Alys Fowler
Alys Fowler

Ahead of her talk at Tate Britain, the Guardian gardening columnist tells us why she loves looking at old pumpkins and Paul Klee

You are going to talk about flowers in the paintings at Tate Britain?

Yes, why they are there and what they represent. Sometimes it is for the artist to show what he’s capable of, sometimes they have clear symbolic meaning, sometimes you see the most ridiculous flowers painted in the most unrealistic of places. At other times it might be something that was fashionable in gardens of the time.

As a gardener, do you look at these paintings differently?

You don’t even notice some of the flowers are there until they are pointed out – tiny little gestures in the grass. If you know when the painting was painted and the season, you can think ‘I bet that’s lady’s smock.’ There are hidden weeds all over the place in Tate Britain.

Do the chronological displays show the standard of flower painting changing over time, or is it down to each individual artist’s skills?

I think it’s a bit of both. You have the Dutch-style flower pictures then you go to the 20th century and even how a flower looks in a painting changes quite radically. You can also see how varieties have changed.

Which are your favourite horticulture-related artworks?

I really love Renaissance pictures of vegetables. I have a deep lust for them. Mostly because you can’t get half those vegetables any more, so I spend most of the time thinking ‘Wow imagine if you could still grow pumpkins like that!’ I also like Dutch flower paintings, because both horticulture and art link there. I can never get over the Turners. They say so much about our relationship with culture and nature and idealised countryside. A lot of people think that’s what the countryside is: or they think it should be. He’s already framing a memory; we have made it our collective identity.

Does art influence your gardening?

Often, actually. I design big scale gardens and I look at Paul Klee. I really love his use of colour and pattern – some of his works are like allotments or back gardens where they are all in little squares. I also really like the way he stylises plants – it’s a really interesting use of form which you can then repeat in the garden.

Alys Fowler will be giving the second in a series of Meet Tate Britain talks on 15 September 2014