I have always said that one measure of success in Global Generation’s practice is that things happen that we could never have imagined were possible. In this regard, the Story Garden is surpassing expectations. Unexpected contributions have come through a growing band of collaborators, excited by the possibilities of bringing to life our most recent project; two acres of land at the back of the British Library. Little over a month ago I received an email from our new friend and collaborator Polly Gifford of Theatre Complicitée. The email heralded the arrival of a wonderful portable wood; a band of 52 trees with a message, coming to the Story Garden.
“I would like to introduce you to Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey, fantastic artists and part of the original Culture Declares Emergency group. They have a wonderful project called Beuys Acorns currently installed in the Bloomberg Arcade in London. They might need to look for somewhere to keep the trees from September, I had spoken about Global Generation previously and said I [would] make an introduction in case there was any possibility that the Story Garden could be an option. The trees are very evocative and themselves full of stories.”
In 2007, Heather and Dan (known as Ackroyd and Harvey) gathered and germinated hundreds of acorns from renowned artist Joseph Beuys’s seminal artwork, 7000 Oaks in Germany, and in doing so began a new open-ended research project which they refer to as Beuys’ Acorns https://www.ackroydandharvey.com/beuys-acorns/. In the 1980’s when the original 7000 Oaks were planted by Joseph Beuys they held a message of social and environmental change; a message the oaks have carried with them into the Story Garden. The reason why they needed a home in London is in itself a call to action. Due to the spread of oak processionary moth in London boroughs, there are now limitations on where oaks of any description can travel. Whilst the Beuys’ Acorns have a clean bill of health, their presence is a poignant reminder of the growing number of pathogens that are endangering many plants, like the oak and the ash (including the much loved Thomas Hardy Tree in nearby St Pancras Gardens).
In the spirit of the Story Garden, the Oaks were arranged in a circle of three rings of trees, with a fire pit and storytelling space in the middle. We noticed that people were instantly drawn to be with them. In the first week the oak circle was home to a talk by Sue Amos (GG’s new head of gardens) for a group of volunteers about the importance of bees and other pollinators in the city. The volunteers went on to create a wildlife corner in the garden.
The next visitor was Dr Chris Jeffs, Education and Engagement manager for the British Ecological Society. It turned out Chris’s PhD focussed on oak trees. Chris shared a story that might explain why with the arrival of the Oaks came an increase in the variety of wasps visiting the garden. Over 30 species of parasitic Oak Gall Wasps infect native oak trees. These wasps lay their eggs in various parts of the tree and the tree responds by producing abnormal growth around the egg and the developing larvae. The galls have high tannin content and it is this feature that has led to their use in the manufacture of ink. Documents such as the Magna Carta were written with oak gall ink.
Two days later our family day participants sat amongst the Oaks. Along with storytelling and fire lighting and the cooking of thyme tea on the fire, the mums told us stories of family picnics in Bangladesh. They asked if they could cook for us and if we could run an overnight camp in the Story Garden for them and their children. Within the call for positive social and environmental change, our new Oak Wood embodies a message of safety, intimacy and healing. As one mum said; “this a place we can be and mix with each other … I feel good in here.”