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.