Art Journal: Collecting wild seeds and finding inspiration

On an afternoon when it is too hot to be outdoors, I unroll some parcel paper on the table and set out our recently foraged seeds. Cloud parsley, milk thistle, clover, grasses and rose hips.

My little daughter can see that I have plants all over the table. She runs out to the garden and returns with a freshly harvested fuchsia flower.

“Away on a Breeze”

The feathery seeds are awaiting their first flight on the tiniest of air currents. Every time I breathe, they start to float out of frame. I carefully encourage them back into place. I hold my breathe. Time stops. Click.

My daughter returns from another garden visit and hands me two fallen hollyhock blossoms.

One of my younger boys runs through the kitchen singing. Grasses scatter across the table whilst milk thistles take to the air. He happily helps me catch them as they float towards the door, a practised skill from many hours spent chasing delicate storm bubbles in the garden.

“Gentle Partings”

The patter of footsteps. My daughter has found six faded rose petals and a handful of leaves.

Of everything in this wild harvest, the cloud parsley seeds are my favourite. I almost prefer them to the actual flower. I lift the sprig out of the diorama and study it in detail, turning it in my hands, before laying it back down carefully. The brittle stem makes a scratching sound against the thick paper.

“Be Free”

When I have completed my work, my daughter is still intrigued, standing on her tip toes to see.

I recreate her mouse doll in petals, using delicate little seeds as the eyes and lashes. She asks if her mouse can be a dancer, so we use the hollyhock petals as the skirt and give our ballerina a tiny fuchsia crown. Snipping a piece of the cloud parsley, we give the mouse a miniature flower stem of her own.

“At midnight, Mouse transforms into a Dancer”

We take a photograph together and safely store the seeds away to sow in our garden.*

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*We only gather a few common seed heads that have already fallen to the ground in the hedgerows near our home. Wildflowers in bloom should be left to go to seed so that they may return the following year. Please respect the wildflower laws wherever you live.

Almanac: English oaks and white bluebells

My two middle sons run down the hill together, so close in age that they are almost the same height. The trees dwarf them. When I think back to this wood, I never imagine the trees being so tall; it seems such a close, small place in my memory.

Spring is still with us and red campions line the paths. Newly blossomed, this one spoke to my camera, with all of its recently unfurled crinkles showing in the petals.

We steer off track onto the less-used trails. The bluebells are starting to fade here; they look more settled-in as part of the woodland palette than the electric blues of before. Everywhere above us is the flutter of birds. Beneath our feet, the forest floor stirs with insects.

There is something very comforting in the sight of a new oak tree. A woodland future secured. We find this sapling just a few feet away from a gnarled ancient representative of the same species. Then we spot several more. A nursery of oak.

My older son charges ahead, finding the way. He loves exploring these wilder paths. His brother holds my hand and perfectly mimics the birdsong around us. He pauses to run his fingers lightly through a fern; a shiny beetle crawls onto his hand and he observes it for a moment before settling it onto a fallen branch.

I kneel down next to him and notice that a small daisy that looks pure white from a distance, is delicately edged with pink tinges to each petal.

This unexplored route takes us almost out of the woodland. The path then comes back under the shade of the tree canopy beside a small stream, whose waters flow down from the edge of the dairy fields.

After crossing an old wooden bridge and taking a short uphill climb we return to our hidden glade. The clearing is so verdant, it is hard to imagine that just a few months before it was an icy winter pond fringed with sharp bare branches.

On this shadier side of the wood, the bluebells need a little more coaxing and are only just in their first flush of vivid colour. They arrive later, though always appear in denser numbers.

We stop for a while and scan this floral horizon, nowhere to rush to. When the breeze rushes through the tiny bells they become a shimmering ocean beneath the trees. As they crest, we spot a flare of white amongst the blue.

Before us is an albino variety of the English bluebell, exceptionally rare in the wild. I make a note of where we find it, in the hopes that it will return next year.

—Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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