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Friday, 5 April 2013

In Search of the Wild Asparagus, by Roy Lancaster, Reviewed

Based on the original Granada TV series, which I never watched, this charming book details the natures, habitats and properties of many of the wild plants growing in the UK. Perhaps this seems an odd book for a writer. But it’s a wonderful source of local detail for stories. Sometimes, the very mention of a specific plant can inject extra atmosphere into a story. Think of the plant poisons that have been used during the ages and the wonderfully evocative descriptive role of plants like waving marram grass on windblown seaside sand dunes, pricking thistles or stinging nettles in the path of fleeing, scantily clad beauties, reeds softening the edges of broads and rivers where poachers or smugglers hide.

Clearly not a book from which every detail can be taken and used at once. But a volume to return to for the many interesting facts that Lancaster places before the reader. The local names bring character and humour. The properties, both medicinal and nutritional, could be effective in many science fiction settings or in historical novels. Merely knowing that certain plants are likely to inhabit specific habitats is sufficient to make those imagined locations more real.

English: Sand Dunes by East Beach Some areas a...
English: Sand Dunes by East Beach Some areas are more densely covered in marram grass than others, and are thus better able to resist erosion by the wind. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Written in a casual, friendly style that reflects the author’s enthusiasm, not to say passion, for the subject, the book is an easy read in spite of the vast amount of detailed information that’s given. It had me recalling early walks with my father, an expert on butterflies and birds but without any knowledge of plants. It also created nostalgia for a holiday spent in Germany, where my wife’s old landlady provided the German names of common plants and I was able to compare them with those I knew from home. An entertaining walk that highlighted the similarities to be found between nations.

I’ll keep the volume on hand, along with my other ‘research’ books, on the shelves beside my desk. Easy access to such knowledge is vital for the writer. For those who don’t write and for whom reading is the most essential aspect of a book, I can say that this one will entertain, educate and amuse. Split into different sections to explain the flora of various locations, it brings life and light to a subject that might otherwise be seen as dry or essentially academic.

I enjoyed the read. For anyone with any interest in the countryside and with that sort of curiosity that seeks to know more about the world about them, this is a valuable aid. It’s now over 30 years old, but still relevant, and still available. I happily recommend it.

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