‘Real community feel’: New plant-inspired mural set to brighten up Dalston

Claire Ward-Thornton puts the finishing touches to the mural. Photograph: Julia Gregory

A colourful mural is taking root to celebrate plants that flourish in Hackney.

Artist Claire Ward-Thornton and her team have been working high up on the walls of a house at the junction of Wilton Way and Penpoll Road.

The artwork was commissioned by Hackney Council and has taken shape on the end wall of a house owned by Clarion Housing Group, which gave permission to the project.

The nine-metre-high mural sits beside rain gardens planted by the Town Hall as part of its efforts to make the borough more resilient to the climate emergency.

The gardens are designed to absorb some of the heavy rain that falls in bursts over fewer days because of changes to weather patterns.

The painting features the popular number 38 bus, which runs from Clapton Pond to Victoria, as well as a cyclist and a nearby railway bridge, to highlight greener ways to get around.

Ward-Thornton took inspiration from the plants in the rain garden and looked at the wishlist that residents gave the council when it created the green space during the pandemic in an area previously used for parking.

The mural is called Tiny Principals of Nature and a hummingbird hovers above the scene.

A cyclist and the 38 bus feature in the artwork. Photograph: Julia Gregory

The artist said: “Residents said they wanted pollinators, so I’ve featured the salvia in the garden here, which is a fantastic pollinator, as well as the Bowles mauve wallflower, the santolina, which has a lovely yellow flower, the lemon balm, and witch hazel flower.”

She made colourful paper cut-outs to refine her design, which she entered into the council’s competition.

“It’s my first mural at height and I’m really pleased with it,” she added.

“We’ve had a huge response. Residents and passersby are in the main very supportive and curious about the project.

“We’ve had some great comments, questions and eager supporters while the painting has taken place.”

Ward-Thornton runs Hackney-based education organisation Art Hoppers.

Year 5 pupils from Gayhurst Community School came to visit the mural as it took shape. They were studying the method of gridding up to enlarge scale, so asked lots of questions about how the design translated from paper to the wall.

Ward-Thornton was awarded an Art Fund grant to work with a team of art students and videographer and photographer Jaime Gana, who documented the work..

Gana said: “It’s got a real community feel. People are curious about it as it takes shape.”

The last steps are filling in the areas covered by scaffolding and painting the mural with anti-graffiti paint.

The artwork is part of a long tradition of murals in Hackney, including Mick Jones’ 1980s Dalston Peace Mural and a new council-commissioned painting at Ridley Road Market by Carl Cozier.

This autumn, Ward-Thornton will help create a mural on a wall beside the recently restored 195 Mare Street, Hackney’s second-oldest home.

The artwork will feature the work of 18th-century nurseryman Conrad Loddiges, who documented plants in his Botanical Cabinet book. His tree nursery was on Mare Street, where the Town Hall is now.