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Inside the secret world of plants

"If you have a garden and a library,
you have everything you need."
Cicero, To Varro, in Ad Familiares IX, 4

Summer is short in Canada (perhaps even more this year), to the point that a family fried quips that "we have two seasons in Canada, winter and July" so can you blame us for our bias to want to bask in a field of flowers, surrounded by luscious, bountiful greenery? 

Every Spring, human beings reveal in glee at the first sign of life. The slightest green buds on a barren tree, reminds us that we will soon be able to rid the drudgery of the winter blues. In fact the term green shoots is used to indicate signs of economic recovery -- such is the hold of nature on our subconscious.

Did you know that the first gardens were created by the earliest societies of the Middle East, when the need for self-sufficiency led people to enclose plots of land next to their homes. Over time, as societies moved away from subsistence, the practical function of the garden was super-ceded by people's desire to enhance their surroundings, with the emerging ruling classes using gardens to enjoy their leisure time and reinforce their status. 

In different parts of the world, gardens meant different things. In ancient Greece, gardens were less associated with domestic pleasure, and more with religion. Relatively simple gardens were closely associated with the divine; trees and plants grown in them were associated with particular deities. 

In Ancient Rome, things were different. With a big influence from Egypt and Persia, garden design and horticultural techniques became highly advanced. From town houses of Pompeii to Rome's imperial palaces, gardens were places for relaxation and escape, and often featured art and objects with religious and symbolic meaning. 

" collect and paint the finest specimens obtainable, and to depict the natural grace and beauty of the plant without conventional design."
Mary Vaux Walcott

In the 19th century there was natural curiosity amongst adventure seekers, to explore what lay beyond their horizon. The expansion of the railroads helped in the quest for more knowledge. From artists to photographers, the landscape was bountiful for exploration. Amongst those was a watercolour artist who produced remarkable collections of botanical artworks.  

Mary Vaux Walcott was born into a prosperous Quaker family from Philadelphia. For many years she would traverse the rugged terrains of North America, seeking out significant and new species of wild plants, and creating hundreds of watercolour paintings. Some 400 of these were reproduced in a five-volume book set titled North American Wildflowers, published by the Smithsonian Institute between 1925 and 1929. 

DK Books Smithsonian Flora is full of facts, and balance with beautiful pictures and illustrations. Flipping the pages through the book, is akin to walking through a museum. You can go fast and marvel at the emotional tug it creates on your heart, or you can stop at your heart's content, to any page, and dive deeper into the historical significance of flora. 

Highly recommended: 5 out of 5 Sukasa Stars