‘Unsung heroes’ have a story to tell

Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus)  were once thought to enhance your social standing. ILLUSTRATION:...
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) were once thought to enhance your social standing. ILLUSTRATION: SARAH JANE HUMPHREY
A Short History of Flowers
By Advolly Richmond 
Illustrations by Sarah Jane Humphrey

Allen & Unwin NZ

The subtitle "The Stories that Make Our Gardens" describes this book well.

Author Advolly Richmond is a garden and plant historian and features in the BBC television series Gardeners’ World.

In A Short History of Flowers, she aims to demonstrate how 60 "unsung heroes" - flowers often found in our parents’ or grandparents’ gardens - have a story embedded in their origin.

Most of these stories are just one or two pages long and are accompanied by beautiful and accurate full-page illustrations by award-winning botanical artist Sarah Jane Humphrey.

Arranged in botanical name order, the stories range from historical notes on how a plant collector or naturalist found or bred the plant, to folklore passed down through the generations, to quirky facts that make these plants memorable.

This isn’t a book of botanical descriptions, rather it gives an appreciation of the journey flowers have travelled to get to our garden - whether that is for their culinary, medicinal, cultural or purely aesthetic qualities.

Although this is a United Kingdom-based book, most flowers mentioned are also common in New Zealand.

It is obvious the author is an experienced plant historian, as weaving through the web of common and botanical names can be no easy task. Many records of these plants date back to the 1500s and through the years experts of the time have occasionally renamed the plants.

This isn’t the type of book to read from cover to cover in one sitting, but it is an ideal book to dip in and out of.

It encourages us to take a second look at our garden plants and wonder "what is your story".