“The Bower” (Bronze, 2015) is the result of Ali Grant’s one year residency at Hidcote Gardens.
The challenge for the artist throughout was to make a piece of work that truly represents the spirit of
Grant began by walking the gardens and looking. She talked to the gardeners and researched the
history of Lawrence Johnston’s creation. An authority to whom Johnston turned was Thomas
Mawson. His book “The Art and Craft of Garden Making” was first published in 1900. In it he writes,
“formality near the house, merging into the natural by degrees… the arrangement should suggest a
series of apartments rather than a panorama which can be grasped in one view: art is well directed
in arousing curiosity, always inviting further exploration, to be rewarded with new but never a final
One central inspiration for Grant is the way the Arts and Craft garden creates its own “rooms”
outdoors, and this idea of the space within a space is at the heart of “The Bower”.
These rooms are quite formal, enclosed spaces close to the house; becoming less formal as the
garden gives way to the surrounding countryside.
There is a playful nature to Hidcote as this formality is transformed. There can be no more fitting day
in the calendar for the exhibition to open than May Day. A day celebrated with Spring rituals and
dawn madrigals, the start of “the merry, merry month of May”. A bower in a garden is fitting for such
celebration. It is a magical place with transformative powers.
“Ha! The Prince and Monsieur Love! I will hide me in the arbour” says Benedick in Much Ado About
Nothing. Beatrice also hides in “the pleached bower, Where honeysuckles, ripened by the sun,
Forbid the sun to enter.” They both overhear staged conversations while hiding, that make them
realise that they are in love. The journey ends with lovers’ meeting and Shakespeare explores the
playfulness of hiding in a bower with wonderful comic effect.
Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night is fully aware of the sensual pleasure that a bower can give. “Away
before me to sweet beds of flowers! Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers.”
The bewitchment of Titania as she dotes on Bottom who has been transformed and has the head of
an ass is made complete with her line, “Come wait upon him; lead him to my bower.”
The bower as a symbol for fecundity and growth, which is itself a kind of transformation, is used by
writers and artists alike. So Grant had her subject.
The sculpture needs to look good from varying distances; from afar like the silhouette of trees in
winter where you look through layers of branches to the sky. Her bower could not be as random as
nature. Its wildness had to be controlled so she began to look at pattern. What better than William
Morris wallpaper patterns and in particular “Trellis”, drawn in 1862? Interestingly, Morris himself was
almost certainly inspired by “Madonna in a Bower of Roses” a medieval altarpiece by Martin
Schongauer painted in 1473. The manipulation of pattern helps create a space that is enclosed but
seen through. There are echoes of Arabic screens and patterns here too.
“The Bower” is not trying to replicate nature. It is not an exact study of plants. It is rather an
evocation of the spirit of Hidcote. Like the garden, the sculpture works on a human scale and its
beauty is in its making. The viewer is invited in to a place that is engaging, playful and welcoming
just like Hidcote Gardens.