Meadowland by John Lewis-Semple

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The sun is out! And not just a weedy, hiding behind the clouds type of sun, but a full on, sun glasses required, knitwear shedding sun. This has meant that the Fennell Towers kitchen garden is springing into life, carefully tended by the Delightful Mr F. At the end of the garden we have a little meadow, and I love seeing how this changes through the seasons. So, what better book to pick up just now than Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field?

It is a truly glorious book. John Lewis-Semple owns a farm on the boarders of Herefordshire and Wales and he follows the ebb and flow of the seasons in a diary format, with a chapter for each month of the year.  I love the countryside and natural history, and my Reader’s Digest Book of British Mammals is one of my treasured childhood books. This isn’t your traditional, natural history book though. It doesn’t have photos and advice on how to tell your Dunnock from your Sparrow. It is a book about one man and his relationship with the land he tends.

The detailed observations of the flora and fauna which live and die in his field are beautiful, if sometimes rather graphic. Nobody can accuse Lewis-Semple of glossing over the more violent side of Mother Nature. The narrative is carefully constructed and the effect is for the reader to truly understand the lifecycle and ecosystem in just this one field. He writes about the countryside with a passion and poetic subtly entwined with references to history and literature. It is littered with interesting facts, and on almost every page I was looking up and informing The Delightful Mr F of a new nugget of information. Did you know that some flies can lay their eggs in cow pats before they have even hit the ground? Me neither.

The writing is beautiful, Lewis-Semple has a wonderful turn of phrase, coupled with an eye for detail, the patience of someone who tends the land, and a real respect for all the residents of the field. From the flowers and insects through to the voles, hedgehogs, owls and his own cattle. Much of what I have read will stay with me, but one phrase in particular, which I have long thought myself, but could never have put so eloquently:

“A lawn, when you come to think of it, is nothing but a meadow in captivity”*

Read this in the sunshine and then go out and do something to help support out beautiful British wildlife. You won’t be able to help yourself.

 

*I really dislike lawn, I don’t see it does anything for nature at all, especially when sprayed with weed killer. And don’t get me started on artificial turf…

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