Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Military Orchid at Bishopsbourne

Currently reading: The Military Orchid, by Jocelyn Brooke; he was born and grew up in Sandgate near Folkestone, and spent childhood summers and then later life in the small village of Bishopsbourne near Canterbury.

Truly a Kentish Lad, and a precocious one at that. He knew the Latin names of many plants at the age of eight ("no wonder I was unpopular"), and exasperated all he encountered with his obsession. The book (reflecting his life) describes his trips around East Kent in search of rare plants, especially orchids and most particularly the eponymous Orchis militaris. Not surprisingly his knowledge, enthusiasm, humility and style create a lovely book.

It is sprinkled with quotes from Houseman, Proust and Mrs Ann Pratt of Folkestone; a first trip into the hills behind the town is lovingly described: "we left the main road by the track skirting the foot of the hills: there was a sudden muffling of traffic noises [this was in 1916!] ; a country-silence murmurous with the hum of bees and the scraping of grasshoppers. We crossed a field, climbed a stile, and entered the Promised Land at last - the mysterious, hitherto-forbidden land of The Hills".
That day he not only achieved "the goal of our pilgimage" - Bee Orchids - but also a single spike of Late Spider Orchid.
I haven't yet finished the book, but suspect that he never does find a Military Orchid, which were (almost) unknown in Kent - in fact believed possibly extinct in Britain. But he does mention that "an unconfirmed report does, indeed, state that one was found near Deal in 1910". Could that have been in Kingsdown, I wonder, because Tony Pettet wrote that he found one 'in a Kingsdown lawn' in May 1988.

Which leads me to fill in the twentieth 'Thing to do before...." I'll check the local gardens for orchids, and encourage the owners of likely lawns to avoid weedkillers and fertilisers. And if no Military Orchid appears, I'll travel to Suffolk to see them. And pass on Mr Brooke's best wishes.


Steve Gale said...

Another book for me to sniff out. Thanks for the tip Steve.

Kingsdowner said...

Steve, I hope you find it and like it. Peter Marren referred to it in his book.
I'll give you a shout when/if I get a Military in Kent :-}

Greenie said...

Steve ,
Don't know if you know , but there are Military Orchids on a site near Marlow , Bucks .
I went and saw them one morning many years ago with the two old boys , then spent the afternoon watching Red Kites at Christmas Common .
Would be nicer to see them in Kent though .

Kingsdowner said...

Thanks Fred - I may ask for directions.
The reserve in Suffolk is called the Rex Graham reserve, and is only open on the Spring Bank Holiday Monday. As it's close to Golden Orioles, Cranes and Stone Curlews it's worth a trip.

Mel Lloyd said...

Hi Steve, I am also reading Jocelyn Brooke. Thanks very much for the plug. Enjoying it immensely. I am glad he did eventually see the military orchid in Britain. I had no idea he knew Francis Rose or wrote a paper with him :)