Sybil Phoenix:
A Guyanese-inspired Garden

For our Sowing Roots project exploring the stories of south London gardeners of Caribbean heritage, we are grateful to Woodrow Phoenix for being interviewed on behalf of his mother Sybil Phoenix. We share her story here:

Sybil Phoenix OBE was born in 1927 in Guyana, which was at the time ‘British Guiana’ and is part of the Caribbean. Guiana means ‘land of water’. The country gained independence from Britain in 1966. Guyana is on the northern mainland of south America and most of the population live along the coast, as it is cooler than inland.

Sybil came to the UK before independence in 1958, moving to Brockley, Lewisham with her husband in 1963. Sybil would go on in due course to be Mayoress of Lewisham and receive the honour of being the first black woman in Britain to receive an MBE in 1973 for services to the community followed by an OBE in 2008.

Sybil started gardening as soon as she had her own garden. Plants in her garden include palms, a fig tree, Japanese maple, a cherry and apple tree and various roses. Woodrow says, “For her the garden is really a place just to unwind and relax… she’s one of these people that can grow anything. People would give her plants that were dying, and she would resurrect them, and people are always saying how amazing she was at being able to grow anything. It’s like she didn’t have a green thumb, she had like green hands…”

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Film: Lucian Freud’s ‘Small Fern’ (1967)

This unusual composition encapsulates the originality of Lucian Freud’s approach to painting plants. Placed on the floor and seen from above, a Boston fern sits snug in the modesty of its terracotta pot. In this film, curator Giovanni Aloi explains what we can learn from this seemingly simple painting.

Lucian Freud: Plant Portraits is open until 5 March
Digital partner: Patch Plants

Explore the online exhibition

Bookshop Christmas bundle offer! Buy one get one half price

Buy the Garden Café Cookbook and Fashioning the Rose exhibition catalogue together for just £15 in our Christmas bundle! The perfect gifts for the food or fashion lovers in your life, or to add to your own bookshelf.

Buy a bundle

Beautiful & Useful Craft Fair Stallholder:
Kiran Ravilious

Just one week to go till our Beautiful & Useful Craft Fair! This week’s stallholder spotlight is Kiran Ravilious: 

Kiran Ravilious is a pattern designer who uses lino-printing to develop her designs for textiles and paper goods. Her designs have a hint of the tropics to them as she was raised in Singapore. While never strictly botanical, her work is a unique fusion of very different inspirations: the lush tropical growth of her homeland with the delicate patterns of English nature. Her style draws on both the age-old hand printing techniques of South East Asia, and the legacy of her husband’s artistic family.

Sun 4 December, 10.30am – 5pm
£7 Standard, £6 Young Fronds, Friends go free

Book tickets

Christmas Wreath-making Workshop

Join us to create a beautiful bespoke traditional Christmas wreath from scratch using fresh materials and dried fruit and berries. Florist Elaine Fisher will teach you the techniques and guide you in making your own wreath to hang on your front door or even use as a table centrepiece.

Tues 29 November, 7pm
£60 Standard, £55 Friends

Book tickets

Object of the Week: A WW1 Soldier’s Collection of Pressed Flowers, c.1917

These pressed flowers, including a poppy, were collected by George Marr whilst serving as a soldier on the Eastern Front in Greece during World War I. Some of the flowers he posted from Salonika to his sweetheart, who later became his wife. On his death his daughter, Georgeann Slater, found a notebook he had kept during his service in Greece. Georgeann said:

When I opened the notebook, and flowers were pressed on just about every page, I thought how beautiful it must be for a young man to be so taken with this country. And the thought that I might go to Greece and see these lovely wild flowers was a great encouragement to me. I went to the plains above Salonika, where my father was in 1917. To think that he was walking among those wildflowers, such a sweet gentle man, is a lovely memory of my father.

The collection is made up of Convolvulus althaeoides (Mallow Leaved Bindweed), Agrostemma githago (Corncockle), Adonis annua (Pheasant’s Eye), Papaver rhoeas (Field Poppy), Hedera helix (Common Ivy), Echium plantagineum (Purple Viper’s Bugloss), Rosa sempervirens (Evergreen rose), Daucus carota (Wild Carrot), Cyclamen persicum (Florist’s Cyclamen), Campanula ligulata, Consolida regalis (Forking larkspur) and Juniperus Phoenicia (Phoenician Juniper).

These wartime wildflowers from our collection inspired jewellery Phoebe Walsh’s project Flowers from the Frontline, using flowers from the new frontlines in Kyiv.

Find out more
Images: Sybil Phoenix in her garden, photo courtesy of Sybil Phoenix; Cards, tea towel and dish by Kiran Ravilious; Christmas wreath photo courtesy of Elaine Fisher
Garden Museum
5 Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7LB

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Garden Museum · Lambeth Palace Road · London, London SE1 7LB · United Kingdom