Robin Lane Fox is an Emeritus Fellow of New College, Oxford. He has been the weekly gardening columnist of the Financial Times since 1970. His Augustine: Conversions and Confessions will be published in 2015.
 (January 2015)

The Floral Kingdom in the Bronx

The cover of Vaughan’s 1894 seed catalog, an example of what Elizabeth S. Eustis in Flora Illustrata calls the ‘height of dazzling chromolithography’ of late-nineteenth-century seed catalogs. ‘The appropriation of chromolithography for commercial purposes repelled art critics, but delighted consumers,’ Eustis writes. ‘It remained the preferred embellishment of seed catalogs until color photography began to displace it around 1896.’
Botanical gardens, like film stars, have survived by reinventing themselves. Their persistence has been most remarkable. In America, they are linked to big cities for which, like orchestras and libraries, they are items of civic pride.

Among the Plant Hunters

Paeonia, an old moutan cultivar from John Reeves’s Botanical collection from Canton, China, mid-nineteenth century; from Martyn Rix’s The Golden Age of Botanical Art

Though today there are fewer botanists than in centuries past, there are more botanical artists than ever before. “These artists,” Robin Lane Fox writes in the September 25 issue of The New York Review, “are today’s close observers of flowers and fruits, now that ‘plant scientists’ have moved inward to study cells and genes. Most plant scientists are ignorant about gardening. Artists do more for susceptible gardeners’ fantasies.” Here he presents a selection of botanical drawings with commentary.

The Gardens of Their Dreams

Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1914; photograph by Arnold Genthe
Wishful thinking is entwined with gardening. We plant, we dream, we fantasize about flowers, and we see behind them the people who once gave them to us or first showed us their beauty, and then others to whom we showed them and gave them lovingly all over again. Reality then intervenes, a drought, insects, or an intruding wild pig. Gardeners are great killers in pursuit of their dreams.

How It Grew

When Jesus died, only 120 people, we are told, continued to meet in his memory. There is no good evidence that in his lifetime Jesus had expected his message to be preached to Gentiles. When they began to be accepted as Christians, their presence caused fierce arguments and divided his …