Added to the gardening bookshelf: ‘The Concise British Flora in Colour’ by W. Keble Martin. As a young child, I could only aspire to owning my own copy of this beautifully illustrated book. My mum borrowed it from the library to help me identify a flower I’d seen while on holiday in the Lake District. It provided me with the answer; I was hooked! So it was impossible to resist when I spotted that unmistakable white, green and pink cover in a bargain box outside a shop in Hay-on-Wye. I had to rescue it. For only £1, I turned a childhood dream into reality!
When originally published in 1965, ‘The Concise British Flora in Colour’ cost 35s. (Incidentally, the name stamped inside my 1965 copy tells me it was owned by a doctor from Powys, Wales). The book represents sixty years of work by the Reverend William Keble Martin, who was born in 1877 and studied Botany at Oxford. Later, he worked as a Curate or Vicar in various parishes in northern England, including Wath-upon-Dearne, where today there is a street named after him. After returning in 1918 from France, where he had been Chaplain to the Forces, he lived and worked in Devon, continuing his work on flowers. There’s a charming insight into his life at that time on the back flap of the dust jacket:
‘After a busy Sunday he would catch a late train, sometimes travelling as far afield as Scotland, and following his explorations some of the flowers he had found would often be drawn in the train on the return journey on Thursday.”
I love the illustrations: the way the plants appear to be growing round and overlapping each other, yet remaining clear and easily identifiable. Some of my favourites:
In 1967, four postage stamps designed by W Keble Martin were issued by the Royal Mail. As soon as I discovered this, it immediately brought to mind my chaotic, childish stamp album – not opened for many a year – and here they are!
A final thought
Writing this has brought back a powerful childhood memory. Magical and lost … until now. It’s the reason this wonderful book is now propped up next to my screen as I’m writing. A holiday in the Lakes. A particular flower, a particular place, a particular time. But probably another post…