Histories of Cornish Planting – Plant Navigations

From early 2022, I have been working with National Trust Trengwainton Garden to research the colonial histories of the site at Trengwainton, and of horticulture in Cornwall more generally.

Plant Navigations, Simon Persighetti and Katie Etheridge. Above, Katie Etheridge, Simon Persighetti and Amy Lawrence. Both photos: Steve Tanner

Garden spaces present particular challenges for offering historic interpretation, particularly where they are not accompanied by exhibition space (as is the case at Trengwainton). The garden there was founded on wealth accumulated through enslavement of people in Jamaican plantations, as well as a more recent history of plant collection in Asia (though the estate has changed hands from the original family). The absence of acknowledgement of these histories at site has been a matter of contention.

Our project trialled methods of interpretation that, while temporary, invited public discussion about these aspects of the garden. I’ve written a little about histories of South West planting here

Plant Navigations 2023. Photo: Steve Tanner

In September 2023, I was able to commission Small Acts (Katie Etheridge and Simon Persighetti) with Maria Christoforidou and Amy Lawrence, to make Plant Navigations, a performance that shared some of this research with audiences.

This site-specific performance drew on the particular qualities of a garden space to open up the possibility for a meditation on colonial histories, inviting an audience’s thoughtful response, self-questioning, and dialogue. The idea that the performance and garden offered a ‘safe space’ was reiterated by a number of audience members. They also suggested that the performance gave them new ways to appreciate both garden and plants in general. While the performance itself was ephemeral, it has produced a range of documents and a script that we hope to adapt for a recorded intervention, having proved its accessibility, albeit to a limited audience. A fold out map of Cornwall and some of its plant histories was also created.

Video of Plant Navigations by Barbara Santi, on Vimeo – click the image

Plant Navigations, 2023. Maria Christoforidou. Photo: Steve Tanner





The work was initially supported through the GW4 network ‘Colonial Connections’ (academic lead Nicola Thomas) and subsequently through National Trust seed grant funding and Impact Accelerator funding.