Text ©Nancy J. Ondra
Taking inspiration from Jodi’s post Garden Bloggers Muse Day meets Wildflowers in Winter at Bloomingwriter, I’ve dusted off some of my favorite wildflower guides.
These old books all have their merits as practical guides, but they’re treasures to me for a number of other reasons. Partly, it’s because of the memories I have of acquiring them from various antiquarian booksellers while traveling with friends to and from local horticultural events. There’s also something very special about the feel of a cloth-bound book in hand, and the crinkle of delicate tissue-paper pages as they’re carefully turned to reveal the beautifully tinted artwork.
At the very top of this post is the title page of my 1911 edition of Field Book of American Wildflowers by F. Schuyler Mathews. On the left side of that image, tissue paper partly obscures a color plate labeled Sabbatia chloroides. Below is a spread of color artwork from Wild Flower Guide: Northeastern and Midland United States by Edgar T. Wherry (1948).
It’s also an incredible sensation to hold a book that some other wildflower lover held and used decades ago. I enjoy seeing the old bookplates, reading the names and inscriptions, and perusing the penciled notes on the margins and endpapers. This bookplate is from my 1893 edition of How to Know the Wild Flowers. Apparently, Jethou is a tiny piece of land that’s part of the Channel Islands. According to this article, the island was leased by the Fortingtons from 1934 to 1948, so the book was already old when Madame Fortington owned it. Isn’t that just the coolest thing?
Below is the inside cover of my 1948 edition of Wild Flower Guide: Northeastern and Midland United States by Edgar T. Wherry. A previous owner, Anita Pemberton, made extensive lists throughout the book of plants that she had seen in the wild and those she wanted to add to her ‘”wild garden.” I hope her wishes were fulfilled. I keep lots of lists too, but it seems highly unlikely that anyone will value mine 60 years from now. That won’t stop me from making them, though.
Even better than finding handwritten notes, though, is finding pieces of actual plants pressed in the pages. These fern fronds are scattered throughout my 1905 edition of Our Native Orchids by William Hamilton Gibson. There’s no inscription in the book, so there’s no clue as to who left them. I have a guilty wish that they had pressed orchids instead of ferns. But I still find it amazing to handle bits of any plants that some previous gardener appreciated well enough to preserve. Maybe I’ll press a few of my own favorite wildflowers in these books, as a gift to the next person who gives them a home after I’m gone.