I think I was born with sap in my veins, not blood. During breaks at Pitton primary school in Wiltshire, while most kids played games or kicked a football around, I often made my way down to a mighty walnut tree near the far corner of the playing field. Leaning against its vast trunk for what seemed like hours, I’d gaze up into its thick canopy of leaves and just watch. I was utterly entranced by it.
And then there’s the old and rather grainy family photo of us on an autumn day out to the New Forest. I’m sat in a deep pile of leaves beside an enourmous fungus (maybe a washed out Fly Agaric?) and I appear to be explaining all about it to my brothers. I can’t remember this moment, but there it is – a budding botanist (or mycologist!) at the age of 3 or 4.
There are other flickers of my botanical awakening: the sheer incredulity of a sunflower seed germinating and romping away for the light, the rich fruity scent from the roses my mum loved growing, and the strange realisation that different types of grass grew in dad’s fields. I remember finding cock’s-foot in the farmyard as clear as if it was yesterday, and realising that the knobbly flowerhead really did look like a cock’s-foot. Excited by this revelation, I even made a scrapbook of the various grasses I found, a 6-year old’s herbarium with pastel-coloured pages and Sellotape.
Inspiration can come in many forms and I’m fascinated by the way that sometimes even the small things can fire up the imagination, perhaps igniting our curiosity and beginning new ways of looking at the world.
Recently, the utterly wonderful Susie Dent (‘that woman in Dictionary Corner’) tweeted about daisy and the origin of its name from ‘day’s eye’. To many botanists, such a simple little snippet of info might get forgotten, but wow it struck a chord with a lot of people! That one tweet received 37,000 likes and nearly 4,000 retweets. I love that.
A sweet reminder from the dictionary: the word ‘daisy’ was originally ‘day’s eye’, because the flower opens its petals at dawn to reveal its sunny central disc, and closes them again at dusk.— Susie Dent 💙 (@susie_dent) February 7, 2022
And, of course, David Attenborough’s astonishing series The Green Planet has been inspiring many viewers. I was particularly taken with another tweet, this time from Rizwan Safir, when his son Affan received a Power of Plants poster created by Open University for the series. The look of excitement and enthusiasm on Affan’s face is priceless, and the poster might just ignite lifelong interest in plants.
And that, for me, is what it’s all about. Even the simplest thing can open people’s eyes to the plants around them and inspire them to stop, pause and gaze, entranced.
I’m glad to report the walnut tree in my old primary school is still there. I hope it provides inspiration for other little botanists on their school breaks.
What inspired you to get involved with plants? What spiked your curiosity and made you look at plants in a new way? I’d love to know…