Publishers believe that garden books only sell in the run-up to Christmas. The idea seems to be that we only buy garden books to give them away. Here’s one you’ll have trouble deciding whether to keep or wrap, and as you mull over the decision each flick to a new page will shift you ever closer to finding some other gift for that art-loving or plant-loving friend.
Plant: Exploring the Botanical World, published by art and garden book specialists Phaidon, (rrp $80) collects 300 artworks from around the world across a span of 1500 years. While some fit the criteria of botanical art, with a scientific purpose underlying a beautiful composition, most celebrate the beauty, ephemerality and intrinsic interest of flowers, and do so in a range of materials, some of them surprising. There’s a confrontingly sexual orchid made from bronze and painted white by British sculptor Marc Quinn, who’s famous for having carved a sculpture of his head using his own frozen blood. What looks like a photo of a rhipsalis in shy flower turns out to be a monumental, giant-sized, 2.59m x 1.7m, hyper-real oil painting by South Korean artist Lee Kwang-Ho.
Also surprising is a plate from the Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland made by Henry Bradbury at the height of fern-fever in Britain. It looks like a very fine watercolour, but is actually a nature print, a process in which the actual plant is pressed into soft lead to form an image. The image is then transferred electrically to copper, and printed using coloured inks. The technique was developed at the Imperial Printing House in Vienna. Bradbury studied in Vienna and improved on the technique, which he patented in London. The delicate ferns depicted here are printed in greens and browns and their laciness is perfectly captured in the process. Tragically, Bradbury killed himself at 29 by drinking acid, having been accused of plagiarism by the director of Imperial.
The stories accompanying each work are fascinating, and just as interesting are the provocative pairings of images and the visual dialogues they suggest. An airy sketch of a tassel hyacinth by Vincent Van Gogh faces a woodblock by of a bellflower and dragonfly by Hokusai, the Japanese artist who had such an enormous influence on the Impressionists.
A hand-coloured print of a rose by Pierre-Joseph Redoute, Plant Painter to her Majesty Empress Josephine Bonaparte, shares a spread with a 3D digital rendering of a rose by contemporary Japanese artist Macoto Murayayam. Redoute used multiple processes to produce his hand-colouring engravings and Murayayam too uses several processes, first hand-drawing anatomical studies of dissected plants, then putting them through a software program so that they look like engineering blueprints for an alien world. Both use contemporary technologies to capture the beautiful geometry of the rose.
The images and stories in Plant are a reminder of our complex love affair with plants, and make for an addictive, page-turning treat.
It’s time to
Check for caterpillars
Spray with Dipel or Success if you must control caterpillar damage, but pause and consider the future butterfly first.
Keep the long whippy growth of wisteria trimmed back out of the way.
Buy advanced pots, or start new plants from seed. They need a sunny spot and soil enriched with old compost and manure. If growing in pots, choose a bit container, or a variety bred for pot culture.
Pinch out the growing tips to promote a bushier basil. Liquid feed weekly to move it along fast, producing the softest leaves.