A Botanical World // Time to reflect

A new year is always a good time to start a new project. Our main focus for 2017 is to reflect on where we are since launching in 2013 and expand our botanical world to include more collaborations, more opinionated writing and greater outreach to like-minded souls. Nature teaches us so much and there’s no better way to get closer to it than in the field – work or play. Likewise, there’s nothing so powerful as sharing that knowledge and using it to make the world a better place. Let the journey begin…

In the three years since The Herbarium Project launched, we’ve created several herbarium collections. Notably, The Earth Laughs in Flowers, recording the seasonal plants and flowers of our garden over the course of a year resulting in our first ‘Herbarium Wall’; Hortus Uptonensis, a homage to botanist and philanthropist Dr John Fothergill and the tended plants and wildflowers of present day West Ham Park; a selection of pressed and mounted specimens for Seeing Floral workshops at The Garden Museum; and Herb Garden at the Marksman, a collaboration with garden designer Miria Harris pivoting around the installation of a new herb garden on the dining-room terrace of the award-winning Marksman Pub and Restaurant on Hackney Road.

We’ve also been investing in an ongoing series of bespoke commissions, pressing the plants and flowers of our clients’ private gardens to preserve the essence of a particular space, a season or simply a favourite specimen. Not only do we get to create something unique and hopefully inspiring for our clients, in order to choose and collect our botanicals, it’s part and parcel for clients to give us a guided tour of their patch and share the many stories that lie within. That way we can choose the perfect flowers or plants together and possibly incorporate some of that backstory into the final piece. It’s amazing how many touching memories have been brought to the fore. It also helps to have an ‘expert of the realm’ to help us identify species and help us curate our final groupings.

Each collection has brought us a little bit closer to nature and a whole lot more tuned into the wonders of what lies in, above and below the soil and what is to come. As we’ve pressed and mounted each plant and flower, we have, in most part tried to stick as closely to the parameters of professional herbarium practices as we can. The ways in which each specimen might be arranged in the press; the time it takes to dry specific species; the methods by which we might attach our plants and flowers to the mount boards; and the information that should accompany each one on an incorporated label or at least on supplementary material.

The labelling was an attractive feature in the beginning, a design aesthetic as well as a key component of science-based botanical research. We researched historic and current labelling styles. We designed a specially made stamp with key elements: genus, species, family and common names plus room for details of location, notes, specimen number and collector. And we integrated labelling systems into our artwork.

As time went on, and as life got busier, it took longer than expected to both press and identify each specimen. Flowers we knew by common name suddenly needed to be part of a family. Plants we might know the Latin for needed a specific name as well as a genus. We admit, from time to time, we got a little bogged down, not least when our own little family required attention.

But – and here’s where the beauty lies – we persevered. Because a little voice told us it was worth it. What started out as a nostalgic exercise in pressing plants and flowers – as we had done as a child – had become a way of looking more closely at nature, an exercise through which we have been constantly reminded to go slower and to more keenly develop our botanical frames of reference.

The creation of a herbarium, by way of the very intrinsic processes it requires – identifying and collecting specimens; observing them in their natural habitat; pressing, labelling and mounting them; following centuries-old traditions; and potentially framing selected pieces to archive standard – is a hands-on reminder of how and why botanical wisdom has been acquired, shared and curated through history. In the field, surrounded by nature, one curious discovery leading to another, revelling in the unfolding mysteries of a botanical world, spurred on by the promise of so much more to learn.

If you’d like to hear more about our journey through our Botanical World, subscribe to our feeds or connect with us on Instagram @theherbariumproject. We’ll also be posting links up there as new material springs forth. We’d love to hear about your botanical experiences too. Are you inspired by nature? Do you choose to live in a botanical world? What have your learnt through the work that you do or the pastimes that you’ve grown to love?