Waking up to wild flowers

© Zanna Davidson

A guest blog by children's author Zanna Davidson on her wildlife adventures in the Surrey Hills during lockdown

I work from home, writing children’s books, so my life didn’t change as drastically for some with lockdown. I’d go to the office in London once a week, but I was still used to long days at home, an hour for walking the dog, or running up the hill. 

I always thought of myself as someone who knew a bit about nature. I grew up with a birdwatching father. I can tell my mistle from a song thrush, pick out the teacher, teacher of a great tit’s song. I’ve written children’s books about birds and snails and done my research…

But with lockdown, everything slowed, and the weather, back in April, was glorious. I started taking my children on long, lingering walks. And that’s when I saw them -  wild flowers - everywhere! How had I never noticed them before?

We spotted the show-offs first. Lords-and-ladies dazzling us down the lanes. And the unfussy ones - dandelions, clover, buttercups - seemingly growing any-old-where. I liked their attitude - haphazard and without a care. Then came the secret flowers, the shy ones, tucked away in shady hollows: wild garlic, spring beauty and tiny speedwell, hiding under the grass.

When I told my parents about our walks, they gave me an ancient wild flower book that had belonged to a great aunt. I discovered her notes in the margin, written in careful pencil, noting time and place. I didn’t know her well  - she lived in Scotland and died over thirty years ago, when I was ten - but I feel as if I’m getting to know her a little better. I now know she saw wood sorrel in 1965, and harebells in Blairgowrie, in July 1968. I like the way she curls her letters; the elegant slope of her ‘p’s’. We’re slowly building a rapport across the pages as I add my notes to hers.

It’s been nearly three months since I started looking. I’ve seen the comfrey and the long-leaved lungwort come and go. The great washes of bluebell, flooding the woods, has passed. I was so sad to see the end of the cow parsley, frothing the lanes. I thought, what will come next? It’s all gone!

But here we are in June, and I’ve been surprised by wild orchids, the startling splash of poppies, and cornflowers, bluer than the sea.

I’m building up a litany of names in my head as I go. It’s like chanting a long-forgotten spell: lungwort, comfrey, speedwell, bluebell, cranesbill, ragwort… Yellow loosestrife and black horehound always hang together inside my head - a disreputable pair. Purple toadflax is a character in a fairy tale, under a terrible curse. The name cow parsnip makes me laugh. I sniffed one the other day and it really does smell of cow.

I’m not entirely sure I’m taking my children with me on my wild flower journey. Mostly they roll their eyes, but sometimes they’re struck with that same sense of excitement and wonder, watching a bumblebee go in and out of a foxglove, or their conviction, the other day, that a wisteria flower looks just like a Triceratops.

What’s next? I don’t know yet what blooms July will bring. But I’m looking forward to a new month in a way I never have before, ready to learn new names, greet new faces, make new friends.

Zanna Davies

About the author

Zanna Davidson is a children's literature author for Usborne Books. Read her children's nature blog here.