Tag Archives: foraging

Blooming Marvellous this September

It’s hard not to feel sad in September as another summer draws to a close. Children are looking forward to Halloween and Christmas coming after it, but adults often see time slipping away. It never seems long since last September, yet here we are again. But I found something really incredible which will absolutely lift your spirits if you feel the sort of poignancy I do, and that something is a beautiful new book by the botanist Zoe Devlin entitled Blooming Marvellous: A Wildflower Hunter’s Year. It will change your perspective on September, and the year itself.

I can honestly say there is only one book I have ever come across which is like it in any way, and that is the legendary naturalist Gerald Durrell’s The Amateur Naturalist which can best be described as a manual and interactive adventure story rolled into one. These are the sort of books you don’t want an electronic version of, because they are beautiful things in themselves, a combination of art and reading which is truly exhilarating. Blooming Marvellous recounts episodes in the author’s life while inviting you to have your own adventure with the aid of the book.

It’s divided into chapters which deal with each month. Zoe suggests you read the chapter of the month you’re in right now, and immediately you are seeing what she sees and not only that, but you are able to find things she tells you about which you never even realised were there in front of your eyes, by a hedgerow or in your garden. I took mine out into the garden and suddenly I was in the book, and just look at this and you’ll see what I mean:

   As you can see by the page shown from Blooming Marvellous it’s not just about wildflowers, but also about the wildlife which supports them, and depends on them. This is not a botanical manual, but a true-life adventure story comprising anecdotes and a field guide combined. And it’s rugged too, with a rock hard cover and a beautifully stitched binding of heavy, tough, glossy pages, but it is the weight of wisdom. This is a rugged book you can carry in your rucksack, and the writing is fantastic and elegant and absolutely draws you in to the adventures:

“Wordsworth had a way with words that many have envied. In 1798, on the banks of the River Wye, that self-proclaimed ‘worshipper of nature’ wrote ‘Nature never did betray the heart that loved her’. Long before I ever knew those words, my less eloquent maxim was ‘Nature never, ever lets you down’.”

And those are just the opening lines! The rest of the book reads as easily, and there are sad bits, and thought-provoking tales too,  which sweeten the knowledge you are unwittingly taking in with them. Remarkably, all of the adventures Zoe describes in this book occurred in Ireland. Even more alluringly Zoe has included recipes for cooking some of the fruits and wildflowers you encounter, which adds a whole new dimension to this book and interracting with her adventures. For example, there is a really nice recipe for blackberry tart, which is great considering how many blackberries there are on the hedgerows this year:

Before Zoe had published her first book she appeared in a photo on this blog when I met her and her ever reliable sidekick and husband, Pete, out on one of their adventures (as far as I’m aware this is her third book for the Collins Press – or are there more?). So you might think I’m biased, especially if you read pages 186-187. This very original masterpiece is, I promise you, different from anything you have seen before, with photos and text by the author, and I think Gerald Durrell would definitely love it.

If I am ever unfortunate enough to find myself lined up in front of a firing squad I’m going to make sure this book is in my breast pocket, because, although it’s not gigantic, I feel pretty certain, in addition to its many other virtues, it can stop bullets.

If you’re too lazy to go to the bookshop, or don’t live in Ireland, or fear catching one of those horrible September flus or colds, you can buy Blooming Marvellous from Amazon right now and have it delivered to your door.

A Good Cold January

After the wettest December on record in Ireland, and an unseasonably warm one, the rains of early January have finally given way to good cold clear skies chilled by winds from the Arctic. Although daffodils did bloom, and some snowdrops have already awoken, more sensible crocuses are still lying dormant here in Wicklow and it has become typical January weather.  In 1998 there was also a very severe El Nino Effect which brought terrible rains to Europe, but miraculously the Jet Stream was far to the south of Ireland and we were spared. However, this time another severe El Nino was predicted and it hit the island right on the chin, and we got what we missed in the winter of 1997/98. These things do happen. Wicklow, as usual, is well able for floods and has only suffered minor inconveniences in comparison with the rest of Ireland. On New Year’s Day I spotted this beautiful creature in my neighbours, a cock Ring-neck Pheasant.

24344036925_2b9fba9564He is already approaching breeding plumage, and has a habit of calling loudly outside my bedroom window in the early hours of the morning.  In the past pheasants would never have been considered ‘garden birds’ but in the last decade, all across Europe, they have started to become so, and they make for a spectacular addition to any garden. Here’s the same bird, but his head is a little blurred as he pecks up small insects and other creatures from the ground.

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Goldcrests in the Autumn Garden

Goldcrests are found in Ireland all year, but large numbers of them migrate into and out of Ireland each year in spring and autumn. The largest numbers of them arrive in autumn to escape the extremely cold continental winter temperatures of Scandinavia and Siberia. I tool this video last week showing a goldcrest looking for small insects in the leaves of a cotoneaster tree.  The best views of this handsome but tiny bird can be seen in the second half of the video.