I’m no botanist (and I can produce references if needed) but I loved this book – and many of the readers of this blog will love it too. The idea is simple – see all the orchids of Britain in a year. Do you think the author succeeded or not? If not, how close did he get?
The quest gives the book a trajectory, and the vicarious thrill of the chase encouraged me to keep turning the pages, but even without that, it is a lovely read. We are taken to many places and meet many people of the now, and of history, on our travels with Jon Dunn. Those stories make the book, and it matters little whether the chase was of butterflies (as in Patrick Barkham’s Butterfly Isles), dragonflies (is someone working on a book?) or orchids because the descriptions of locations and conversations, and past events, are so well told and memorable.
Jon Dunn writes very well (see here for my review of a previous very different book) and I hope he has a few more books in him. I know him a bit through correspondence but we’ve never met, and I regret the fact that our plan for me to join him on one day of his chase around the country after orchids wasn’t in the end feasible – my loss. He is a birder too!
But the orchids are the stars – and rightly. There are just over 50 British species which appear and quickly disappear (handily for the author), through a large part of the warmer section of the year, and in a wide variety of localities. Many are extreme rarities these days, some in secret locations, and they have an unpredictability about them that makes them elusive, romantic and fascinating. And they are beautiful and delicate in a rather engaging manner. They have fascinated us for centuries and will continue to do so for centuries to come if we look after them.
I recommend this book highly – even for birders! Next week I will review a book that is apparently similar in approach, Chasing the Ghost by Peter Marren; I can’t tell you much about it yet as I haven’t read much of it at all.
Orchid Summer: in search of the wildest flowers of the British Isles by Jon Dunn is published by Bloomsbury.