Culture vulture

26th September 2003 at 01:00
Gardens and galleries are the perfect inspiration for Ruth Smith In the garden

I am fascinated by garden design and visit a lot of gardens. One of my favourites is Great Dixter in East Sussex, designed by Christopher Lloyd.

It's so individual: it has groups of colours and flowers that you would never imagine would go together - such as orange and purple - but they do.

Pashley Manor, also in East Sussex, often has sculpture exhibitions in the garden. You turn a corner and suddenly there's a masked figure cast in bronze, which is very atmospheric. It's wonderful to walk around a garden like that after a heavy week.

I hope our school garden will have that effect. It's a multi-faith garden with formal Islamic and medieval Christian planting and more flowing, green Buddhist elements. Children can go in there and find a beautiful quiet sanctuary.

In the gallery

The Vermeer exhibition at the National Gallery in 2001 is my all-time favourite show. These are perfect pictures: they create their own small world in perfect detail, but they have mystery too. So much has been written about the symbolic meanings of these paintings.

Treat in store Pre-Raphaelite and other Masters: the Andrew Lloyd-Webber collection at the Royal Academy (to December 12). The Pre-Raphaelite paintings also have a magic of their own. Again, you can stand and look and think through the stories.

Best book ever

The Wizard of Earthsea trilogy by Ursula Le Guin. It's entrancing: I first read it 20 years ago and I reread it every couple of years. The children at school are devoted to Harry Potter, but I think Le Guin is far superior.

To share with pupils

I make sure the children visit galleries regularly. When we do the Second World War with Year 6, we take them to see Henry Moore sculptures at Tate Britain and look at the way he drew people in air-raid shelters. We had an art week called Images of Me, when every child in the school made a self-portrait in clay. We laid out about 500 models to represent Antony Gormley's Field. It was stunning. I keep meaning to send Antony Gormley the photos.

Ruth Smith, 53, is head of Deansfield primary in Eltham, London borough of Greenwich, a first-prize winner in the 2003 Garden Awards scheme, presented by the Religious Education and Environment Programme this week. She was talking to Karen Gold

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