Ceramicist Alana Wilson

Interview by Eric Hsu

Photography by Phillip Huynh


** Her exhibit “T:  Exploration & Experience of the Teabowl”- with Romy Northover (pictures featured here) goes until  November 26 at FLOATING MOUNTAIN 239 W72nd St, New York NY 10023. Pieces are available for purchase and can be viewed at https://www.floating-mountain.com

`                    Photo Credit: Alana Wilson

Swimming brings one’s body with the water’s buoyancy, yet the process of molding and shaping clay is an anchoring force with hands. Where do you see the cross dialogue between the two activities?

Both are very meditative, predominantly done in solitude and combine physical movement and awareness of the body with a required mental acuity to work through a repetitive process. Both connect with a natural element – earth and water – which I find quite calming and humanly intrinsic. Over time, the wiring between brain and body becomes so ingrained that you can let your mind wander whilst the body is in automatic mode of a learnt technique. Both activities require a sense of technique, which is similarly soft, efficient, streamlined, responsive to the least amount of touch, and both techniques rely on a sense of flow and refining the surface resistance of the body against the elements.



Your work belies the exacting but unpredictable process of overlaying different substances and glazing. What do you find fascinating about the alchemy?

There are endless parallels between the ceramic surfaces and surfaces and textures that exist in nature. Of course, ceramic materials all exist and are derived from natural resources but the process of firing results in a more compacted environment with the kiln’s heat and the firing speed. Scientifically, all of these ceramic results exist somewhere in nature that have occurred through varying means and all natural surfaces and materials will depict a chemical story of creation and destruction, as do the ceramic pieces.

As a child I would get lost in observing rock pools full of geological and marine life, collecting seashells and interesting rocks to study. This childhood fixation has informed my interest in the minute details of elemental decay and natural observation. Over time I have come to recognize stronger analogies between the natural destructive process and environments comparative to those in the medium of ceramics.

Within the ceramic process there are numerous aspects left to chance and susceptible to variation. Different materials will have specific reactions within the firing – how it transforms through heat exposure, how fast it is heated, its melting point, vaporisation point, oxygen content in the material and the atmosphere and its reaction with the other glaze ingredients it is mixed with.




In its elemental form, the vessel projects functionality that people have difficulty divorcing when it comes to appreciating ceramics as an art equal to painting or sculpture. How do you hope to have someone see your piece beyond its basic purpose?

I used to look at this viewpoint as a hindrance, always trying to prove something with the vessel. There is an inherent conditioning when dealing with the vessel throughout anthropological, art, and social history. Functionality not only alludes to a use but also to a relationship to the human body and human life. I now embrace the steadfast connotative functionality of my work and prefer it over purely conceptual art (in terms of what I create myself, not necessarily as to what interests me as a viewer).

Having a pre-conditioned utilitarian context allows a certain scale of intimacy for the works to intersect the viewer’s perceptual / experiential process on a different level. Sociologically the viewer forms some sense of connection to it and hold it in a perceptual realm relative to their everyday life as opposed to a more conceptual work, in which they may feel separate from in terms of anthropological connection and conceptual understanding.




The difficult concept to divorce from the vessel is its ability to hold something, therefore an empty vessel is often perceived as incomplete. I seek to highlight the emptiness and twist the conception to depict the potential to be filled, within which there are various possibilities – both physical and conceptual ‘fillers’. The depiction of the unused or empty vessel allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions based on their individual conditioning. In a sense this conditioning (towards an utilitarian object such as a vessel) is on a different level to the conditioning to comprehend conceptual or abstract art.



Throughout this consistent questioning within my own work, I have looked at and questioned other forms of art, architecture, design etc and its relativity to humankind. I am interested in its ability to intersect with the everyday life of the everyday person, to not exist only in the vacuum of a white box gallery or as a material commodity, financial investment, or interior decoration. Within my work I aim to honor the history of the vessel and the different historical values – emotional, cultural / historical, technical, conceptual – that all correlate to the final result.


There is a consistent duality of logic vs reason, cultural vs individual; but in the sense of attempting to draw attention to the importance of humanity and humankind there is the critical requirement for communication, which is community. The viewer’s perception is a moment in time, yet can be long-lasting in terms of their recollection of reality and how it affects them. The majority of viewers would not be aware of their own perceptual process to this extent but I find the relationship between functionality, physicality, conceptual understanding and conditioning an extremely interesting area to observe and study in relation to my work, art and life in general.

Pot Plant, which was curated by John Tebbs for the Garden Edit, and Lilies of Forgiveness, placed your work in relation to ephemeral plant material. Did either exhibits re-center the focus on how florists utilize your ceramics?

As discussed in the above answer, I primarily look for highlighting an emptiness and the potential of completion based on societal conditioning towards and empty vessel. However, I love working with ephemeral plant material as it truly represents natural beauty and its decay, and takes away that sense of ownership or forever-ness that so many people crave. These ideas are constantly embedded within my work, so with the right people who appreciate these ideas I am always keen to collaborate. John Tebbs from The Garden Edit, Simone Gooch of Fjura, and Alia & Ezra from Regime des Fleurs all create beautiful work, utilizing nature as creator and transcending nature as decoration or pure product.


There is an old Chinese saying ‘滴水穿石’ which translates to ‘dripping water eats away the stone’. It alludes well to how your pieces bear the corrosive effect of water almost to the point of close disintegration. Is it a mediation on the transience of humankind and material goods?

Absolutely. More so an exploration of the innate impermanence of everything and attempting to break down the societal attachment to completed or beautiful things; to encourage an acceptance of the process of continuous transformation and inevitable decay, in all things – physical and otherwise.

The marine environment is unforgiving to terrestrial plant life, but what would be an Alana Wilson ceramic personified as a plant or garden look like? 

This is an interesting question, and each ceramic piece has its own identity in a way … possibly a rockpool or reef, could that be classified as a garden?

Thank you Alana for the interview!

“You can cut all the flowers but…”

Prunus Buds LQ

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.” ― Pablo Neruda

Foreign Gardeners: Gabriella, from Hungary to England

An excellent designer and passionate plants-person, meeting Gabi is a memory that remains clear in my mind. Arriving at Great Dixter for the first time from the U.S., in the darkness of night during a horrible downpour, was an experience. By the time I made it down the long front path to the huge ominous house, with the crooked porch in front of me, I was sopping wet.  After some heavy knocking, Gabi opened the huge wooden front door, greeting me warmly. Once inside the house, it was all another world to me, like stepping back in time.  Gabi led me to a roaring fire in the Solar upstairs and brought out a tray of delicious homemade soup and tea. As I ate and warmed up, adjusting to the surroundings, Gabi could see and understand what was going on in my mind, the excitement of it all, since she too had been a newbie at Dixter once too. It was a surreal experience that night and from that wonderful moment on we have remained friends. – James


CurrentWork-C4 Hi, Gabi! That story always makes me smile, thank you again for your kindness that night.  As the first in the Foreign Gardeners series, can you tell others what country you were born and where you decided to move to?

Hello, I am Gabriella Nemeth and I am from Hungary and moved to the United Kingdom.

How long have you been living in the U.K. now?

I will be living in the U.K. ten years now this March.


Describe to us the beauty of the landscape in Hungary, your homeland, and your memories from your time there.

I was born on the Great Hungarian Plains. The landscape is flat. Flatter than anyone can imagine. The open land, the sand which moves around, scorching summers and extremely cold winters and very poor soil makes it difficult to grow anything. But the natural habitat, the most western edge of the Russian Steppes creates the most unique, colorful ever-changing carpet in the land.

I loved wandering through these meadows searching  beauty which hid in the details of Verbascum flowers or the delicacy of the bloom of Stipa borysthenica. I marveled at the wonder of how a small lichen creates a growing surface for moss, later a sedum, then a grass, which later gets replaced by perennials and later the beautiful silver poplars; the ongoing succession of plants.

I really miss walking barefoot in the warm sand in summertime, and catching the scent of flowering Robinia pseudoacacia and Asclepias syriaca.

memories of farm life in Hungary

When did you decide to make this change and why did you move to the UK?

I have studied Landscape Architecture in Hungary and after finishing University with a Masters in 2005.  I was made to be unemployed and did odd jobs for nearly 2 years due to my home country’s economic and social situation.  At the same time, the lack of encouragement for young professionals to express themselves,  the lack of appropriate jobs and the suppression of women who have a desire to build a career,  resulted in a desperate move to find my own path.  For years I was extremely keen to find a job in garden design or landscape architecture  but  my interest had been diverted more to the importance of plants and understanding their life cycle, appearance, texture, colour,  being the most important building elements of garden design.  I finally realized I wanted to learn more about succession planting and the proper and artistic use of these elements in the garden.

the mix of the Hungarian landcape
Stipa borysthenica

In the summer of 2006, I received a lovely gift from my best friend in Hungary( who sadly passed away in 2012, aged 33, due to cancer).  She visited the UK during that summer and brought me back an copy of Gardens Illustrated magazine.  I read an article about a nursery called Dove Cottage Nursery and I picked up the courage to write a letter, to ask them about a few weeks of training.  They were so kind and helpful and sent me a response very promptly.  They couldn’t take me on but they suggested to contact Great Dixter and Fergus Garret.  It was November 2006 when I sent out my email to Fergus and for my biggest surprise and shock he replied within 2 weeks and asked me when would I like to come and how long I would like to stay.  This email was the key for my future!  I decided to immediately leave my part time librarian job and fly out in March 2007 for a 3 month apprenticeship.   Shortly after my arrival I felt that this is the place and country where I was called to.  A few weeks before my finish date I asked Fergus if there would be a job a for me in the future since William, the vegetable gardener, was leaving and they would have a vacancy, which I was then offered.  I accepted it but on the result of this I had to make some very hard life changing steps in my private life.  It was the most difficult and the same time the easiest decision to make.  It has taken years to settle all the waves I  stirred up but it was worth it.


Quiet mornings in the vegetable garden at Great Dixter

Private client work

Can you explain to us a bit about your current job?

In 2010 I  moved on from Great Dixter with a plan to find a part time gardener job and concentrate on garden design and build up my own clientele in garden maintenance.  Since 2012 I have gone fully independent and became a freelancing professional gardener, a designer with a variety of jobs in the UK and abroad, including gardening advisory and floristry.

I had to go through a though learning curve over the last 3 years.  I am a freelance head gardener at 2 private homes in two different counties in the UK,  supervising independent contractors to complete all the tasks needed in the highly maintained gardens and am also responsible, personally,  for the border maintenance, vegetable gardens, lawn care etc.

I have a very versatile job, which keeps me highly occupied, since I have a very long commute between my jobs which means a lot of driving time beyond working hours.  I definitely haven’t got a 9 to 5 job but I have a lot of variety, a lot responsibility and lot of reward from my gardens as a result of long working hours and hard work.

CurrentWork-C3How did you happen to find your current job?

Both of my clients found me,  which is very surprising,  after all the job applications I sent out and interviews I attended.  My client in Wiltshire has been the best of all my career, I was recommended to them by their garden designer and I have been working for them for more than 4 years.  A record for  staying in the same job for so long, but it proves that it takes time to find the right kind of people to work for and the right kind of garden which needs me…

The other clients, in Berkshire, found me through an agency I was registered with.  I have been working for them 2 years now.  An interview with prosecco and prosciutto resulted in a great working relationship, together building a fantastic garden.


Would you say there are benefits to being a gardener living abroad?

Yes, I am living in heaven for any gardener/horticulturist. The UK is the place where everyone is so passionate about their green places, you can grow almost anything from all over the world and my job is the most appreciated here in the UK.

As a foreigner living abroad it’s not always easy at times. What, if any, have been some difficulties you’ve encountered during you time living in the UK? What have some of the struggles been?

Some of the struggles…a lot really…it’s part of getting stronger and resilient and succeeding.

In general, when I moved to the UK I didn’t have a car but from my first salary I bought a bicycle. Great Dixter is at least 10 miles from the nearest town and the public transport can be unreliable and scarce.  I needed to get to places.  I soon realized everyone uses cars to get around and has little respect and attention for a cyclist.  Later when I got a car I encountered the overcrowded motorways and traffic jams which now my daily experience.  So bad public transport services, little respect for environmentally friendly ways of getting around and too many cars.

Loneliness, lack of family or old friends support, new language, living financially on the edge and taking very big risks all alone,the physical challenge of my job, being in pain and being soaked in the rain for days in and out.  The language and cultural differences were hard the first few years.  I found it very hard to realize that it’s much easier to make friends with people from abroad than with the locals…it is still an ongoing difficulty.  I have more friends abroad who I keep in touch more frequently than with people from Britain.

Doing very insignificant jobs for years to finally make a tiny step up, being turned down from jobs many times, getting a job which didn’t suit me and leaving it, but because of the financial dependency I had to carry on working, sometimes with people who humiliated me. I had to learn that people like to take advantage of others, especially those in vulnerable positions. I definitely have been used over the years,  as result of the hard working Central European attitude.   I learned how to and how not to do things, manage staff, etc… But all this made me very strong and I know it was worth it.  And the rain is something which takes time to get used to, especially when one comes from a country where life stops at the first rain drop.

Favourite English Landscape_Dorset Coast
just one view of the many beautiful and diverse landscapes of England

On the flip side, there must also be some surprising change that you have welcomed and enjoyed. What would those be?

I think the love of plants and gardens was the best surprise.   I love the climate regardless of it’s raining or not.   I also love the countryside and the coast which is on a sunny day is unbeatable in beauty.

Mostly I have found so invigorating is the encouragement I get from the people to pursue my dream and career, to follow my heart and be myself, do my dream job and live my dream life.   Fantastic surprise after years of suppression.


Moving to a new place can have its challenges,  what preparations did you take to prepare yourself for this move from Hungary to the UK?

I was not aware of it but I have spent a lot of time and effort and money on learning English in high school…it was more like a pride thing…I was the only one when we started at high school at age 12. I had to write an introductory test which I failed with scoring 0 points, that I couldn’t stand and instead of despairing I took up extra language lessons and within a year I was in the advance class! So, yes it was all worth it…

Also my first cash in hand jobs in Hungary were garden maintenance for a Greek-English family and a bunch of Americans, though I didnt know it was the prep for the future.

 What advice would you give to others who are going to be making the same sort of life changes similar to your situation?

Seek and knock on the doors, be brave, take risks, try, don’t give up, try again and again…and again… Wait, work hard and you will succeed.

If you could go back and give your younger self some advice for theses changes, what would  you want to tell yourself?

I think I would have told myself to be more patient with certain things but on the other hand don’t put up with bad employers, situations, circumstance as long as I did but it’s easy to be wise, the challenges of the moment always dictates your acts more than wisdom.

Mainly I would encourage my younger self to discuss and communicate more. I think that helps the most to find yourself out, to find yourself, your dream job and life.

Having lived in the UK for a while now, tell us some of the greater memories you have made so far…

I think taking off the ground in Hungary with the plane in March 2007, it felt like being pulled out from a sticky mud hole which almost swallowed me up…  Driving up to Great Dixter first time which was surrounded with spring flowers and occupying my room with a 4 poster bed…yeah…unforgettable….unbelievable.  Meeting you Jimmy!  On that spooky windy November night!   Makes a smile on my face each time I think of it with all the trimmings of story of that day. And leaving Dixter, packing up my car and driving into the unknown future again. To 3 years ago the feeling of moving into my flat, which I rent, but it is only mine!  Walks in the countryside wherever I have been living over the last 8 years are  some of the most wonderful moments of my life in Britain.

Rosa ‘Cecile Brunner’ & Rosa ‘Olivia’


Turning back to gardens, tell us your new favorite plant that you can now grow that you weren’t able to before?    

Compared to Hungary I’m so happy to be able to grow healthy old English roses and sweet peas, on the veg line artichokes and brassicas. All very traditional but still a special treat for me.

Rosa  rugosa ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed and for sharing your story with everyone.  If you would like to reach out to Gabriella, ask a question please do so by commenting below or see and know more about her work please click on the links provided below. Thank you Gabriella! – Plinth et al.

Website: Gabriella Gardens

Facebook: Gabriella Gardens 

Holiday Fruit Desserts: Pear Hazelnut Frangipane Galette




Gorgeously sumptuous in the seasonal colors, the pear hazelnut frangipane galette will appeal to the eye and tastebud alike. Almond frangipane is often used for pears in pastries, but I sometimes find it too sweet (preferring a savory edge without being overwhelmingly sweet). Cue in hazelnuts, which give that nuttiness flavor complementary to pears. The pears are not poached prior to being baked therefore they will be crisp, a nice textural contrast with the pillowy hazelnut frangipane. An alternative would be to poach them whole and cut them fan-like as they appear in this galette. The galette dough recipe is a reliable and nearly foolproof one that Dorie Greenspan uses in Baking Chez Moi. I have used it several times with success – the pastry is buttery and flaky like pie dough. The pear hazelnut frangipane galette can be served warm or at room temperature. If you feel really decadent, you could add a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  ~ Eric


Galette Dough (adapted from Dorie Greenspan)

Makes 1 galette crust

1 1/2 cups (204 grams) all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons; 4 ounces; 113 grams) very cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces (frozen butter is good here)

1/4 cup ice water

Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to mix thoroughly. Sprinkle cubes of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is incorporated into the flour. The texture initially will be somewhat like coarse cornmeal, and additional pulsing will  produce a mixture that has small flake-size pieces and some larger pea-size pieces. Add a bit of ice water and pulse, add some more, pulse and add until no more water is left. Pulse longer and stop momentarily to scrap the sides and bottom of the food processor bowl. Now work in longer pulses, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the food processor. In time, a dough that resembles feta cheese curds will result. Do not overpulse. but pulse enough that the wheel against the dough begins to slow down. Turn the dough out onto a work surface.

Shape the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disk and put it between two large pieces of parchment paper.  Roll the dough while it is cool into a circle approximately 12 inches in diameter. Cut a circle out of the dough (I used the removable tart tin base when you construct the galette).  You don’t want an overly thin dough, and it’s preferable to have a thick dough with some heft especially where galettes are concerned.

Slide the rolled-out dough, still between the papers, onto a baking sheet and freeze for at least 1 hour or refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Leave the dough on the counter for a few minutes until t’s flexible enough to lift and fold without cracking.


Hazelnut Frangipane

125 g softened unsalted butter

100g (1/2 cup) sugar

2 tsp plain flour

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

135 g (1 1/4 cups) hazelnut meal

To make the hazelnut meal, finely chop whole hazelnuts in a food processor. Set aside.

Place the butter and 100 g sugar in a food processor and whiz until combined. Add the flour and whiz to combine. With the motor running, add the eggs and vanilla, then add the hazelnut meal and whiz until well combined.



3 pears unpeeled and de-cored ( I used Bosc pears and I left on the skin on).

Cut the pears in half through the stem end and remove the cores with a spoon (I used a teapsoon). Slice the pears thinly and vertically, with slices 1/2 inch (12 mm) from the stem so the they remain attached at the stem end.


To assemble:

1.) Preheat the oven and the baking sheet to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). The preheated baking sheet helps crisp up the bottom of the pastry and minimizes the risk of a soggy bottom.

2.) Spread the hazelnut frangipane evenly on the dough, leaving 2 inches (5 cm) around the edge.

2.) Fan out the pear slices on the top of the frangipane layer – you may find it easier to split the pear fans in half and spread them out.

3.) Fold the edge of the galette dough towards the center.

Bake the galette for 45 to 55 minutes, until the crust is deeply golden brown and the frangipane turns a beige brown.

Note: The recipe makes leftover frangipane and dough for a mini-galette.

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin…”

Easy Pumpkin Ideas

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself,

than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”- Henry David Thoreau

Easy pumpkin decorating ideas

A study of detail: El Escorial, Madrid


North of Madrid, standing at the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, is the enormous complex known as the Escorial Monastery, which was built at the end of the 1500’s. Originally created as the retreat of King Philip II, the historical Spanish site includes a monastery and is surrounded on two sides with formal gardens.  These gardens, which were built on a large terrace, hug right up against the vast and impressive building, softening the transition into the open mountainous landscape just beyond the reaches of the palace. Scale and proportion are functions in unity between the building and the garden, with perspective playing a key part to the success of its layout.

The finer the view, the simpler the garden should be and this holds true here as the formal gardens are largely made up of clipped hedges, save for the white roses grown against the foundation of the immense building. In the past, the beds between the hedges were filled with bedding plants to look like beautiful carpets when viewed from the windows above, though this type of planting is no longer executed.  All is not lost on the design though, as the long unbroken walks used throughout are perfect for strolling and philosophizing, which was probably the purpose this garden served when the king walked these gardens during his time..


Sunday Clippings

Palacio de Galiana, Toledo, Spain
Palacio de Galiana, Toledo, Spain

The heat of summer is in full swing here in Spain, and Madrid is often referred to as ‘the inferno’ by city dwellers.  These days trips out of the city are necessary to cool down a bit.  This weeks edition of Sunday Clippings is a pretty meaty list and covers all of our favorite bases, from art to horticulture. Click on the links below for some good reads, podcasts and some videos.  Enjoy your Sunday…. – James