Country Living (UK) - - Contents -

Roger Phillips

The writer, artist and leg­endary for­ager talks about ad­ven­tures in search of wild flow­ers and man’s fas­ci­na­tion with our ori­gins

When I learnt you could eat things gath­ered from the

wild, it changed my life. I was liv­ing on my grand­par­ents’ farm in Hert­ford­shire at the time, hav­ing been evac­u­ated there in the War with my brother. We went to a tiny school, there were ba­bies in the crèche and my job was to feed them a pulp made of net­tle tops. Dur­ing the War, peo­ple would hunt and for­age be­cause

food was ra­tioned. My father was a pretty good shot and when he vis­ited at week­ends we’d go out hunt­ing rab­bits, pi­geons and pheas­ants. There was no pre-pack­aged, prepre­pared food like there is now, and no need­less waste ei­ther. I was adamant my son Sam wouldn’t grow up to be a ‘townie’, more con­cerned by whether his shoes were

clean than any­thing else. So, when he was five or six and we were liv­ing in Lon­don, I thought: ‘Right, I’m go­ing to take him out into the coun­try­side and show him a thing or two.’ For the next eight years we’d ven­ture out, rain or shine, snow or frost, to learn about wild plants and how to cook lunch on a camp­fire. Word soon spread and, be­fore long, Sam’s friends and their par­ents would come along, too – there would be a lit­tle mob of us. Work­ing with chil­dren pro­vided the in­spi­ra­tion for

my book. It was dur­ing one of those trips that I had the idea to write Wild Flow­ers of Bri­tain. I found, be­yond the 100 or so flow­ers my grand­mother had shown me, there were a great deal I didn’t recog­nise. I spent a year tear­ing around the UK gath­er­ing sam­ples, which I’d trans­port in clink­ing milk bot­tles back to Lon­don to be pho­tographed. It’s vi­tal to have an emo­tional and philo­soph­i­cal

con­nec­tion with your nat­u­ral sur­round­ings. Nowa­days, chil­dren are glued to their mo­bile phones, more likely to know about Poké­mon than Bri­tish plants and flow­ers. But when I did a tour at The Good Life Ex­pe­ri­ence fes­ti­val in Wales last year, the kids loved it – they were rac­ing around find­ing mush­rooms be­fore any adults could get their hands on them.

Nearly ev­ery­thing you grow is ed­i­ble – from dahlias and lilacs to roses and cos­mos. My lat­est In­sta­gram post is of my grand­daugh­ter showcasing a flo­ral salad on a plate.

We are fas­ci­nated by the ori­gin of things and all have a nag­ging feel­ing that one day we’d love to re­vert back to a nat­u­ral way of liv­ing. That’s why there’s been a resur­gence in for­ag­ing, which I hope I’m a lit­tle bit re­spon­si­ble for… Peo­ple like to think they’d know what to do if dis­as­ter struck and they had to go and live in a tree and col­lect their own food.

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