Vaughan’s Seed Company, Gardening Illustrated, 1895. 32 × 24.8 cm / 12½ × 9¾ in, Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection, Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, Maryland

The Flowers that warmed Midwestern winters

These colourful, if not entirely botanically accurate blooms were a way for many Americans to look forward to spring

The petals of spring and summer might have drooped and blown away, but in our new book, Flower: Exploring the World in Bloom, they’re just bursting into life. This exquisite, expertly conceived new title brings together some of the most important, impressive and absolutely beautiful floral images ever committed to canvas, film, sculpture or screen. These vary from classic works by such artists as Lucian Freud, Henri Matisse, and Giuseppe Arcimboldo, through to contemporary masterpieces by Pipilotti Rist and Gregory Crewdson.

There are also a few, very striking inclusions, from sources you might not think to put alongside museum-quality sculptures, canvases and photographs. Take for example, this excellent advert that once graced the cover of a late 19th century edition of Gardening Illustrated.

“The brightly coloured covers of Gardening Illustrated, the Vaughan’s Seed Store catalogue, were a warm reminder of spring’s imminent arrival during the fiercely cold months of winter in the American Midwest,” explains our new book. “Gardening catalogues with beautiful illustrations bore the promise of a lush and green summer ahead, filled with botanical exuberance.

“In the Midwest, spring-flowering bulbs are one of the earliest signals of the end of winter and this cover from 1895 is dedicated to a classic early bloomer of the region: hyacinths. The catalogue illustrations were produced by generalist artists rather than botanical specialists, with the result that the flowers appear slightly stylized or romanticized – the emphasis being on the overall appeal of the blooms, rather than a scientifically precise rendition.

“John Vaughan opened his Chicago seed store in 1876, and twenty years later his business was one of the largest wholesale seed and plant traders in the United States. In a pre-Internet world, printed catalogues were indispensable to commercial success. The first garden catalogue was published in 1612 by Dutch grower Emanuel Sweerts and featured over 560 hand-tinted plates of flowering plants and bulbs. As new technologies made it possible to expand the range of cultivated varieties, the popularity of catalogues grew exponentially in the late nineteenth century. Since the 1960s, however, new industrial printing and photographic processes have spelled the end for the charming illustrations so characteristic of the genre.”


Flower: Exploring the World in Bloom
Flower: Exploring the World in Bloom

Indeed, today fewer gardeners bother with the print catalogues, preferring to order their plants, seeds and bulbs online. However, when it comes to owning admiring both this image, as well as many, many others, a large-format, hardback book such as Flower is clearly the way to go. Find out more and order your copy to see you through this winter, here.