You will be familiar with the slow food movement, particularly if you are a Guardian reader living in an ecotown. Less high profile, but more amenable to the Dabbler demographic, is slow botany. So I am going to tell you all about it…
Slow botany developed as a reaction against all those people who go galumphing about the countryside, across fields, through copses and spinneys and extensive forbidding woodland, or indeed through jungles teeming with exotica, and are forever shouting “Oh look! See the serried ranks of campion and bladderwort dotted among the bracken over yonder!” or “Gosh! If I’m not mistaken there must be thousands of snapdragons and peonies scattered along the railway cuttings!”
There is a lamentable tendency among the sort of people who know about plants to identify them immediately, and loudly, and this lacks decorum and is unseemly. Is it not far more rewarding to stumble about only dimly aware of the surrounding foliage, and then, if you see something arresting, to peer at it, agog, for hours upon hours, perhaps making a little pencil sketch of it on the back of your Nature Trail Map, and then, days or weeks later, to go to the library and consult a large and important illustrated reference guide to flora, trying your damnedest to match your memory and your pencil sketch with one of the umpteen pictures in the huge leatherbound volume, and thus to discover that what you looked at for so long with such interest and acuity was, for example, a marsh violet?
Compare that experience with what is likely to happen if you are accompanied on your bucolic meanderings by a planty know-all. He or she will probably have about their person a pair of binoculars, and will be wearing an ill-advised hat the sight of which will set your teeth on edge. As you trudge towards the marsh, your annoying companion will suddenly yell, “Ahead I can see a knot of marsh violets, Dennis!” and before you know it you will have been treated to a few marsh violet facts which may or may not be of any interest. What you will not have done is to focus every last atom of your attention on the marsh violets, blotting out everything else in the universe for a few precious hours.
And this is the appeal of slow botany. Granted, it is born of ignorance, indeed of an ignorance which can at times be fathomless, but therein lies its value. So next time you are accosted by a buffoon who – literally – knows his onions, offering to lead you pell-mell o’er field and green, just say no. Instead, strike off on your own, myopic, with an all but vacant head, wandering at will until you see perhaps a ground-nesting bird pecking at a plant that lures you towards it. Stop, stoop, and study.
The ground-nesting bird will almost certainly fly away at your approach. That brings us to the topic of slow ornithology, which is another matter entirely, and one we shall have to attend to on another occasion.