Easter sees one of our biggest events of the year, the Sculpture Festival, come around again. This is a lot of work to put on but an occasion that we all enjoy very much; the Garden lends itself well to sculpture and has such diverse displays that there is a perfect place for any piece of work. Dinosaurs in the evolution dell, a barn owl under the old oaks and metal flowers among the story of flowering plants; it’s good fun helping the artists place each work.
Over the weekend we have a large number of visitors enjoying the Garden, and this is what working in a place like this is all about. I get a bit misty eyed when I see people walking amongst the Mediterranean flora with classic stone sculptures placed amongst the foliage because I remember barrowing the soil to create the slope; crowbarring the huge stones up the bank; digging in sand and chippings to create the Mediterranean soil and planting the olives, rosemary, lavender that soaks up the south facing sunshine. Seeing the people of Bristol and beyond pointing, smelling the plants and taking selfies amongst the statues makes all the development years worthwhile because this Garden is for people to get something out of, whether its mind nourishment, peacefulness, somewhere to take the kids or they just like gardens.
On the weekend of the event there is just one paid member of staff on site and a multitude of volunteers. Volunteers for car parking, stewarding, refreshments, guiding, taking payment on the gate and volunteers for overseeing volunteers. Considering that last year we had over 4000 people at the event this is remarkable. Without volunteers this Botanic Garden would still be the pile of mud that I was barrowing ten years ago to create the Mediterranean display. They are brilliant, from a range of backgrounds and different areas of Bristol all brought together because they love plants.
Working in an environment like this during an event like the Easter Sculpture festival gives me an appreciation of the best of humanity. There is a lot to bring us down on the news and in papers, but a trip to the Garden over Easter will show what can be achieved with a bit of passion and goodwill; a Botanic Garden community thriving next to a creative skill with ceramics, wood, metal, willow and glass.
by Andy Winfield