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 a 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?
Yep? 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. He died in 1969, three years before I was born. I have always wanted to know more about him and have just tracked down a copy of his autobiography, Over the Hills published when he was 91.
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 more than 35 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. This book has inspired many of my instagram images in the last two years, and I’ve shared a few of them here.
Finally, it has given me a way of calming a stressed mind through total immersal in making and drawing these collections as Keble Martin did. For me this is like botanical inky yoga.
We have a Keble Martin's The Concise British Flora in Colour and what a wonderful book it is.Exquisite illustrations and a unique reference book though it does smell a little musty we have had it so long!!!
I have some serious book envy right now. The blog looks lovely Emma! love the clean design
DOCK + NETTLE says
Love the new look …quite lovely xx
Celia Hart says
Well done for getting the blog makeover done – it's fab!
I too have Keble Martin's book. Mine is paperback and I've had it since 1979. It was a school prize for 'services to the school magazine', I edited, did the page layouts, many of the illustrations and wrote the occasional poem! I was allowed to choose a book from Heffers in Trinity Street Cambridge, and without hesitation this was what I chose. I think I refer to it at least once a month, maybe more.
Bloody love that book, and all your lovely photos that have been inspired by it. For me, it's Jane Austen novels – cliched I know, but what can I say? They're my happy place!
New blog look is wonderful xx
niki thomas says
That book looks magnificent and your place here, tranquil and most attractive. I just love the font you have used. Very easy on the eye, all if it.
My mum has a copy of that book and I spent many an hour gazing at the pictures. I must attempt to steal it off her.
Your new look suits you down to the ground.
What a wonderful book. I'm not surprised you love it so much!
Saffa Barkhordar says
Emma your new blog look is fabulous! Just love it, very subtle in all the right ways. The wild flower book looks gorgeous and I'm off to search for it on amazon, safxxx
Valerie Selby says
Blog looks lovely, still a subtle, calming place to come but now with extra clever whizzy bits. I discovered Keeble Martin when I spent my work placement year from college with Sussex Wildlife Trust. In a wonderful, low, converted store, the botanical surveyors drew maps under a large polystyrene stickleback, surrounded by ID books of all kinds, old and modern but this was the trusty one they went to in times of slight confusion (they're highly skilled so it was never great confusion)! They taught me almost all that I know about botany & I love them and this book, for giving me those skills.
The lovely calm background of your blog makes your photos pop out of the page! What a lovely restful place to pop into.
Your blog looks lovely, very calming.
I have just bought that book from the famous online store and look forward to keeping it close to me when out and about. Thank you for bringing it to my notice.
Well, Emma, I must send you a huge thank you for introducing me to this marvelous book. From what you've shown and told, I can understand why so many folks love it. I will have to look into the possibility of obtaining a copy.
I do have a few books myself that I turn to at certain times not unlike those you describe, but think that the Flora book would be very welcome around here. Your very own handwritten captions of your gathered flora also look stylishly elegant.
May I also say that your page redesign is marvelous. Bravo to all involved. xo
Johanne Winwood says
That looks like a fab book and very 'you', if I may make so bold. I also love the new look; calm, beautiful and understated – who does that remind me of?
my copy of that from my undergraduate years is still very well loved and often reffered to. I have to also profess a fondness for The Wildflowers of Britain by Fitter, Fitter & Blamey, especially as I used to work for one of the Fitters and he gave me a signed copy.
The House with the Blue Door says
I love botanical art too, and your book is quite stunning. Your flower photos are great – I love a bit of annotation. And the new look for your blog works well and is very appealing.
Dinah Duncan says
I think your blog looks good. I like the photos and the nice clear look.
Hilary Campbell says
Yes, this is also one of my favourite books and have had a copy for many years. I think I used the illustrations to inspire me when taking one of my Girl Guide badges. Your blog does look lovely.
Katie Bedlow says
I absolutely loved this post, full of all my favourite things, botanical bookish things! And yes when I've had 'one of those days' a nice book or a new magazine is the perfect pick me up, with either a mug of something warming or a glass of something a little stronger! Katie x
Nicola Ibberson says
Your instagram feed photos of the flowers you find have given me such an education! We have wonderfully abundant hedge banks lining the lanes round our little cottage and until now, i have been clueless as to what they actually contain! I often dream of a way to 'google' my photos of the flowers I find easily, it seems your treasured book trumps the modern technology in this field!
Annie Cholewa says
I have about ten different wild flower books and we clearly share a favourite.
I love the new look Emma 🙂