I wrote the other day about the delights of all kinds to be found within a book by Sarah Raven which has photographs by Jonathan Buckley - his images complement her words so perfectly that the combined product is a treat on all levels. That excellent collaboration has recently produced another stunning book, the satisfyingly hefty Sarah Raven's Wild Flowers, a personal choice of 500 of the wild flowers of the British Isles.
Arranged according to habitat - wood, meadow, heath, moor and mountain, coast, and so on - and with appropriate cross-referencing, the book gives a profile of the species which readers are most likely to see, as well as a few which are "rare but extraordinary" and "well-established escapes from cultivation as well as true natives" as they are so commonly found.
No prizes for guessing which entry I turned to first: "With their Catherine wheels of brilliant blue, Cornflowers are some of our prettiest wild flowers. They used to be so common, turning fields blue with their flowers, that they had a colour named after them. A juice was extracted from the flowers and mixed with alum to make a watercolour .... [Here since the Iron Age] the plant is now very rare, with all the usual factors to blame: improved seed-cleaning techniques, herbicides and fertilisers, the destruction of arable field margins and the sowing of more chunky, competitive crop varieties. The combination has all but wiped out wild Cornflowers, although there has been a slight resurgence in the past twenty years."
This is too heavy a book (it weighs over 5 lbs) to take with you on walks or botanising expeditions, but what a beautiful and informative thing to look at before you go out, to see what you might see, or to consult on your return, especially if you've been photographing the plants you've come across and want to identify them or just learn more about them.
In addition to Jonathan Buckley's portraits of each plant there are double page spreads of habitats such as the frozen Gloucestershire woods above and a vast and vivid yellow carpet of Corn Marigold in the Outer Hebrides. Writer and photographer travelled to more than a hundred sites to track down the plants they wanted to feature - there are pictures of them (and Sarah's dogs) out in all weathers, the 'drookit' shots as authentic as those of a perfect summer's day! You can see a very comprehensive extract of the book here - much better than my efforts - and tonight (8th. Feb.) on BBC Two at 8.00 is the first of Sarah Raven's new three part series, Bees, Butterflies and Blooms in which she will be looking at the importance of wild flowers and insect-friendly plants as food for pollinators and the consequences of their health for the foods which make up our diet. I shall be watching.
One last thing, if you have a favourite wild flower or one you're especially interested in knowing a little more about, leave a comment and I'll look it up for you; as well as the technical, botanical information, each profile includes Sarah's own description or observations, and that personal look at the plants is one of the things which makes this book such a pleasure to browse through.