I grew up on the west coast of Sweden. In Scandinavia, people see the whole of nature as their extended garden. Foraging for berries and mushrooms, fishing and wild swimming are part of daily life.
When I moved to London to study graphic design at Central St Martins, I missed all that. After college, I won a competition to design a garden that demonstrated geological history. With only a small space, I had to engage people’s imagination. I was inspired by William Blake’s line, “To see a world in a grain of sand”. One of the judges was Rosie Atkins, who was then curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden.
I came here 14 years ago, and I still work at least one day a week as a freelance design consultant for the garden. I don’t have a garden at home, but I think of the Chelsea Physic Garden, along with Hackney Marshes, Colombia Road Flower Market and Hampstead Heath, as my extended garden. My role is all about representing the reality of this historic place in interpretive signage, guidance material and merchandising. I have to epitomise what is out there in images.
The garden has given something back to me. One day Rosie showed me an 1855 volume, Ferns Of Great Britain & Ireland, by Thomas Moore, the Victorian curator responsible for our Cool Fernery area. The curious, lifelike – as well as life-size – representations of ferns looked like nothing I had seen before. They were too detailed to be drawn by hand, yet clearly not photographs. Even stranger was the texture of the plants, which could be felt by running one’s finger across the image. Despite having quite a lot of experience of different types of printing, I was at a loss. The only clue was a small caption in the corner of the page that read “Nature Printing”. During the 19th century, there was a hunger for a form of scientific image-making, free from the artist’s hand. A plant was pressed into a sheet of lead under high pressure. This highly detailed impression was copied on to a copper printing plate and used for the mass printing of botanical works. I am close to reviving the method and hope to have an exhibition before long.
My favourite spot
I love the Atlantic Islands greenhouse with its 1930s structure and cast-iron and slate shelving. The plants are strange. They cast beautiful shadows and are totally unsuitable for nature printing, so I can appreciate them without thinking what I can make from them.
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