Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter Thoughts on Old Books

Winter days and nights call out for dreaming when a fire flickers in the fireplace and a glass of wine warms from the inside out. This the time I reach for two books that I am fortunate to call mine. Old books carry the marks of fingers that turned pages and dust collected over time. Holding the first book close to my face, I breathe in the heavy scent of age. Just inside the cover a handwritten note appears…

Miss Esther Jackson

From the Glendale Branch of the Plant, Fruit and Flower Guild

In a more childish script:
First prize for school Garden

Little Esther knew as a child, that there’s magic in watching plants grow. I have no doubt she found amusement in the diminutive book, Flowers Shown to the Children by Janet Harvey Kelman. Pressed petals, browned and fragile, lie hidden among the pages that describe Great Wild Valerian, Small Bindweed, and Foxglove creating a bridge from that time to this.

Over the years, I’ve kept the book secure with its treasures inside a glass secretary, but every once in a while I must take it out, leaf carefully through frayed and spotted pages, sighing at the soft muted azure of borage. With the turn of each page the memories of my first blue ribbon awarded to me by an aging Esther leap forward and I am touched by this very special gift, a book that she carried with her until her garden ceased to flower.

A thin volume of British Garden Flowers by George M. Taylor, published in 1946 and 1947, sits on my bookshelf. While not as old as Flowers Shown to the Children, the scent of age is catching up to it. The plastic covering, placed over it at the Bryan Library, protected the cover from spills and fingerprints shows signs of wear.

Bits and pieces of history accompany color and black and white illustrations taken from old garden tomes like The Temple of Flora by R. J. Thornton and P. J. RedoutĂ©’s Choix de plus belles fleurs. I take a moment to thank my lucky stars that I picked up this book for a dollar or two at the Bryan Library tent sale.

I love the rich antique illustrations that bring floral history to life. The deep red of a peony, the twining stems of a clutch of sweet peas, and the glorious wonder of pink roses captivate me, holding me spellbound in imaginary gardens of the past.

A connection between me and the past forms each time I look through these two old books. I ponder who might have read the book and why. With little Esther’s book the mystery of who is solved, but still the image of a wee girl pouring over the descriptions, the enchanting illustrations and dreaming of gardens to be touches my heart.

Do you have a favorite old gardening book? 


  1. Lovely. I adore old books and the sometimes personal handwriting in them.

  2. Another lovely post!
    I don't have any old gardening books but I do have a collection of "The Night Before Christmas" books culled over 32 years of teaching elementary school. Some are pretty darn old! I would put them out in my classroom every year so they are well worn by curious little hands. That only makes them more special because what good are children's books if children can't booger all over them?

  3. T, what wonderful books. The old paintings and drawings in them are so pretty. I wish I had a fraction of the talent it takes to draw or paint so beautifully. Every fine detail is shown.

  4. Hi Amy,

    Thanks for visiting the Cottage again. There's something about the smell of old books and libraries that makes me sigh. Kind of strange, eh?

  5. MJ,

    All these years that I've known you, I did not know about your collection of Twas the Night Before Christmas. How cool is that? I agree, knowing little hands turned pages and relished a book makes it even more special... not so sure about the boogers though. lol

  6. I love the illustrations in these books! I can barely draw stick figures let alone anything so detailed. Oh to be a Van Gogh!

  7. I don't have an old gardening book, but I do love old books, how they smell and the history of their former readers. I do have an old book I do like read called "A Children's Garden of Verses". A wonderful book of poetry with poems about the garden.

  8. Brilliant post..enchanting and beautiful!Wonderful work!Perhaps not an old book but an enchanting artist..Cicely Mary Barker..a book of her "flowers and fairy" illustraions from long ago..it has a notsalgic feel and I enjoy that whimsical book and beautiful art..I think she was a wonderful spirit! and another old favorite is Culpepper's Herbal book from long ago..I love it...and the old illustrations of herbs in it..!Thanks for such a marvelous post!

  9. Noelle...I've heard of that book and I think somewhere in my childhood I read it.

    Kiki...I love Cicely Mary Barker and her flower fairy books. I sold them in my shop and have the complete set. Have you ever heard of Ida Outhwaite? Her illustrations of fairies and nature are ethereal and enchanting. I've read about Culpepper and his Herbal, but I've not actually seen the book. Thank you for visiting.

  10. these illustrations are lovely. i adore old books.
    : )

  11. these are such lovely old illustrations...i have one that has large plates that i have yet to frame, 25 years later...sigh...

    thank you for your kind comments today on my post...they were deeply appreciated as posting one's poetry is always a bit daunting...however, for the disaster that is haiti, there seemed no other words came but those..so thank you for telling me they touched your heart.♥

  12. Those drawings are so nice. I especially love the sweet peas and the peony illustrations. It's wonderful that you know who had the book. I would be tempted to frame a few of those pages though.

  13. How I wish I still had a garden!
    However looking at these illustrations was a delight in itself.

  14. What a treasure you found! I'd love to have some old gardening books, but no such luck. Do you think spring will ever arrive? Winter is so gray and gloomy! The teapot I have my mini roses in really is a planter I bought at Marshall's! I have numerous teapot and teacup planters. I love tea and gardening!

  15. Beautiful books that can offer a breathtaking garden during winter!


  16. So cool! Yay!And thankyou... no I haven't heard of Ida O..now i will most definately check her out! Thankyou for the fairy tip and lead!! Yay! So fun!..

  17. Robin...I'm quite sure spring will arrive, but when I have no idea. I love tea gardens, having tea in a garden or using tea as a theme for a garden. Might make a fun post some time.

    Constance...thank you stopping by The Cottage. Love your darling handbags and dolls.


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