Christmas gifts.

The gift that you cant go wrong with is a book, well maybe if the recipient has already read it then that’s not so good.

But a beautifully illustrated reference book that is also a joy to read, then you are on to a winner.

Don’t just take my word for it, this is what the prestigious Gardens Illustrated magazine said.

The benefits of spending time in woodland are numerous, and this fascinating book is a worthy companion, though I found the expansive final chapter of this insightful guide to woodland plants the most interesting. Under the heading ‘Woodlands: why they look like they do today’, the author Alan Waterman very neatly condenses a lifetime of natural history knowledge into one brilliant chapter.

Discussing the history of British woodland since the last Ice Age receded some 12,000 years ago, he delves into areas such as sustainable woodland coppicing, listing species, their cutting cycles and uses. Details on how to age trees, pollen analysis, and the lifecycle and survival methods of woodland plants follow.

The effect of light levels and the structure of woodland soils are demystified. Waterman has a gift for communicating complex ideas in an authoritative but unfussy style.

As the director of a field study centre for more than 25 years and the owner of a six-acre Welsh woodland, his lively writing feels personal – a tapestry of memoir, observation, plant science, folklore and ecology.

The book is based around a catalogue of 170 woodland plant profiles, grouped into chapters by flowering season. Starting with early spring carpets of crocus, violets and lungwort, I soon appreciated how much is of interest later in the year. Each profile is a cornucopia of detail, describing key characteristics, wildlife benefits and habitat preference and lavishly illustrated with the author’s own photographs to help with identification. There is also a useful glossary of botanical terms and an index of common and botanical names.

This isn’t necessarily a book to read cover to cover (although that last chapter…), but one to reach for before you venture out into the cool, peaceful haven of the woods or to turn to – as an alternative to Google – upon your return.

So if you are struggling to find a present to give this  Christmas, then this is the solution. And not just for Christmas, what a lovely gift to give to the host when you visit for a dinner party, a New Year get together  and Birthdays throughout the year.

Available in all good book shops, on line with Amazon, Smiths, Waterstones and all the others or direct from the publishers Merlin Unwin, who incidentally have lots of other quality countryside books in their catalogue which is free to download.

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