What makes a friendly garden?

Friends of Rock Road Library invited us to explore this question with them as they continued to redevelop their garden space in 2015.

CCI artists Filipa Pereira-Stubbs and Sally Todd worked with four classes from Morley Primary School to think together on how this space can be a friendly one for both nature and the people of all ages who might want to spend time out there. Their ideas informed a brief for willow artist Debbie Hall as she worked with volunteers to shape new structures to enhance the library steps and fences, working with local groups and residents. In May half-term we invited everyone from the community to spend time in the space and make their own creative contribution. The willow work can be visited at any time in the garden and the other posts below document the process involved in creating it.

The friendly garden project has been a brilliant opportunity for our children to see their ideas and creativity represented in their local community beyond the school gates. By being involved in the creation of the garden not only have they had the chance to work with artists to inspire them but they also feel a sense of ownership of that space and regularly comment to teachers on what they see happening in ‘their’ garden on their way to school. The library profile has been raised and our children and families are using the facilities in ways which they may not have done previously. As one child said ‘ I love our very own secret garden’.

If community assets such as libraries are to survive in time of such austerity and cuts they need to become places which are owned and used by local people and I think this project has been a great way of doing that.

Nikki Brown, Headteacher, Morley Primary School

The Friends of Rock Road Library were very keen to work with CCI after experiencing their inspiring work with Spinney Primary School in the adjoining woods. CCI offer an evidenced bridge between artists and the community including teachers and schools.  Libraries always have been places to spark imagination and encourage curiosity and can do this in ways other than solitary book reading. 
Brenda Purkiss, Chair of Friends of Rock Road Library

Further information about the work of Friends is here. https://friendsofrockroadlibrary.wordpress.com

The project was made possible by a S106 Public Art Grant from Cambridge City Council.


A little oasis


It’s a little oasis in the middle of the city

This was just one of the many comments we gathered from the families and other visitors to our friendly garden workshops in half-term. Over 90 people of all ages joined us on two sunny days and picked up brilliantly on the open invitations we had set out  - to draw and make together under our story tent or on a patch of warm grass.  Rebecca from the Friends also laid out more willow to shape and by the end of the two sessions we had nests and a globe and other smaller willow additions for the garden.

We have never been in the garden – we’ve always been in a hurry. It’s been lovely. We’ll come back.
Sally and Beatrice

I hadn’t been here since the children’s library was moved to the back and so hadn’t thought of it in this way. When we have free time as a family we like to try to be outside and now I see how this can be option.

Secret spaces, treasure collecting, portals and tunnels – these were a few of the ideas we had highlighted from the children’s creative work gathered in our earlier workshops.  Willow artist Debbie Hall has worked these into her extraordinary creations for the library staircase and fence, brilliantly supported by about 15 volunteers at various times in her making days.  Offering a dramatic entrance to the garden now, they also encourage other ways to look out on the garden space and provide playful options for displaying new work or treasure collections.

It is wonderful – I wasn’t sure about this project before as I’ve seen willow structures in other public spaces that have been nothing like this. This is so ornate….the warm chestnut colour. I’d love to come back with my camera.

There were also stories told by the children from Morley Primary School to listen to inside as well as displays of their drawings and ideas.

I heard their story


They were very proud of what they did (on Thursday) and wanted to see it displayed and show Daddy. They looked at the rug design with Filipa – the ancient one – they discussed how it tells a story and we looked at the Blossfeldt book and they chose some things to draw and then they decided to work together. Felix’s has secret powers and they wanted to hide with it paths. There’s a button in the corner. For me it was really good to let them decide and they could tell me their ideas. I heard their story and how into it they were. They come up with all sort of ideas when you listen.
Abi, mother of Jasmine and Felix

Both Jasime and Felix had been part of our earlier workshops for Morley Primary School.

Calm, wind and storm


Nate and Aliana and Beth came on Thursday with their Mum and began an extraordinary magic carpet. Then on Saturday they came back bringing their friends William and Molly and their Dads too and continued their carpet work until eventually they had created this memorable triptych to represent ‘calm, wind and storm’.  Their total concentration and brilliant teamwork was unforgettable. All the ‘carpets’ have now gone away to be shared with school.

They’d no interest in coming originally – but now they’ve been here for two hours.

I’ve never been out here before. We never do this at school – it’s nice to have this freedom. At school we have to do other artists and they tell you what to do. Here you get to do what you want. It’s not deadly quiet too – at school there is shouting in every direction or total quiet. It’s nice to sit outside and paint….it dries in the sun and you can see it change…and the sun reflects off the paint.
William, Nate and Aliana (10)

This setting is important…it’s got a very different feel – it’s not overorganised. That’s really important for us all. (it feels) relaxed, chilled, calming and reflective. I’ve enjoyed doing things jointly with Molly – it wouldn’t have happened if it had been more structured. That’s the right word – it’s not that it’s unorganised as I can see how much organisation has happened.
Craig, father of Molly and William

A first family painting


We came in hoping we would find Daniel’s picture and we found it. This is the first time we’ve done a family painting together. We let Daniel decide – he wanted to do the whole garden so we started and just did it. Graham got really into it. He never paints – it’s always me who paints with the kids. Lizzie did a pirate ship too.
Emma, Graham, Daniel and Lizzie

Daniel had joined us in one of the Morley Primary School workshops earlier this term. Their work has been displayed in the children’s library and also in the community room.

The more you look the more you see...


You look at a daisy and then you look and see all the pollen

Yes like those pictures, you know when you think you’re looking at one picture, then suddenly it’s two!

materials used: pencil and dandelion pollen

(by Sally Todd) The Year 4 children have been creating finely detailed drawings in the library garden and we took a moment to look at the stunning and other-wordly photographs of everyday plants by Victorian sculptor Karl Blossfeldt.

The comfrey plant, magnified 7.2 times in Blossfeldt’s photograph, was also noticed growing in the garden:

I was looking at the leaves and then I saw they were fuzzy and funny

Blossfeldt believed that the source of all creative forms could be found in nature, and his way of recording plants combined an intense focus with a surreal sense of composition. The common comfrey, described by the children as starry and fireworks, later transformed into medicinal dinner: 

The mummy dog is poorly and the girl puppies have found her a magic plant to eat
Tiffany and Poppy

The Living Tree


A tree with fruits that have magical powers
Finnigan, year 4, Morley Primary School

The tree with the star


She got to a wonderful place and never came back
Andra, year, 4, Morley Primary School

The magical flower


April's sun helps a flower to not feel left out any more.
April, year 4, Morley Primary School

Dragon Tooth


Linus' extraordinary clay tooth that inspired a story of a young boy in the woods.
Linus, year 4, Morley Primary School

The wishing tree


The first person to find this tree can have 3 wishes.
Sebastian, year 4, Morley Primary School

The sun was gone


Alfie's thriller features a place were the clouds have gone and there is blood on the floor beside a favourite tree
Alfie, year 4, Morley Primary School

Make this garden feel more wild


My favourite place is over there….it can get a bit crowded here. Over there my eye can sometimes wander off the page…it sort of makes you feel lost. It reminds me of when I read The Secret Garden, being away from the road and all the traffic.

This is my secret garden. I found it hard to try to draw it by being in it but it’s been easier to draw as if you were looking in. I’m normally very precise and go for a certain style. I’ve enjoyed drawing more adventurously today - it’s more free.

I want it to look foresty. When you see people’s gardens they can be a bit precise….I’d like it to be more free. When it’s perfect it can be limited. We should make this garden feel more wild, that’s what it feels like when you read a book.

Year 4, Morley Primary School

A drawing bench


I’ve been doing the bench as it moves along. It’s there and I can add people – they’re talking about what they’re drawing.

Year 4, Morley Primary School

An epic quest


A story that began as a drawing in response to the invitation to notice something special in the garden this morning.

A time travelling gardener


Benjamin's story of the time travelling gardener, told as he painted.

Swimming with swans


The children are telling Filipa their stories of swans and swimming together as they play with the clay.

The next time I come here


Stories of snails and naughty tigers emerge as a group sit and play with clay together with Filipa (CCI) and Marta (Morley Primary School).

A space for growing stories


(by Sally Todd) There is a beautiful and intimate garden attached to Rock Road Library on the south side of Cambridge where Filipa, Rebecca and I spent a day with the Year 1 children from Morley Memorial Primary School, recording how the garden feels as a place to visit, what we might like to find there and, as it is a library garden, how it might also fire the imagination for ‘growing’ stories.

We welcomed the children through the library and out into the garden, giving them time to absorb the atmosphere of the site and encouraging all the senses to respond. They spoke of the ‘quiet house’ and ‘the noisy steps’ and we asked them who might wish to visit the garden:

the prime minister, the queen, the mayor, penguins, bees, wasps, butterflies, wild rabbits, old ladies, me

The children were invited to draw their impressions of the library garden:

And then we asked the children what they might like to add to the garden:

sofas, beds, pillows, tissues, tents, yes a large patterned tent, puppies, peacocks, a crocodile, barbeque and a TV

We told the story of the oldest library and the oldest garden over fruit and biscuits in the sunshine surrounded by the apple trees and looked together at the oldest known story written on a clay tablet of Gilgamesh and his search for a rare plant so that he might live for ever.

The children’s stories began to blossom………we heard stories of wildlife, of magical plants and also potential threats to the garden from not so friendly visitors:

In the afternoon we also thought about objects as stories and the children made their own object stories inspired by the garden.

Genie! genie! let the genie out

Ancient book, magic flower, the crocodile and the biscuit family

We thought of the library as the guardian of the children’s stories where they might leave them as a legacy for future generations.

We asked everyone how it felt to spend time in the library garden. The children said stupendous, wonderful, beautiful, fabulous, gigantic! whilst their teacher Mr Turner added I’ve had the most relaxing afternoon….we could build a time-transporting machine to the library garden …an invisible bridge.