Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 6. History of the project

My best view – Andersnatten at 23:00 in June.

Anyone would think I am trying to sell Norway. I am, it is a fantastically beautiful country. The picture above is in Sigdal, the valley below Haglebu. It is the view we had from the house we built in the late 1970’s. It is from here that I learnt to love Norwegian flora.

In the previous blog I finished off by saying that I still hadn’t seen any sign of one of the two species that got me going with this series of plants. This was the Bearberry (Arcostaphylos uva-ursi). I had already found out that they were not known to grow in the county I now live – along the west side of the Oslo Fjord; In fact locals didn’t seem to know about the plant!

In 2017, that very first summer of sketching, I managed to do some sketches of each of the five species already found. This gave me a feel for the plants but I still needed to do a lot of research into them. I had found that the cloudberry is dioecious – the male and female reproductive organs are separated in two different organisms; each plant is either male or female. My girlfriend from whom we had borrowed the cottage that year, was not aware of this. But, it seems, she was not alone in this as it was a surprise to many Norwegians with a cursory knowledge of the plants around them.

There was plenty of mountain crowberry ( Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum) in the area round the cottage. The crowberry is a family of plants that isn’t quite straight forward in that the species at lower altitudes is dioecious like the Cloudberry, but at this altitude in the mountains is more generally a subspecies called ‘hermaphroditum’. This means it carries both male and female reproductive parts.

Finding plants and choices in 2018

The cottage at Flatvollen, near Haglebu. 906 metres over sea level.

As I realised I was going to need quite a few years to complete my series with only two weeks at a time when we could get to Norway, we decided to rent a cottage at a higher level in the mountains. We looked at an area where I had used to go skiing when younger – Haglebu at the top of the Sigdal valley where it goes over the mountain then steeply down into the next valley. This time we found a cottage at 906 metres over sea level and I could see that I would be near the plants I intended to paint. Although I still hadn’t found the one plant I had been looking for.

In front of the cottage there was quite a boggy plain and I knew that I could get plants such as Cloudberry there. Behind the cottage was steep mountain and I knew most of the other plants would be available to me there. 

We went for a short hike and explored. The marshy area was quite wet, but there were a lot of Cloudberry plants. Unfortunately, it was too late in the season to see any flowers but getting onto my hands and knees I got a real surprise. Weaving in and out of the boggy moss was the tiniest plant, with the smallest flowers and leaves. The plant was so insubstantial but lying on top of the moss were the remains of some red berries. This was Vaccinium oxycoccus Subsp. microcarpum (small Cranberry). The Cranberry bought in our shops is Vaccinium macrocarpum – large cranberry, and of course cultivated in large amounts in the US. 

I had just found my 6th plant, but still not the bearberry.

Below you see the small cranberry on top of the moss with sprigs of bog bilberry and mountain crowberry and a little Betula nana (Dwarf birch), often found as the last tree (no more than a low shrub) on the tree line.

I had to remind myself that the reason for getting interested in this series of plants was because the bearberry often got mixed up with the lingonberry (cowberry), and this often happened at lower elevations. I needed to continue my hunt for the species.

We went hunting and eventually I found quite a few plants in a dry sandy forest area in the next valley. This was Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry). I now had my seven species, although one of them was not in the immediate area where I was collecting my samples. That is, until I found some very near the cottage, growing down a rock face.

Finding the Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry)

More on the 9 April 2023

Foraging plants in the Norwegian Mountains – 2. History of the project.

Preparing for rain – view from the cottage at Flatvollen near Haglebu.

As promised, this is the second part to the blog about my series of pictures – Foraging plants in the Norwegian Mountains. It will continue twice weekly until the RHS exhibition mid June 2023.

But what did make me choose this topic to study? It started at the workshop I had in Åsgårdstrand in 2014.

Cloudberry leaf and remnants of a male flowersketch 2014

There were students from Norway, the USA and the UK, and I wanted them to get a feel for and learn about some of the plants that mean a lot to Norwegians. Funnily enough, like me, Norwegians take a lot of their fruit for granted and don’t know too much about them. I asked a botanist friend to get some plants when she was at her cottage in the mountains; she arrived with several, including cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus). This particular year she only found male flowers, but more about this later. At that point I didn’t know they were male flowers; I was just disappointed that none seemed to be fertilised and developing fruit.

As the students were mostly new to botanical art, it was unsurprising that no-one had any real interest in painting the cloudberry plant without the flowers in full bloom.

But all were thrilled by the range of wildflowers available and painted many they found whilst on walks in the neighbourhood. For my part, the cloudberry plant material was enough to kickstart my interest in studying it. Painting the sample available was the start of my obsession for Norwegian edible fruit; it continued until I finished the series of seven pictures in January 2023

Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) botanical exhibition planning

Magnolia x soulangeana flowers – 2011

Over the years the requirements for exhibiting with the RHS have changed. I had previously done two exhibits for the RHS botanical art shows and had medals from 2011 and 2014. In 2011, 8 pictures were required for each exhibit and in 2014 this was reduced to six although one could have more. When planning for my next exhibit I decided to do seven pictures as odd numbers are aesthetically more pleasing than even numbers.

I will be describing my progress with all seven pictures in my blog, although the exhibit requirements is now only six pictures. I felt Norwegian edible plants would be an ideal topic and had hoped to complete the series over the following three years, but ‘life’ got in the way. 

I was responsible for the UK representation during the Botanical Art Worldwide Exhibition in 2018. Scotland had their own exhibit.

My involvement in the worldwide exhibition happened quite suddenly when I realised that the UK would not be represented. I felt this was wrong as we had so many brilliant botanical artists. So I was determined to make it happen; Robin, my husband, suggested that if we got enough people interested, we should call ourselves the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA). Luckily, I was able to convince others and ABBA organised several successful events across the country representing UK botanical artists. 

During the build -up to the Botanical Art Worldwide exhibition, it became clear that there was a need for an organisation to welcome ‘Anyone, anywhere’ interested in botanical art. Up until then it could be quite expensive to learn about botanical art and membership of existing organisations was based on an individual’s level of expertise. Dr Shirley Sherwood OBE was also of a similar opinion and supported the idea – something that really meant a lot to me and my motivation for continuing my work to establish an organisation. 

The Association of Botanical Artists (ABA), now an international organisation, is still going strong. 

Malus ‘Gorgeous’ – 2014

Eventually, as I got back to planning my next RHS exhibit I recognised that there were some logistic problems. I lived in the UK and hadn’t planned to move back to Norway. Although some of the plants grew in high mountain areas in the UK, there were still some difficulties obtaining what I needed. For example, there were very few female cloudberry plants and therefore only a slim chance of getting material for either the female flowers or fruit. I therefore needed to get to Norway on a regular basis and knew that I could only do this once a year. 

I already had another workshop planned in Norway for 2015, so 2016 became the target for starting seriously with preparation sketches

Botanical art workshop at Åsgårdstrand

I realised that I wouldn’t be able to decide which part of the plants to focus on until I had done as many sketches as possible at different stages of development.

I would need to make careful notes about colour and size of specimens to aid my decision making. 

I will continue this story with a new blog on 26 March 2023.

Foraging plants in the Norwegian Mountains – 1. History of the project.

I am originally English but have lived many years in Norway with a 24-year gap in the UK from 1996 to 2020. I lived in the valley of Sigdal for several years, just below Haglebu so returning to the area for this project was a joy for me.

Following my application to exhibit at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Botanical Art and Photography Show this year (2023), I received confirmation that I will be one of the exhibitors and allowed to show six pictures in a series of my own choice.

Picking Lingonberries

The topic I chose is the one mentioned above, Foraging plants in the Norwegian Mountains. This series of blogs is about my whole process from choice of plants to painting the final pictures. I intend to post the blogs twice a week right up to the 2023 exhibition in June.

Typically, many Norwegians forage for fruit during the summer and autumn periods of the year. This is understandable when you think that in many parts of Norway the upper metre or more of the ground is frozen solid and covered with snow for up to 6 months of the year. From late May until late September the Norwegian flora has a very fast and compact growth and development. If you come to Norway during the late spring or summer, everything seems very lush with lots of spring flowers everywhere.

If you travel up into the mountains, the flora is different but still very lush – as you see in the pictures above. 

Spring seems to start off with the birch (Betula ) and we love to see the ‘mouse ears’ showing in May. The Norwegian national day is 17th May and being able to decorate everywhere with ‘mouse ears’ really gives the feeling that warmth and growth is at last on the way.

One of the reasons I chose foraging in the mountains as a topic was because I always knew that there were differences in the fruit we found, but it wasn’t until I started painting botanically that I understood how to note these differences and the importance of doing so accurately. 

When I first arrived in Norway in the early seventies, I quickly learnt which fruit was good and very roughly the type of area in which I would find it. I then learnt how to use the various fruits for jam, juices and puddings, giving the family a taste of summer over the winter months.

Now I have the freezer full of bilberries, cloudberries, cowberries (or lingonberries), wild cherries as well as the usual fruit from the garden such as red, white and black currents and plums.

A red Bearberry
Red lingonberries

When foraging, there were two fruits that were easy to confuse, but I learnt to distinguish between them, although not via botanical knowledge. I have since discovered that both are safe to eat, but not equally pleasant. They have  completely different uses which, I will come back to in a future blog when describing them.

Both fruit are red and there is a similarity to the leaves, making it a little complicated when picking them – unless you know what to look for. The one to the right has many uses in jam and juice, whereas the one to the left is a stone fruit of which mostly the leaves are used.

What made me choose these plants to study?

In 2014 whilst still living in the UK, I came to Norway to run and teach at a botanical art workshop in Åsgårdstrand, a popular sailing village near where I now live. Edvard Munch lived in Åsgårdstrand when he painted The Scream. 

I will continue this blog on Thursday 23 March.

Wonderful Norway!

I have been in Norway sketching mountain plants that I will be painting for my next RHS exhibit in 2019. A long time in the future you might think, but in actual fact I now have my time cut out to get it all done in time. Not made easier by the views from the winter cottage where we were staying.

On the way up to the cottage we were kindly put up by some friends who also made sure we were able to celebrate St Hans in the Norwegian tradition. Our journey continued up to the valley where I used to live, called Sigdal and then further up into Eggedal where some dear friends have the winter cottage they allowed us to use for the duration. This was at 830 metres over sea level and a 5ºC difference in temperature from the village down in the valley.

The temperature difference and the incredible invasion of gnats notwithstanding, we had a really super two-week period. I found all the plants that I had chosen to include – which I will come back to in a later blog. But my main distraction was the two ‘bird’ houses just outside the cottage, one of them  directly outside the kitchen window where I was working. The pictures are just some of the animals and birds that were constantly at the table.

It was just as lucky that it was nearly 24 hour light. I think that the sky was darkish for about two hours, but the horizon was very light – at least when the sky was clear. The light allowed me to work long hours and the last evening I worked until 23:00 without extra light!


Bullfinch male and Coaltit

Inquisitive young fox on our way up to the cottage.

Mr and Mrs Bullfinch

Coal tit

Mr. Bullfinch

Red Squirrel – one of several. At times there were at least 5-6 trying to get onto the feeding table. Some with dark tails, some with red ones, some with tufted ears and others with only one tufted ear – even ears without tufts.


European crested Tit

Checking if anyone else is home!

For good measure this was the some of my view from the kitchen window!

What a distraction!

My children also came for a few days and in addition they saw an elk and a Black Grouse.