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  • Writer's pictureEllie Barrett

Mini-micro gardens!

Make your own “Mini-Micro Garden” with Amy Sykes and Ellie Barrett

As part of Creative West End’s commissions, artist Ellie Barrett and nature-based educator Amy Sykes are working together to produce a series of hanging planters in response to the community-led Micro-Garden in Morecambe’s West End. Ellie has been designing the planters, using only recycled and environmentally friendly materials. Amy has been growing peppermint, lemon balm and basil from seed, which will be potted into the finished planters.


There are 3 ways you can get involved with this project:

  1. Creative West End Network Party on June 14th: Ellie will be leading a creative workshop to make the planters. Come along and learn how to work with jesmonite to make colourful pots!

  2. More Than A Market on July 8th: Amy will lead a potting workshop where we’ll plant the seedlings into the new planters. Come and learn some growing skills!

  3. More Than A Market on September 9th: The plants will be flourishing and ready to brew up some refreshing teas. Come along and share a freshly made cup!


In this blog, Amy and Ellie will be introducing themselves via an online interview as they get to know a little bit more about one another, find out how this project came together and tell you how to get involved.


Amy: Hi Ellie! So, to kick us off, I’d love to know more about the origins of this project, and how and why you first came up with the idea for the Mini-Micro Garden…


Ellie: Hiya Amy! I first found the Micro-Garden back in 2021 when I was working to deliver a project supporting artist Beth Shapeero to create a tile mural in response to the plants, produce and flowers growing there. I found the whole experience and the people involved really interesting - the way that what was a vacant lot is now a flourishing green spot, which is tended to by lots of different people and offers anything from a place to grow your own veg to a place to share food together to a sunbathing spot. When Beki and Jo asked me if I’d be interested in responding to the site as an artist for this year’s Creative West End programme, I started thinking about how I could add yet another level of getting involved without taking up too much space. I remember speaking to people while I helped to install the mural, and they said they knew others who might be more interested in tending to a small area, rather than taking on a whole bed. And so I thought of the “Mini-Micro Gardens”! The small, hanging planters will be hanging from structures already at the gardens (fences, trees, raised bed edges) and can be moved around so they’re super flexible. They might even migrate into someone’s house, or further into Morecambe, but wherever they end up, they represent a piece of the original micro-garden and the way it brings people together in lots of different ways.


Tile mural at the Micro-Garden, led by Beth Shapeero and created by local residents and young people at Stanley's Youth Centre.

And now over to you! As an artist, I believe in the power of making things together, and I think growing things together is very similar. What drew you to centre your career as an educator in cultivating plants and produce, and why do you think it’s important?


Amy: There’s a great quote from Margaret McMillan, a pioneer of outdoor learning, “The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky”. I have a teaching background, so have observed the joy and freedom children have when playing (and therefore learning - because play is learning!) outdoors, and when connecting with the natural world. And it’s not just children - we all benefit by being outdoors and having our hands in the soil, both physically and mentally. Watching a seed that you have planted grow into a healthy plant that you can eat is magical! Couple this with our need to address the climate crisis, food security and societal health issues, and you can see how nature-centred education and the opportunity for everyone to grow healthy food is a major step in us being able to make improvements in all these areas. Planting a few seeds seems like such a tiny action, but it has the potential to have a huge positive impact.


As an artist, do you believe engagement in creating has a similar positive impact on makers?



Seeds for the project sewn by Amy, just beginning to germinate!

Ellie: Yes, absolutely! A lot of what you said resonates very strongly with my own approach to art-making. In an essay called "For an Art Against the Mythology of Everyday Life" written in 1979, artist Martha Rosler explains that she sees the disappearance of everyday making as closely linked to a loss of confidence and a dissatisfaction with objects that are made for us rather than by us. She says “Historically, the advance of industrial capitalism has eradicated craft skills among working people and economically productive activity within the family and thus lessened our chances to gain a sense of accomplishment and worth in our work.” I think that’s more true now than when she originally wrote it. I believe making things is a way of rebelling against this effect, taking up space in the world and feeling like we’ve made an impact. It’s a form of activism and protest, connecting our bodies with the environment. I also believe making things, particularly sculptural objects, is something anyone can do with anything we can get our hands on!


It’s very interesting that we have different specialisms and skills, but we share a very similar approach to what we do. Do you think there is a value to collaborating with people who work in different ways?


Amy: Oh, so much value! We have so much to learn from each other, and it’s only by engaging with people who do things differently that we can experience new perspectives, be inspired and challenged, and develop. When collaborators come at a project with different skills, perspectives and backgrounds, there’s no pre-worn path for the project’s outcome - the potential is vast, and I find that really exciting. I’ve learned lots about materials from you already - I hadn’t even heard of jesmonite before we began working together on this project! And now I can put Martha Rosler’s essay on my reading list, too, so thanks! Your description of what she says about the eradication of craft skills echoes concerns about people’s eroding freedoms to grow and access healthy food.


That’s one of the things I love most about Morecambe’s creative community: people have such a huge variety of skills and interests, and are so open to sharing with and learning from one another. It’s quite liberating, and means that projects often take on a life of their own. Just like we hope the Mini Micro-Gardens will take on lives of their own, and will be seen popping up all over the place as the wider community become involved - the project’s next collaborators!


What’s the next step for people to be part of the Mini Micro-Gardens project, Ellie?



Ellie's experimentation with jesmonite.


Ellie: That’s a perfect link back to the project! There are 3 different ways you can join in with making the planters a reality, and anyone is welcome to come to any bit they fancy:


  • At the next Net-Work Party, at More Music on 14th June, we’ll be making the hanging planters. These are made from reclaimed plastic pots, which we’ll be decorating with jesmonite (as you mention earlier, Amy!) This is an environmentally-friendly, non-toxic material which is also weather-proof. It can be coloured, so we’ll be reinforcing the pots to withstand the outdoors as well as making them look colourful and striking! This is also linked to using colour and material to make sculpture, so perfect if you’re interested in this angle too.

  • For the Market on July 8th, we’ll be bringing the finished pots and the plants you’ve been growing, Amy, along to a potting workshop. There’s a choice of peppermint, lemonbalm and basil, which you chose because they’re all used in tea-brewing or cooking, so there’s an element of caring for one another. You can chose to take a finished pot away with you for your own space, or if you leave it with us, we’ll hang it at the Micro-Garden.

  • Finally, for the Market on September 9th, the pots and plants will come alive as we use the plants to brew tea. We’ll be extending the collaboration to work with Glen Duckett and Andy Morris’ Made in Morecambe project, and contributing to the food they’re serving on homemade tableware by using the herbs to make freshly brewed tea.


I’m really looking forward to see this project come alive - we’ve both been working behind the scenes, but it’s only when people come and make it happen that it will be meaningful.


We hope to see you for pot-making, pot-planting or tea-drinking soon!


Ellie Barrett is an artist and practice-based researcher. Her sculptural practice explores different ways of using materials outside of contemporary art practice that we might find in our homes as a means of democratising making, viewing and critiquing artworks. She teaches Fine Art and Lancaster University and City & Guilds Art School and is a Mum to her baby daughter, who has become a frequent contributor to her projects. You can find more information about Ellie’s work at www.elliebarrett.com or on Instagram at @EllieCBarrett


Amy Sykes delivers nature-connected learning experiences for children and families through The Secret Garden Learning. She moved to Morecambe in 2019, and lives here with her husband, their daughter and their two guinea pigs. When she's not researching new nature craft projects for little ones, you'll mostly find her weeding her allotment plot. You can find out more about Amy's work at www.secretgardenlearning.com, on Facebook @secretgardenmorecambe and on Instagram @secretgardenlearning.

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