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Seeds of Change: 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


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Upcoming events
Bristol Festival of Nature Bristol Festival of Nature
Sunday 12 June 2016, 14:30 to 16:00
Join the University of Bristol’s Botanic Garden display of ballast seed plants and experience a special taster ...
Ballast Seed Boat Tour with Andrea Chung Ballast Seed Boat Tour with Andrea Chung
Wednesday 22 June 2016, 18:45 to 20:15
Join this special event for an opportunity to hear artist Andrea Chung discuss The Floating Ballast Seed Garden.
Floating Garden: The Story Hunt with Cassandra Wye Floating Garden: The Story Hunt with Cassandra Wye
Saturday 02 July 2016, 14:30 to 16:00
Join Cassandra Wye, international storyteller, on an amazing adventure to the Floating Ballast Seed Garden to ...
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Arnolfini is dedicated to creating environments for learning, where people can spend time reimagining the world, ...