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)
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.
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.
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.
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 …