Mary Houseman a nature explorer

Natasha & Andrea Petty with their 8th prize plaques in the YFC National Final Country Spotter Competition, 1989. Coordinating colours completely accidental! Own photo.

Country spotters was a new competition for the national federation of young farmers. Who would sign up? With Aunty Christine as club leader, I was often volunteered for the non-obvious classes. And who better to join me in the two-person team than my oldest friend, Andrea Petty (see also Swinsty Hall). Somehow, we flew through the county round and were headed for Stoneleigh and the national finals. I remember thinking I should revise (I was a reasonably conscientious teenage) but honestly a competition that could require identification of anything from cows through weather to rock formations doesn’t allow for last minute cramming.

Fortunately, Grandma (Mary Houseman) was a nature explorer. Encouraged in her studies by Norwood School teacher, Miss Heaton, Grandma eventually spotted and recorded 150 species of wildflowers in our local area. (Almost, I should add, as keen eyed may notice the odd duplication in the list). Local really does mean local to within a few miles of her home at Prospect Farm, Lindley. Grandma was not an explorer in the conventional sense as she almost never left the Washburn valley.

Together, aged six and sixty, we walked, explored, picked and pressed local wildflowers. Those of a certain age may remember the heavy thump of a telephone directory through the letterbox or more likely the postman knocking on the door because it wouldn’t fit through. Living on the boundary of several districts the towering pile of directories formed a perfect flower press. Two scrapbooks remain a beautiful reminder of that time.

The knowledge I had gained from those walks, together with Andrea’s own, led us to, if not quite to a victory, at least to an unexpected 8th place in the national finals.

Thirty years on I realise the most valuable thing is not the prize, nor is it my enduring knowledge. Rather, with both climate & biodiversity in crisis, it is the record of a list of wildflowers growing in the Washburn valley in the 1930s and a scrapbook of the same for the 1980s.

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