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Green Thumbs, Green Planet
Jessica Gilburd

I have become really interested in gardening in the last few years. Plants have always fascinated me, but I could never keep them alive until recently. Growing something successfully gives me a wonderful sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. My garden became a way to keep hold of the time that I felt kept slipping through my hands. In winter, when it sits vacant, I feel untethered, like I’m just drifting along. When springtime comes, I can find a concrete measure of time through the growth of the seedlings. The garden becomes a grounded space. Gardens often represent innocence, happiness and the growth of the inner self. Getting your hands into soil exposes you to Mycobacterium Vaccae, which triggers serotonin release. It's an anti-depressant and helps with the immune system. 

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The Largest Organisms 

Plants are amazing forms of life, they can grow to enormous sizes and outlive humans. The largest organisms in the world are in fact plant based. The Quaking Aspen tree called Pando (fig.3) is one of these gigantic organisms. While Pando might look like a normal forest, each of its 47000 stems have grown as a clonal organism from a single seed many years ago. As such, when winter approaches, all of Pando’s leaves change colour at the same time. Its vast root network is all interconnected and able to distribute nutrients to any areas that need it.  

One other gigantic organism is found in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. It’s a kind of honey fungus called Armillaria Solidepes (fig.4). This fungus is known to be a parasitic menace, feared by gardeners, which can kill entire woodlands. The organism in question, found in Malheur National Park, is thought to weigh around 35000 tons covering an area of around 10km squared, and may be as old as eight thousand years. This huge organism is all connected through mycelium, which is the part of the mushroom that stays underground. Similarly to Pando, the fungus can also share nutrients through this network. Mushrooms are also able to communicate through the mycelium, and are intelligent enough to find the shortest distance between food sources. 

Fig.3  Pando.

Fig.4 Armillaria Solidepes.

Plant Based Innovations  

Plants and nature are such integral parts of our world. Anything plant based is becoming extremely popular these days, but humans have always been inspired by nature. Take Velcro for example. It was actually invented in 1948, when George de Mestral noticed the burrs from the burdock plant sticking to his dog. Observing the burrs, he noticed how they hooked together. He emulated this effect to create a new kind of fastening - Velcro! Which, of course, is still used to this day.  

People can still learn from, and use plants to create new inventions and innovations. Many people are now trying to create alternatives to plastic using plant based materials. One such bio plastic is polyhydroxyalkanoate backbone, which is being produced using algae. 

Another alternative being researched is plastic made from cacti. This plastic degrades in a month in soil, and just a day in water. Its nontoxic and edible. However, it takes around ten days to make, and has a long way to go before coming anywhere near being a good enough replacement for plastic. 

NotPla is a small company based in London England, that is using seaweed to create 100% biodegradable plastic substitutes. Seaweed is great for this, as it grows quickly, doesn’t need fresh water or fertiliser and is found all over the world. The company uses local seaweed. One of their products is a edible seaweed bubble containing liquids like drinks or condiments. It’s fully edible and was actually used during the London marathon. The company is growing, having been able to secure a brand deal from Just Eat, which is pretty huge. They’re looking into replacing the takeaway boxes with biodegradable ones. Even though they’re still a very small company, they’re bringing forward some exiting new innovations. 

Fig.5 Notpla edible bubble.

Artists using plants

 

Diana Scherer is an Amsterdam based artist, whose practice looks mainly at the roots of plants. She initially wanted to be a fashion designer. Her work started with photography, but her interest began to shift after taking a photo of a pot bound plant. These photographs led into sculpture, and she decided she wanted to weave with the roots. She uses 3D, often geometric templates to grow her patterns, using grass or oats. The roots take about 4-6 weeks to grow. Her work tends to focus on revealing the hidden, underground processes of plants through different techniques and mediums. Her hand grown roots sculptures explore the themes of man versus nature. 

David Nash is a British sculptor. He works with trees, the natural environment and wood as his main materials. He makes land art, shapes living trees and carves wood. Ash Dome is a well-known piece of his where ash saplings were trained and manipulated to create the distinctive dome shape. Its location is kept a secret to protect it. Another well-known work is Wooden Boulder. This piece was carved and then released into nature and left to travel on its own. Sightings of it will pop up every now and then, as it travels downhill across the countryside. 

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Azuma Makoto is a Japanese flower artist known for his flower arranging and his botanical sculpture. He’s the co-founder of Jardins des Fleurs, and is a prolific worker. His work explores beauty and decay through the surrealist lens of his floral sculptures. One of his best known works is where he launched a bonsai tree into space. Another work is Iced Flowers, which was a series observing how flowers change and decay when frozen. He’s also submerged botanical sculptures in the waters of Japan. 

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Plants play a significant role in my own work as well. The thing I like to explore most is human connection. Plants can act as an effective conduit of this. Humans and nature is a prevailing theme in art. Humans have an instrinsic relationship with the world around us, it’s give and take, although humans tend to take more and give less. 

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