Pacific Northwest | December 14, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineDecember 14, home
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Growing Appreciation
From practical to eye-popping art, books worth giving
"Common To This Country: Botanical Discoveries of Lewis and Clark" features hand-colored illustrations of North American flora from coast to coast. The western serviceberry became a favorite of Meriwether Lewis, who noted the "superior excellence" of its flavor. Calliopses blanket prairies and grasslands in early summer.
AUTHORS AND publishers have been mining the world's finest archives of botanical art to create sumptuously illustrated books just in time for Christmas giving. These are the kind of fine-papered, full-color volumes that are works of art themselves.

Most of us don't have the opportunity to spend weeks and months at the Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Library, carefully thumbing through the vast collection of rose and fruit paintings, which are among its most noteworthy treasures. Firefly Books gathers together some of the library's most beautiful artwork in two new volumes.

"The Rose: An Illustrated History" by Peter Harkness ($60) is a love poem of a book rich in rose lore. The centuries-old, larger-than-life paintings are so stunningly reproduced you can't help but dip nose to page to inhale the flower's perfume. If anyone wonders why humans have loved roses for as long as memory, the paintings of deeply frilled China roses, darkly purple gallicas and furry budded moss roses tell the tale as surely as the text. The companion volume, "Fruit: An Illustrated History" by Peter Blackburne-Maze ($60), is as thorough and lovely, if not quite as sensual.
Book cover
Book cover
Book cover
The illustrations in "Plant Discoveries: A Botanist's Voyage Through Plant Exploration" by Sandra Knapp (Firefly Books, $60) include a wider range of artistic styles and plant oddities because they come from the vast horticultural collection in London's Natural History Museum. Economic and social history across centuries and continents unfolds along with the stories of tulips and poppies, cacti and waterlilies. Here you'll find stirring stories of brave botanists daring disease, oceans, wars and jungles to collect many of the plants we take for granted today.

A little closer to home in both time and geography is "Common To This Country: Botanical Discoveries of Lewis and Clark" by Susan H. Munger, with illustrations by Charlotte Staub Thomas (Artisan, $22.95). Delicate color drawings and a text filled with quotes from the adventurer's journals bring home the excitement and travail of traveling across uncharted territory, as well as the wonder of seeing the kaleidoscope of North American flora for the first time.

It must have been wonder, helped along by curiosity and courage, that motivated Lewis and Clark to push westward. Such creative gumption is the theme of Seattle glass artist and gardener Ginny Ruffner's first book. If you thought pop-ups were just for children, this clever, colorful little book may change your mind. Its three-dimensionality draws you in, giving the simple message a powerful wallop. Made to accompany Ruffner's new glass-art show, which will travel to Tacoma's Museum of Glass in 2005, "Creativity: The Flowering Tornado: A Pop-Up Gallery" (Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, $19.95) explores the wellspring of creativity, every bit as vital an element in gardening as in any other of the arts.

And for the relentlessly practical gardener on your list, the kind who'd prefer a bag of zoo doo to a botanical print, there are new books on plant names and pruning. You can't help but wonder why someone hadn't long ago compiled a book like "Flora Plant Names" (Timber Press, $14.95). A companion to the encyclopedia of the same name, it's packed with more than 20,000 common names and their botanical equivalents. Until someone undertakes indexing by cultivar, this is the book to help gardeners navigate the maze of botanical nomenclature.

"Pruning Trees, Shrubs and Vines" by Karan Davis Cutler (Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guides, $9.95) is the latest offering in this useful series of authoritative handbooks. Full of photos and clear illustrations, it is small and inexpensive, made to carry around and refer to while you work. From the shiny shears on the cover to the chapter on pruning for every purpose, this is a no-nonsense book ideal for anyone learning to prune, renovating a garden or pondering the sticky question of when and how to clip a clematis.

All these books can be ordered from bookstores or online. Your best bet to find them in stock might be Flora and Fauna Books in Pioneer Square or the Graham Visitors Center at the Washington Park Arboretum.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her book, "Plant Life: Growing a Garden in the Pacific Northwest" (Sasquatch Books, 2002) is an updated selection of her magazine columns. Her e-mail address is

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