Interview Gillian Welsh
“I’m actually a trained paintings conservator. I studied art history at St Andrews and then spent three years in London getting my conservation qualification. I’ve worked in museums in London and the USA before my husband and I moved back to Edinburgh. We both love nature and the outdoors. We’re keen hikers, bikers and campers. Scottish forests offer all the inspiration you would ever need and I always take photos of mossy woodlands and textures. Two of the most inspiring places I know are Cawdor Wood and the Linn o’ Dee near Braemar. Combining my knowledge of materials and frame-making from conservation with my love of greenery, I ended up making our own little moss walls. I enjoyed the process so much that I started selling them – and thus, my business, The Bonnie Bothy was created.
My parents were really good at craft projects. They bought me a big desk for my crafting when I was eight to give me my own space away from the reach of my toddler sister – I still use it in my studio today. I also always used to make moss gardens as table centrepieces when I was younger – clearly the love of moss and crafting stuck!
I find I do all my best work in the morning and early afternoon. I have a big whiteboard on the wall with the progress of my ongoing projects and from that I plan what I need to get done that day. I try as much as possible to bulk together jobs that create different types of mess – for example, I’ll aim to do all the woodworking I need for the week in one day – sawing and sanding creates a lot of dust so it’s best to try and get it all done when there’s no moss about. If I’m in a particularly creative mood I sometimes just do what I feel like – and it’s these days when I often come up with new products or styles.
The first Forest Floor triptych I made holds a special place in my heart – it was my first custom order, based around a gorgeous piece of driftwood I found on Findhorn beach.
I love working in our garden, growing vegetables and creating small nature habitats – I was recently gifted a gorgeous tree fern so I’ve created a little fern corner focused around it. ‘Bring the outside in’ is my motto.
I completely love ferns but some are very fragile and I have to be careful that their tiny stalks don’t get snapped during the making process. My training in conservation means I’ve a steady hand, and I have lots of tiny tools. I often use dentists’ tools – I came across them during my conservation work and they’re amazing for little details and for moving small pieces of delicate plants around.
I make sure my moss and plants come from a sustainable source – something especially relevant to Scotland, which has some of the rarest forms of moss in the world. My supplier sustainably sources the moss and uses 100% natural and organic products for the preservation process, which is very important as I can add all leftover scraps to my compost bin. The carbon footprint of a moss wall is far lower than that of the faux plants that are the common alternative for maintenance-free green walls.
One of my current projects is an entire wall for a home office in Edinburgh. It’s going to feel like a mini forest in the centre of the city. The science behind the benefits of greenery and nature is really true. Even when I’m working inside I get to be surrounded by ferns and moss and everything green. I’m hoping to focus more on custom and large-scale commis-sions. I would love to do a large-scale installation in a yoga studio or spa – I think the calming vibe that a big moss wall brings would suit those spaces really well.”