Foraging author Roger Phillips dies aged 89

Foraging author Roger Phillips dies aged 89

Foraging expert Roger Phillips has died aged 89, his publisher Pan Macmillan has announced. 

Phillips was “widely recognised as one of the world's foremost experts on roses, foraging and mushrooms and has written over 30 books on plants using his trademark photographic style”, the publisher said.  

Pan Macmillan added: “He was one of a kind with distinctive red glasses, infectious enthusiasm, a keen curiosity and an inimitable sense of style. An award-winning photographer with a career spanning more than forty years, he pioneered the use of colour studio photography for natural history subjects; his style of using white backgrounds for subjects was incredibly effective when aiding identification and was much copied. After Chelsea School of Art and a successful career in advertising, he used his visual training to produce more than 30 books, many of which were published with Pan Macmillan.” 

In 1975 he began photographing and publishing pictures of British wild plants and mushrooms as well as garden plants. “He set out to develop an encyclopedic collection of books to show the difference between plants as diverse as mosses, roses and annuals,” Pan Macmillan said. “His first book, Wild Flowers of Britain (Pan Mac, 1977), was a huge success, selling 400,000 copies in the first year. The idea for the book came from taking his young son on expeditions to the country, where they struggled to identify the plants they saw using books available at the time. Roger set out to remedy this with a book for people like himself, the general reader who didn’t have knowledge of botany.  

“His numerous additional volumes, often produced with his co-author, botanist Martyn Rix, have sold over six million copies worldwide. Roger wrote and presented two major six-part TV series on gardening (BBC & Channel 4), and he received an MBE for his work on London’s garden squares.” 

Pan Macmillan reissued Vegetables, co-authored by Martyn Rix, in September of this year and Phillips was working on revised editions of his classics Wild Flowers of Britain and Trees in Britain, to be published in 2022. Overall Phillips' books sold 175,407 books for £2.4m according to Nielsen BookScan.

Jeremy Trevathan, m.d. of Pan Macmillan’s adult publishing division, paid tribute to the author who died aged 89. “Roger has been a much loved and prolific author of Pan Macmillan’s for over 40 years," Trevathan said. "Many of us here share treasured memories of working with him over the decades and our enduring memories of him will be of his youthful exuberance, sparkle and passion for his subject.” 

Matthew Cole, Phillips’ editor at Pan Macmillan, added: “It has been such an immense privilege working with Roger; his creativity, knowledge about the natural world and attitude to life were truly inspiring. He will be greatly missed by me and by all his many friends here at Pan Macmillan.”  

Phillips' agent Barbara Levy commented “Roger was a pioneer in his field. With his ebullient personality he was a life-enhancing and inspiring client to represent. He will be much missed.”