Do you have books you reach for when you're having a tricksy day?
When the mountain of washing is higher than K2, your inbox is bulging like duvet inside a string bag, you've a hacking cough and you've just run out of chocolate?
When the Bakeoff has just finished for another year and you feel a little like a slumped souffle?
Yes? So do I
I found The Concise British Flora in Colour in my Grandad's bookcase some time in 1978. The dust jacket drew me in - it's covered in wild roses. In general his shelves were lacking in reading matter suitable for a 6 year old - rather highbrow, lots of gardening, rows of dusty green and brown tomes but along with Edward Lear's Nonsense Omnibus (there was an old man with a beard) and an astonishing series of books about gems (diamonds!) and storms (BIG SPINNING WINDS!) the Concise British Flora became a favourite amongst his books.
It's a guidebook to wildflowers: always a good start, but there isn't a single photograph to be seen. Each and every species of wild and semi-domesticated flower was drawn and painted in meticulous detail by the author, the Reverend William Keble Martin, over a period of sixty years. It was published in 1965 when he was 88, only 7 years before I was born, and was an immediate bestseller yet it seems to have a timelessness to it: each page is like a Victorian botanical plate. In a way this makes sense as William Martin was born in 1877 when Queen Victoria was still on the throne and just as the passion for nature and obsession with collecting and cabinets of curiosity reached its peak. I suspect he absorbed the fascination with botany of those around him when he was young and he channeled this deference to and reverence for plantlife into this exquisite book.
The pages of the Concise British Flora never cease to make me gasp. It's not just the individual drawings that are beautiful, it's the arrangement of these small botanical studies en masse that instills wonder. Each plate is like a small botanical museum - a collection of pressed specimens, a peek into a Victorian collection. These images and this book have been with me for 37 years, yet this is such an enormous collection of drawings - over 1400, that there is always a new cluster of leaves to discover or the name of a tiny, humble, little wayside flower to learn.
This book has been a constant source of inspiration and botanical knowledge for me. Some pages I would adore as a curtain panels, some as prints and some I simply gaze at because of their intricacy. In many cases the most exquisite plates are the ones depicting weeds - small species that may live between paving slabs and that we step on each day without a thought.
This book taught me to squat down as a child and stare at wild plants, especially the smallest of them.
It taught me to appreciate the beauty in a tangled jumble of foliage and each year its pages are echoed in my own garden.
Finally this book has inspired man of my instagram images this year, and I've shared a few of them here.
I'm joining in with dear Laura at Circle of Pinetrees' wonderful A Year in Books project. This isn't just a book for October though, it's one to turn to all year round, for visual solace, inspiration and sheer handpainted wildflower joy.
Note: You may notice that my blog looks a little different. I did consider bringing in some swanky designers to attend to it but in the end I did it myself with some truly invaluable help from Kim Lawler who installed my social media icons quicker than you can say cow parsley. Kim you are briller than a basket of tiny piglets. It seems modern in manner of e.g. a 3d pen or Metal Mickey but those little symbols in the top left hand corner there actually take you to my Instagram or Twitter feeds. I find this quite amazing. I didn't want this place to look overly shiny - the fabric in my header is some linen from my favourite quilt, but this online gaff of mine needed a new electronic frock so that I could step out here to have bloggish tea and cake a bit more often and not feel as though I was wearing my old pyjamas.
I'd love to hear what you think.