On Sunday morning, our room became a plant shop-slash-herbarium, with potted plants of various sizes all around, along with trays of spices and herbs in jars. We started with a sensory tour, investigating them via touch, taste and smell. It was an adventure in surprise and discovery, especially with the plants that a) I didn’t recognise and b) turned out to have either a delightful fragrance (hello, pineapple mint!) or a near-feral odour (looking at you, hyssop!).
After the tour, we got into groups and selected herbs to make into a herb butter blend. My group made two different blends. One, now that I write the names out in English, I see was a rather witchy blend, consisted of goutweed, toadflax and a plant that no one was quite sure of but was generally felt to be a kind of wild rocket. Mixing all of these herbs together smelled like a freshly mown lawn. (How about that on your morning toast?) The other groups made generally safer choices although I do believe that lavender made it into someone's butter blend.
The whole weekend was dedicated to engaging the senses in nature. On Friday, we started by making a sensory path to walk barefoot, which included the very distinct experiences of:
stepping into a bucket of wet clay (very cold! very slippery!)
sliding through wood shavings (being a hamster is probably not so bad)
walking on rocks (if you ever have to choose, go for gravel instead of the bigger stones)
My feet felt unusually warm and frankly a little hyper for the rest of the day, like, "You never take us anywhere, and now you just took us to an amusement park where we rode 5 rollercoasters in an hour."
But the real highlight of the weekend for me came on Saturday. Our afternoon session was called “Painting with plants”, which in my mind conjured a vaguely Victorian notion of sitting at an easel in a greenhouse, surrounded by orchids and ferns. The paintings thus produced would either ring precise and delicate, like a botanical illustration, or bloom wildly over the page, like a blowsy watercolour. Neither of these ideas turned out to be correct.
Painting with plants meant that we went into the garden and snipped off the stems and flowers of the plants that were in abundance (mainly dandelion, daisies, ground ivy aka glechoma hederacea as well as regular ivy) and mashed or finger-painted them on to paper. Some people painted pictures with their plant juices, but I just went for an abstract design. It was so much fun, and also opened up a whole new way of getting inside the plant rather than trying to approach it from the outside.
I should conclude with the other main highlight, which was making a group meal out of a bunch of random vegetables. The broth was purple, thanks to a purple carrot. It was redolent of fennel and caraway, and the standout texture came from a parsnip. It was not a soup you would find in any recipe book, but it was a meal of sensory discoveries, in keeping with the theme of the weekend.