A trip to Cambridge Botanic Gardens on Sunday combined two of my major interests: horticulture and crochet. It was “Apple Day” which demonstrated the array of apple varieties (some hundreds of years old) with a chance to taste some of those cultivars that cannot easily be bought in shops, as well as offering produce such as chutney, cakes, juice and cider. While getting slightly squiffy on cider samples, I didn’t forget to go and investigate the “Hooked On Plants” display in the tropical glasshouses.
Crafters often find inspiration in nature, be it colour combinations, autumn foliage or flowers. Lichen of the tundra is a less typical inspiration but it is the plant of choice for the exhibition, along with trailing plants from arid environments. The project was undertaken by designer Joanne Scrace and the Cam City W.I., as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. The underlying intention was two-fold: to highlight the diversity of plant forms as well as the availability of plant based fibres.
Lichen was represented by simple rows of stitches worked into foundation chains, and were nestled into rock crannies. Other more complex yarn plants involved the skills of increasing and decreasing to create, for instance, undulated or zigzagged leaf margins, such as those of the Fishbone Cactus (Epiphyllum anguliger); or the globose stems of plants adapted for water storage in deserts. One crocheted plant of this type sat next to a sign explaining the “convergent evolution” of unrelated plants using similar survival mechanisms but originating from different continents e.g. Euphorbia obesa of the Euphorbiaceae family found in Africa, and Astrophytum asterias of the Cactaceae family from the Americas.
An overheard comment was an exclamation of how botanically accurate and recognisable these crocheted plants were, a credit to the women who made them (especially those who hadn’t ever crocheted before).