The Gesamthof  is the enclosure behind the artist studio's of Studio Start in Antwerp, this 'hof' between the walls of a church and a monastery is being changed into a green workplace for artists. 


The Gesamthof is a combination of ecology and art and takes the form of a young garden under construction. The garden is botanically inspired, meaning that the scientific classification of plants served as inspiration for the diversity. Instead of cultivars, wild plants are often chosen; weeds do not exist, and instead of systematically removing everything that has not been planted by humans, there is room in the Gesamthof for unknown seeds to germinate. There is more, nature is not subordinate to man, in the Gesamthof everything is equal and plants, trees, bees and birds also have an interest in a nice garden, just like the stones in the ground and the broken pond.


This project started out of the potential of this space, without institutional structures or funding, instead it is made with the help of many people and the generous support of the Botanical Garden in Ghent. The Gesamthof is being developed to help artists to be more aware of our environmental identity and as a learning tool for botanical information. We hope this project will grow as a natural space for artist practice, and become home to research, lectures and workshops, as well as its potential for future interaction and collaboration with the organizations of AAIR, Studio Start and Extra City.

Ploegstraat 25

Ploegstraat 25 photo via website Extra City

The Gesamthof.

Most traces of the old monastery garden are gone, but the circular path remains together with a small concrete pond. In February 2019 I moved into my new studio at AAIR, an artists support organization in Antwerp. In March of 2019 I started to weed the garden, removing the nettles and bramble bushes, to uncover the soil. Since this is a temporary space, and the artist setting up their studio might have to leave any moment, the best way to connect with the garden is to see what is already there. And what does 'temporary' mean in a garden? Considering the amount of time it takes to grow a garden, humans are to be considered the temporary element, and to grow a garden for a matter of months means 'to stay in the moment' as much as possible.


The gesamthof in 2020 with an archipelago.

Botanical archaeology.

After taking out the netles and much of the brambles, the seeds remaining in the soil started to grow and in the first year of botanical archaeology it is hard to say if the seeds are descending from a medicinal garden or are wild seeds that arrived here on the wind. There are: Verbascum, Alchemilla mollis, Solidago, Malvacea, Digitalis purpurea, a kind of climbing rose, Sambucus Nigra, lots of Buddleja bushes, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus Quinquefolia), Galium Odoratum, Chelidonium Majus, Scrophularia Nodosa, Plantago and grasses. 

I tried to grow pumpkins, but they remained very small, however the Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) is a success and helps to keep the ground free from the nettles. 


Since a long time I have been moving from studio to studio, taking a small garden in pots with me. Hosta's, tulips, shiso, iris, narcissus, muscari and lots of seedlings travelled with me since 2011.



When soil is uncovered, something will grow and usually it will be the same weeds that were just disposed of because they don't allow room for other species. So to keep the garden divers and to restore the ecosystem we needed new non-invasive plants. By cultivating the existing plants I could swap seedling to other species. That's how many gardeners helped to diversify the Gesamthof, giving seedlings in return for the white Asters, Stachys and Eupathorium. Some plants I bought because they are too hard to find otherwise, like a Digitalis Ferrunginea or a a blue leafed Hosta 'Mouse Ears' or the 'Moonlight' Epimedium. But some of our very special plants come from the Botanical Garden in Ghent, some fifteen years ago I started to work there as a volunteer. It's where I learned the names of the plants, and how they grow, how they can have stress just like humans (they'll turn all red and loose their leaves) and how you can love a plant for more than its flowers. When I told the people behind the Botanical Garden about this Gesamthof they generously gifted us the very special Mioga ginger and Olive tree and ferns like Maiden Hair and the tongue shaped Pyrrosia Lingua. 

By taking care of the garden and its ecosystem we invited the wild life back into a natural environment, working towards an ecosystem that is sustainable. Over hundred different kinds of plants were added, and woodland areas are very different from the Mediterranean corner. There are flowers with nectar for wild bees and wasps while birds nest on the ground under the bushes.


The artist's garden.

In 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a long stretch of time where I could work in the garden on a daily basis. The other artists started to spend a lot more time in the garden as well, and to keep gardening at a bite size range, the garden was made into an archipelago with islands. We took care of the islands, and these portions of garden are all different in style. There's a tomato island and a wild flower island, a seedling to pot plant island and a little potager island. We have a small shiso plantation, zucchini's and lots of herbs. New seeds are sent from Japan in spring, and the garden continues to thrive as a local global green supply for what is otherwise hard to find.

The artist studios are connected to an artist in residency program, where international and local artists are invited to work for a duration of several months with the support of AAIR. Slowly this project changed the garden into an outdoor workspace. It functions as a meeting place, an office, a green room for reflection, or gardening.

People enjoy the garden especially in the afternoon, when the late sun turns and you can see the robins, who are not afraid at all to come and see what you are doing. The garden serves as a place to talk together, like an outdoor salon for visitors who came to see the artists and their studios. For artists, it's a place to eat lunch, write and make long phone calls. That's how people started to see each other more often, as there is no other place in the building where we all meet or do these things.

The bare soil for botanical archaelogy.
From left to right: Pinus Pinea, Verbascum, Spanish Hyacinth, Hosta, Aquilegia, Nasturtium and in the back there are Buddlejas and radishes (2020)

Nasturtium covering the soil to keep the weeds out.

Iris flowers, started in Ghent in 2004, traveled to Amtserdam, Haarlem, and back to Antwerp, now they cover a small plot in the gesamthof.
The ATLAS with the names of the species, the different times of sunlight and more information.

The gesamthof ATLAS.

In 2020 Extra City moved into the church adjacent to the hof where we have our garden project. Structural changes required looking into the use of the hof. In correspondence with AAIR, the organization looking after the artist studios and residencies,  and in conversation with the artists residing at the studios we decided it would be good to have some document that explains the workings of the garden: the ATLAS. 

In the winter of 2020 - 2021 the different maps of the ground are pencilled down, with the plant locations, the rain shadow, the path of the sunlight as it moves trough the garden from morning till evening, the places where birds nest, the loation of pits, paths and compost... The ATLAS is a series of drawings and watercolours and can be consulted at the AAIR library.

The Gesamthof has its origin in the potential of this open place, and the location has become a meeting place where wild birds and insects are safe and artists are working in nature. Because of the pandemic the use of outdoor space has been hugely reestimated. We look forward to the upcoming art events planned by the institutions AAIR and Extra City that are going to take place in the garden and welcome the colaborations with artists in this new setting. The ATLAS serves as a time document, archiving the garden in this moment of transition; and the ATLAS is a file giving all the information on life itself in the garden, the species of flora and fauna as well human labour and structural geographical elements. It's made to share knowledge and inform about the possibilities in caring for nature in this communal space for artists, flora and fauna.


In the back is a wild area full of netles and the nests of robins and wrens.
The white autumn asters were planted by the monks in the previous millennium.

The olive tree in the middle is a gift from the botanical garden in Ghent, also known as the 'Plantentuin'.

The plant market in the arboretum in Kalmthout is one of the great sources of special botanical plants.

The Cyclamen in bloom, with a leaf from the Virginia Creeper and some Vinca Minor and Galium Odoratum.

The garden in spring, when Aquilegia and golden Calendula flowers.

In 2021 Extra City moves into the church adjacent to the monastery garden and their activities include inviting artists into the garden to create site-specific works. To protect a part of the garden a fence is installed, behind the fence is the location for the art project 'The Gesamthof'.


As of July 2021 the Gesamthof as been give the kind support of Flemish Community in order to develop this art project towards a new artistic practice.




You can find more photos about this project on the instagram page of Wool Publishing:

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