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FLOWERS AND HERBS OF EARLY AMERICA

A book by Lawrence D. Griffith, Curator of Plants-Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Photography by Barbara Temple Lombardi, Staff Photographer-Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

---Book review by Anne K Moore, March 27, 2009---

Searching the archives of Colonial Williamsburg has to have been a labor of love for Lawrence Griffith.  Imagine spending your days leafing through sketches of gardens, discovering the names of plants grown in colonial and federal gardens, reading notes from gardeners long gone. 

Many of those plants are familiar residents in today' gardens.  Annuals such as candytuft, cockscomb, four-o-clocks, and larkspur oftentimes dwell in my garden today.  The perennial anise hyssop, columbine, orange coneflower 'Goldsturm' or purple coneflowers are still at home with many gardeners. 

Then there are the less familiar names like scarlet pentapetes (Pentapetes phoenicia), All-heal (Prunella grandiflora 'Pagoda'), blue pimpernel (Anagallis monelli), ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) and blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus).

Does devil' claw (Proboscidea louisianica) conjure up a weird idea of what the flower might look like?  I was surprised to see, on page 52, that it more closely resembles a pink hardy gloxinia (Incarvillea delavayi).  Its common name comes from the shape of its seedpods, not from disgusting-looking flowers.  It is attractive.

There are glimpses back in time through the illustrations of colonial woodcuts, engravings, and watercolors.  Although these are beautiful additions, they are not what make this book a feast for the eyes.  It is the incredible photography by Barbara Lombardi that will have you turning pages even before you settle down to read. 

I admit to a love of poppies.  Yet I have not found the right recipe for seed success in my heavy clay soil and abundant shade.  There are scrumptious photos of poppies in the poppy section of the book.  My favorite poppy photograph is of the Mexican poppy opposite page 114.  (The botanical print is rather nice, too.) 

These fab photos (for you younger gardeners: sweet photos) are in league with the text written by Lawrence Griffith that accompanies them.  The information on each flower, where it came from, how it arrived in early American gardens is capped off with a panel describing the flower' needs and tips on growing it from seed.  There are fifty-eight species of flowers and herbs included in the book.

Its two hundred and ninety two pages also contain a listing of seed outlets and a 2006 zonal map from ArborDay.org that takes into account global warming and what Griffith calls 'zone creep', the slow warming of the climate.  Many areas of the country are listed as a full zone warmer than in the current USDA zone map.

Any gardener would love to have this book on his or her library shelf.  Use it as a planting guide in the spring, a picture book reminding us why we garden during the heat of summer, and a fireside companion full of information and history taking us through the non-gardening days of winter.  History buffs will also find this a good read.  Early America never looked or read so first-class.


Flowers and Herbs of Early America is available at WILLIAMSBURG Booksellers in Colonial Williamsburg' Visitor Center, by phone at 1-800-446-9240, or at www.williamsburgmarketplace.com.  It is also available at Amazon.com  

The book is published by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in association with Yale University Press, which distributes the books outside Colonial Williamsburg' Historic Area.  The suggested retail price for the book is $50.

 


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