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Jyll Bradley

ABOUT THE ARTIST Jyll Bradley (b. 1966, Folkestone; lives London) has often focused upon people’s complex relationships with plants as a way of exploring ideas of connectivity and place. Bradley’s works typically combine photography (often presented in light-boxes), text and sculptural elements. They are oblique cultural constructs where the emotional meets the formal, both containing and revealing the individual and collective human spirit. The trip to the Galápagos in November 2008 was profoundly moving for Bradley. She has said that she found its transparency beguiling: ‘Galápagos has a way of paring intentions… it affords no shade, literally or metaphorically.’ In Santa Cruz, she worked closely with the Botany Department of the Charles Darwin Research Station, following the work of their Native Gardening Project, which aims to encourage the growing of native plant species – such as Scalesia and Opuntia – instead of more spectacular imports like Bougainvillea spectabilis and golden trumpet. She accompanied a team visiting schools, local municipal gardens and private homes, both providing and helping to cultivate native plants. Bradley was fascinated by the paradox of horticulture being mobilised to help save nature, and reflected upon the fluid boundaries between gardening and nature. Bradley photographed her observations using a 5x4 field camera, equipment which, in itself, slows down the act of looking. Her resulting portraits of gardens and gardening show plants being integrated modestly into the landscape by hand. They also indicate the subtle human relations brought about through this shared endeavour – an activity more often seen as a form of solitary creative expression.


Our garden at home was my father’s big idea. This entangled bank of green, flowers and earth was a refuge, a form of biography and a contrast to strictures demanded elsewhere. Many summers ago, in the months leading up to his death, my father and I took a turn in the garden. We paused at each flower bed and like a frail Adam in Eden he pointed to and named the plants, adding his recollection of their provenance, all of which I duly wrote down in my notebook. We were preparing for a journey into the unknown that would last for the rest of my life – me without him. On his death, I returned to the garden for the last time with a trowel and, referring back to my notes, dug up a capsule garden: the myrtle which he told me had been struck from my grandmother’s wedding bouquet, the rosemary planted after my mother died. I put these into a plastic bag and carried them into my future. As I discovered, gardens in the Galápagos came by a similar itinerant route. They were brought by sea as precious seeds, and as moist plant-lings, by people in search of new life. Many of their plants escaped, vying with local flora, and from this desire – to conserve the ‘greater’ garden – a new horti/culture has emerged, using native species. It is a leap of  faith: small in flower and colour many Galápagos plants are, at first glance, difficult to love. Gardening in the Galápagos, then, is raw and young. As I


discovered, it has many appearances: three men on a highland path collecting plants; a woman admiring new greenery outside her business premises; two figures, barely tangible, in a thicket; a tableau of people from all corners of the Earth planting ferns in the morning light – like an allegory of humility. Whilst there I was taken to a garden created by lovers – a water tank, a yellow flower, lava – where did culture end and nature begin? Familiar garden sights took on new meaning for me: those native plants pertly arrayed like offerings at a village fête there became legionnaires in a battle for sustainable hearts and minds. A rake idling against a tree – was it an index of the futility of human conquest over nature or sign of a strange love-in between the two? We long to express who we are, where we come from and to what we aspire. The confluence of these desires – like the rivers that crossed through mythic Eden – is found in place. Place has a time. It is that indeterminate hour when we have done or grown all we need to survive, and there is nothing left but to say what we really mean. Gardens arise here. The gardens of the Galápagos arise here. They are entangled, wanton, not easily read. Gardening on the Galápagos is a big idea. Perhaps it is the biggest idea of all. Secretly I think the gardeners there know they are leading a quiet r/evolution.

Photographs by Jyll Bradley, 2008

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‘It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.’ ‘There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.’

On the Origin of Species (1859) Charles Darwin (1809–82)


Jyll Bradley essay