Ordinary Treasure

Nessie Ramm, 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.