︎

Feature –

Katie Ellen Fields




“When you think of the planting in Milton Keynes, it is incredible! There are certain things that will blossom at the right seasons, so you always have pink cherry blossoms in spring on certain boulevards, and different coloured maples in autumn. It is strange how Milton Keynes got such a reputation for being grey because the planting is amazing!”
– Katie Ellen Fields



Artist and grower Katie Ellen Fields is the first resident artist of WALL, a collaboration between Blackened Sun Brewing Company and Big Shop Friday.

        We visited Katie at her allotment to discuss her practice, horticulture, Milton Keynes and how the allotment is the place to be. We also established that Ferns are kind of badass, houseplants are the gateway drug to horticulture and that we should just “mulch everything.”





Milton Keynes “born and bred,” Katie studied art at the University of Northampton and is currently studying horticulture at Shuttleworth College, Bedford. Her practice centres on object making and reverence, working with objects used in rituals and ceremonies to create performative and interactive installations. Most recently objects used in tea culture and horticulture have been the focus of her explorations.
        Katie has exhibited and performed throughout the UK, and published her first book Walk in 2017. We were so excited to visit her at her allotment on a frosty February day. Snow lay on the ground, but crocuses were pushing their way through and the sun brought the greenhous temperature to 15 degrees, where we sat all cosy to discuss Katie’s work.









How has your practice been influenced
by getting the allotment?





My work has always had a real emphasis on materials which then just naturally led to plants. I tried to grow things in my old studio, but with the cold and lack of sunlight it meant that it was never really successful- when I got the allotment it kind of just changed everything.
        The studio was always a place for me to think and to write and draw, rather than actually realise any work. I spent so much time here [at the allotment] that this then became the place to think, and because I was thinking about plants all the time and dreaming about plants, naturally my work went in that direction.
        My family still can’t quite believe what I’m doing now because I used to mock my mum and my grandma every time we went to flower shows and gardens and I’d think “this is the most boring thing we’ve ever done” and then there’s me deciding “I’m going to study horticulture!”

It has been quite a turn around.

So when anyone says to me that they’re not good with plants I think “yeh you just wait”. The first step for me was having house plants and killing so many… just drowning them constantly, and then when something actually grew, I realised I could do this.

        So I think that’s where it starts. Houseplants are like the gateway drug to horticulture.

        I finished my theory in horticulture last year, and I do my practical this year. I’ve also got a volunteer position at the Chelsea Physic Garden which are the most incredible gardens. They have everything there, all the poisonous plants that are really deadly and all the medicinal plants. It’s a good place to be for sure.






Do you have a favourite plant?









Ferns, always.

On the allotment it’s not really a good place to have a fern because it’s so bright and sunny and ferns like shady areas, but I love a fern.
        Anything that reminds me of Jurassic Park was always my favourite and Ferns were the first things on the planet in terms of plants. They don’t flower, but propagate by spores. When flowers developed they won the botanical world because they would just propagate much better than the plants that had spores, which could just float or and die. A flower is pretty much guaranteed in getting pollinated, because they’re not only reliant on insects, but by wind-plants such as pine cones, or people brushing past things which then stick to our clothes – they’re really clever.  Much more clever than a fern… which are still my favourite.
        But they know what they’re doing, they were some of the first plants and they’ve lasted this long. A lot of plants really need sun and you can’t have sun everywhere, so ferns grow in shady areas. Yeh I do love a fern.
        Really, I love tropical indoor plants, probably because of so many visits to Kew and being in the palm house, in the warm with the pineapples and bananas.



When I built the greenhouse I painted a mural of the four things I wanted to grow in here-so I’ve got a lemon, a Plumeria or Frangipani, a pepper and a banana. 
        Horticulture is facing a real challenge, coffee is dying out because we don’t use enough diverse coffee, and it’s the same with bananas where we only grow one variety. I read that we only have about 100 harvests left in the world because the soil has degraded so much. We don’t compost enough and so we aren’t giving the nutrients back and do the potency of the soil is just getting worse and worse.
        So I’m such a big mulcher, mulching is my favourite gardening job to do.




What is mulching?





Mulching is giving everything at least two inches of organic matter regardless of what it is, so the worms can take that up and put it back in so you start to regenerate that soil. For winter it’s great because it keeps the soil warm and it keeps the water in… which is why mulching is my favourite thing. Mulch everything!




What attracted you to apply
for the Blackened Sun WALL residency?









I’ve visited Blackened Sun Brewery a few times and I’ve been to a number of Big Shop Friday events and always have a great time. A while back I heard Gary (Blackened Sun) and Dan (Big Shop) discussing a piece of work that they’ve already got there by James Carey, and how great it was for customers, for the brewery and the artist.
        In my mind I was thinking about how great it would be to grow things in there, so when I saw the residency opportunity I figured, why not?! Gary had explained to me the process of brewing and how challenging it is, and precise. It’s so similar to a creative process for an artist in that there are things you need to overcome, the experimentation that goes on.






So what is your piece for WALL?









Hit the Wall is a botanical installation that will include edible botanicals that can be used to flavour brews. The installation will grow and change with time, and can be picked and sampled. The installation incorporates ‘obstacles’, demonstrating the tenacity of plants and making reference to the challenges of the creative process.
        I thought it would be amazing if I could grow things that could be put into the beer vats. It’s not as simple as that, but if we can grow something that we can sprinkle into our drinks that will change their appearance and taste than that, I think, will be just as exciting.
        The beers at Blackened Sun are incredible because you can taste different things in them, they taste very pure and quite light – so adding botanicals should be able to influence that. I have no doubt that when we do the Pick n Mix event, we’re going to create some things that taste weird… but that’s part of the fun.






What plants have you selected for the installation and why?







As it is quite early in the season, we have picked hardy plants to give them a better chance. Anything that is tender or half-hardy would struggle in there because it’s winter so it’s quite cool and there isn’t a lot of sunlight although we have supplemented that with a grow lamp.
        I’ve put Hops in there because they are what’s used to flavour most beers and we’re going to encourage them to climb and grow over people’s heads as that’d be such a great visual thing.
        We haven’t any fruits in there as fruits require pollinators, but we have got flowers. We have some Elder and Calendula, Cornflower and Nasturtium which have quite a savoury flavour but they’ll look incredible if you put them in a drink.
        We then have foliage plants, Strawberry, and Chocolate Mint. Chamomile which although you can use the flowers, has an apple flavoured foliage which tastes pretty fresh and should taste quite nice chopped up in a brew.
        There are ten plants in total but we’re tripling up on the Hops so we can hopefully have enough to make a small batch of beer at the end of the residency. 




Tell us about growing up in Milton Keynes.







I remember being really young, knowing that this was my home town and thinking that all towns in this country look like this. It wasn’t until I went to Northampton and being taken aback by how different it was that I realised that we were the unique town.
        I never understood when people said I lived in a concrete jungle and Milton Keynes was just concrete and roundabouts, because all I ever saw was green. I remember going for walks for hours around Milton Keynes and never seeing a building. I was really drawn to that combination of a lot of green and the Italian granite, I guess as an artist interest in materials.






And that’s influenced how you work?





It has definitely influenced what I like and the things I like to go and look at and experience. It has made me walk a lot, and part of my practice has always had a walking element and an element of exploration. Walking in Milton Keynes is fantastic.
        It’s got a surprising amount of allotments as well. This one on the North West of Milton Keynes is massive, 250 plots, surrounded by a very small housing estate and then just woodland. It’s surprising how green people from Milton Keynes are, I think we all have quite a big connection to the woods. All the people I know from Milton Keynes really cherish the parks and walks and woods. It has been a really good springboard for any practice that is outdoor based.



It’s really nice that nature is such a fundamental part in your practice in that it really juxtaposes the constructed image of Milton Keynes as being so grid-like and linear.
        When you think of the planting in Milton Keynes, it is incredible! There are certain things that will blossom at the right seasons, so you always have pink cherry blossoms in spring on certain boulevards, and different coloured maples in autumn. It is strange how Milton Keynes got such a reputation for being grey because the planting is amazing – I mean the shopping centre is basically just a mile long greenhouse. It houses plants which you’d struggle to grow usually in a British climate, like Birds of Paradise and Monstera. And again when I was a kid, I thought that every shopping centre was like a greenhouse, which of course, they’re not.
        That image of Milton Keynes as grey has always been so baffling to me because I’ve only ever seen greenhouses and woodlands.






To find out more about Katie Ellen Fields visit her website: www.katieellenfields.com

Hit the Wall is now available to view now at the Blackened Sun Brewery, 3 Heathfield, Stacey Bushes, MK12 6HP.

Opening times: Fridays 5–10pm; Saturdays 12–10pm & Sundays 12–5pm
WALL is a three month residency project organised by Big Shop Friday and Blackened Sun Brewing Co. WALL is about supporting local independents, whether that’s art, beer, food or music. Working in collaboration like this will help build audiences, bridges and hopefully new opportunities to help grow your business or creative practice.

For more information about WALL visit wall.bigshopfriday.co.uk

WALL is supported with funding from MK Community Foundation.

Interview by Roisin Callaghan @callaghanroisin and photography by Jo Trotter @imagebyjt
Mark