Sensory Journeys with Plants

Fern Middleton works at the A.S.APOTHECARY distilling garden and is a textile and print designer. This month we asked her to write a piece exploring her relationship with plants and how that informs her stunning textile designs. In this blog post she beautifully captures this special connection..

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‘There's something deeply moving when nature is abundant. That sense one has of grandness

            of life itself. To see nature lightly touched by human hand, where the wild is free – messy,

            unconfined, uncontained.’’

Polly Higgins

 The boundless array of shades seen in the clouds, from whites and greys to pinks reminds me of the spectrum of tones in blossom. First the sloe, followed by the plums, damson and cherry, hawthorn, blackberry and the blooming boughs of the apple orchards. From white to plummy pink or blood red, petals drift across hedgerows and streets, filling us with endless joy each year.

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 The blossom and abundant flora in the spring and summer months feed my inspiration as much as the twigs and sculptural shapes of darker months. I use sketching as my initial medium in order to deepen my understanding of a plant’s character. My textile designs begin to materialise at the point I receive something from a flower or natural phenomenon. This is the impulse that makes me want to further its journey onto fabric. I screen print onto linens, cottons and canvas, experimenting with different washes of colour. The many stages involved in this process allow new ideas to develop, enabling the whole botanical design to unfold as I go. 

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 Although I’m very much motivated by the visual forms of plants, I'm also interested to take in the whole sensory experience of being in the natural world. The blanketed stillness in the air at dawn, or the wind roaring across mountains and through branches, or rainfall on leaves, all these can have a profound effect upon our senses. When the sun ignites flowers and their volatile oils are enhanced, their scent is exhaled, radiating many complex layers. There is a chorus-like unfolding and lifting in the movement of scent. In high summer, at nightfall, the smell of jasmine, intoxicating and dreamy, evokes an invitation into the matrix of the rhythms and forces of nature. Sound, colour, shape, pattern, texture and scent all change through the day and instinctively flow through the elements from season to season.

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Each plant has its own character or energy, for example, I love the way a calendula flower pops in and out as fast as the sun does, or the way a big old oak tree holds a proud safe presence. I enjoy taking the time to tune in to what different plants gift us and how they make us feel, how they can mirror the complex intercellular being of ourselves. Problems arise when we do not honour plants, the earth we walk on or the air that we breathe. Polly Higgins was an inspiring heroine for me, a pioneer, Earth lawyer and influential thinker, who sadly very recently passed away. This quote beautifully expresses how crucial it is we value our reciprocal relationship between nature and all the other life forms on our earth. 

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The choice is simple: protect our Earth (both in action and in law) or let it be plundered. This is a mission on a grand scale, with the power to protect the lives of millions of us, human and non-human. For me it is unconscionable to walk away. This is about re- aligning the force of law with the force of life.

                                                                                     Polly Higgins

 If we neglect aspects of the natural world, we neglect parts of ourselves also. In Weeds in the Heart, Nathaniel Hughes argues that weeds hold the most potent medicine, magic and gifts if we are willing to connect with them. Hughes advises us to reconnect with the wholeness of our perception, to trust our bodies and the intuition of our hearts. He invites us to immerse ourselves in the plants, to have a direct meeting with them, and by doing so to be transported closer to the essence of our own being, to the earth, to our roots, to unpick and uncover our sometimes forgotten realm of potential.

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Plants are gracious and powerful, and as human beings we can learn to coexist, nurturing our environment and transforming plants into beneficial medicines and products through alchemical processes. I love how plants and their offerings are so beautifully honoured here at A.S. Apothecary. Plants have so much to offer for our health and wellbeing when we connect with their aliveness.  It is this holistic relationship with plants and nature that I draw on in my creative process.  

 I would like to dedicate this blog post to Polly Higgins (1968 - 2019) in recognition of her outstanding contribution to our earth and all that lives on it.

    The interconnectedness of life

                                                The very sacredness of life

                                                The love of life

                                                                                           Polly Higgins



If you would like to know more about Polly's work visit:

 Fern’s beautiful botanical textile bags and wash bags are available to buy in the Lewes shop and online:

likewise her beautiful Italian leather bag, a collaboration with designer Grace Gordon: 

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