Wadhurst Park Estate Artists Residency - March 2019
Daisies are our silver,
Buttercups our gold:
This is all the treasure
We can have or hold.
Raindrops are our diamonds
And the morning dew;
While for shining sapphires
We’ve the speedwell blue.
This was a hymn I loved to sing at primary school.
In summer, at playtimes, the words came true. On the school field I and my little group of friends were rich indeed, away from the hot hard tarmac of the playground. Daisies grew in their thousands, giving the field a pale silvery sheen. We made daisy chains to go round each other’s necks and wrists, we made delicate earrings and crowns. If we worked together we could have a daisy chain long enough to skip with in a lunch time. ‘Caterpillars’ were made with many heads threaded onto a single stem and were the awe-inspiring work of the truly competent. We came to know which patch of the field had the longest stemmed daisies or the pinkest - there was incredible variety. We placed buttercups under each other’s chins and believed in the flower’s ability to discern butter-lovers. These flowers provided the props for our games and we were limited only by our imaginations. Days when the big ride-on mower came were sad days; we had to find other things to do, with the shredded shriveled flower heads and clippings clinging irritatingly to our school uniforms.
Right now, with reports of crashing invertebrate numbers circulating social media, and record high temperatures for February, these words are a radical call to value ‘ordinary’ treasure. Air, water, sea, land. Climate and seasons. Trees, wild flowers, butterflies. Not only the charismatic but the unseen and overlooked. The dung-beetle, the mayfly, worms and fungi in the soil. The recyclers, the pollinators. Messy, in-between sorts of places; the muddy little clay bank where soiltary bees make their burrows and the thicket where the nightengale sings The wet ditch beloved of frogs, the scrubby patch where hedgehogs snuffle and snort. These ordinary treasures are not separate from us and not a luxury, a healthy environment is essential to us all. Each organism relies on others; none stands alone. We are not living despite nature, we are a part of it.
I have the good fortune to be working here at Wadhurst Park Estate, painting these ordinary treasures in a place where they certainly are valued. Out on the estate a huge conservation effort is underway to restore lost ponds, coppices, hedgerows and meadows on 800 hectares. As artist in residence for a year I will be bringing the outside into the very heart of the estate. I am painting a twelve metre-long mural of native local Wealden plants in the new Common Room. As often as I can I will be painting from life - foraging on the estate for leaves and flowers with expert guidance from ecologist Angela Brennan. Along the way I will also be adding in details of insects and birds (and perhaps the odd small mammal) whose lives are intertwined with the plants. The mural will be both decorative and informative; the species will be in habitat groupings and all will be labelled with their names so that they become more familiar to staff and visitors alike. The mural will be a rendering of what is sometimes invisible to us as we go about our daily lives, a reminder of what’s important, and most of all - a giving thanks for treasure.
Nessie Ramm, March 2019.
Finding Botany on the Road - October 2017
It all started with a hike in March on which I discovered a thriving community of cowslips alongside a bleak stretch of A24 dual carriageway in the South Downs National Park. This was in direct contrast to some of the vast snooker-table fields, devoid of wildlife, which I had just hiked through. I started looking at road verges wherever I went and the more I looked, the more I saw. Toadflax, fleabane, woundwort, sneezewort, goat’s-beard, heartsease: the names read like a 16th Century Herbal, yet I had never seen any of them in ‘the wild’. But there they all were, clinging on in tatty litter-strewn laybys, service stations and unloved scraps of land with names such as ‘Black Down Roundabout’, ‘‘Dunmow South Interchange’ and Kippings Cross.
At the same time, on the radio, I heard of charity Plantlife’s campaign to encourage more wildflowers by changing the way road verges are mown. They have found that ‘rural road verges are a vital refuge for wild flowers driven out of our farmland’ but all too often the plants get mown down in the spring before they can flower. If councils simply wait until late summer to mow, the plants can set seed and the numbers increase year on year. You can sign up to the campaign to give those councils a nudge. By chance I was also introduced to the wit and work of Dame Miriam Rothschild who devised a wild flower seed-mix she felt was perfect for sowing into parks and motorway verges. Containing all the flowers missing from those snooker-table fields, she called it ‘Farmer’s Nightmare’. You can buy a similar mix in her honour today from charity Survive Cancer.
So now I’m thoroughly hooked on both painting and encouraging our flowering verges. I have explored some of the A roads in Suffollk, Norfolk, Kent and Sussex, unsubtly sneaking frequent photography stops into my children's summer holiday. I have found some wonderful locations but barely scratched the surface. There are three paintings so far, all on road signs (acquired legally I might add). The aluminium surface suits my painting process and I enjoy recycling such utilitarian objects for a second career in the fine arts. So far the signs I have used have been ex-military but I plan to make contact with Highways England as I dream about painting on those lovely big square ones that I drive past on the A21. And while I'm on the road, well - let's just say that some of Dame Miriam’s seeds might mysteriously find their way onto a new roundabout I spied near my home last week...