Day 1 of ‘Ideas from the Soil’

Environment and study days: Ideas from the soil.

Given my BoW extended project, prison gardens, and my fascination with rocks and plants both of which feature in my project, the ‘objectives bit’  of gaining ‘a personal perspective on ways of responding to the environment’ and ‘ experiment with observation (drawing, writing, photography)’ made sense.  So I signed up.

I set off on the 4 hour train journey to London at 9, arrived late and went straight to the V & A because they had an exhibition which I thought would give me another perspective of what I was going to do for the next 2 days: “Fashioned from nature”.

Friday 27th July was the hottest day on record in London.  Walking into a wall of pea soup made me head for the slightest scrap of shade as I got off the bus and walked to Exhibition Street.  Getting into the V& A was not much better.  I started melting as I got into the exhibition despite the numerous fans everywhere.  A review of the exhibition is here.

I spent Saturday at Phytology in the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve.  The ‘nature reserves’ I am familiar with are the size of a small country and the gates and padlocks to this one did not dispel that preconception.  The size of green on Google maps reinforced the idea.

Shortly after the pre-arranged time the padlocks were unlocked, we were let into this secretive, leafy forest and gradually everyone assembled.  The tutors introduced themselves, we introduced ourselves and the day started.

Michael Smythe, manager (?) of Phytology (=Botany taking its etymological origin from the Greek word for plant) took us on a tour of the medicinal garden my best part of which was the marsh mallow plant leaves – by far the silkiest leaves I have ever touched.  Then we were left to explore the place.

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The Marsh Mallow plant in flower.

The Burdock plant is quite prolific on the site:

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The first object we came across was the ‘artist’s hut’

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The objects found on site by the various artists in residence.

Very soon I discovered that all the paths which seemed to go in all directions had been very cleverly designed to give the impression of vast space but I was soon met by metal fence bar after metal fence bar.  The space was quite limited but gave the impression of being the opposite.

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What I observed mostly was the bark on the trees:

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They are building a bio-toilet in the reserve as there isn’t one on the property.

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The bring and share lunch was a veritable feast interrupted by Nick Bridge, the resident writer / economist, who spoke about his life and thoughts on it.

We had 30 minutes on observation and recording what we saw around us.  I found a mound / ant hill interesting and wondered what it felt about the experiences around it.  My imaginarium will shed some light on it soon, I suspect.

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After the event, I went into town and sat in a café where I caught up on my writing and reflections on the day.  this is one of the ‘observe and record’ drawings I did in my notebook.

We finished at about 4 when everyone dispersed to their various homes.

What did I take away about the work done there?

An attempt to return to a lost knowledge on things agrarian and medicinal.  I’m not sure that it is sustainable.  The project relies on The Wellcome Trust, Arts England and local  funding to survive.  It’s good that these two megalithic organisations have taken an economic interest in the work done here.

What did I take away about me?

I feel in touch with nature but my knowledge about it is microscopic.  I would like to extend my involvement with LandWorks in Dartington .


No light shed yet about how this could inform my SYP – perhaps as I let the day settle down, I might sift something out of what I observed and recorded.




2 thoughts on “Day 1 of ‘Ideas from the Soil’

  1. I came away feeling quite refreshed and not tired – unlike most days when I go up to London. I enjoyed your pictorial record (mine to come) and wish I’d taken out my drawing pad.


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