For more than two years now I’ve been working with wayside plants. Those plants that we don’t tend to take much notice of.
We don’t often think to give plants a narrative because we don’t often recognise them as important players. In fact some scientists have suggested that we have plant blindness that is we have an inability to see the green world around us.
Our media, education and zoochauvinism (all those cuddly toys as I child I guess) have socially constructed a world in which many of us can’t tell one green thing from another. A simple test of this is to ask a non-gardener how many plants they can differentiate between on the way to work. Sadly, most will come up with just trees and grass.
What I think we need is more stories, relevant stories, some old, but more importantly some new. The folklore tradition of foraging is often these days seen as written in stone but I wonder how relevant is to the next generation?
Mint growing wildly at the Green Man Festival (Photo: Clare Savage)
I’ve been going to the Greenman Festival for four years now. It marks the last part of summer for me. It is always a challenge to go, the harvest is in full swing, plants still need watering, tending to, but I love to soak myself in hours of music. I love the Welsh hills, the way the river smells, the larger sense of community that comes from thousands of people sitting in a field capture by one person’s voice. I like hearing other people's stories; through the music, the snippets of conversation or the chance encounters.
"Himalayan balsam contain delicious slightly peppery seeds a perfect snack for an afternoon wander" (Photo: Clare Savage)
This year at Greenman I wanted to see if I could forage my way around the site, whether it was possible and more importantly whether I could make it relevant to others.
There was a lot to see. Sweet chestnuts (Castanae sativa), heavy with those prickly cases, apple rose (Rosa rugosa) hips rich in Vitamin C so soft that you can eat them straight from the bush (don’t eat the seed it will upset your stomach with its irritating hairs), Himalayan balsam (Impatiens gladulifera) with those exploding seed heads contain delicious slightly peppery seeds a perfect snack for an afternoon wander and down further on the river bed grows wild celery (Apium gravelons), dandelions (for leaves, hearts and roots) and various wild mustards and cresses.
The site had its own walled garden that contained cultivated finds for those in the know. There is a great stand of mint perfect for those that forgot to take the toothbrush with them. A fig tree that last year was laden, this year it seems to be taking a break and lavender for the those over stimulate brains, tuck a little into your sleeping bag and drift off into a calm slumber.
"Mallow leaves perfect for campfire scrambled eggs" (Photo: Clare Savage)
There were sow thistles a great liver tonic for those that consumed too much local cider, fat hen unopened flower heads steamed much like broccoli and full of vitamins to keep you dancing. A few daylilies soldier on amongst the weeds, the fresh flowers are good in salads or added to sandwiches for a few extra greens. Or perhaps mallow leaves perfect for campfire scrambled eggs.
A strange sort of forage but the kind I’ve become rather fond of recently.
Alys Fowler is a writer and broadcaster. Read more of Alys's Gardening blog posts.