Deceased Teasel plant.

There’s a fabulous article in the current issue of the BSBI (Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland) – magazine – written by Suki Pryce – on plant hunting in winter. In order to contest winter brain fade when we all forget everything we thought we knew about plants; her group – based in Norfolk – carries on hunting and recording plants through the winter when all they have to go by is often dried up remnants like the Teasel in the photo, or rosettes of leaves on the ground. Someone with real flair for words conjured up the term “necrobotany” to describe it.

I read the article with real delight because any excuse to get outside and do some botanising during the winter season is fine by me. I miss the dubious fun of having no idea what a plant is so much that the prospect of photographing it and taking a small sample home for a wrestle with the field guides is marvellous. I get through the long wet season of darkness by doing fungi in late autumn and early winter, and then explore the inexplicable complexity of lichens and bryophytes at any other time when everything else has disappeared. The pleasure – it has to be said – is not just wingnut fodder, it’s also deeply aesthetic. How beautiful is the Teasel with all its spikeyness revealed and ribs dried into a design for a cathedral ceiling by Escher?

When we’re lucky enough to go out with friends who specialize in different passions – insects; butterflies and moths; ferns, birds etc. then the pleasure is even greater, although the weather can be a bit trying. When the wind’s blowing a hoolie and the rain is running down inside your collar some smartass is bound to remind you that there’s no such thing as wrong weather, just wrong clothes. The trouble is, really good breathable and lightweight clothes cost a fortune, and wearing a cheap raincoat can leave you sweating like a jockey the morning before a handicap race. But fashion can even play a part in field trips. Wrong brand of binoculars? Whoooa! Black wellies? My God who does he think he is???? Everyone here wears Royal Hunters. Attempting to identify a fungus from a 1940’s I spy book could get you sent home.

So kit lust can easily grip the most fervent nonconformist. I saw a pair of neoprene insulated wellies in the Rohan shop this week. I watched and circled them several times. Picked them up, weighed them in my hand and had a furtive sniff (doesn’t everybody?). They were exactly the thing for struggling up muddy tracks in winter, or for shovelling snow. Have you any idea how many men land up as cardiac emergencies after shovelling snow? I think the sale of very warm wellies should be banned in order to save lives. Anyway eventually – when I felt safe from potential sales assistance – I hunted through the fifteen attached labels and found the price – £97.00. I put them back on the shelf as fast as if they were about to call the police. My old and very cold wellies will have to do after all.

I’m doing a talk in the spring on how to use sensibly the multitude of available wildlife apps – especially with fungi. At best they get it bang on, but all too regularly they get it just plausibly wrong enough to send you to a premature date with the place where no-one is going to come looking for you when they’re bored.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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