Ladybird Garden Safari - Cheshire’s mobile pop-up garden

Ladybird Eco-art Caravan with Su Hurrell

Ladybird Eco-art Caravan with Su Hurrell - Credit: Archant

Su Hurrell, from Alsager, launched her mobile art enterprise Ladybird Garden Safari to inspire children, writes Kate Houghton

Ladybird Eco-art Caravan with Su Hurrell

Ladybird Eco-art Caravan with Su Hurrell - Credit: Archant

Su Hurrell has always had a passion for gardens. She completed a degree in Combined Crafts at MMU Cheshire and went on to use her skills and inspiration in the creation of garden sculptures and water-features using reclaimed materials.

‘I’ve always had a real passion for the garden and am a great recycler and up-cycler,’ Su tells me. ‘So bringing the two together seemed like sense. When I graduated, I won a grant from the David Canter Memorial Fund to help set up my first workshop, which was actually in my flat in Crewe! I lived over a charity shop and their cast-offs supplied many of my first creations.

‘It was here that I made my first pop-up garden, on the fire escape. I used all sorts of things, from old saucepans and colanders to an old Belfast sink. The landlord was quite happy with me; at that time there had been some troubles with anti-social behaviour in that area but my activity outside drove the trouble away!’

Following marriage and children, Su took a career break, of sorts.

Ladybird Eco-art Caravan with Su Hurrell

Ladybird Eco-art Caravan with Su Hurrell - Credit: Archant

‘While I wasn’t actively taking on commissions at that time, I was still doing a lot of work in gardens. I designed a couple of community gardens in this area and planted the Heritage Orchard at Excalibur Primary School in Alsager, which I am still a Guardian of. I also designed and made a memorial garden.

‘Once my children had grown I went back to work and I now have studio space at the old Spode ceramics factory in Stoke town centre, as part of their creation of a Creative Village through a massive restoration.

Most Read

‘I joined the Cheshire Artists Network and took pieces to a few exhibition, which has led to commissions for garden sculptures, again only using reclaimed materials.’

During her career break Su undertook an MA in Art as Environment, which looks at how people live in their space. This led to her founding her not-for-profit Ladybird Garden Safari enterprise.

‘As part of my studies I ran a series of research groups, to find out what people understood by ‘their environment’ and so develop my own understanding of how this in turn influences the way they live.

‘I had a lot of props and needed a way to cart it all about. A bit of eBay surfing later, I found an original 1970’s Norwegian-designed Chateau-mobile, bid on it and won it.’

This fabulously clever bit of kit is a mini caravan that folds down into a trailer 7’ long by 4’ wide that Su can tow behind her car. It needed some restoration and an interior overhaul, but this is nothing to someone as creatively handy as Su. Of course, once her MA was complete, she still had the Chateau-mobile and a deep understanding of the power of planting and plants on how people can be affected by their environment. And that’s when inspiration struck.

‘I love the idea of small, pop-up gardens, created in even the smallest space using things that would otherwise be thrown away. Even an old saucepan used to grow daisies can have a powerful effect.

‘I want to inspire kids and their parents to get gardening, to engage with nature where they live,’ Su explains. ‘If you change the environment you change people’s behaviours; they start taking care of their surroundings and a sense of community develops. This has been proven many times; the Incredible Edible programme that launched in Todmorden resulted in a measurable drop in anti-social behaviour.’

There is an increasing move towards encouraging the creation of community garden projects in the UK, with evidence from the USA and Australia (where community gardens have a long history) showing that they can help create a more cohesive community, reduce crime, help young people develop life skills and even prevent childhood obesity through the availability of fresh produce.

Su took the Chateau-mobile and moved it from practical workshorse to fun, eye-catching and appealing Ladybird, a mobile garden shed, you might say, designed to catch the eye and hold the attention of children, while Su inspires them to discover the joys of planting and growing.

‘I run workshops for everybody from toddlers to pensioners; we cover themes such as Make Do and Mend, recycling and up-cycling, guerrilla gardening and creating memory gardens for senior citizens.’

Su also takes Ladybird to community events across the area, large and small. She relies greatly on people donating the ephemera she needs to create her pop-up garden, which then draws children and adults to come and have a go at starting their own seeds and growing something for themselves.

As well as community events such as the Etruria Canal Festival in Crewe, the Congleton Food Festival and the Alsager One World Week, Su takes Ladybird to events with a national appeal.

‘I was invited to take Ladybird to the Geronimo Festival at Arley Hall and I also took her to RHS Flower Show Tatton Park. The lovely people at Astbury Meadow Garden Centre donated all the flowers for Ladybird at RHS Tatton and a call out on social media brought in lots of lovely props. I had a really lovely few days!’