Possibly not all plant enthusiasts are given to adventure trekking in the highlands of Sichuan and Tibet, but Coast author Bill Terry is among a rare breed of people searching for a rare breed of plant, the wild blue poppy.
In 2009 he and his wife Rosemary joined a group of 23, many of them members of Britain’s prestigious Alpine Garden Society, and plant lovers of other nationalities to travel overland by jeep along the roof of the world on a plant safari. Outfitted in travel gear and carrying high-end photographic equipment to record their findings, the group was driven in a convoy over dangerous terrain.
This journey is described in Beyond Beauty, Hunting the Wild Blue Poppy published by Touchwood Editions.
At a recent book launch at the Botanical Gardens in Sechelt, Terry recounted what one travel book says of this particular journey, that it required “super-human endurance.” It was the more remarkable considering that nine of the party, Terry included, were over the age of 70. Although he can’t walk as far or as fast as he once could, and though the group crossed many mountain passes where the air was so thin that they struggled for breath, he considered the experience as the adventure of a lifetime.
The book, beautifully designed and presented, contains many colour photos of the dozens of unusual or rare flora that the plant hunters found on their journey. Depicted are the “horrid” poppy, so called because of its spiky stem, a medicinal Tibetan plant that seemingly grows out of rock, alpine lilies of various types and dainty primula. They passed cliff faces that teemed with wild rhododendrons, and finally, in the rare air of Tibet they found the elusive blue poppy or meconopsis baileyi.
Why the blue poppy? Terry has already given some of his reasons for being fascinated by the flower in his previous book, Blue Heaven, but he answered a question from his book launch audience with thoughtful consideration.
“It has an almost mythical attraction,” he said, “because it’s considered impossible to grow.” The seed was introduced to British gardens in the 1920s but gardeners often have difficulty in cultivating it.
Though this book will delight those who love flowers, it will certainly engage armchair travellers as well with its clear, descriptive prose. The glimpses of life in China and Tibet are fascinating and are also captured in images: the nomadic children on the street, the People’s Liberation Army soldiers on the move, Tibetan temples and palaces, pilgrims prostrating themselves on their laborious journey to a shrine, and the roadside hotels and restaurants in various states of upkeep.
The other “botanizers,” those in his plant hunting party, shared a camaraderie that can be understood by anyone who has ever sought nature in its wild state. Throughout the book Terry takes the time to think about the travellers of another age, centuries before, who made the trek in more primitive conditions and were often denounced or assaulted for their efforts. Their contribution to plant lore was phenomenal considering the circumstances.
The author contributes a portion of his royalties from book sales to the Sunshine Coast Botanical Garden Society. It is available for $24.95 at many Coast bookstores.