The last thing I expected when I set off this morning to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy was to encounter herds of elephants in two of the Royal Parks. The installation of life-sized Asian elephants in St James’s Park and The Green Park highlights the work of conservation charity Elephant Family and forms part of Co-Existence, an environmental campaign inspired by the way in which the reduction in human activity last year, as a result of the pandemic, had a positive effect on wildlife. The campaign reminds us that we share the planet with animals and must coexist with them rather than removing their natural habitats by our activities. A parallel photographic exhibit showed images from 2020 of, for example, penguins crossing a deserted Cape Town street.
At this stage I imagine you’re thinking what has this to do with gardening, I thought Weeds Roots & Leaves was a blog about gardens, plants etc.? Bear with me: in one of the interpretation panels I read that the Elephant Family charity works with indigenous communities in the Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu in southern India to remove the plant Lantana camara as well as promoting peaceful human-elephant coexistence. Lantana camara? Isn’t that the rather pretty shrub you see in Spain with the two-tone yellow and red flowers? Indeed it is and to my surprise I have read this evening that it has spread around the globe from its origins in Central and South America to more than 50 countries and is classed as an invasive species.
The L. camara connection doesn’t end there. It is the material used to make the sculptures themselves. The 100 plus strong herds have been made over the last five years by the communities in Tamil Nadu as part of the initiative. On first inspection I thought the wonderful sculptures were made with bamboo but this material is clearly more pliable lending itself to the curves of the elephant’s forms. I can’t describe how uplifting this installation is. You can’t help smiling when you stand in the middle of the herd and sense the beauty and power of these graceful creatures.
One of the images in the photographic exhibition alongside the herd features a mother and very young (fuzzy still) calf walking alongside the road, (in a manner reminiscent of the New Forest ponies). They are on an ‘elephant corridor’ which connects the habitats of the Asian elephant. And Mum has the beginning of a small garden on her back: growing in the soil deposited during a cooling down trunk spray!
Whilst the ‘anthropause’ brought wildlife into unexpected places in 2020, David Hockney was at his home in France creating a series of iPad images documenting the arrival of spring in his corner of Normandy. Occupying three of the main galleries on the first floor of the RA, these vivid images capture the transition from bare branched late winter trees, through the first chartreuse coloured flush of leaves to blossom heavy orchards. And whilst many of the images feature the wider landscape, a few show the area around the timber framed farmhouse, where clipped box doughnuts squat beside gravelled paths and an enormous tree shades a rustic table and chairs. In another a treehouse teeters: a far cry from that made for me by my father in the garden where I grew up, this one has a roof and a ladder! My favourite images are the night scenes, where trees are outlined by smudges of moonlight.
As I walked home from the station I noticed what I think might be a Kiftsgate rose emerging from Wisteria leaves atop a garden wall. A peaceful image to conclude a relaxing and happy summer’s day.