Review of : Roy Vickery, VICKERY’S FOLK FLORA

An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £30

Until quite recently, the duckweed-carpeted canals and flooded pits of Lancashire were said to be inhabited by a bogey called Jinny Greenteeth, whose “long green hair and long green fingers” would drag hapless children down into their depths. It was an untypically practical superstition, a device to discourage youngsters from venturing onto what can look like seductively smooth patches of grass. You have to search hard for such sensible explanations across the bulk of Britain’s plant folklore, a florid almanac of calendar customs, arcane domestic rituals, artful games and outlandish remedies that suggest 21st century Britain has an ethnobotany more complex than Amazonia. Plants’ local names alone reflect the entire range of human response to the vegetable world. But it’s hard to imagine what torrid night-time encounter led to the Dorset tag of ‘welcome-home-husband-though-never-so-drunk’ for stonecrop, grown on roofs as a magical defence against lightning. Continue reading

The Library as an Ecosystem

I like to think we run an open door policy in our library in Norfolk. That is to say, on warm days in summer the door to the garden is actually open. Anyone’s welcome to come in for a browse. Last summer a stoat wandered in, peered dismissively at the modest shelf of my own titles, sniffed about under my desk and then ambled out. Most Julys the house ants – here long before us and so given due respect – pour out from alarming new holes in the floor, march along the tops of my editions of Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne, and shuffle in a lost and desultory way about the carpet, seeming uninterested in getting outdoors for their nuptial flights. But while I fret about the continuance of their ancient lineage, the culling is already under way. Next through the door come the bolder blackbirds and robins, hoovering them up in front of the shelves. Continue reading