Jo Dowers working in the Walled Garden in mid-spring.
The connection between art and the garden were of tremendous interest to the creators of Denmans Garden, Joyce Robinson and John Brookes MBE, and is manifest in the garden in the form of its layout (a series of small compositions), the relationship of its plantings to its design, and the dry riverbeds which are land art.
Mrs Robinson had a painterly aesthetic, referring to her garden as her ‘canvas’ while Brookes, a Modernist, was influenced strongly by abstract painters, Ben Nicholson and Piet Mondrian. He believed that garden design could be thought as a ‘collage of shapes’. He said that an understanding of abstract art could help designers to understand how to use patterns and shapes in a garden layout and how those patterns and shapes should link to the architecture of the house. For him, the connection between art and garden was multifaceted.
Jo Dowers, our Artist-in-Residence for the past year, has interpreted Denmans in her through her own artistic lens.
The culmination of her year spent in the garden will be displayed in ‘A Sussex Garden’- Reflections of an Artist’s Year at Denmans Garden. This exhibition, to be hung in Midpines Cafe at Denmans Garden, will run from Friday, 3 November to Friday, 22 December and will showcase the range of work she has produced.
Having interviewed Jo at various points during her yearlong residency, we wanted to catch up with her one more time to reflect on her experience as our artist-in-residence, her hopes for the exhibition and her ongoing work.
The year has flown by! Having this opportunity to document a year as Denmans’ second Artist-in-Residencehas been a challenging yet rewarding experience. For me it has highlighted the transience of nature and the beauty in the cycle of the seasons. There is always something new to discover in the garden; I particularly recall entering the walled garden in the May sunshine to be greeted by the stunning tulips which gradually turn from yellow to white.
I have loved returning to plein air painting with the joy of capturing a scene in a moment in time, while taking in and attempting to evoke the sights, sounds and fragrance. Visually at Denmans, there is so much to take in, an abundance! So, the key for me has been to be selective and focused: To sketch and paint what I am particularly drawn to.
The connection that both John Brookes and Joyce Robinson had with art became more evident to me while painting in the garden. The repetition of planting, pattern, and colour as well as the juxtaposition of leaf shapes and texture, as if they were using the garden as their canvas. The positioning of the beautiful giant urns, palms and trees give a sense of structure and depth in the garden creating vistas through the spaces.
I feel I have learnt so much along the way, particularly in encouraging me to look at my painting process as well as experimenting again with a wider variety of techniques and mediums.
The Artist-in-Residence programme and its timeframe to work within have been beneficial in providing a focus, whilst at the same time providing the freedom to interpret the garden throughout the year.
It is always a challenge to bring together a variety of work for an exhibition, deciding whether to display in size, colour or medium. It can be difficult to visualise until you actually begin to physically hang the work. For this show, ‘A Sussex Garden’ Reflections of an Artist’s Year I have decided to group together in size and medium used, with my framed watercolours together, acrylic on canvas and large pieces sitting together. This will hopefully help cultivate a sense of harmony for the viewer.
As this residency comes to an end, I would love to continue with plein air sketching and painting as I have found this particularly rewarding. Alongside this, I intend to explore further ways to paint in a looser, more abstract and impressionistic way.
I am very lucky that this will not be the end of my relationship with Denmans as I will be continuing to give creative watercolour workshops along different themes here throughout 2024.
In terms of the exhibition, as a more impressionistic representation of the garden, I hope visitors find it to be an uplifting experience and perhaps encourage them to share my passion for watercolour.
The purpose of the Denmans Garden Artist-in-Residence program is to give artists an opportunity to challenge themselves, using the garden as a theme which is to be interpreted according to their own perceptions.
Further information about ‘A Sussex Garden’ Reflections of an Artist’s Year at Denmans Garden can be found on our events page, along with information about Jo’s forthcoming workshops:
For more information on Jo go to
For more information, please contact Louise Campbell