Reweaving Plants & People — Liv Worsnop

Liv Worsnop is a Hawke’s Bay born artist and passionate environmentalist. She found her way into the realm of environmentalism through her art studies and opportunities that arose during the Christchurch Earthquake recovery. Back in Hawke’s Bay now, Liv relishes gardening on her family’s property in the Tuki Tuki Valley.

Liv believes that re-engaging with plants is our only option to survive and thrive, and paves the way by putting her life and energy into caring for our planet.

Artist and environmentalist, Liv Worsnop — { photo by Hazel Redmond }

Artist and environmentalist, Liv Worsnop [Photo by Hazel Redmond]

Liv’s swan plant (gomphocarpus physocarpus) forest

Liv’s swan plant (gomphocarpus physocarpus) forest

A happy monarch butterfly in the garden of swan plants — { photo by Hazel Redmond }

A happy monarch butterfly in the garden of swan plants{ photo by Hazel Redmond }

As a young adult Liv went to art school at the University of Canterbury and studied sculpture. Though she found herself philosophically challenged by her belief that there is already too much “stuff” in the world. “In my final year of university I came to the realisation that you can grow your own sculpture by growing plants. Which will also help you breath, give you medicine, and do all the wonderful things that a plant can do. I’d been trying to make art that referenced, talked about and celebrated earth – but you can never make like earth does. The earth is the best at making – the best artist.”

After this epiphany Liv had the opportunity to carry out a funded project in the Christchurch CBD, two years after the initial quakes. What was known as the “Botanical Appreciation Project” was an initiative that entailed Liv identifying beneficial weeds in and amongst the quake rubble and creating a series of posters about the findings. She researched and recorded the plants’ traditional medicinal, material and edible uses, then distributed and hung posters and postcards around the city.

“During this project I realised that I loved working in the CBD. It was such an incredible place for artists to be, and I loved working with plants.” This is when PLANT GANG was born. Over a period of six years, Liv and a group of passionate Christchurch residents went about spreading seeds, foraging from abandoned properties, creating both guerrilla and more permanent gardens in the rubble. They also cleared away rubbish in deserted areas. Caretaking around the city – gifting care and cleaning to forgotten spaces. Some of the initiatives were funded, and others were passion projects to help restore pockets of the city.

The cleaning and clearing of spaces was an offshoot of a philosophy Liv was pursuing in art school. “I am curious about how we as conscious beings, with the ability to take action, relate and activate the material world. Worth is a human fabricated concept. In choosing to look and activate the ‘dormant, rubble-filled, wastelands’ of the post-quake CBD, I sought to invite people into considering the value, beauty, and lessons of these spaces.”


I’d been trying to make art that referenced, talked about and celebrated earth — but you can never make like earth does. The earth is the best at making — the best artist.

Two years ago, after living in Christchurch for 10 years, Liv returned home to the property she grew up at. A large lifestyle block on the Tuki Tuki Valley. Among paid and volunteer work, she is working towards restoring and cultivating the garden and land.

“My aesthetic is probably a bit different to mum and dad’s. But I really go for ease of planting and growing, and also use plants that have a lot of different “biological services”. Ones that can be used as herbal medicines, are pollinators, can be made into fertiliser teas, and also plants that have stories associated with them. Plants, just as objects are, are such good transmitters of the rich and intricate coevolution of life on this planet – of which plants are the centre.”

Gazanias foraged from the local beachsides

Gazanias foraged from the local beachsides

A pathway through the garden from ‘the stage; to the orchard made out of old fence battens

A pathway through the garden from ‘the stage; to the orchard made out of old fence battens


In the busyness of her parents’ life, the garden hadn’t really been tended to for the previous five years. “The garden was all a bit higgelty-piggelty. But it was one of those situations where I didn’t start with a blank canvas, so it has been all about working in with what was already here.”

One of the first areas she started was a shady section under an assortment of large existing trees — poplars, pittosporum, a gnarled pepper tree and an ake ake. Previously a rough cluster of bush that was pulled out by landscapers, is now a sanctuary that Liv calls “the stage” — a seating area suspended next to a picking garden. At a glance you are struck by the silvery sea of sedums and cineraria, but studying the bed closer you’ll find clusters of interesting ornamentals and subtle background colours. She likes the “rock pool” feeling this particular garden conjures, with its colours and textures.

“I’ve used a lot of what was already here, like sedums and so many alpine strawberries — spreading them around the gardens.” She added dietes grandiflora for structure, arctotis and gazanias from the local beachsides for pops of colour and, in true Liv style, some traditional “weeds” – pennywort, yarrow and broadleaf plantain.

Before she planted this area, she spent a week digging a metre down to get rid of a large patch of oxalis — a weed that gardeners are commonly waging a war on. Liv and her dad installed railway sleepers for posts to support a hammock and an outdoor shower, and made a path through the garden to the orchard by laying old fence battens.

{ Photos by Hazel Redmond }

{ Photo by Hazel Redmond }

{ Photo by Hazel Redmond }

I am curious about how we as conscious beings, with the ability to take action, relate and activate the material world.

Perhaps Liv’s most impactful garden sits along the family home’s verandah. Using what she describes as different “stratas and storeys”, the garden is made up of a forest of swan plants the height of small trees, attracting a swath of butterflies and insects. The understory is filled with michaelmas daisies, St John’s wort, bronze grasses and alpine strawberries as a ground cover.

A 120 square metre vegetable garden is fully enclosed, to keep rabbits and birds away. Liv describes the vege garden as a great Covid-adventure. When Covid hit, it was her time to shine (in the self-sufficiency sense). She got stuck in, weeding and working hard on the soil by adding homemade compost and nutrient dense plant matter, to grow and build up her edible reserves. The garden today bursts with produce — tomatoes, kale, beetroot, zucchini, celeriac, celery, lettuce, leeks, onions, garlic, passionfruit, potatoes, beans, raspberries and perennial borders of herbs. She pays special attention to crop rotation and companion planting.

Surrounding the edible enclosure is an impressive chicken coop and run, and an abundant orchard of heritage varieties of apples, pears, nectarines, plums and feijoas. Ornamental grape vines drip from the front pergola and cover the length of the house, framing the hilly views from the inside of the house. Everchanging in its colours of green, to auburn and ochre in the autumn.

Dams were dug out in the first five years of living on the property to capture the natural spring water and provide fire protection. These are surrounded by various clusters of trees – a plum orchard, nitrogen-fixing alders, elderberries, taxodiams and redwoods, and a newly planted cluster of maples, alders, mulberry and liquid ambers to help shore up a wintery quagmire.

Liv in her studio — { Photo by Hazel Redmond }

Liv in her studio — { Photo by Hazel Redmond }

Liv has a little studio, which she and her family used as a “bach” to stay in after they’d bought the farm but still resided mostly in Wellington. She spends a lot of time here processing seeds from spent plants, making floral arrangements, creating and making art – in particular tapestries.

Liv is passionate about community contribution. When she’s not in the garden, she volunteers her time and skills to local events and organisations like the Blossom Festival, Outfield Festival and the Spaceship shared working space in Hastings. She is also an online advocate for plants and aims to stimulate individuals to take empowered action to help heal the planet.

“Putting my time and energy into the planet gives me time and energy”. Liv is using this time back at home to listen to a quiet pull to seek different paths, and to focus her energy on her studio practice and giving time and attention to her parent’s farm.