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Longread

Elspeth Diederix and her Miracle Garden

Longread

Words by Georgie Sinclair

Photos by Elspeth Diederix

Elspeth Diederix is running her hands over a scattering of recently sprouted hyacinth bulbs in the middle of her garden in Amsterdam’s Erasmuspark. It’s a particularly blustery winter's morning. Gusts of wind are whipping leaves and debris into spirals along the streets and the skies are a dramatic shade of grey, which puts Elspeth’s high spirits at odds with the mood of the city. So engrossed in inspecting the sprouting bulbs it’s not until the third time we call to her that she hears us, springing into the air at the sound of her own name.

We are standing in the middle of a large rectangular plot of land called the Miracle Garden, a studio space and experimental lab where Elspeth can bring two of her lifelong passions together: gardening and photography. It’s an idea that won her the Let it Grow Artist Grant back in 2016, a natural progression of an ongoing body of work devoted to capturing the beauty of her everyday surroundings. Here, in the Miracle Garden, Elspeth can actively lend a hand in cultivating each living miracle, to immortalise them on camera. These images make up the ‘Miracle Series’ and appear on successive billboards across the city of Amsterdam throughout the year.

Skirting our way along the muddy corners of each flower bed, Elspeth points excitedly to every sprouting flower bulb, describing with infectious enthusiasm the choices that led to each gardening decision. At this point in time, the garden is far from a finished product, but the structural elements are in place and the first seeds have been sewn. Every section is organised by colour; yellows, reds, pinks and blues, “It was the only way we could give order to it!” The collective ‘we’ to which she refers is a dedicated team of friends and local volunteers who are pitching in to help transform the space into an urban oasis. Quite rightly, too. Gardening, particularly a plot of land this size, is far from the proverbial walk in the park.

Thankfully, along with the help of the community, her degree in Horticulture has also proved to be hugely instrumental in the smooth-running of the project. Half-way through her second year, Elspeth can take her learnings and immediately apply them to her practice, though she insists the process is still very much a case of trial and error, “Space, seasons, there is just so much to take into account!” That might be true, but despite juggling so many separate commitments, Elspeth radiates optimism and unrefined energy.

“Elspeth is the kind of person who sees beauty in everything, which is what makes her artwork so powerful and transfixing”

The garden itself will burst into life this spring and will continue to bloom with annual and perennial wildlife over a period of five years—potentially longer, depending on whether the city council agrees to extend the tenancy agreement. For now, Elspeth is fully focused on sharing her excitement about all the things she finds beautiful. She reasons that we often don’t stop to appreciate our local environment. As we trudge through the mud, spotting and inspecting the tiny sprouting bulbs, it becomes clear that Elspeth is the kind of person who sees beauty in everything, which is what makes her artwork so powerful and transfixing. At first glance, an image looks simple. But when you look a little closer, layer after layer of nuance and mystery begins to reveal itself. The garden will serve as a playground for Elspeth to scout out new subjects for her artworks, and deliver, in her own words, her “gift to the city.”

And the Miracle Garden truly is the gift that keeps on giving. If you are unable to visit the space in person, the website serves as a repository of information on every botanical mystery Elspeth unearths, catalogued and archived through a combination of photography and illustration. During spring and summer bouquets made from her harvests will be handed out as gifts to unsuspecting city-folk, and Veld & Vaas will be holding a series of flower arranging workshops from the cuttings. Finally, there is the reason for the Miracle Garden’s very existence: the Miracle Series. A series of eight unique photographs plastered around Amsterdam, formulated with the intention to bring a little piece of Elspeth’s wilderness to the lives of the city’s commuters.

Lovely! Thank you, Elspeth, for taking the time to show us around your Miracle Garden. We will be back to visit soon!

The Miracle Garden on Instagram

Introducing the artist