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The Personal Connection with Nature's Rhythms

26th May 2016

Rhythm's made a surprisingly vocal appearance at Chelsea Flower Show this week in the Papworth Trust's Together We Can garden. While rhythm and repetition in plants and hard-landscaping are often used to unify a garden, this woodland garden harnesses Nature to create sound rhythms, and they blend together so successfully with the overall design, it's a wonder it hasn't been done before.

Especially as, I'm convinced, sound is our beginning. While a child is still in the womb one of its most varied inputs is sound. Its mother's heartbeat, the rhythms of speech, music heard and felt through the amniotic fluid. The first thing children learn of language is its rhythm, not the words.

What does rhythm do? It creates structure and stability. It imposes order – on music, architecture, garden design – where otherwise there would be chaos. It allows us to rest and yet be carried along. With rhythm we relax.

And what the acoustic garden does is add an audible layer of structure to the design.  The Papworth Trust garden, designed by Peter Eustance of Symphonic Designs, had the close involvement of world-famous percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie. “When she came to the garden I thought she'd go straight to the marimba,” said Peter, “but instead she took a handful of gravel and dried straw and rubbed them on the ground. She took quite a time. It's music that's felt.”

The Papworth Trust Together We Can acoustic garden, designed by Peter Eustance of Symphonic Gardens.  Copyright: © RHS Credit: RHS / Tim Sandall	The Papworth Trust Together We Can acoustic garden, RHS Chelsea 2016. © RHS RHS / Tim Sandall

Behind the naturally generated noises of the water falling from three spouts and the Shishi-odoshi,  which fill with water and then drop to empty themselves while making a chopping noise against blocks of oak, are samples of the recordings made by Evelyn—who made history at The Proms in 1992 when she played the first percussion concerto, starting a wave of percussion concerti around the world—put together by sonic art and music students at Brunel University.

Papworth Trust Together We Can garden, RHS Chelsea 2016

Copyright: Helen Gazeley

What particularly inspired the garden design is Evelyn's fascination with the deeply rhythmic “sea music” produced by the women of the Vanuatu islands who make the water into a musical instrument accompanied by their voices.

Standing at the centre of the garden as the acoustic track accompanies the watery percussion and birdsong in the surrounding trees, there is a feeling of embrace. “It's rhythms within rhythms,” says Peter. “Patterns within Nature, patterns within the music.”

Rhythm is what anchors us within a composition. Here the music creates a garden which is truly felt.

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