Echoing our seasonal theme of Rewilding, Paula Ellis of Fox & Thorn has created expressive, sculptural installations for our shop windows using an array of fascinating plants. The London-based floral designer focused on flowers that have been used by people for hundreds of years, for adding flavours to teas and soups, or as medicines or dyes. Some other plants were added for their textural qualities.
“The installations are rooted in the idea of Foraged & Found,” Paula says. “I focused on specimens that have multiple purposes”. The windows celebrate the wealth of uses plants can provide, hidden in each petal, leaf, stem and root. Some of the flowers are housed in repurposed glass bottles, while other plants are placed directly into the surrounding soil and slate, reflecting the natural environments where they thrive.
The installations feature angelica (Angelica atropurpurea) which has been cultivated as a medicinal plant since the 10th century, alongside yarrow (Achillea millefolium), known as herba militaris as it was used to stanch the flow of blood from wounds in ancient times. There is also wild fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), which was prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a medicine, food, and insect repellent, and echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), which is used in tinctures or medicines. Paula advises caution if you are trying to identify plants out in the wild, as some species can look very similar, and recommends further research.
Accompanying the displays is a series of illustrations by Sarah Jane Humphrey of Botanical Atelier, with the plants used in the installations represented in watercolour. Sarah worked directly from specimens to create her illustrations. “I am incredibly fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the country where wildflowers grow in abundance,” she says. “When the brief arrived from TOAST, I immediately knew where I could source each one of these plants. I also have a fairly extensive library of my own photographs to work from, which is particularly useful if a flower is coming towards the end of its season.” Sarah is also inspired by historical botanical drawings, seeing the compositions as an invaluable source of reference. “I find illustrations by Ernst Haeckel and Joseph Banks absolutely exquisite, as well as those by Pierre-Joseph Redouté,” she says.
Her studio is located at her coastal home in Cornwall, with a dramatic view of the sea. “The landscape is spectacular,” Sarah says. “You will see pine trees that meet the edges of a cliff and wild coastal flowers that drift down to the edge of the sea”. Filled with towers of reference books and nature journals, it’s flooded with light and scattered with artefacts from past projects, such as seed pods and dried seaweed. For the illustrations, she used honey-based watercolours. “They have a distinct smoothness and radiance to their pigments and are made using traditional methods, which sits beautifully with how I like to work.”
Ox-Eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
The Latin name leucanthemum is said to have originated from the ancient Greek word leucos, meaning white. The plant was used in traditional medicines to treat various health problems, such as coughs and asthma. The flower heads have also been used to make tea. The flower was often used in romantic predictions in France, and this is echoed today by the modern game of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’. The young spring shoots can be finely chopped and added to salads and soups, the root can be consumed raw and the flowers can be tossed into a salad.
The dried flower heads of teasel were widely used in textile processing, providing a natural comb for cleaning, aligning and raising the nap on fabrics, particularly wool. They were attached to spindles, wheels, or cylinders, sometimes called teasel frames, to tease the fibres on the surface of fabrics. The young leaves are edible and can be added to salads or cooked, while the root can also be used in teas.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
Echinacea was widely used by Indigenous peoples in North America as a folk medicine. Its modern use for the common cold is thought to have begun when a Swiss herbal supplement maker was told that Echinacea was used for cold prevention by Indigenous peoples who lived in the area of South Dakota. The Kiowa people used it for coughs and sore throats, the Cheyenne for sore throats, the Pawnee for headaches, and the Lakota used it as a pain medication. The leaves and flower petals are edible, and all parts of the plant have been used in tinctures or medicines.
Wild Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel was prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans who used it as medicine, food, and insect repellent. A fennel tea was believed to give courage to the warriors prior to battle. According to Greek mythology, Prometheus used a giant stalk of fennel to carry fire from Mount Olympus to Earth. The plant is also thought to help strengthen eyesight, as mentioned in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1842 poem ‘The Goblet of Life’.
Words by Alice Simkins.
Illustrations by Sarah Jane Humphrey.
You can view our Autumn window installations, created by Fox & Thorn, in each of our UK shops apart from London, Shoreditch. If you happen to be walking past, do share a photo using the hashtag #TOASTbeing. We would love to see.