Sometimes it’s outside the door, in the fields and parks and along the streets we walk each day.
When it comes to pointing out the often unsung wildflowers and plants that brighten our lives, Zoe Devlin is in a field of her own. Her twin passions for wildflowers and photography have brought her to boreens, islands and remote places all over Ireland, sharing the fruits of her travels through her writings and website. And she has advice for teachers and parents trying to figure out the best way to interest a young person in the environment.
“I would say: get down to his or her level and think small. Give the child a little hand lens and take them outdoors,” she says. “Watch as he, or she, studies a ladybird or a tiny flower, up close, captivated, spellbound, absorbed. It’s a small act but could be enough to inspire another Darwin.” She also tells us about the places where she discovers her treasures, also including birds, hares and butterflies, even tasty recipes from nettle soup to apple and blackberry jam. Like the day she found a cluster of four-petalled, yellow flowers as she walked from O’Connell Street, in Dublin, to the Mater Hospital. The flowers were growing through a pile of rubbish heaped against railings. She later identified the flower as eastern rocket that found its way here from Asia and North Africa.
The greatest number of wildflowers in Ireland are seen in July, the month that Ms Devlin and her daughter, Petra, made their way to Dursey Island, West Cork, which has just a handful of inhabitants. “There are not enough adjectives to describe this part of the world,” she says glowingly.
Having vividly described the thrill of the cable car crossing, she tells how they walked through the island and didn’t meet a soul. There was an eerie feeling on seeing so many abandoned buildings that once housed families; the only inhabitants seemed to be grazing sheep and swallows swooping in and out of a derelict house.
A shrub that stood out in Dursey looked like gorse, but was smaller than similar gorse she was acquainted with in the Wicklow mountains. Many years passed before she saw that species of golden gorse again growing close to the Great Western Greenway, in Co Mayo, which she identified as western gorse.
All these experiences and much more are related in Ms Devlin’s entrancing new book, Blooming Marvellous — a wildflower hunter’s year. Written in an easy, non-scientific style, there’s a chapter devoted to each month of the year, illustrated with dozens of her own photographs.