An invitation to online talk at the Martin Parr Foundation caught my eye a couple of months ago. The title of the work rang some bells, and something about the combination of quiet portraits, captivating botanical still lives and landscapes made me look twice. Linn Gardens on the west coast of Scotland is a place I’d heard of, but not visited. I looked closer and so I was introduced to the work of Robbie Lawrence and his project “A Voice Above The Linn” published by Stanley Barker.
The body of work is a tribute to Jim Taggart, a botanist and gardener who established Linn Gardens 50 years ago. Jim bought the Victorian Linn Villa in 1971 along with its grounds. He developed it into one of the most botanically diverse gardens in Scotland. The gardens are located on the west coast of Scotland, on the Rosneath peninsula in Argyll. The area has a microclimate, warmed by the Gulf Stream.
Robbie collaborated with the renowned poet John Burnside to make the publication, which he describes as:
“I was very interested in old age, the near end of someone’s life. I don’t think we in the UK do a great job of representing the elderly in our culture. I wanted to show this man, to allow his knowledge and connection with nature to be mirrored in the writing by John Burnside.
The book is a exploration of a stage of someone’s life, there was a light tracing of the seasons as a structure, the book begins in winter and ends in the summer. Jim died when the garden was at its most luscious and overun, there’s a paradox there. Every image in the book is a portrait of him.”
Sophie Gerrard interviewed Robbie recently about making the work and publishing it as a book with Stanley Barker – you can watch the interview on our Patreon site.
Jim and his son Jamie collected species for the gardens from all over the world. Many of the 4,000 species they collected were rare and endangered. On one of his plant gathering trips to Vietnam however, tragedy struck and Jamie, aged 41, disappeared. His body was found years later. It’s thought most likely that he fell. Jim kept the gardens going as a memorial to his son.
Robbie documented the gardens over the seasons, returning numerous times. Jim died in June 2019, aged 84.
All images © Robbie Lawrence 2019