Orchid Summer – In Search of the Wildest Flowers of the British Isles by Jon Dunn

This book was fabulously and fantastically far, far more than its title blurb lead one to expect. It splendidly recalls the author’s grand summer adventure to see all the orchids of Great Britain and Ireland within a single season, the dashing here and there, the tension of searching out a rarity in the short window of flowering, the chases across country from Kent to Shetlands and from Lindisfarne to The Burren, the arranged meetings with friends who would guide him on pathways less trodden and, throughout that thread of suspense, uncertainty, anticipation and apprehension as to whether he would locate the mystical Ghost Orchid – and I will leave you to read the book to know the answer to that question.

Yet, I look back on that narrative as simply the framework which carried the body, the strength and the treasure of this book for it was in the author’s asides, his comments of background information, his “fleshing out” of the information on the orchids that absolutely delighted me. There were historical notes on the various orchids, wonderful insights into their discovery, the ebbs and flows of their tenure on our shores and the many interesting people and places connected with them. It was this fleshing out of the narrative which transformed this book from what could so easily have descended into a “let me show you my holiday photos” to more of a “I went native in the Amazon” story.

A quotation from the book sums up the author’s approach perfectly: “As I walked to the cool depths of the Mermaid Inn, I reflected that today’s experience had been exactly what I had always hoped this summer would prove to be – not so much about simply seeing the orchids as expeditiously as possible but, rather, about the manner in which I saw them. I’d hoped to immerse myself in the places in which they grew, the history of those places, and the people past and present who shared the landscape and the flowers with me.” The author has achieved his aim excellently and has given us a most enjoyable book, a treasure comparable to the orchids in which he delights.

It would be remiss of me not to discuss the issue of illustration in the book. It came as a surprise, and a disappointment, that there were no photographs in the book – none at all, not one orchid! Opening a book on flowers one certainly expects to see photographs but there are none here only small simple line drawings at the title of each chapter. I believe the book would have been better had photographs been included and Jon Dunn is certainly an excellent photographer but the essential question is whether or not the book is successful and enjoyable without them and have to say, unreservedly and wholeheartedly, that is most certainly is. The book is well written, the narrative is gripping and the general content is wonderfully informative and entertaining.  To coin a phrase, photographs might well be a case of gilding the orchid and, even without photographs, I enjoyed this book immensely and recommend it without hesitation.

[Orchid Summer – In Search of the Wildest Flowers of the British Isles, Jon Dunn, Bloomsbury, 2018, Hardback, 357 pages, £18.99, ISBN: 978-1-4088-80883]

These links will allow you to read more about Jon Dunn, read his blog or view his excellent photographs.