The Sculpture Garden at Salena Stamps

by Peter Boex

Salena Stamps was a medieval water-powered tin ore crushing mill which is known in Cornwall as a tin stamps. The ground is a post-industrial area that returned to natural vegetation following the closure of the stamps in 1938. There are five acres attached to our cottage, little of which had been used as garden when we arrived in 1980. The cottage is in Trenear, a village two miles outside Helston and on the banks of the Cober River. The land rises from the river on one side up through old granite quarries to field boundaries higher up. The lane and the leat for the old water power run down the middle of the property. From our point of view, its acid soil is advantageous for the heathers, camellias and rhododendrons, but less so for the bracken that grows abundantly. The indigenous trees are sycamore, willow, oak and hawthorn with areas of gorse and broom.

For over 30 years I have been interested in tree planting and was long associated with the International Tree Foundation. When we arrived at the cottage, one of the first major jobs I did was to plant a large area of the poor land with ash trees for coppicing. These have become very productive over the years. I also planted small copses of beech, horse chestnut, oak and fast-growing willow. Other feature trees planted were Italian and red alder and there were many indigenous coppiced stools of sycamore already on the land.

The Celtic Totem sculpture in its pergola at Salena Stamps

The Celtic Totem sculpture in its pergola at Salena Stamps

We have been fortunate to have lived at Salena Stamps for nearly 30 years. Ten years ago after a lifetime of carving and sculpture, I decided to use the beautiful land we live on for a sculpture garden, using my own sculptures and designing the garden along the Cober which gives it a natural form and the outstanding feature of a river walk with the sounds, smells and sights of a wild garden.

There is a critical mass of sculptures needed before you have a ‘sculpture garden’ as opposed to just sculpture in the garden. It has taken me over eight years to achieve it. Without getting too pedantic there are two types of sculpture, large fixed pieces and smaller moveable pieces. The first sculpture to go in was the Celtic Totem, in its own little pergola, and the second was Three Form Figure, set in a group of four alder buckthorn trees that have developed into extraordinary sculptural shapes. The totem has the distinction of a long view as you walk towards it as opposed to the intimate space around the three form figure. The lesson learned from these early positionings was that a sculpture garden would be like a golf course, in that you need fairways between sculptures so that you are enticed by the long view followed by the green or intimate space around the sculpture where you can move around and appreciate the piece.

The Three Form Figure sculpture in its setting of alder buckthorn trees

The Three Form Figure sculpture in its setting of alder buckthorn trees

Celtic Cone five oak pieces make up the whole

Celtic Cone five oak pieces make up the whole

 

The growth of the shrubs and trees takes longer than the production of the sculptures but the cost in time and materials for the sculptures is greater than that of plants. The gardening and the colour associated with the plants is a vital factor in the development of the sculpture garden. The colour of a camellia can enhance a sculpture and the height of a tree can be used for the drama of a sculpture. The copses that I planted in my early years are now used as cover and environments for the sculptures. I have employed crown lifting [cutting off the lower branches] techniques to get more light and height in among the trees.

Of course it is necessary to use a mower and I have a ride-on and a walk-behind. I use the grass cuttings mixed with bracken and leafmould as mulch on the beds and as a means of shaping them. By laying a thick layer in the winter, the grass dies, the birds feed and the bed is reshaped with minimum work and maximum benefit  Sometimes I use this method around the base of the sculptures to stop the weed growth and as time has gone on I have reduced the amount of mowing by having larger beds.

So the lessons I have learned about the development of the sculpture garden are: (a) the layout of the views, (b) the smaller areas around the sculptures, (c) the influence of flower colour on sculpture, (d) the effect of tree height on sculptural proportion, (e) the practical aspects of maintenance, i.e. grass cutting, mulching and good quality materials and plants, (f) and most importantly, using interesting pieces of sculpture.  A further lesson was the discovery of how a piece of sculpture can connect areas of the garden. So for example, Celtic Cone is really five sculptures in a row, each one pierced with an oval, which act as a connecting corridor within the garden, so if you sit at one end you look through to a small sculpture at the other end. This is not only fun but it also acts as a lesson in perspective and it draws you through the garden to another area while also being a jolly good photo-opportunity.

By their very nature, all sculpture gardens are different which is why we are drawn to visit them. I am privileged to have been able to start one from scratch and to learn the lessons along the way and to see the daily changes. There are what I call ‘sculptural moments’ when the sunlight or shadow falls in a special way, revealing a new aspect of a sculpture or a unique but transient moment of time and place when you just wish you had a camera with you. In a follow-up article in next year’s Journal I will track the addition of new sculptures and show how the garden has been used by different groups.

Peter Boex is a sculptor and carver who has worked in Cornwall for over 30 years. His ecclesiastical work can be seen in Truro Cathedral and in many churches around Cornwall including Veryan, St Endellion, Lanlivery, Breage and Stithians churches.

 

The sculpture garden and gallery at Salena Stamps are open by appointment.

Contact details: email peter@peterboex.com or tel. 01326 563002. More examples of Peter’s work can be seen on his website www.peterboex.com