Wednesday 19 October 2011

Book Review - Sarah Raven's Wild Flowers

I recently recieved an email from a Senior Marketing Exec at Bloomsbury Books who had been rootling around on my blog (!) and "thought that you might want to hear about a book that we are publishing in October – Sarah Raven’s Wild Flowers." She also wondered if I'd be interested in "seeing a sample of the book, with a view to perhaps mentioning it on your blog, as a fresh angle for your readers? "

Well, not being one to miss out on doing something a bit different for you lot for a change (aren't I so good to you, eh?!), emails were swapped and it was agreed that I would review the book from the information on the sample providing that "I have the freedom to give a clear, open and totally honest review of the book as I see it?! ". So here it is.....

I duely awaited the arrival of said sample with excited anticipation whilst not being fully sure what a sample would consist of ..... would it be a whole chapter? just a few pages stapled together? a hefty wodge of the book perhaps?! I knew it wouldn't be the whole thing because: A) I was getting a sample! and: B) the book had been described to me as 'a whopper', but even so I have to confess that I was just a wee bit disappointed to recieve this:

An A2 sheet concertinaed down to A6 size.

When I opened it out there was a very pretty poster on the back, photographed by Jonathan Buckley - who took all the photos for the book. The 9 photos on the sampler are glorious and I have no reason to doubt that the others in the book will be equally as good. The photos are clear, sharply focused yet with wonderful slightly hazy backgrounds and depths of fields or, alternatively, the soft background greens of spring grass:

I had initially felt a bit let down by the size of the sampler, but I felt even more so when I looked at the information side of the sheet - as it only contained 4 examples of wild flowers and their descriptions....not much of a sample from a book of 500 wild flowers that is described as a 'lavish book' , 'a botanical marvel' and something that will be 'the most covetable flower book on the market'!!!

Anyway, once I'd got over being miffed at having to review the book from such a tiny sample (about 3 days later 'cos I can be a stroppy baggage at times!) and sat down to read it properly, I did quite enjoy what I read.

According to the (limited) information on the sampler, there are landscape photos throughout the book and a portrait of each plant to accompany each species description.

Two of the 4 extracts are shown below and you can click on them to enlarge them for reading:

I knew nothing about the Fly Orchid, except that I thought I vaguely recognised it from early summer walks out in Derbyshire, so this description of what it looks like and why, combined with where I might find it was useful and I felt I'd be far more able to spot Fly Orchids and to astound my companions with my depth of knowledge whilst on my wanderings in future!

I loved this photo but there was no description to go with it as the writing alongside the photo was too busy telling me what a perfect gift the book would make and how Sarah Raven has travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles to find these 500 "most breathtaking beautiful wild flowers".

Apparently she will be also presenting a 3-part BBC2 series about biodiversity and British wild flowers this Autumn - what a coincidence!

Mild sarcasm at marketing aside, the photos in the book are absolutely stunning, the species description write-ups are informative, clear and well laid out. Each one begins with a brief overview, then covers plant type, flowering period, height, description (very useful), companion species, distribution and habitat.

I did enjoy reading these 4 species descriptions as I only knew one of the four plants shown, although I didn't find them quite as captivating as the sampler blurb suggested I would, and I found the initial paragraph about the Wood Anemone a little bit twee as I don't go in for anthropomorphism in plants, but that's just me! I also found that as I didn't recognise the names of some of the companion species mentioned, I'd have to be flicking to and fro through the book to find the companions if I was using it in real life (as it were!)

But the book cover is pretty - even if it is somewhat predictably of bluebells:

....yet I was left feeling that as they had managed quite easily to get 2 photos and 2 species descriptions onto one A4 sized section of the sampler when the actual book itself is a nominal A4 size with a photo on one page and the species description on the facing page, then £50 for a large format hardbacked edition (yes...fifty quid!!!) and seventy five quid for a special slipcased edition was a hell of a lot to pay for some pretty pictures and a larger font that I could read without my glasses on!

I know it's meant to be a coffee table book and I know I adore wild flowers and would love to know more about them, but there is no way that I would cough up that amount of money for any book no matter how beautiful and informative it is! I didn't pay anywhere near that for my much loved and well used RHS 2 volume Garden Plant Encyclopaedia in a slipcase and that has vastly more than 500 plants in it!

Also Sarah's hefty tome is hardly a transportable little number, so you'd have to remember to either bring a bit of plant back with you (which I suspect is illegal for some plants anyway - not that I'd know without the book there though!) or to take your camera with you and then remember to take a photo of the plant and hope it came out clear and non-blurry enough to be able to identify the plant from...or is that just me and my photography skills?!

Having said all that though, if it ever comes out in a smaller, softbacked edition that would fit in the pocket of my rucksac so that I could have it to hand for when I spot the wild flowers when I'm out and about and, ideally, costs less than a tenner, then I'll be the first in the queue at WH Smiths but until then I'll just have to hope that our local library gets a couple of copies!!!

However, if money is burning a hole in your pocket or you've got some rich relative prepared to fork out the dosh for a cracking Christmas present that will indeed look very elegant on your coffee table (and may well have to stay there because it's too heavy to move), then this could be the book for you.

It was published on Monday, 17th October by Bloomsbury Books. The large format hardbacked edition is Wild Flowers, Sarah Raven

ISBN 978 1 4088 1394 2 480PP and is £50 ...or if you go onto Amazon it's down to £28.50 already..... looks like I'm not the only one that thinks it's too expensive then!

Thursday 13 October 2011

A quick Autumnal hotchpotch!

It's a jolly good job that I've got that 'Slow Blogger' label on my sidebar or I'd be chucked out of here for my lack of posts of late! Anyway, here's a quick roundup of what's going on in the garden at the moment......

Kale, spinach and rainbow chard are going at full pelt at the moment ...but the salad behind them has bolted somewhat!

No idea what sort of squashes these are as the foxes or badgers broke and nicked the labels when they ate the sweetcorn :(

Yesterday's pick of the crop - and, yes, we have still got a few Autumn raspberries left, but that's the last of the flagelot beans.

The sedum is lovely this year.

A closer look.

One of the Acers in the Japanese garden is begining to turn. It'll be a stunning deep red in about 2 more weeks.

No-one told my new water lily (Nymphaea 'Denver') that it shouldn't be flowering at this time of year. I guess the recent very warm weather confused it!

There are lots of berries everywhere this year - is this a harbinger of another hard winter?

The next post will be interesting - I hope! It's going to be a book review on a new wild flowers book that comes out next month......! :D