth Fryer, whose family has been breeding roses for over 100 years, told us that he had a very similar rose in development - an old-type rose, fragrant and pure white.
This project is an experiment in people power. We hope that our renovation of the garden will act as inspiration for others to adopt neglected green spaces in cities, and we hope to see if there is enough support from the public to have a stake in developing a brand new breed of rose, and seeing this once beautiful space brought back to life.
(2014-2015) of the Rose Garden Project saw three significant developments. The Spode China Rose had been grown on since 2013, and AirSpace had taken delivery of 60 of these brand new plants. 30 of these were planted in the Rose Garden in readiness for the British Ceramics Biennial which took place from September to November 2015, and the rest was used to raise funds for the continued work on the site.
^ (l-r) Spode China Roses, bagged, 2014 | scratch, 2014 | The Spode China Rose, first bloom, 2015 ^
Additionally, a new segment of the garden was identified, marked out, cleared and cleaned. Trees and shrubs were pruned, opening up previously shrouded flower beds, whilst the main flower bed at the front of the Garden was de-grassed and ploughed ready for new planting. The centrepiece of this transformative stage was the addition of a brand new circular rose bed to complement the one built in 2013 and home to the new Spode China Roses.
The gabion-style new rose bed structure rises from the ground made of, a collection of Spode Biscuit-Ware - unfired porcelain dinnerware - rescued from the Spode site, and now forming an emblematic and symbolic home for the Spode China Rose.
^ making the new planter, 2015 ^
With this sort of project, it is sometimes easy to miss the underpinning essential and critical art principles. This example of Action Research - Look > Consult > Plan > Act > Reflect > Repeat
- was exhibited twice in 2015 - In September at the British Ceramics Biennial, and prior to that, the project was selected by curator Deborah robinson for inclusion in the group show Small Worlds
at New Art Gallery Walsall between May and September. The exhibition looked at the modern urban condition, and had at its centre a couple of key questions. How do we understand the concept of the local within an increasingly globalised context? What impact does the transformation of our local environment have on our identity and our communities?
^ The Spode Rose Garden within Small Worlds, New Art Gallery Walsall, May to September, 2015 ^
And finally, and maybe most importantly, this second phase Stoke-on-Trent City Council confirmed that part of their plans to turn the China Hall into a regular programmed cultural space, which will include 43 artists’ studios, a world class exhibition and events space, and creative units for small businesses, will be the full renovation of the Spode Rose Garden. AirSpace Gallery and the council worked on a funding bid to the Department for Communities and Local Government to secure additional funding and are now working closely with the Council to form a group of Friends for the garden space who are now working on its landscaping and design, and in particular we are working together to involve the local community in the design of the new space, encouraging them to take ownership of what will become a real asset for Stoke Town. This engagement is what will ensure the long term future of the garden, as the council’s commitment to renovate the garden, does not extend to looking after the space past completion of the renovation project. Therefore, there is a real need to set up a ‘friends of group’ to become long term caretakers and gardeners for the heritage space. Throughout the British Ceramics Biennial, 2015 we consulted with the local public and and stakeholders to find out what their ideas were for the use of the Garden and those collated thoughts and ideas have fed directly into the plans, helping to make this Garden a truly public space by the time of the next Biennial in 2017.
Stage Three (2016-2017)
for the project then is twofold: We are working together with a team of interested volunteers to design the future space and alongside there has been a series of engagement activities and events which bring people into the space, to help to redesign and reimagine the garden, we have been working together to create planting schemes and green features in relation to the findings from the consultation. Looking at the longer term survival of the garden, the idea will be to form a collective of people who will become Friends of the Garden, and will be interested to look after the space.
At the start of the year, we learned we'd been successful in obtaining a significant amount of funding, in conjunction with Stoke-on-Trent City Council, to help further renovate the space. Back in 2013, one of our main aims, through committed action and a demonstration of a DIY ethos, was to persuade the city's potential stakeholders of the worth of the space. It was really gratifying, then, to receive this Council support and the announcement that the Spode Rose Garden had been designated 1 of only 2 of the city's Pocket Parks, in the Council's ongoing initiative to re-green its urban spaces.
During 2016 we organised a series of Spode Rose Garden development days, where we are working together on the clearance, development, planting and building of a new design for the garden, which incorporates historic patterns from the Spode Pattern Archive - this is a result of the public consultation where a number of people discussed the need for the garden to be a celebration of the heritage of the Spode Factory. Further considerations for the garden which came from the consultation included the provision of seating, shelter and edible planting within the space, and plenty of support for wildlife (birds and bees etc.)
^ Friends of the Spode Rose Garden - clearing, digging, filling, sweeping, planting, watering, 2016 ^
Over the preceding three years, AirSpace Gallery worked hard to foster involvement from a variety people interested in our activities and in seeing the Garden being brought to life. We were open and supportive of volunteer action to help us, and sought to nurture this interest. It was clear from the start of the conversations with Stoke City Council that the space would have to be self-managed. In Spring, 2016, we set up the Friends of The Spode Rose Garden Group
, made up of AirSpace Gallery and 12 volunteers. Our focus was immediately set on the long term future for the space - considering engagement and green feature works for the space, and ways to involve people longer term, this includes organising volunteering events in the garden as well as other activity to engage the local people and stakeholders in becoming members of the friends of the garden. This part of the project is essential to ensure the long term sustainability of the project.
Conversations about the Spode Rose Garden have evolved considerably considering the recent interesting developments of the Arts Ecology in Stoke Town, where a number of small arts organisations have sprung up in recent years, along with the new ACAVA artist studios as an important part of that infrastructure.
2016 was a landmark year for the Garden. over 50 years since its inception, and more than 20 years since it was last in use, the Garden was officially launched, and is now open to the public, 7 days a week throughout the year.
^How the Garden looked in 2013 | Poster for the Garden Openings, 2016 | Visitors to the Openings, 2016 | The Spode China Rose in young bloom, 2016 ^
Throughout 2017, the Group has delivered its plan to hold quarterly public events in the Garden, offering opportunities to fundraise, lift the profile of the space and embed the Garden as a regular cultural venue in the City. Our events - The Easter Egg Party, The Sunflower Party, and Harvest attracted well-over 1000 people, of all ages from Nursery school children to the elderly, proving the universal appeal of the space. Activities have included Early Morning Solstice Yoga, Raku and Smoke Firings, Easter Egg Hunts, Bonnet Competitions, A Bring and Swap Produce event, Best Vegetable Competitions, Ceramics workshops and many many more acticvities.
RHS Tatton Flower Show, 2017
The highlight of the year was our experience entering RHS Tatton Flower Show’s Blooming Borders competition. Bringing a design based on the famous Spode pattern – Blue Italian – to life and entering into competition at one of the country’s 5 major flower shows was our biggest challenge since we opened our Garden’s doors to the Public.
Taking the historic Spode pattern as the inspiration for our border, the group landscape designed our own border, led by Friends of Group Member Dawn Meyer, working with local nursery Proctors. We fabricated all of our own sculptural elements, including metal trellis, and a series of ceramic planters, which were self-made on the Spode site under the tutelage of Friends of Group member Jo Ayre. Over the course of the week of the Show, we engaged with well over 10,000 visitors, acting as advocates for the city of Stoke, the British Ceramics Biennial and of course the Spode Rose Garden. This activity has certainly payed dividends, as we are regularly finding that people from outside the city are travelling to see the garden as a result of our presence at the Flower Show.
Gratifyingly, the Group’s Blooming Border won a Silver Gilt medal - a rare feat for a first attempt. Buoyed by this success, the group will be looking towards more Flower Show opportunities - potentially at Chatsworth in 2019.
The newly formed Friends of Spode Rose Garden Group welcome new members for both the management of the garden and group, but also generally welcome anyone that would like to get involved in doing a bit of gardening. Contact Anna Francis: firstname.lastname@example.org
for more details. And for more information on the whole of the project, please contact us at AirSpace at email@example.com