Flowers and Herbs of Early America: Book Review for
May 5, 2009
Allan in, BarbaraTemple Lombardi, Book Reviews, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Early America Flowers and Herbs, Heritage plants, Nigella damascena, Yale University Press, gardening book reviews, lawrence D. Griffith

Flowers and Herbs of Early America  Lawrence D. Griffith, photographs by Barbara Temple Lombardi, Yale University Press with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

The journey began a long time ago and it’s not yet over. We avoid using toxic chemicals in our gardens, we conserve water and we re-cycle organic waste to feed our plants. We are not that far away from re-discovering the flowering plants of our ancestors who grew, ate and utilized whatever nature provided.

Lawrence D Griffith studies period plants and researches their cultivation and use. If we are on the threshold of a trend to garden as our ancestors did then his work is prescient. His collaborator, Barbara Temple Lombardi is staff photographer for the Williamsburg Foundation. Together they have unveiled the intrinsic beauty and usefulness of a collection of plants many of us choose to ignore.

This is a beautifully illustrated documentation of the flowering plants cultivated and admired by early settlers of North America in general and Virginia in particular. It includes annual flowers, biennials plants, perennials and herbs.

Readers will discover a few surprises. Aquilegia Canadensis, Rudbekia fulgida, and Echinacea purpurea are plants native to North America, discovered by the settlers, incorporated into their gardens and still growing in our gardens today. On the other hand, the family of plants not native to North America, but introduced here by early settlers from Europe include Lychnis chalcedonica and Scabiosa atropurpurea.

Mr. Griffith has experimented with most, if not all, of the plants he describes in this book and conveniently encapsulates everything we need to know about each one in a boxed summary accompanying the text. That allows readers, not interested in the anecdotal history of each plant, to use this book as a ”how to” guide for growing heritage plants. Conveniently, for the enthusiastic gardener who will follow the example set by the author, the book also contains a list of sources for purchasing heritage seed, with addresses in Canada, the US and the UK.

Gardeners who do not use a camera are always amazed by the beauty that nature photographers find in the mundane. When we walk along a rural road, we ignore the common milkweed growing by the wayside. It is ugly, boring and ubiquitous. Yet, in this book, the photographer has transformed Asclepia syriaca into a work of art. That’s what I love about beautifully illustrated books on gardening. They allow us to see something old, as if it were new, for the very first time.


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