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Guest Post: Natalie Toms, Inspired by Nature

Inspired by the woods, fields, hedgerows, and rivers, I have been influenced by the natural world for longer than I can remember. I grew up in a bungalow in St Austell with an average-sized front and back garden each containing a patch of lawn with small flower borders and bushes along the edges. I used to search for ladybirds in the purple periwinkle and watch woodlice crawl beneath the moss growing on the wall while blackbirds dug for worms like treasure.

But where I truly came to life was in the rural jungle of my grandparents' garden in Lanlivery. I spent the summers of my childhood marvelling at the wild world behind my grandparents' house. I would set off down the garden with my sketchbook and find all manner of known and unknown hiding places that I could explore and wait quietly for wildlife to emerge. Every beetle, bird, or mammal that I found filled my heart with so much joy and excitement. I always felt as if I could be the first to ever see such a wonderful creature. My favourite spot was a large oak tree growing askew from the hedgerow, its canopy brushes against the meadow grass and I would have to clear a path through nettles at the start of every summer to make my way in.

I would climb the hedgerow and all but walk up and along the trunk and sit between branches watching creatures flutter and soar above me and rummage and scurry below. I would spend hours lost in the acres of wilderness, only inclined to come in again if we were having spaghetti for tea.

Many years later, at the bottom of my garden in the Cornish countryside, gently nestled into the wild hedgerow of alder, blackthorn, brambles, and birdsong lies my small artist studio named 'Thickets'. I look up from my drawing board and out onto the same meadow, woodland, and hedgerows where I used to play as a child. Wild rabbits run through the long, wind-teased grass, a silent buzzard circles overhead, and the occasional glimpse of a fleeting deer or a fox at dusk still never fails to fill my heart with child-like wonder. Much like the askew old oak in the hedgerow, my love of nature has only grown with time. My passion for drawing and painting can only really be explained by sharing my passion and love for wildlife. Much of the wildlife I paint is studied from the photographs I take of my garden visitors as I carefully try to depict what makes each creature special.

Anyone who knows me or follows my work will probably know that I've been unfortunate with my health. I have an autoimmune condition called Alpha-1 anti-trypsin deficiency, which led me to be born with liver disease. Against the odds, I managed to survive it and lead a fairly normal and healthy childhood. At age 27 I required emergency surgery to remove parts of my digestive tract due to undiagnosed Crohn's Disease, and last year at age 31 I was diagnosed with heart failure for which my symptoms are now being controlled with medication.

Sadly, I also lost my mum in 2019 from lung failure, not long before the COVID-19 pandemic. My connection and access to the countryside and coast of Cornwall have been more of a refuge and sanctuary for me than I can say. There's a sense of harmony I find in nature which I don't find elsewhere. I have a deep affinity for the relationships between the flora and fauna, and our beautiful changing seasons. I have always felt infinitely more at home and at peace surrounded by nature than I do when surrounded by my peers.

It isn't lost on me just how fortunate I have been to spend much of my childhood and adulthood surrounded by greenery and wild spaces and to still be looking after and enjoying such a beautiful part of the world. My partner and I managed to buy just over nine acres of land from my family early last year. We're currently in the process of replanting what was a dead and diseased conifer wood with a variety of native and deciduous trees, we're also strengthening, increasing, and maintaining the overgrown hedgerows on the borders of our plot, and introducing several acres of wildflower meadow in front of our Cornish black bee hives next year, as well as trying to remove all of the invasive Himalayan balsam which has been accidentally introduced into Lanlivery and has spread over time.

I am a proud business supporter of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and I re-home hedgehogs from the wonderful Prickles and Paws Hedgehog Rescue, an important species sadly now vulnerable to extinction in the UK. My partner and I are always looking for ways to give back to and encourage nature. As we all know the natural world is in fast decline, and we must all do what we can to look after and cherish it.

Natalie's beautiful artwork is available to purchase online and in store.

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