It was with some trepidation that I agreed to review Roy Lancaster’s My Life with Plants; after all commenting on the writing of someone who is held in such high esteem by so many in the horticultural world and beyond is quite intimidating.
My Life with Plants is a form of autobiography written by Roy Lancaster, as he celebrates his 80th birthday, looking back on his adventures in horticulture. The book starts with his childhood explorations of the local countryside firstly due to a love of birds but progressively, due to encouragement from mentors in the local naturalist’s society, a fascination for plants developed. These mentors encouraged Roy to pursue his interests into a career in the local Parks department. The book continues through Roy’s national service mainly spent in Malay, what a thrill that must have been for a burgeoning plantsman, and onwards to his time with Hilliers, before launching on his speaking and media career in the 1980s and brings us right up to date with his plant hunting travels in recent years.
As you would expect from someone who has spent a significant portion of their 80 years in horticulture the book is full of plant references. Roy recounts numerous encounters with plants all over the world along with the people who accompanied and supported him. Whilst the book is entitled My Life with Plants the people who encouraged, supported, worked for, learnt from and travelled with Roy are in fact the books main ingredient; which reads almost like a whose who of horticulture.
My criticism of the book, and I’m afraid I need to be honest, is that due to the length of time in Roy’s life that is covered in the 299 pages it often felt that we were skimming along on the surface to include everything and I often wished there was more description of the places, or plants and especially the people. I have to admit to not being a fan of the typical plant hunting travel log which this book often is as I find the tone too academic in approach for my taste but for those who enjoy learning about plants and where they come from and how they were originally located this should be a good read.
I certainly think My Life with Plants would be hugely inspiring for anyone thinking of embracing a career in horticulture as it demonstrates the truth behind the idea that you have to seize opportunities when they present themselves as you never know where they will lead or who you will meet.