Rowan Lear, The Sentient Garden

In December 2022 Forgan Arts Centre commissioned artist Rowan Lear to redesign an outdoor sensory space in the grounds of the centre. The space will provide an experience for visitors through smell, touch, taste, and sound. It will be accessible for the whole community throughout the year sitting within our freely accessible grounds.

The Sentient Garden

The Sentient Garden is inspired by indigenous knowledge and recent scientific insights, both of which recognise (to differing degrees) the sentience, intelligence, agency and sensory capacities of vegetal life. The Sentient Garden proposes to unsettle the conventional sensory garden schema, which tends to centre human sensory capacities, and instead reimagine the garden as a multisensory and sentient ecology of plants, people and other creatures.

A key idea within this research, which will unfurl through the garden’s production and sharing is braiding. The Sentient Garden is inspired by, among other things, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass, and by St Andrews Botanic Garden’s new driving concept of Darwin’s “tangled bank”. The Sentient Garden will approach the senses not as discrete categories but as braided capacities for feeling and thinking the world. It will understand the variety of life in a garden not as a linear progression from simple to complex organisms nor as a hierarchy of beings, but as an explosion of co-evolution and coexistence. It will seek to guide visitors toward what Kimmerer describes as “an active, reciprocal relationship with the more-than-human world.”

Photographs by Rowan Lear.


A Weaving Together

On Friday 30 June 2023 Rowan invited artist Geoff Forrest to Forgan Arts Centre for a free workshop teaching people how to wattle weave willow. The participants made woven willow panels and conical plant supports with Geoff demonstrating basic and more complicated weaving techniques and designs.

More information about the event can be found on the now archived event listing, here.

Conversations with Plants

Do ecologies speak? What kinds of thinking are plants doing? How do we relate to our vegetal kin? These questions were discussed at Conversations with Plants, a garden study day curated by Rowan to contextualise The Sentient Garden. Invited artists presented workshops, talks, and provocations for the participants. The day was broken up by lunch outside in the gardens using ingredients gathered from the Community Growing Plot and foraged from hedgerows.

Invited artists included:


More information about the event can be found on the now archived event listing, here.


About the artist

Dr Rowan Lear is an artist, writer, and landworker, living in Scotland. Their doctoral research project, A Photographing Body, was a material and philosophical encounter with the bodies of those marginalised in histories and theories of photography: workers, women, children, plants, animals, and minerals. Rowan takes care of Glasgow Seed Library, a project hosted by the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Glasgow, and is a Lecturer in Photography at University of Cumbria. Across art and organising, their practice involves earthly curiosity, multispecies plotting, queer collusion, getting stuck and feeling sticky.

How to get involved

As part of this project we will be undertaking community conversations and consultation as well as workshops and talks. If you’re interested in participating, please sign up to our newsletter and follow us on social media.

This commission is funded by The Lady Margaret Skiffington Trust.


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