January 4, 2022

Mid-Winter Magic

My friend Martha Bergland calls it “plant porn,” that is, melt-your-heart, feed-your-soul flower pictures.  As abundant as a garden in June, horticultural illustrations and photographs wait in cyberspace for the clicking. Do not be dissuaded by books in Latin or foreign languages.  Pictures are a universal language.  Yes, you can google a plant name then click on “images” to see dozens of photographs. Here are a few other inspirational sources you may not know.


John Parkinson’s Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, or, A Garden of All Sorts of Pleasant Flowers (1629) is credited as the first book about flowers for ornament instead of medicine. https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/206045#page/1/mode/1up  .
It illustrates many flowers with charming woodcuts.  Ninety-three black and white botanical illustrations display the wide range of plants available in Europe in the early 1600’s, at least to royalty, in Le Jardin du Roy Tres Chrestien, Loys XIII, Roy de France et de Navare, Pierre Vallet (1623). https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/10826#page/6/mode/1up.
Elizabeth Blackwell exceeds the effort with 500 colored woodcuts of medicinal plants in A Curious Herbal (1737-1739)
You may recognize her 1st illustration as a Dandelion! See more botanical illustrations in Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (1754). https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/126524#page/7/mode/1up.
Catesby’s vibrant hand-colored prints depict scenes of birds, insects, mammals and reptiles in settings with trees and flowers. Empress Josephine Bonaparte grew more than 2000 species in her legendary garden, Malmaison.  Description des plantes rares cultivees a Malmaison et a Navarre, Aimé Bonpland (1813) includes 64 colored prints of rare plants at Malmaison by the celebrated artist Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759-1824).  https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/9519#page/6/mode/1up.


Moving into the era of the modern invention of the camera Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952), one of the first prominent women photographers, promoted the garden beautiful movement by taking garden and designed landscape photographs in the early 1900’s.  She commissioned hand tinting of more than 1000 of her glass slides, the collection known as “Lantern Slides for Gardens and Historic Houses Lectures.”  The Library of Congress holds this collection.


This gives merely a microscopic glance of what’s available. Hunting through this wealth of resources inspires the thrill of the chase. Gardeners may have trouble putting it away after the first Snowdrop pushes out of the thawing earth.