Common or garden magic - an anthology of nature writing

Common or garden magic - an anthology of nature writing

This is a collection of ultra-short Thumbnail Nature pieces from a workshop I led on 16 October 2021 with Anita Roy, British-Indian writer, editor and environmentalist.

This writing shares the magic we found in looking with fresh eyes at common or garden plants, fungi and animals. From Angi Holden’s porcine boletes and Clare Wood’s shimmying ivy-leaved toadflax, to Sarah Hill Wheeler’s iridescent pigeon and Tessa Grasswitz’s serene slug, these inspiring writers ask you to see the familiar differently.


Amanda Tuke - workshop co-leader and Great North Wood nature-writer-in-residence

The workshop was made possible thanks to public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Lottery and Arts Council Funded

September is when the smoke bush begins its slow burn, turning with the season from bruise blue-purple to orange, yellow, green, red, black; from smoke to fire, shaped like an explosion. Bright pink ridges mark the bones of velvet-soft leaves, each one gradually being painted by an invisible artist.


Ameena Rojee - Ameena is a photographer and writer based in Croydon who enjoys telling stories about adventure, the outdoors and our relationship with the natural world – @ameenarojee /

Autumn Boletes


Overnight they gather at the foot of the birch, carrying with them the
scents of ancient forests and woodsmoke. Leather backed, suede
bellied, they resemble a herd of Tolkien creatures as they snuffle
porcine snouts into the damp grass


Angi Holden. Angi has been writing most of her life, most recently at a desk so covered in leaves and feathers collected by her grandchildren that it resembles a nature table. @josephsyard

They come into land in a flurry of diamonds, oil on water iridescence
and warm white. So rarely seen alone that solitary, they evoke
superstition, several pied magicians gather to exchange loud jangled
gossip about what to scavenge next. Beaks of obsidian consuming whatever
they find - crumbs, leftovers, bones.


Lisa Stockley - Lisa loves to wander the greenways of north London and explores ways to bring nature and spirituality together Instagram: @naturespirit.collective 

Cymbalaria, SE13


Bouquets of flat green jazz hands cascade, polished in the grey everyday. Yellow-mauve frilly mini snapdragons shimmy from dark nooks and small wall cracks, catching festive dreams and humming them back. Underneath is waxy quiet;  thin scarlettish stems wind out a pepper scent, taking you beyond the pavement.


Clare Wood - Clare is a cloud spotter and massive moss fan, stays south of the river and is getting to know the botanical neighbours.

Ivy-leaved toadflax - Cymbalaria muralis

Ivy-leaved toadflax - Cymbalaria muralis

The maple leaf beckons forward the change in seasons with red and gold. Already, the soft ebbing of decay is spreading through her papery skin. Where she used to undulate and move easily with the wind, she rustles now, like a hungry orange flame. There was no rustling in spring.


Lena Beck - Lena is a freelance environmental science journalist who writes about aquatic ecosystems and loves to look at moss @LenaJLBeck

You say, Look, don't touch. Designed by some perfect God of mathematics, you boast your symmetry. Magic transfixes to your skin of stars. Desert-born lover of extreme dryness, you wear your galaxy of bones on the outside. Spines, the AI of modification – shade providers in the absence of leaves.  


Nina Lewis. Nina is a poet from Worcestershire who enjoys writing about nature and place @Neens07.



A surprise encounter at eye-level helped reveal the wonder of You, as you progressed serenely—if slowly—up the window outside, powered by barely discernible ripples of muscular contractions. Then, with tentacles extended and gently questing, those eyes (on stalks!) disclosed basal flares like miniature buttress-roots. Wow.


Tessa Grasswitz. Tessa grew up in England, but currently lives in the USA, working as an entomologist and celebrating nature through art, prose, and poetry.



Blind wayfinder, pirate,
tactile master of persistence,
bridgebuilder, protector,
creator of new habitats and dead ends,
your forever curious tentacles
sneak in all directions of the compass rose,
explore the gaps in this world,
read each pebble like Braille.
Will you investigate through my window today,
looking for treasure?


Britta Benson. Britta is a happiness & poetry blogging, circus skills instructing & common butterfly following German, a writer, performer & linguist thriving in Scotland, her chosen habitat since the year 2000.

Common ivy

Common ivy

Autumnal Morning Walk


Fungi smells in a woodland dell
Anchored three feet up in an oak tree
Shammy soft leather bodices
Unashamedly showing off their virgin white petticoat gills
Against a brown woody bark backdrop
What a tease!
Whispering secrets with their host
A des res with ecological views


Gloria Maloney. Gloria writes creative prose and poems about the Essex countryside she enjoys walking in.

Climbing. Contorting, contracting, extending all eight legs. Schooled in choreography.  Then, still. Motionless in suspended animation. Hanging by threads of its spinning. Like some big, black bat, which it’s not. Silhouetted against the sky; tiny, tangled in its own web. Charles the Chelicrawler. For what, or whom, do you wait?


Helen Weber. Busy in retirement: budding artist, writer, gardener and lover of all things green; recycling nerd, and Greyhound mum.

The Park Whales, Sleeping


The holm oaks, cetaceans of the park, sleeping upright in the breeze. Tails spreading, vigorous. Prepared for any Beaufort-scaling storm. I press my ear to their ribs, hear the cambium in their veins, the thrumming beat of their heartwood. A shipping-forecast morse-code promise of ever-living green.


Electra Rhodes. An archaeologist who lives in Wiltshire. She writes a regular column on rural issues for Spelt Magazine and tweets @electra_rhodes



Mao Bird, Boy calls him because of the ubiquitous grey. Sheathed in a dull tin bodycom, he paces the driveway, scouting for scraps. A flying rat, Boy’s father says.

And then, a single wingbeat. Diving skyward, the sun ripples iridescent on his trout underbelly. Words disappear as he flies.


Sarah Hill Wheeler. Erstwhile lawyer, aspiring writer, frazzled mother. Sometime Londoner, returned to my rural roots. Now often found outside, with a double espresso, talking to hens. Twitter: @hill_wheeler

Three parakeets eating crab apples. Peck, spit, peck, spit. Maybe this bit will be nicer? Or this bit? Or even this bit? Or perhaps this one? Or that one? Or the one over there? Now look you lot. They’re sour dammit. They’re always going to be sour. GIVE. IT. UP.


Amanda Tuke - Great North Wood nature-writer-in-residence and workshop lead.

Parakeet eating crab apples

Ring-necked parakeet eating crab apples

At this point in the year, the seedpods of Himalayan balsam are primed and ready: grenades with their pins already out. Each pendant of striped yellow-green is pregnant with seeds, lined up like Trojan soldiers in the belly of a horse, jittery, keyed-up, just waiting for you to brush past.


Anita Roy - Guardian Country Diarist, author and workshop co-lead.