Natives: rejoicing in artistic and scientific excellence

A stunning award-winning exhibition summoning back the linguistic beauty of nature tops the bill of the spring and summer season at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). The great new rallying cry for reverence of Britain’s flora and fauna, The Lost Words (May 19 to September 2) superbly articulates this year’s theme of Natives in a programme amplifying the institute’s mission “To explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future”.

Featuring artwork by Jackie Morris and spell-poems from Robert Macfarlane, The Lost Words  is powerful commentary on how the loss of vibrant language takes lustre from our culture. The eponymous book has already won two literary prizes and sales are approaching 100,000. A successful £25,000 crowdfunding campaign by bus driver Jane Beaton is ensuring a copy of the “magical” publication will be distributed to all of Scotland’s 2,681 schools. The exhibition – first staged at Compton Verney, Warwickshire – lends another level of engagement.

From adder to magpie and otter, Macfarlane has conjured 20 spell-poems – one for each word “lost” from the reference books - while Morris has created a series of beautiful watercolours. As surveys show British schoolchildren to be substantially better at identifying the fictional characters of video games than common UK wildlife, Morris and Macfarlane’s rousing response is already capturing the hearts of children and adults wishing to reaffirm their bonds with nature. As the crusade continues to grow, the exhibition is expected to create a buzz through Inverleith House, with visitors also being encouraged to find 17 of the 20 featured species out in the Garden.

The opening of The Lost Words coincides with Connect with Nature, a festival of nature writing, reading and illustration reflecting the underlying theme of the exhibition. Participating authors and illustrators include Mark Cocker, Esther Woolfson, Jim Crumley, Chitra Ramaswarmy, Samuel Tongue, Malachy Tallack, Darren Woodhead and Jackie Morris. It is supported by the John Muir Trust, Scottish Book Trust and Scottish Poetry Library.

In the run-up to The Lost Words, Easter weekend introduces Flora Scotia (March 31 to June 3), when the John Hope Gateway hosts Scotland's contribution to Botanical Art Worldwide. Linking people with plants and celebrating the renaissance of the botanical art movement, it features plants native to Scotland. From May 18, it transforms into a “virtual” gallery for the works from all 25 participating countries. Instigated by the American Society of Botanical Art (ASBA), it is curated in Edinburgh by the specially-created Scottish Botanical Art Collective (SBAC).

Headlining RBGE’s contribution to Edinburgh International Science Festival, is the award-winning theatre production Me and My Bee (April 9 to April 11). Devised by This Egg Theatre Company, it plants seeds of change in comedic splendour, considering the contribution wild bees make to pollination and, therefore, all life. Ticket booking is via Edinburgh International Science Festival and the theme is an ideal fit for Keep Edinburgh Buzzing a free online learning course from RBGE with Edinburgh Zoo and Edinburgh Living Landscape.  Watch out too for the Garden’s annual Easter Trail.

More Science Festival fun comes from the Garden’s SEFARI (Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes) partners, presenting a line-up of free drop-in sessions on the central theme The Nature of Food. Look out too for Shoreline, complementing the Edinburgh Living Landscape schools and community initiative focusing on the rich natural and cultural heritage of Edinburgh’s 27km coastal landscape.

With Inverleith House workshops in April and performances on the Pyrus Lawn in August, Pianodrome - aimed at everyone with an interest in making music or theatre - is a glorious upcycling project with an amphitheatre constructed from 40 discarded pianos beneath a geodesic dome. Watch Pianodrome become a popular venue for art, music and cultural activities. Also in August, Inverleith House Lawn hosts Handmade in Edinburgh a three-day festival of quality crafts, all handmade in the UK.

Head of Events and Exhibitions, Dr Ian Edwards explained the packed programme was developed around key themes: “The programme includes a very wide variety of artistic and cultural genre, including visual art, illustration, literature, music, theatre and craft. There is an unprecedented level of engagement and community participation and it will attract new audiences from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. Furthermore, because of the underlying themes of native species and young people we have provided more opportunities for our own horticultural and scientific staff, our students, volunteers and community partners, and our members to become actively involved in devising, delivery and participating in the programme.”

Stressing the importance of relevant outreach, Regius Keeper Simon Milne MBE spoke of the undertaking to ensure all events and exhibitions demonstrated a symbiosis with the institute’s key messages: “The role of botanic gardens has never been more directly related to the conservation of the environment at home and around the world. In developing our longer term arts programme, as recommended by our Arts Working Group, the intention is to ensure all activities within the four Gardens of RBGE amplify our mission in plant science and conservation horticulture.

“In the coming months we look forward to opening exhibitions and events where all visitors can enjoy engaging with our research and conservation work in a fun way, celebrate the relationship of plants and fungi with all other living entities on Earth and simply delight in the sheer beauty of our fragile environment.”

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)