Moss Garden – reasearching the Wild Walls walk with BAF2013

Yesterday I joined Laira and Ellen to walk through the moss tour which forms part of the Birmingham Architecture Festival. I’d been excited about the tour since I heard about it a year ago: it seemed to exemplify what the Still Walking festival is all about. There’s no curatorial policy as such, but the festival delights in revealing hidden layers of the everyday world – things most of us would walk past but to some are a moment of joy.

Watching Ellen discover tiny trees, once-rare lichens, poisonous herbs and explain the nature of the algae and mosses that often cover buildings, walls and urban surfaces was a thing of wonder. It was especially moving to see her discovering flora thriving in litter, dumped Shortlist newspapers and worse among Birmingham’s various crofts and wastelands. A crop of poppies poetically grew up around someone’s dumped works, but Ellen didn’t see any of this, she was too excited about the world she was showing us, and we were too.

At the church, we marvelled at how the algae and lichen used the foliate carved stone features as their substrate, rather than vertical bricks. Ferns grew from the tops of walls unnoticed as toadflax scaled the wall from below. Lichens grew happily on stones, daily trampled underfoot. Edible salad was everywhere it seemed, and round the year too. Why don’t we know any of this? Some cultures do as standard, it seems, and Ellen certainly knew the subject inside out. Not only the plants but their history, introduction, use and folklore. Everything was delicately connected and had a story. The moss walk was a voyage into the microverse but also a glimpse back the the earliest days of life on earth…many species of these “primitive” plants haven’t needed to adapt for millions of years. To me that sounds advanced!

A guided tour can changed your outlook of the world forever yet usually only costs a fiver or so. This one comes highly recommended but has very limited places. Wild Walls runs on Sunday 2nd June at 3pm, starting at St Martins in the Bullring. Book now! Magnifying lenses will be provided but the sensible footwear is up to you.

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