Have you ever seen a wood nymph? I am lucky enough to not only have seen one, but to have had one as my muse for the past four years…
Ria walked into my world serendipitously. She came out of the forest with twigs in her hair, smelling of wood smoke and moss, and stood on the doorstep asking if she could spend some time with me learning about growing. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ria had run away to the West Country – well, at a very slow pace on her narrow boat. After working in the film industry creating prosthetics, she left to join a new tribe of wood folk at the Cherry Wood Project. She wanted to live a life less wasteful and reliant on plastic. She wanted to make things and grow things and be self-sufficient and sustainable. She wanted to find her people. And then she came to me. I have watched her on this journey and hopefully, in part, helped her become the knowledgeable grower that she is today.
But back to those first weeks when the leaves were still in her hair… It hadn’t taken me long to realise that Ria’s talents were many and various and that she was willing to be creative with me. Ria’s timely arrival marked the beginning of spring, the start of our growing season. My mission has always been to showcase flowers when at their natural growing time, and I was working on a series of flat-lay images depicting the four seasons. We always start with low-growing woodland plants, so I wanted to depict a fecund, forest floor cushioning a sleeping woman surrounded by spring blooms…and in walked Ria the wood nymph.
We worked together to turn the floor of our studio at HQ into a billowing mossy pillow, so we built up layers of twigs, leaves and flowers to make a beautiful woodland scene. Once we had the background laid out, I turned my attention to my model who like a true runaway urchin had to be popped into a deep hot bath! I wouldn’t let her out until she had scrubbed at least some of the mud out of her toenails. She laughs when she remembers that I had suggested nail varnish (what was I thinking?).
With her perfect skin and flawless complexion, she needed no make-up. I just had to dress her in a ‘party wood nymph’ outfit and slip her into the scene we had prepared. A little behind-the-scenes secret: look at the resulting photos and know that there are duvets underneath that mossy ground – our model would be lying on that otherwise uncomfortable surface for some time before we could capture the perfect shot.
Our photographer Britt Willoughby Dyer had set up her camera on a homemade metal gantry construction which we weighted down with bags of sugar. The camera was up in the ceiling and wobbled every time we walked across the sprung wooden floor. We had to stand still and almost stop breathing every time she pressed the shutter.
The scene that had taken us two days to set up, took half an hour to clear away. But at least it all got recycled in our giant compost bin at the farm to be put back onto the flowers for the next year. And as my husband says, we now have a beautiful non-compostable image of spring that will last forever.
And what of Ria since then? Well, I’m proud to say that our wood nymph is still a part of the Electric Daisy team. She works with me part-time on all manner of things – she is a natural with flowers and has helped me create some fabulous RHS installations and floral decor for weddings; she did all of the make-up for our 2017 calendar shoot; and she is chief propagator on the farm having propagated all of our seedlings for this year.
I look forward to many more wonderful times working together. For I know that this delicate little wood nymph is also an absolute dab hand with a chainsaw!
Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer