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Dr Bob Gibbons

Naturalist and ecologist

Bob has been described as ‘one of Britain’s best naturalists.' He has written about 40 books to date, on many aspects of natural history and photography. All anthophiles will love poring over the flower-strewn pages of his book, 'Wildflower Wonders: The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World' (also, an excellent resource for holiday planning!) Bob leads numerous tours to many European destinations, as well as to more exotic destinations such as the Himalayas, Costa Rica, South Africa, Namibia, Ecuador, and the Galapagos. He will fill you in as to when and where the next one is taking place.

In pursuit of wildflowers around the world ...

Your three favourite flowers?

Cowslips, Green-winged orchids and Wild Daffodils. You can probably see a link here – all exquisitely beautiful, wild, spring-flowering, and signs of good habitat where there are other treasures to be found.

Tell us about your childhood garden?

Although my parents had a nice enough garden, I was much more inspired by living within 300 yards of the edge of Exmoor, and spent most of my free time exploring there, and getting into trouble.

Who or what inspired your career choice?

To cut a long story short(ish), I had done my O levels earlier than normal, and embarked on a path of European languages for A levels. One day, I met a friend at the school gate, who told me he was going on an ‘ecology trip’ to the local woods. This sounded so much more interesting than what I was doing, that I switched to sciences – made easier because I was only 13 then - and never looked back, facilitated by two excellent teachers.

What is a typical day in the life of Bob?

There isn’t one. Life tends to fall into different periods; leading a botanical tour to somewhere like Greece means working long hours but being in wonderful places for most of the day; when I’m writing, I’ll be at home, working whenever convenient but taking plenty of time for friends, music, table tennis matches or whatever; and then there are photography trips, when I would be working outside, or travelling between locations, as long as there is daylight.

No garden is complete without

a good garden pond, designed to encourage wildlife.

Something we’d find:

  • On your bedside table: Richard Mabey’s autobiographical “Turning the Boat for home” allowing me to dip into the life of a friend at any time.

  • In your flower arrangement: Anything that’s in flower in the garden, preferably something scented.

  • In your garden shed: A set-up for photographing garden birds – and my son’s bicycle stuff!

The flaw you wish you didn’t have?

A failure to answer questions adequately...

What would you be in another life?

I wouldn’t want to change much really, though I wouldn’t mind being David Attenborough.

Guiding principles?

I’m passionate about conserving the natural world, and trying to introduce others to its wonders.

Who is a botanical and/or horticultural hero?

I’m not sure whether I would have liked him or not, but I can’t help but being impressed by the extraordinary achievements, and breadth of knowledge and vision, of Alexander von Humboldt.

What is the one flower or plant you’d never plant in your garden, but don’t detest when you see others plant it?

This isn’t quite answering the question, but I love seeing Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) on a roadside in January, for its early-flowering, fragrance and beauty – but it’s a disaster in the garden, taking over everything if you let it.

If there was a fire, and you could only keep one book on botany, what would it be?

I have an old, long out-of-print book on the flora of the Pyrenees – La Grande Flore illustrée des Pyrénées, by Marcel Saule – full of beautiful line drawings and fascinating information.

For posterity, what would you like your work to be known for?

I’d like to be remembered as someone who tried to reveal the beauty and fascination of nature to anyone who would listen, through photography, writing and in the field.


If there was a fire, and you could only keep one book on botany, what would it be?

Quick fire: some favourite things

Book (fiction): Where the Crawdads Sing

Film: It’s been quite a thin period for seeing films, though I did enjoy ‘My Salinger year’ while on a plane recently.

Painting: The Cornfield by John Constable, or anything similar that reveals the English countryside of 200 years ago.

Smell: The Atlantic coast, the smell of the ocean.

Meal: Mushroom risotto

Travel Destination: The Mani Peninsula, Greece. The perfect combination of exceptional spring flowers, ancient landscapes and buildings, and lovely food. Changing fast, but still wonderful.

A cause near and dear to me: Bringing flowery meadows back to the English countryside.

Place to go for inspiration: Nearby – the Isle of Purbeck; further afield: Micro Papingo (village) on the edge of the Vikos Gorge in Greece.

A great walk near where you live: Almost anywhere on the extraordinary World Heritage Site Dorset coast, perhaps from Worth Matravers to Kimmeridge. It’s breath-taking, inspiring and full of life.

Thing to collect obsessively: Nothing really, though I do have far more cameras than I really need at the moment..

Museum: The Natural History Museum, London.

Favourite person to follow on Instagram: er, what’s Instagram?

Garden in the UK: Mottisfont Abbey Rose garden, for its astonishing midsummer displays of colour.

Garden anywhere else: The Schachen Botanical Garden at 6000 feet up in the German Alps. To be honest, it’s not so much the garden, but the 12 ½ mile round-trip hike through alpine forests and meadows to get there, that makes it so appealing (and not too busy, either!).

Dr Bob Gibbons
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