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Seeds of Change

‘Seeds of Change’ is the overall title of an on-going ballast seed garden project from Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves.

The project took many forms which are listed below. 

A Floating Ballast Seed Garden

Location: Floating Harbour, North Side, between Bristol Bridge and Castle Park Water Taxi stops (see map below) 

Access: viewable from Castle Park and Arnolfini's public programme of boat tours and events. Download our accessibility document. For listings of events aboard the Floating Ballast Seed Garden see here

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Concept and partners

‘Seeds of Change' is the overall title of an ongoing ballast seed garden project from Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves. Between 1680 and the early 1900's ships' ballast - earth, stones and gravel from trade boats from all over the world used to weigh down the vessel as it docked - was offloaded into the river at Bristol. The ballast contained the seeds of plants from wherever the ship had sailed. Maria Thereza Alves discovered that these ballast seeds can lie dormant for hundreds of years, but that by excavating the river bed, it may be possible to germinate and grow these seeds into flourishing plants. For Alves, ballast seeds can be seen as a living embodiment of Bristol’s history of trade, reflecting the different routes travelled by Bristol merchants worldwide. Working with the University of Bristol Botanic Garden and Bristol City Council, Arnolfini have utilised a disused concrete barge and created a permanent Ballast Seed Garden on Bristol's Floating Harbour, populated with a variety of non-native plants, creating a living history of the city's trade and maritime past. The University of Bristol Botanic Garden team will plant a new scheme of plants at the Floating Garden annually. 

Garden design and sustainability

The Floating Garden was designed by German designer Gitta Gschwendtner who worked closely with the artist to create a contemplative architectural space to walk, sit and observe the plants, with specialist advice from Nick Wray at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden and Lucy Empson at Bristol City Council. The derelict barge was transformed with the advice of structural engineers Ramboll, who worked with the designer and Arnolfini construction team to realize the design and Bristol Harbour Authority. Sustainability is an important aspect of the project, and both the garden’s irrigation system - using water pumped straight from the floating harbour - and its lighting system, are powered by solar panels. Bristol based creative design practice Eudaimon consulted on these aspects of the garden.    Plants are provided courtesy of the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, with the gracious help of their team of volunteers. 

Please find a list of this year's Ballast Seed Garden plants here

Public Programme

Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden was originally commissioned as part of the London 2012 Festival, a spectacular 12-week nationwide celebration from 21 June - 9 Sept 2012 bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK. Since launching the Floating Garden in June 2012, Arnolfini has run a large public engagement programme, working closely with project partners University of Bristol Botanic Garden and University of Bristol Centre for Public Engagement. Events have included school visits, family planting days and boat tours led by botanists, historians, curators, performers, local chefs, storytellers, a specially devised performance by Traveling Light Theatre Company Summer School and an artist commission by Matt Davies. Working with project partners, Arnolfini are exploring ways to develop the Floating Garden’s schools and public programme for Bristol as the 2015 European Green Capital and developing on-going International partnerships.

Opportunities to visit the Floating Garden through Arnolfini's public programme are listed on the website.

Maria Thereza Alves

Maria Thereza Alves is a Brazilian artist living in Europe, who researches social and cultural phenomena working particularly with situations which question social circumstances about what we think we know and who we think we are. Alves was one of the co-founders of the Green Party in Brazil, and later attended the Cooper Union School of Art in New York City. In 2006 she was awarded the prestigious DAAD scholarship (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdients/German Academic Exchange Service). Her work has been exhibited widely across Europe and North America, and she has recently exhibited in the Paris Triennial, Guangzhou Triennial, (d)OCUMENTA 13 in Kassel, the Sao Paulo Biennial, the Taipei Biennial, Manifesta in Trento, the Prague Biennale, the Athens Biennale and the Lyon Biennale where she received the Prix de la Francophonie.

Gitta Gschwendtner

Born in Germany in 1972, Gitta Gschwendtner moved to London in the early nineties to study design at Central Saint Martins, Kingston University and the Royal College of Art. Following graduation from the RCA furniture MA in 1998 she set up her independent design studio in London working on a diverse range of projects ranging from product, interior and exhibition design to public art installations for arts, cultural and corporate clients. Gitta's studio focuses on conceptually rigorous, visually intriguing, functional design across several disciplines. Other clients include British Council, Crafts Council, Design Museum, DuPont Corian, Geffrye Museum, Habitat, Innermost, Mathmos, Peugeot, Purves & Purves, Royal College of Art, Science Museum, Sony, Twentytwentyone, Victoria and Albert Museum and Wellcome Trust.


Tell us what you think at #ballastseed or FFI contact



Growing a Living History of Bristol 

A learning programme for primary schools and community groups in Bristol to design and build their own ballast seed gardens and take part in collaborative workshops. Responding to Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves’ investigation of ballast flora in European port cities and Bristol’s Floating Garden the programme set out to increase understanding of different heritages and engagement with the city’s trading and maritime past. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and led by the University of Bristol, in partnership with Arnolfini and University of Bristol Botanic Garden.

Seeds of Change: Growing a Living History of Bristol enabled primary schools and community groups around Bristol to create their own ballast seed gardens with help from the University of Bristol and the University of West of England students. 11 primary schools and 5 community centres took part in this city-wide engagement project during the 2012/13 academic year. Each created a new garden in their grounds and took part in two specially devised workshops. The following schools and community groups took part in the programme:

Ashley Down Primary

Ashton Gate Primary

Compass Point Primary

Easton Primary

Fishponds Academy

Greenfields Academy

Hillcrest Primary

Sefton Park Primary

Shirehampton Primary

Upper Horfield Primary

St Werburgh’s Primary


The Park Community Learning Centre

Wellspring Healthy Living Centre

The Southville Centre

Windmill Hill City Farm (with St Mary Redcliffe School)

Friends of Netham Park


As partners Arnolfini worked alongside the University of Bristol Centre for Public Engagement and Botanic Garden to develop the engagement programme and facilitate creative workshops at Arnolfini and boat trips to the Floating Garden.  The workshops were co-led by University of Bristol academics and artists and explored different aspects of local and global heritage, as well as art and science. Artists who had previously been commissioned by Arnolfini to create new work for the Floating Garden’s public programme in 2012 were invited to collaborate on the schools/ community groups’ engagement programme. Artists included sound artist and field recordist Matt Davies (Plant Orchestra) and storyteller Michael Loader (Catching the Gypsy Tale).

 In June 2013 the journey of Seeds of Change: Growing a Living History of Bristol was shared in a specially devised Seeds of Change activities tent at Bristol’s Festival of Nature as part of Arnolfini’s Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden public programme. A new audience of around 5,200 visited the Seeds of Change tent at the Festival including further school groups and members of the public. For further information on Seeds of Change at the Festival click here.

The University of Bristol Centre for Public Engagement, Botanic Garden and Arnolfini are currently reviewing the HLF programme and discussing best ways to extend the project to further groups in the future. As partners we are particularly interested in fostering further collaborations between artists and academics for future work connected to Seeds of Change and other projects.

Tell us what you think at #ballastseed and FFI contact Daisy Moon, Programme Assistant:  



In June 2013 Arnolfini took part in the Bristol Festival of Nature’s special 10th anniversary celebrations in collaboration with the University of Bristol to share the project Seeds of Change, the overall title of an ongoing investigation of ballast flora in the port cities of Europe by the Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves.

Working in collaboration with the University of Bristol Centre for Public Engagement and Botanic Garden we hosted a 3 day Seeds of Change creative learning programme at the 2013 Bristol Festival of Nature (Friday 14 June 2013 – Sunday 16 June 2013) for schools and members of the public. Seeds of Change at the Festival of Nature featured an interactive activities tent, temporary ballast seed garden specially designed for the Amphitheatre Square, Bristol Harbourside, and a series of boat tours to Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden. The Festival of Nature programme set out to share the concept of Seeds of Change from Maria Thereza Alves’ Port City installation (2007), the creation of the Floating Garden (2012-ongoing) in Bristol’s Floating Harbour and most recent collaborative programme Seeds of Change: Growing A Living History of Bristol (2012/2013) which brought Bristol primary schools and community groups into the project, delivered by the University of Bristol.

Visitors to the Festival of Nature were invited to explore their heritage and that of their fellow citizens by mapping their ancestral origins on a world map, sharing our links between Bristol and the rest of the world. Ballast seeds, such as rocket, marigold and oats were planted at our lively potting station and the secret sounds of ballast plants could be uncovered by listening into artist Matt Davies’ special recordings of plants, including the fig and the Venus fly trap.

Highlights included; a dedicated schools day, specially devised boat tours to the Floating Garden by international storyteller Cassandra Wye and the reinvention of German artist Matti Braun’s R.T/S.R/V.S artwork, exhibited at Arnolfini in 2012, to create the temporary ballast seed garden for the Festival of Nature.

A new audience of 5,200 visited the Seeds of Change tent at the Festival. 

Tell us what you think at #ballastseed or FFI contact Daisy Moon, Programme Assistant at

Seeds of Change at Bristol Festival of Nature featured as part of the 2013 BIG Green Week – the UK’s festival of eco ideas, art and entertainment.

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