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2015 on the Floating Ballast Seed Barge

George Ferguson visits the barge.

23 December 2015

It is exciting and reassuring to know that while we are enjoying our winter festivities, the exotic seeds from the four corners of the world are snuggled up at the Botanic Garden waiting to take centre stage on next year’s Floating Ballast Seed Garden in the heart of Bristol.

This seems an ideal time to reflect on some of the fantastic, innovative events which have taken place on the barge during 2015.

Seeds of Change is the overall title of an on-going ballast seed garden project with Brazilian artist, Maria Thereza Alves. When ships came into port in Bristol, they were weighed down with ballast (earth, sand, rocks, etc) which they dumped onto the river banks. In this ballast were seeds which can lie dormant for hundreds of years, after leaving their home country. These seeds germinated and grew, contributing to the development of the ‘European’ landscape.

Working with the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, Arnolfini and Bristol City Council, with the support of Bristol Harbour Authority and utilising a disused grain barge, Alves has created a Ballast seed Garden on Bristol’s Floating Harbour, populated with a variety of non-native plants, creating a living history of the city’s trade and maritime past.

There has been a particularly wide variety of events held on the barge this year. For many visitors, including myself, the adventure starts when you board the ferry boat and head along the water, passed the myriad of boats, to the unique Floating Ballast Seed Garden.

While the Botanic Garden staff worked on the project, propagating some of the plants, away from the barge during the early part of the year, the season for the public started with the annual planting of the wonderful array of ballast plants. Families were invited to visit the Arnolfini’s activity tent to participate in fun plant themed activities and talk to the friendly, knowledgeable volunteers about the amazing garden, special guest plants and hear about the ideas behind the Floating Ballast Seed Garden project. 

Other events have included a variety of botanical tours, a visit by the Floating Cinema, storytelling, a history of the harbour tour, visits by both the Lord Mayor Lord Mayor, Councillor Clare Campion-Smith and the Lord Mayor’s Consort, Mr Ian Campion-Smith.

To celebrate Bristol’s European Green Capital Year with the city receiving many guests, the project team decided to have guest plant species. Botanic Garden researcher, Cathy Lewis, interrogated the flora of South Glamorgan, Pembrokeshire, Swansea and Cardiff docks to discover their ballast seeds. The garden then sourced these seeds and the plants are now growing on the barge.

Nick Wray summed up the appeal of the project: “One of the magical things about the barge is you can view it from Castle Park but not get onto the garden except from the boat.”

Kate Brindley, Arnolfini CEO, explained how the project has developed into a major resource for the city.  “It inspires people creatively and is a catalyst for conversation and creativity. We have engaged 8,000 people in conversation about rich history of the project and worked with 500 school children.” The project has involved working with lots of community partners and its legacy includes copycat ballast seed gardens around the city and University of Bristol project online resources for the public to access.”

Paul Gilbert made a film on the whole project which can be viewed here: http://vimeo.com/51676849

Watch this space for the exciting events on the FBSG for next year.