Orkney International Science Festival is online this year and everyone is invited to the shore workshops with myself, Fiona Sanderson, Katherine Diaper and Andrew Want. The event will cover foraging on the shore with some lovely recipes from Fiona; identification of shore creatures; and creating your own pigments from pebbles with Katherine.
I will be sharing some of my fascination with photography and seaweed.
I was delighted to make a Hands-On children’s activity sheet for Cove Park. The commission was to think about a creative thing that can be done at home using materials and equipment that can be easily found.
The result is ‘Alphabet You’, can you crack the code?
Clink the link below for the activity sheet and to find the other Cove Park Hands-On Activities and films.
They are just fading now, but the Yellow Flag has added something to recent walks.
Wild Iris / Yellow flag / Yellow Iris Iris pseudacorus
Known in Orkney as Segs.
‘The raw juice of this plant was used to cure toothache. The juice was sucked up the nose.’ – Magnus Spence, Flora Orcadensis
‘Snuff made from its roots helped relieve colds.’ – Healing Threads, Mary Beith
‘Not so long ago, children in Orkney made ‘seggy boats’ from the leaves and there was a belief among those that made the boats that chewing the leaf would render one dumb. Remains of Yellow Iris have been found in the middens of Skara Brae (the neolithic site in Orkney)’. – The Orkney Book of Wildflowers, Tim Dean & Anne Bignall
‘Traditionally used in dyeing the rhizomes (with a copper mordant) will give a blue-grey colour and their leaves (with alum) produce a lovely dark green, used in 19thC Harris Tweed’ – Flora Celtica, Milliken & Bridgewater
Photographs above taken at the Gloup in Deerness, Orkney. Below is an earlier photogram from a specimen from Finstown.
Header image: Solarised photograph of Flag Iris sward, North Ronaldsay.
The Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) chose Orkney as its north-most natural post. 1
I’ve been watching the foxgloves out of the kitchen window. They have made remarkable trumpeted bolts up the far wall of the kirk green. On a day of dark skies and bright sunlight I decided to make a portrait of them. Among her purple sisters, a small single ghostly white foxglove grows.
It is one of the plants believed unlucky to be kept indoors. I certainly felt it to be a spooky specimen to work with in the darkroom when I made a photogram of one last year.
This poisonous plant carries supernatural capital, associated as it is with witches and trows. Witches were believed to wear foxglove flowers on their fingers. 2
In Orkney their name trowie-girse or trowie-gliv (glove) bears out the connection.
In the borders foxglove leaves in the cradle kept new-born babies from being bewitched. An accusation of witchcraft fell on Isobel Haldane of Perth in 1623 after she confessed to accidentally poisoning a changeling child with foxglove leaves. 3 The foxglove can harm or heal.
‘The foxglove has been known by at least twenty names including dead men’s bells, bloody bells, witches’ thimbles, foxters, focksterrie, foxtree, fairy’s thimbles, Scotch Mercury and ciochan nan cailleachan marblic (dead old woman’s paps).’ – Flora Celtica
Makes you wonder about the name foxglove, could it be folks glove? As in the little folk. In the language of flowers the foxglove’s dual potential to hurt or heal evolved to mean ’insincerity’, a poisoned message.
It is a widely used medicinal plant. In Gaelic traditional medicine foxgloves are recorded as a remedy for dropsy. Chopped foxglove leaves with onion or garlic in butter was used as a poultice for bad knees or diphtheria. Moistened leaves applied to the skin were a valued remedy for the ‘rose’ (skin condition) or boils. A hot poultice of crushed foxglove roots was used in an Inverness-Shire treatment for internal swellings or growths.4
In modern medicine the plant’s leaves provide the drug digitalis, used for heart disorders.
Remember this plant is poisonous.
1 Orkney book of Wildflowers, Tim Dean & Anne Bignall see here
2 Flora Celtica: Plants and People in Scotland, William Milliken & Sam Bridgewater
3 Flora Celtica: Plants and People in Scotland, William Milliken & Sam Bridgewater
4 Healing Threads, Traditional medicines of the Highlands and Islands, Mary Beith
Ben Harman, Director of Stills: Centre for Photography in Edinburgh, speaks to Norman McBeath.
Norman McBeath is a photographer and printmaker who lives in Edinburgh. The National Portrait Galleries in Edinburgh and London have over seventy of his portraits in their collections. His collaborations with poets include Plan B with Paul Muldoon, The Beach with Kathleen Jamie and Simonides with Robert Crawford. Simonides was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award and exhibited at Yale and the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. His latest book is Strath with Robert Crawford.
Collections which hold his work include; the British Library; the National Library of Scotland; the British Council; Harvard University and Yale Center for British Art.