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Book Extract | Outside In: Sean Pritchard

Garden designer Sean Pritchard’s new book ‘Outside In’ sheds light on how to plan a garden so that every month of the year there are cut flowers and foliage to bring indoors to decorate your home. Ahead of his book launch at the museum on Tuesday 16 April, Sean has shared an exclusive extract, from the aptly titled chapter ‘A Museum of the Garden’:

On the kitchen table in early spring any number of things could be going on. If it’s the weekend, there may be bowls of vegetables waiting to be peeled, newspapers waiting to be read, and pages of work from the week just gone waiting to be put away. But no matter what comes and goes on that table, there’s a constant. An enduring display that remains as life moves around it: a little indoor garden.

Photo by Sean Pritchard

I can expect fritillaries leaping from painted cups, daffodils – in huge groups of all kinds – rising from favourite jugs, blown- out crocus falling over the edges of the tiniest bowls, and small terracotta pots packed full of muscari that, when the light catches them, look like glistening oceans. Any other function the table is expected to perform will have no choice but to work around this indoor facsimile of the garden. Within a month it will all have changed. Those same jugs will be a home for drooping tulips, and it will be clouds of cow parsley that are brought indoors by the bucket-load to exhibit in the most prized pots.

But with a garden full of flowers, it would be reasonable to ask the question: why? Why go to the trouble of bringing so much of the garden inside when it can be enjoyed outside in its totality?

I suppose my answer lies somewhere in the deep fascination I have for things being displayed; the idea of a collection of objects that someone has taken the time to curate in such a way that, as a group, they tell a particular story. Displays of objects are around us all the time, but we most often encounter them in a commercial context: products carefully exhibited in shop windows, on roadside billboards and throughout the pages of magazines. The role of the display here is to sell, but, for me, I can trace my interest back to those instances as a child when objects were presented in ways that were intended to inform and instruct.

In school holidays, the best days were always those when my brothers and I would be taken by our parents to the big museums in the city. Those vast monolithic buildings of endless corridors and rooms, where voices bellow and echo if spoken in anything other than a whisper, are the first instances I can remember of being completely captivated by objects laid out on display. There was one room, in the oldest museum in town, that would have me mesmerized for days: a room I now know is referred to as the entomology collection, but back then was simply the room with the insects. It was a colossal space with a mezzanine, cold and always dark, where endless freestanding wooden display cases were positioned along each wall. Inside the glass-fronted cabinets sat the most seductive assortment of butterflies, moths, beetles, spiders and crustaceans, each one seemingly more jam-packed than the last. They were all arranged in perfect rows with each specimen neatly labelled on slips of paper that had started to fade with age, and colour radiated from each display in ways that seemed to light up the darkened room – colours I don’t think I’d ever seen anywhere else. I’d spend what felt like hours carefully studying everything.

Being in that room felt terribly exotic. It was a world far away from the one I was used to – a sort of magical cocoon of alien creatures that I could dip in and out of. I’d come home and spend days drawing what I’d seen. I’d be careful to mimic the ways in which they had been displayed in exacting rows. My fascination lay as much in the conscientious way in which they had been presented as in the specimens themselves. And, although now older and more worldly-wise, that same enchantment at being in a museum has never really left me. That sense of immersion in a place dedicated solely to the discovery and exploration of objects – all thoughtfully packaged and presented to us – still excites me. I think it’s the sense of trying to find a bigger purpose or context in the way disparate things are grouped together that really captures my imagination. Collections of insects are interesting, but it’s the wider significance they take on when formally arranged that, for me, elevates them into displays of wonder and intrigue.

Photo by Sean Pritchard

I suppose we’re all creating something of a museum in our homes. We accumulate so many decorative things throughout our lives – objects, books, photographs, art, treasured keepsakes – that each adds, in some small part, to the individual story of ourselves, and we display them in our homes like little insights into our lives for anyone that may visit. They say something about us to the world: stacks of books might reveal an interest in wildlife or politics; collections of art may hint at a particular fondness for colour; furniture choices might be indicative of a love for a certain movement in design. Rarely do we display things by accident; every object we place in our home is a calculated and tangible extension of the sparks that light up our imagination, and in this way, we’re all curators of our own museum.

Mine is a museum of the garden. Visitors to the cottage will probably be able to glean all the information they need to know about me from the displays of plants and flowers that fill all the rooms. The house is like my own exhibition space for a highly personal show that, although permanent, is ever changing. Collections of colour and texture can be expected; they will sit in groups waiting to be discovered as you move from room to room. Cut flowers tumbling from ceramic vessels will happily coexist with potted plants, and all manner of vegetable crops are also liable to make an appearance. There are little snapshots of the garden everywhere.

Photo by Sean Pritchard

Through these indoor displays, I’m hoping to capture something of that excitement I felt as a boy in the room of butterflies and spiders. I want to be him again – discovering the world for the first time. I want to have, all around me, the things that spark a naive sense of child-like inquisitiveness – a feeling that never seems to have fully disappeared as I’ve got older.

Excerpted from Outside In: A year of growing and displaying by Sean A. Pritchard, published by Mitchell Beazley. Photography: Sean A. Pritchard

Sean Pritchard will be in conversation with designer Luke Edward Hall on Tuesday 16 April at 7pm. In person tickets are fully booked, the livestream is available to book here (watch live or on demand): book the livestream

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