Wild flower books

The first book about wild flowers I ever read was the Ladybird book I mentioned previously. The next one I became aware of was a beautiful book of botanical drawings by W. Keble Martin: The Concise British Flora in Colour. Two lovely sisters of the generation whose potential husbands did not return from the First World War showed me a copy. One of them had taught my mother at primary school. They were most enthusiastic about the book, pointing out how much work was involved.

When a book club I joined several years later offered this book I bought my own copy.

Over the years three other wild flower books have arrived in our house. The most attractive of these is Dorling Kindersley’s Eyewitness Handbook: Wild Flowers of Britain and Northwest Europe. It is the book I consult first. The flowers are arranged by family. There is a identification key which starts by separating dicotyledons and monocotyledons. I find this of limited help and usually hunt through the pages.

The second one, which has far more subspecies pictured, is Collins New Generation Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain and N. Europe. I have to admit that I have only used it as a reference book for identifying flowers. I ought to take the time to read all the background information. The author of this book was Alastair Fitter and David Attenborough was the general editor.

What I like about the third one is that it has an identification section organised by colour and by the size of both the flowers and the plant. I discovered it on my mother’s bookshelf; she allowed me to take it home! The Concise Flowers of Europe by Oleg Polunin also has over 1900 colour photographs. There is also a ruler (similar to those often provided on knitting patterns) so that the size of the flowers can be measured. (However I do not usually encumber myself with books outside.)

Learning about wild flowers has become much easier with digital photography. Instead of following in W. Keble Martin’s footsteps and making detailed drawings, which must have taken hours and hours, it is now possible to take a snap and consult books and/or the internet later. Fortunately there are still people, who make beautiful botanical drawings and paintings.

The naming of flowers in Latin has changed since the books I own were written. Serious botanists have the latest book with all the up-to-date names. An example of the changes is that the daisy family, which includes dandelions and thistles, used to be called Compositae. The modern name is Asteraceae. Twitter (especially #wildflowerhour) can be very educational! I am happy to remain an amateur botanist with out-of-date books.


What I read in July 2019 (Part 1)

Ghost Trees: Nature and People in a London Parish by Bob Gilbert was on a display of books shortlisted for this year’s Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize. Having returned a book about woods, I picked one about trees!

The author had moved to the East London parish of Poplar as his wife was appointed rector there. He conducted research both on the ground and from written records in order to write this very readable and informative book. There is information about the time of writing, the past, people with connections to the area, people with connections to the flora of the area, traditions and beliefs both past and present. The language is poetic without being pretentious.

I do not know the area around Poplar. It was only when I had read all but three chapters that I decided to look at online maps (including satellite images) of the area. There are no maps included in the book, but with so much information readily available, that is not a great loss. Maps would have increased the production costs. The hardback volume is relatively light to hold and well set out. Chapters are divided into sections. The seasons of the year, the local people, wildlife, plants, waterways and much more have been carefully observed.

I learned a lot about the history of urban tree-planting, how some plants were named and more besides. This is a fascinating book with an index and bibliography.

Blogging update

In recent months my book review posts have filled every weekly slot on this blog. My tagline: “Tasty writing surprises (non-fattening!)” is hardly accurate. My valued readers must feel they know what to expect. So here is an attempt to provide something a little less predictable.

My 7th blogging anniversary is approaching. Sue’s considered trifles was my first blog. WordPress will surely remind me on 23rd July that I have been blogging for 7 years. Anniversaries are good times to take stock of what has gone before and to plan for the future.

While I have been reviewing books, I have not been doing much creative writing. However I have a number of poems (or verse if you prefer) which I have written sporadically over the years. One of those has recently appeared on the blog of another member of the Association of Christian Writers. Trevor Thorn, writing for the More than Writers blog, invited others to contribute their poems about climate threats. As I had written a few rhymes, which met his criteria, I sent them to him. One has already appeared on his blog, The Cross and the Cosmos in a post about light pollution.

Perhaps I should write some more poems about the natural world and faith. Christians believe that God was the originator of everything that has being. That simple statement gives rise to all sorts of debate. However one thing which is certain is that Christians have a responsibility to look after the natural world and to encourage others to do likewise.

Much of my blogging recently has been in the form of microblogs on Twitter. The Sunday evening #wildflowerhour has been keeping me busy. With others from all over Britain I post photos of wildflowers I have seen during the preceding week. When I began taking part in this Twitter chat, I was aware of the names of various wildflowers. I had no idea how many different species of flowers there are in the various families. When I was younger I used to answer hubby’s questions about many flowers I couldn’t name, saying: Some sort of vetch, I suppose. That has become one of our jokes. Now I am able to name a few vetches – correctly, I hope. I am beginning to learn the names of other flowers too. The first thistle I have learned is the spear thistle. I have had to relearn the names of the plants in the Willowherb family. Rosebay Willowherb, I have known from childhood. I thought the only others were greater and lesser, but it turns out that there is Great Willowherb and a whole bunch of others named after the shape of various parts of the plant or its usual habitat. It would appear that the saying attributed to Albert Einstein, “The more I learn the less I know,” is true in this instance. It can feel overwhelming to realize how many different species of flowering plants there are.

It would be easy to become defeatist, thinking: I’ll never learn all of the names, so why bother?

On the other hand walking in the fresh air and noticing one’s surroundings is good for mental and physical health. There is enjoyment in looking at photos other people have taken of plants, which perhaps do not grow in the part of the country where I live, also in seeing the same plants are in flower elsewhere. Experts (and those with more limited specific knowledge) are happy to help with plant identification.

I have begun to use a notebook to catalogue my wildflower photos, but I am taking photos faster than I can update my list. Again it is no good giving it up as too demanding a job. Using a few minutes here and there might result in a useful list even if it has to wait until the dark winter evenings.

Helping to record the wild plants in various areas can go a little way towards looking after the natural world. Through the efforts of activists on Twitter a local council recently protected some rare wild plants from being mown down too soon.

While I am writing about difficulties, I now have a dilemma about a poem I wrote, when my ignorance (about the extent of the willowherb family) was bliss. Thinking incorrectly that greater and lesser were proper flower names, in November 2015 I wrote:

To a wayside plant

Unwelcomed by gardeners,
you establish yourself in swathes
along routes familiar and strange,
spotted from motors and trains
by observant travellers.
In summer your purplish spikes
provide nectar and bright colour –
a change from late-spring white
of meadowsweet and thorn.
Your staggered coloured flowers
at last give way to curled wisps
of white like thistledown,
while your leaves turn red,
or yellow and brown.
Your greater and lesser cousins
are not as well known:
you are the most successful willow herb by far!

Perhaps it only needs a minor edit such as “taller and smaller” to make it accurate.