Of wet and wildness?
Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet,
Long live the weeds and the wildness yet.
‘Inversnaid’, Gerard Manley Hopkins
But it isn’t just about the beauty. Take weeds, for example. Urban weeds, to be exact. Are they, as the saying goes, just plants growing in the ‘wrong’ place? San Francisco-based artist and activist Mona Caron is someone who sees something more revolutionary in the tenacity of weeds.
While a big part of them are classified with the ominous-echoing term "invasive non-natives",
all immigrant plants are native somewhere of course, and if they are here, it's because
the global environment has been disrupted. It's a consequence of globalization.
This is part of my metaphor." Mona Caron
Those who won't be ignored
Also part of Caron's metaphor –which she makes solid through her creation of urban murals – is that of weeds as “symbolic of the invisible multitudes of un-valued living beings, whatever their origin, who exist at the margins, but not without gaining strength there. They may disturb when they their numbers can no longer be ignored. But in the context of suffocated environments, these undesirables are the first to carve a path for the rest of nature to follow, in due time.”
To see some of Mona Caron's work, watch her amazing video Weeds here (about 4 mins).
Also giving new life to un-loved plants is the Phytology project, which brings together artists and botanists “to explore the medicinal properties of plants that are common to derelict urban environments”. In a ‘medicinal field’ created last year in Bethnal Green’s Nature Reserve, Phytology planted 32 wild species, generally regarded as common weeds but used in traditional medicine. They included yarrow, white dead-nettle, mallow, ribwort plantain, dandelion, red clover, and common nettle.
Phytology promotes the use of derelict space and seeks to challenge our ideas about the value and function of wildness within the urban ecosystem. Phytology’s producer, Michael Smythe says (quoted here) that both weeds and graffiti are “somewhat uncontrollable and persistent, and both offer a certain amount of complexity. To my eyes there's a direct relationship between street art and weeds, between wild plants, graffiti, urban environments, communication, and culture."
Phytology's ‘medicinal field’ in Bethnal Green Nature Reserve opens again on 25 April 2015.
One artist involved in the Phytology project at Bethnal Green was illustrator Talya Baldwin, who contributed botanical drawings of dandelion, marshmallow, sweet woodruff, and 29 other species of wild plants. She says that she likes drawing things that cling to life against the odds and says of her work that it is “often about taking the time to observe and record things which are unloved, forgotten or unpopular. I draw sideshow performers, feral pigeons, weeds and rats. The drawings process is a way of recognising the subject, and giving it a sort of dignity in a quiet way.”
That’s a perspective of which Gerard Manley Hopkins would no doubt approve.