LOVE OF THE LAND
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.