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Woodland Wild Flowers: Through the Seasons

Woodland Wild Flowers: Through the Seasons by Alan Waterman – Book Review

Sure to get you flower spotting in the woods, this informative and knowledgeable guide encourages us to truly engage with our forest ecosystems. Reviewer Hannah Gardner is a horticulturist and garden writer.

by Alan Waterman
Merlin Unwin Books, £20
ISBN 978-1913159252

The benefits of spending time in woodland are numerous, and this fascinating book is a worthy companion, though I found the expansive final chapter of this insightful guide to woodland plants the most interesting. Under the heading ‘Woodlands: why they look like they do today’, the author Alan Waterman very neatly condenses a lifetime of natural history knowledge into one brilliant chapter.

Discussing the history of British woodland since the last Ice Age receded some 12,000 years ago, he delves into areas such as sustainable woodland coppicing, listing species, their cutting cycles and uses. Details on how to age trees, pollen analysis, and the lifecycle and survival methods of woodland plants follow.

The effect of light levels and the structure of woodland soils are demystified. Waterman has a gift for communicating complex ideas in an authoritative but unfussy style.

As the director of a field study centre for more than 25 years and the owner of a six-acre Welsh woodland, his lively writing feels personal – a tapestry of memoir, observation, plant science, folklore and ecology.

The book is based around a catalogue of 170 woodland plant profiles, grouped into chapters by flowering season. Starting with early spring carpets of crocus, violets and lungwort, I soon appreciated how much is of interest later in the year. Each profile is a cornucopia of detail, describing key characteristics, wildlife benefits and habitat preference and lavishly illustrated with the author’s own photographs to help with identification. There is also a useful glossary of botanical terms and an index of common and botanical names.

This isn’t necessarily a book to read cover to cover (although that last chapter…), but one to reach for before you venture out into the cool, peaceful haven of the woods or to turn to – as an alternative to Google – upon your return.