Merlindale Meadow Explorers, with Amanda Edmiston (Botanica Fabula)
As an artist working with stories and plants as a starting point, the opportunity to take a whole school of children into one of the few remaining Scottish Southern upland wild meadows and then develop a multisensory way of sharing that experience is a real delight.
If that meadow also has a somewhat fairy-tale connection to a legendary folk figure, one said to have magical talents and is filled with wild plants, nearly all of which have ancient uses in herbal traditions, then even better!
Merlindale in the Scottish Borders is named after the Mage said to be buried here…and now hosts a diverse range of flora and fauna.
Over the course of several months herbal storyteller: Amanda Edmiston (Botanica Fabula) assisted by River Tweed Connected Threads animateur Emily Cropton worked with the staff and children of Broughton primary school to create a project which they hope will lead to a life-long sense of affection and connection to this special natural place and potentially encourage the children to develop a fascination with nature-diverse, ancient environments.
With intergenerational insights from the children and their families (many of whom have farmed the area for generations) Amanda created a story, in part informed by social history and insights the children had shared whilst exploring the meadow. Then adding in legends and plant lore connected to the place.
Throughout the project, the group talked about some of the legends and lore surrounding the meadow plants and tried out some connected traditional herbal remedies.
They also explored the stunningly beautiful, unique habitat, looking down low into the micro-world using magnifying glasses and upwards and outwards looking for things they might not normally notice. Discovering tunnels and trails left by voles, watching red squirrel scamper along the branches of the ancient oaks, tracking pathways created by mycelia under stones and leaf litter and on one memorable occasion accidentally startling a hare and watching it bound across the marshy side and into the bank of wild mint and yarrow on the far side.
They also took photographs and collected samples of soil, observing how the earth changed in different areas of the field.
These were taken these back to the school, observations were recorded and then pigments were co-created from ground up plant materials and soil samples to use in the children’s meadow informed artwork.
The younger class immediately used their natural paints to create a meadow treescape on a huge stretch of paper, there are leaf prints, carefully drawn charcoal squirrels and underground views of roots and fungi.
The older group gathered fungi for spore prints and herbal plants which were then used to make up traditional potions and infusions, conker hand soap, an aromatic room spray and Merlindale meadow herbal tea.
Finally the older group then collaborated on creating a huge map based on memory and historic maps from the National Library archive, which they then compared with a current aerial view. The map links the meadow to the school and then onto one family’s farm and is also created using soil samples from the meadow, natural clay and plant-based pigments and willow charcoal!
Amanda’s final story, of how a truly insightful mage and three children collaborate together to ensure the future of a very special environment and an overview of the project, are being released as a booklet by the ‘Connected Threads’ project and are being shared alongside an exhibition of the children’s beautiful work in Broughton, but we thought you might enjoy seeing some of it, in creation, shared below!
Amanda Edmiston will be sharing the story and more from the Merlindale Meadow Explorers project at the Merlindale Nature festival on the 19th August 2023.
Meanwhile you can find out more about Merlindale here: https://www.merlindalenature.com/
For more about the work of Connecting Threads see their website: https://sup.org.uk/projects/connecting-threads-tweed-river-culture/
And for more about Amanda’s work and other projects https://www.botanicafabula.co.uk/