My return to live in Somerset in January 2019 has meant that I have been able to revisit many of my childhood botanical haunts. Family anecdotes relate that I was always mad about plants. It probably started with daisy chains on my grandparents’ lawn. The hobby turned into a full-blown craze at age 13, after walking on flower-strewn cliff-tops during a May family holiday to Guernsey.
On our return, I was forever out roaming the local Mendip Hills, woods, meadows, grass verges and moors with my Collins Wild Flower Guide. One of my favourite spots was Cheddar Wood with its haze of native Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta.
Biology at School
I’ve never lost my love of plants. Botany never appeared as a career option. In those days, you either had to take all Arts subjects or all Science subjects. I had recognised talent in languages, but wasn’t an all-rounder in science subjects. There wasn’t enough plant content in Biology A’ level for me. I was way too squeamish to be cutting up rats. It’s funny how with each passing year my interest in science and technology has increased alongside my languages.
Enduring Plant Love
My London-based career meant that my plant fascination had to take a different form. Gardening and garden visits provided my plant fix for many years, coming as I did from a long line of gardeners. My love of wild flowers or ‘weeds’ makes me somewhat of a family oddity. I encouraged my sons to grow seeds, flowers, fruit and vegetables in the garden. Unfortunately, their initial interest didn’t last beyond primary school years.
Greek Botanical Holiday
The opportunity to go on a group wild flower holiday to Greece arose in Spring 2017. I jumped at it. The holiday reignited my childhood craze for wild flowers. Most of all, I realised how many wild flowers we have lost in Britain. The flowers in Epirus and Corfu were buzzing with insects. I was enraptured.
MSc Plant Diversity
My translation work had gradually leant towards environmental themes. My two lifetime interests merged. I met Dr Jonathan Mitchley at a Linnean Society event and found myself enrolled on the MSc in Plant Diversity at the University of Reading in September 2017. His enthusiasm for plants and that of Dr Alastair Culham was catching.
Microscopes and Field Botany
There is so much to learn about plants. My Latin proved useful, but there were embarrassingly huge gaps in my understanding and memory at other times. I hadn’t used a microscope since my school days – and they never let us have our own back then. After years of working in an office, I loved field botany best of all – whatever the weather. The course was over far too quickly. I had to carry on learning on my own.
Revisiting old botanical haunts
I returned to Somerset with new eyes. I was despondent that there were so few orchids about. The Cowslips, Primula veris, that always had accompanied them, were also thin on the ground. The Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, seemed to grow so much further up the hill at Cheddar Wood than I remembered. The banks were not as full of Primroses, Primula vulgaris. There were lots of grasses and sedges about that I had never paid attention to before. The Wood sedges must always have been interspersed with my favourite Bluebells, but I had no recollection of them. I had no-one to guide me as a child. I was unaware of the BSBi or any local wildflower groups.
BSBi New Year Plant Hunt
In January 2019, I participated in the BSBi New Year Plant Hunt on my own. I later discovered that I had walked on, not just one side, but three sides of the local North Somerset Recorder’s house in the process. Had I known that she lived there I wouldn’t have dared!
We finally met on a Somerset Rare Plants Group (SRPG) at Cheddar Wood. I have greatly benefited over the past year from having a botanical recorder on my doorstep. She doesn’t like me to name her, but I would like to acknowledge her encouragement. She’s helpful when I am confused about a plant identification. It’s also lovely to have someone local who shares my ability to talk about plants and botanical books for hours over a cup of tea. Botany is still a pastime that I enjoy on my own sometimes, but I now appreciate all the botanical recording events with the Somerset Rare Plants Group (SRPG) and the occasional joint recording trip.
There’s no cure now: I’m completely hooked on plants.
© Karen Netto (Andrews) 2018-19