Feb 112016
Dalkeith oak

Dalkeith oak tree felled by Andrea in 2012

The After the Storm journey began on 3 January 2012 when Cyclone Andrea (described as a once in a lifetime event) swept across Scotland with winds reaching 100mph, blowing down thousands of trees in its wake. Some forests were left flattened and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh lost over 40 specimen trees. The vocabulary that was used to describe the aftermath of Andrea was taken directly from the language of war and few people anything positive to say about this traumatic event.

Then in 2014, at the preview of the annual Scottish Furniture Makers Association (SFMA) exhibition at the RBGE a conversation began on how the windblown trees from the storm might be used to make pieces for an exhibition which highlighted the beauty of Scottish-grown timber and the talent and craftsmanship among our Scottish furniture makers and designers. As plans for a joint RBGE/SFMA exhibition developed the focus shifted to other positive outcomes emerging from the great storm. Conversations with ecologists revealed how storms are essential for rejuvenating woodlands, creating gaps for regeneration and encouraging greater diversity of species and structure, building resilience and ultimately a healthier ecosystem.

With new partners the Forestry Commission and Edinburgh College of Art we began to explore ways of celebrating the role of storms which has led us, perhaps inevitably, to consider parallels with the human condition. People respond to traumatic changes in their life in the same was as woods: the pattern of devastation, recovery, regeneration and resilience is a familiar one. Our explorations have also considered the role diversity plays in post-traumatic recovery in both forests and people.

As these ideas evolved the partners, which now also included the Scottish Poetry Library, began to seek ways in which they could engage with artists and audiences to create positive and inspirational outcomes. The original proposal of an exhibition of furniture from storm-salvaged timbers has provided a starting point for creative ideas for community engagement which continue to grow and develop through the outreach of all the partners involved. One tangible outcome is a publication, providing a narrative on which to hang the project and documentation of explorations around the theme.

If you are interested in contributing in any way to this Project as it develops over the next 18 months please contact me at i.edwards@rbge.org.uk or follow me on twitter @idedwards  This is a good opportunity to get involved in something with a strong, inspirational message relevant to our time.

Walking with Poets at the four RBGE Gardens

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Jun 182013

2013 sees a very special partnership between the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and the Scottish Poetry Library. From June to September, each RBGE Garden will host its very own poet for a whole month: Sue Butler was resident in Benmore for the month of June, July saw Mandy Haggith weaving words in Edinburgh, now in August Jean Atkin is setting up camp at Logan, and Gerry Loose takes root at Dawyck in September.

Sue Butler in Benmore ExplorerHighlights so far….

Sue Butler reached her goal of collating 150 poems to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Benmore’s Redwood Avenue. They were contributed by Benmore Botanic Garden visitors and staff, and e-poets from all over the world who submitted poems via www.walkingwithpoets.com.

Mandy Haggith took people through the Gaelic Tree Alphabet, with 18 events each featuring a particular species. There were touchy-feeling walks, outdoor readings, evening folklore and poetry sessions and poetry workshops which Botanics’ visitors, staff and volunteers all came to enjoy.

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The Ash Grove

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May 202013

As part of the Moving Forward from Ash Dieback project we decided to search for a poem that would help people consider the value ash has in our environment and our culture. Poetry has the potential to enrich our lives and change the way we look at the world. It can connect with us on a different level from the usual ‘interpretive text’ you may find in an exhibition. So, with the help of the Scottish Poetry Library, we sent out requests to poets across Scotland to ask them to consider ash trees, their disappearance and how we might celebrate ash woodlands. We were delighted with the response: the very high quality and the variety of work. Below is the final work chosen, written by Ken Cockburn.

The Ash Grove

a springtime ash, whose leaves emerge from black
an unlocked ash, so profligate with keys
a mourning ash, its branches heaped on pyres
a lettered ash, in the alphabet of trees
a hedgerow ash, which twists among the briars
a spreading ash, in summer’s heat a bield
a sporting ash, to take the shinty field

a warlike ash, for arrows and for spears
a lightning ash, and flame that flash provides
a hanging ash, a shade of dule and tears
a timeless ash, the horse which Odin rides
a steam-bent ash, which hoops the barrel staves
a buoyant ash, a charm against the waves
a blighted ash, whose crown is dying back

Ken Cockburn
April 2013

Thanks to Ken Cockburn, all the poets who submitted work and to the Scottish Poetry Library.