How can gardening provide solace from the trauma of Covid? Lucy Jiachun Hu’s illustrated book explores

Made while volunteering at a therapeutic garden, the illustrator and artist wants her book to inspire more people to get their hands dirty.

15 February 2024

In the wake of the Covid pandemic, the illustrator and artist Lucy Jiachun Hu found herself searching for a way to reconnect with the outside world. Such feelings were inspired by the work of David Hockney; specifically his paintings for The Arrival of Spring. The series was painted in Normandy over 2020 and featured in one of the RA’s first exhibitions in August 2021, as it finally seemed the pandemic was abating in the UK. Its luscious foliage, rich colours, and lightness provided a sense of hope as people came out of such a dark period of time – an impact Lucy felt personally. “I became interested in the inseparable bond between human and nature,” she says, “especially the healing power of nature in the context of post-covid trauma.”

After some research, Lucy discovered that there was a community garden a mere two minutes from her front door, Phoenix Farm, run by Hammersmith Community Garden Association. It was here that she was told by a fellow artist and volunteer Anna, that nearby there was a smaller therapeutic green space called Meanwhile Garden. Previously a wasteland behind White City community centre, with the help of Soup4Lunch and Groundwork, it was transformed into a community specifically created to help people recover from the experience of lockdown.

Lucy began volunteering at Meanwhile Garden once a week, during which she began making a number of intriguing discoveries. Broccoli plants will often try to flower, but you have to cut them off to let the vegetable grow. And mould on fallen leaves is in fact a good thing, as it becomes nutrition for other living things. Inspired by such small but unique revelations, Lucy began to document them in a book – drawing a small image and pairing it with a written statement.


Lucy Jiachun Hu: In Search of Meanwhile Garden (Copyright © Lucy Jiachun Hu, 2023)

Like the subject matter she was dealing with, Lucy wanted the book to have an organic feel. To “let it grow like a plant”, Lucy opted to make the book in daily instalments, as her discoveries happened – much like the way the volunteers would label the plant’s growth and developments day by day. Naturally, everything was drawn and written by hand, and Lucy used a technique of layering colour pencils, building up soft and gentle marks. “I created blurry and glowing images because that's how I think memory feels like,” says Lucy. “I usually can’t remember all the details of the event or situation, but a sense, a smell, or a texture.” This glowy effect works beautifully in Lucy’s depiction of broccoli growths, which she likens to fireworks, for “both of them are failed flowers”.

Some of Lucy’s discoveries were less positive, however, and in March of last year she and the other volunteers were informed of the council’s plans to demolish the garden. After the news, Lucy’s documentation learned more toward “preserving memory”, creating something that paid homage to the garden as a space of “collective memories”. But the volunteers didn’t back down. To prevent such action they planted bat-attracting flowers (flowers that attract butterflies, which in turn are bats’ main source of food) as, once they nested, the space would be species-protected. “It was a really creative solution compared to arguing with the local council,” says Lucy. “The bad news is, no bats came. The good news is, we somehow managed to keep the garden for at least another year.”

After falling head over heels for the Meanwhile Garden, Lucy hopes her book might inspire others to seek out their local community green space. “There are over 1000 community gardens around the UK,” she says. “I hope more people get to know community gardens, the beauty of growing, and the healing power of nature. When cultivating plants, individuals are also cultivating a sustainable mindset through engaging with nature on a deeper level.” Now, Lucy sees In Search of Meanwhile Garden as showing the beauty in otherwise seemingly insignificant happenings: “The accumulation of tiny moments has magical power,” she ends.

Last November the Meanwhile Garden had an exhibition in White City Community Centre. A film by Felix Fuller-Kerley shows the volunteers (including Lucy) working in the garden. You can watch it here.

GalleryLucy Jiachun Hu: In Search of Meanwhile Garden (Copyright © Lucy Jiachun Hu, 2023)

Hero Header

Lucy Jiachun Hu: In Search of Meanwhile Garden (Copyright © Lucy Jiachun Hu, 2023)

Share Article

About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English Literature and History, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.