This project is the result of a year-long collaboration.

Using a sustained period of research and development to respond at first hand to the wild grasses of Scotland, we collaborated at a distance, exchanging our findings in our own artforms.  This has built up into the collection presented here through this website. 

Finding ourselves hundreds of miles apart, we developed a collaborative practice that was based on an exchange of material. At times we responded directly to each other’s artform – writing to a photograph or photographing to a poem – but largely our collaboration was based on our conversations and findings in the field. In this way we found that we could make work at the same time, together but apart, Valerie in Edinburgh and Rebecca in Orkney.  

We have attempted to mirror the diversity of the grasses through a multiform of poetics and varied photographic techniques, darkroom and digital.

In this collection we hope to have achieved an equilibrium, a balance between our artforms where neither outweighs the other. Much of the colour is within the poetry, we wanted the greenness to be in the mind.

You can read more about our approach to the grasses here.

We both used collections, the Magnus Spence herbarium at Stromness Museum, the James Sinclair herbarium and the wider collections at RBGE. We amassed a stack of books, collected a glossary of grasses in the Scots leid and in Orkney dialect and generated an anthology of poems about grasses. 

In Orkney Rebecca was joined in the field by Orkney Plant Recorder John Crossley who has been our consultant for the project.

Believing wild grasses to be a rich and evocative theme and knowing the restorative value of creative material to people in challenging situations, we intend to make elements of the collection accessible to individuals or groups in healthcare settings. A specially commissioned box, The Kist o Wild Grasses, was made by Kevin Gauld to a selection of the poems and photographs.

Our next ambition is to present the collection in exhibition and as a book.

This project was supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland. 

Orkney Furniture maker Kevin Gauld collecting marram and making The Kist o Wild Grasses.
The marram was harvested at Skaill, Deerness, Orkney (thank you to the Foubisters).
The wood used is Orkney sycamore.
The kist will be held at Maggie’s Centre, Edinburgh.
A collection of the poems and photographs is stored in The Kist o Wild Grasses to be used as a personal prescription or in creative workshops.

Film made by Mark Jenkins.

Suggested reading:
The Observer’s Book of Grasses, Sedges & Rushes, Frederick Warne & Co Ltd 1974
Grasses of the British Isles, Tom Cope & Alan Gray, Botanical Society of the British Isles 2009
Grasses,  C E Hubbard, Penguin 1954
Grasses, Ferns, Mosses and Lichens of the British Isles, Roger Phillips, Ward Lock Ltd 1980
Identification guide to Ireland’s Grasses, National Biodiversity Data Centre 2016
Flora Celtica, William Milliken & Sam Bridgewater, Birlinn 2006
The Threadbare Coat, Thomas A. Clark, Carcanet, 2020
Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Milkweed 2013
Thus spoke the plant, Monica Gagaliano, North Atlantic Books 2018
Plants as Persons, Matthew Hall, Suny Press 2011
National Biodiversity Network NBN Atlas Scotland: Home

Valerie & Rebecca would like to thank the following people

Contributing Artists:
Kevin Gauld, Orkney Furniture Maker
Diana Leslie, Artist
Mark Jenkins, Filmmaker


John Crossley, Consultant Ecologist, Plant Recorder for Orkney
Neil Leask, Custodian, Orkney Museums
Alison Miller, Orkney Scriever
Ragnhild Ljosland, UHI Archaeology Institute & UHI Language Sciences Institute

Collections Access:

David Harris, Herbarium Curator and Deputy Director of Science, RBGE
Lesley Scott, Assistant Herbarium Curator, RBGE
Max Coleman, Science Communicator, RBGE
Janette Park, Curator, Stromness Museum
Katy Firth, Exhibitions Assistant, Stromness Museum
Orkney Library & Archive
Rachel Boak, formerly Curator at Orkney Museums

In the Field & Research:

Sidney & Catherine Foubister of Skaill, Deerness
Sarah & Erlend Wood, Berriedale Farm
Eleanor MacLeod and the Ring of Brodgar Rangers
Elspeth Strachan, former Human Rights monitor on the West Bank
Michael Fortune, Folklore Collector, Ireland

The Artists’ Families:

William Gillies
Mairi NicGilliosa
Maeve Gillies
Lachlan Gillies
Sarah Marr
Avril & Iain Marr
The Jenkins
The late Jean Robb

Thanks to Canongate Press and Luath Press where some of the poems first appeared.

Thank you to Creative Scotland and in particular to Viccy Adams, Literature Officer.