Bookshelf magic …

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.”

Heaven!

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:

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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…

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Snowdrops and Bees

The snowdrops in the garden are probably at their best now.  At least for the bees. I’m surprised to see bees so early in the year; I’d certainly never seen them on snowdrops before, although I’d probably never looked…

So there I was, lying in some mud, trying to get an adequate photo of the snowdrops when I heard a whining, solitary buzz. A bee – with very orange kneecaps! *

*OK – pollen baskets!

Wolf Hall

I finished reading ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel in time for the final episode of the wonderful BBC adaptation. I’ll miss them. There are images in my mind now (from both books and television) that will take a long time to fade. As always, I’m glad I read the books first. I felt so involved in the world they created, but that takes nothing away from the excellence of the BBC version.

The third book is desperately needed!

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Flowers and Old Books

So this is the plan: put up some shelves for the gardening books which, at the moment, are piled up in a corner.

It’s been mooted before, but writing about those poisonous plants and plant names brought it back into focus. Looking along my bookshelves, I’ve found two relatively old books I’d forgotten about or just neglected. One is called ‘The Book of Wildflowers’. I remember seeing it on the bookshelves when I was a child. Only now do I notice that an older relative’s name is written inside it, in faded blue-black ink. Someone (unfortunately I suspect myself here) has crossed boldly through his name in black; my name appears on the following page. Guilty as charged!

The other book is ‘The Observer’s Book of Wild Flowers’. I remember choosing this one myself; it has some clumsy maths workings-out in the back of it, along with some improvements suggested by my mum!

Clearly an interest in flowers was always there, though apparently not much respect for a book as an object; as a young child I used to enjoy writing in my books – personalising them, you could say. That’s why I find it difficult to give away any of my older books: some of them are like little time capsules.

Further to my comments on the book about poisonous plants – someone told me when I bought it a couple of weeks ago that the Poison Garden at Alnwick Castle is well worth a visit.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it myself (it wasn’t finished when I went there), but I’d love to go.  Here is a link:

http://www.alnwickgarden.com/explore/whats-here/the-poison-garden/about

Poisonous Plants

Another book I bought on the same day; same previous owner.  It was published in 1967 and appears to have been sold at one time by a bookshop in Herefordshire (see images).  It’s full of interesting facts about plants it would be wiser not to eat, including some information about my poor rain-soaked winter aconites. Apparently their poisonous constituent is alkaloid, they have a burning taste, and their poisonous effects are little known. Subtly beautiful though…