Tuesday 20 July 2010

Travelling Light

I’m taking two books along with me this Summer as travelling companions. Although I’m not actually going anywhere.

First though, what do you do if you’ve got conjunctivitis in the summer and you want a natural eyewash to clear and soothe your eyes – and allow you to see properly to read!?! If you’ve got Agrimony growing anywhere near you on an unpolluted roadside, then you’ve found your plant. A golden-spired lemony-scented member of the rose family. Make a tea from the aerial parts, let it cool down and bathe your eyes with it regularly. I know because I’m doing it at the moment. And it works beautifully.

But if you don’t know agrimony, how do you recognise it? You need the classic guide Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe by Richard Fitter, Alastair Fitter and Rosemary Blamey. My 1996 Collins edition is the very first plant guide I ever bought and I still refer to it whenever I come across a plant I don’t recognise in my wanderings. Both illustrations and plant descriptions are clear and straightforward and the whole book, including the size, has a very friendly feel.

Getting into wild plants (and I was in my mid-thirties before I really got going, although that’s rather a long time ago now!) completely revolutionised my relationship with the places I was in. At that time I travelled a lot and so I’d buy a flower guide for wherever I was visiting. Now I rarely travel beyond Suffolk and Norfolk and one of my biggest delights is the discovery and rediscovery of the native wild plants right here at home. But wherever you are this summer have a look around at the native flora along the lanes, by the roadsides, in woods and waste places, outside your house (or tent, caravan or hotel). And don’t forget your guide.

Like Jon, I’m also taking a poetry book along with me down the lane this summer. Flora Poetica – The Chatto Book of Botanical Verse (2001) is full of treasures from all times and (English-speaking) places. All the poems are arranged according to plant family and Lignum Vitae by Edward Baugh from Jamaica is the final one in the book (the ‘lignum vitae’ is the creosote bush, Guaiacum officinale, classified in the Zygophyllaceae). It perhaps just beats Seamus Heaney’s The Haw Lantern as my favourite. I’ve tried to find a weblink to this poem to no avail, but Norfolk libraries do have two copies of Flora Poetica for rental.

In the poem this ‘wood of life’ speaks through Baugh about resilience in the face of the ‘final carry-down artist’ who’ll ‘lock down/ this town and scorch the earth till not/ even lizard don’t crawl’. The tree will survive and bloom, and even though

‘…Sometimes I feel my heart
Harden, … I not going nowhere, my root
sink too deep’

Wild Flowers cover; Flora Poetica cover; Wild Morning Glories and Marigolds in Mexico 2001 and Viper's Bugloss near Ely, Cambs 2002 by Mark Watson

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