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They knew where to go for the first of everything: the first snowdrops, the first catkin, primroses, violets, forget-me-nots, wild roses, honeysuckle. These flowers appeared in turn on the nursery sills almost as soon as they appeared in the woods and fields.
The Priory, Dorothy Whipple

 “I should fall back on Nature, hard, if I were you.
Ordinary Families, E. Arnot Robertson

As a lifelong reader of novels written in Britain before and between the two world wars—and there is a very large group of these, many under the Persephone and Virago imprints—I am always amazed by the familiarity with which every possible bird, tree, and wild plant is mentioned. One of the reasons I love these books is that the characters are generally nature lovers and often gardeners. Of course, in England, the land surrounding a house is always a garden, never a yard, so the word garden is used much more often than it would be in an American book.

From toddler-age on up, the people in these novels can identify almost everything they see outdoors, and they’re outdoors a lot. Even the city dwellers have country retreats that they visit often. From the first snowdrop to the last Michaelmas daisy, plants and their seasons are as much a part of the narrative as births, marriages, and deaths.

I didn’t have quite this intimacy with nature growing up, though I was certainly outside a lot. We liked plants and animals, but we didn’t really know too much about them. It was only when I started gardening that I learned all the names, and I’m still clueless about a lot of what I see on walks.

There is hope, however. Our local preserves are excellent and well-equipped with helpful signage. I have books, which still work the best for plant identification; I’ve given up on the apps.

We did have high expectations of our feeder (with its expensive gourmet seed), but it seems to attract very uninteresting species: mainly house sparrows, house finches, and a few chickadees. For better birds, you have to head to the parks and preserves.

So that’s my plan this year. I’ll visit the Audubon preserves—especially the bog that has the wild orchids—and the many other wildflower and bird spotting sites and sharpen my knowledge. 2016 will be a good year to fall back on nature—hard. Gardening won’t be enough.

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on December 29, 2015 at 7:57 am, in the category It’s the Plants, Darling.


  1. Nice thoughts, Elizabeth! No matter how avid we are about gardening, and whether we are urban or suburban or rural, we cannot grow every plant or provide habitat for every animal on our own properties. The more we appreciate nearby public wild areas, the better chance they’ll remain for future generations (of people and plants and wildlife) to appreciate.

  2. Nice post Elizabeth. We could all use a reminder to seek the natural spaces in our environment.
    We are in our second year of leaving our hummingbird feeder out over winter, and I have mixed feelings. Everywhere I’ve looked, people say that doing this doesn’t keep them from migrating and set them up for death by freezing, and last year the hummers that overwintered did great, and stayed with us all year. But this year, we found a dead hummer under the feeder after a bad weather stretch, and I am rethinking it. There are 2 more birds still feeding off the feeder, so I will leave it up, but I don’t know if I will continue next winter.

  3. It has been my goal for a number of years now to be able to identify every plant that I see around me. I live in a rural area on 10 acres which backs up to state land so I am always finding plants that are new to me. I also go on botany hikes with a group to learn more. It is just a joy to really SEE what is around me and for me, that involves learning the names.

  4. Great post! Marcia, I would love your home-made suet recipe! Could you post it here? We have several feeders and store-bought suet and get a nice variety of birds but I’d love to make my own suet. Happy New Year to all.

  5. I used to believe that knowing the name of a wildflower or plant in the fields or woods was unnecessary. Even more than that, I used to think that knowing the name removed some of the joy. It’s only when I started gardening that I began to learn plant names and to realize how much greater my pleasure was when I knew something about the plant, its needs and habits. I love identifying new discoveries and then reading up on them. Like Susan, above, my goal is to be able to identify all the plants around me. I doubt I’ll ever succeed, and that’s ok, it simply keeps me going.

  6. Thank you so much Marcia for the recipe and the additional great info. ( I am going to go watch the video right now.) I am anxious to mix up your suet and I really appreciate your time and effort to answer! Happy New Year to you and to all the birds everywhere.

  7. Great tip! I will do it that way. I am heading to Costco on Monday and will make my suet next week! I have a wildlife certified garden so am always eager to add more critters and plants. Thanks again!

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