Archives For Lenhardt Library

The Language of Flowers

A Great Gift of "Hearticulture" for the Lenhardt Library

Karen Z. —  May 17, 2015 — Leave a comment

Today we text hearts. But in Victorian times, flowers acted as the instant messaging and emojis of the day.

In nineteenth-century Europe (and eventually in America), communication by flower became all the rage. A language of flowers emerged. Books appeared that set the standard for flower meanings and guided the sender and the recipient in their floral dialogue. Victorians turned the trend into an art form; a properly arranged bouquet could convey quite a complex message.

Naturally, books on the subject often had lavishly decorated or illustrated covers.

Naturally, books on the subject often had lavishly decorated or illustrated covers.

Now an amazing collection of books about the subject, including many entitled The Language of Flowers, has been donated to the Lenhardt Library. The gift of James Moretz, the retired director of the American Floral Art School in Chicago, the collection includes more than 400 volumes from his extensive personal library on floral design. Moretz taught the floral arts for 45 years, traveled the world in pursuit of the history and knowledge of flowers, and authored several books on the topic. His donation gives the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library one of the Midwest’s best collections of literature on the language of flowers.

As even these few photos show, there are books filled with intricate illustrations, books specific to one flower, handpainted books, pocket-sized books, and dictionaries. The oldest volume dates to 1810. Two are covered in pink paper—seldom seen 200 years ago, but quite subject-appropriate. Many books are charmingly small—the better to fit, it was thought, in a woman’s hands.

A non-written type of communication, the language of flowers needed a standardized dictionary in order to be properly understood.

A non-written type of communication, the language of flowers needed a standardized dictionary in order to be properly understood.

PHOTO: Carnation Fascination bookcover.

Carnations held several meanings: a solid color said yes, a striped flower said no, red meant admiration, while yellow meant disappointment.

The language of flowers translated well: there are books in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Japanese…and English. Some 240 of the volumes are quite rare—those will, of course, be added to the library’s Rare Book Collection. (Fear not, you can peruse them by appointment.) The remainder will be catalogued and added to the library shelves during the course of the year. Are you a Garden member? You’ll be able to check them out.

PHOTO: The tiny books of of The Language of Flowers.

Tiny books were sized for women’s hands—and to slip into pockets.

PHOTO: Cupid's Almanac and Guide to Hearticulture bookcover.

This pocket-sized Victorian reference could come in handy when courting.

Librarians aren’t often at a loss for words, yet when I asked Lenhardt Library director Leora Siegel about the importance of the donation, she paused for a very long moment before responding. Clearly, her answer would have weight.

“It is the single most outstanding donation in my tenure as director,” she replied.

Pink rose illustrationAnd so to Mr. Moretz, one last word of thanks:


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Victorians had it, and so do we, right here at the Lenhardt Library! A new rare book library exhibition has just opened as part of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s 2015 Orchid Show: Orchidelirium: Illustrated Orchidaceae.

ILLUSTRATION: Oncidium papilio

Oncidium papilio from A Century of Orchidaceous Plants Selected from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine: Consisting of a Hundred of the Most Worthy of Cultivations by William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865). London: Reeve and Benthem, 1851

No matter what you call it, the Victorians were mad for the sensational new plants arriving in England from every exotic location on Earth. The race was on, as botanical explorations took orchid collectors from one end of the globe to another in search of the most beautiful, rare, vibrantly colored, sensuously shaped orchids to be found. Orchid fever flared again and again, from the first time the Victorians saw a Cattleya labiata from South America (it bloomed after arriving as packing material in 1818), to the orchid display of the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, designed by gardener, architect, and member of Parliament Sir Joseph Paxton (1803–65).

And if that wasn’t enough, books, articles, and botanical journals were also devoted to the orchid.

No photography? No Internet? No matter! Botanical illustrators captured orchids in all their thought-provoking beauty, one engraving and lithograph at a time. These trained illustrators caught the clinical and technical aspects of the plants with sheer precision. After Cattleya labiata, the next Victorian orchid-on-demand was Oncidium papilio, the butterfly orchid, which is one of the most dazzling illustrations in Orchidelirium: Illustrated Orchidaceae.

ILLUSTRATION: Vanilla planifolia.

Vanilla planifolia from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine: Comprising the Plants of the Royal Gardens of Kew by Joseph Dalton Hooker (1785–1865). London: L. Reeve & Co., 1891

This year we celebrate Vanilla planifolia, an edible orchid that produces the second most expensive spice in the world, next to saffron. An entire case is devoted to the vanilla orchid—look for Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker’s Curtis’s Botanical Magazine: Comprising the Plants of the Royal Gardens of Kew, London: L. Reeve & Co., 1891.

Chocolate and vanilla lovers: don’t miss the rare plate from Zippel and Bollmann’s Ausländische Culturpflanzen in Bunten Wand-Tafeln  (Foreign Cultivated Plants in Colored Wall Panels with Explanatory Text) that was used as a tool for teaching plant anatomy. Like many of our rare orchid books and journals, this fragile plate was in much need of conservation. It was conserved through a grant by the National Endowment for Humanities; the digitized plate can be accessed online at the Illinois Digitized Archives.

ILLUSTRATION: A match made in Heaven—vanilla and chocolate together!

A match made in Heaven! Vanilla and chocolate illustrated together in this plate from Ausländische Culturpflanzen in Bunten Wand-Tafeln by Hermann Zippel and Karl Bollmann. Braunschweig: Druck und Verlag von Fredrich und Sohn, 1880–81

Orchidelirium: Illustrated Orchidaceae is open daily until April 19, 2015, with extended weekend hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) during The Orchid ShowJoin us for free library talks on Tuesday, February 24, or Sunday, March 1, at 2 p.m.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Armchair Gardening

with our "Horticulturist-in-Chief"

Karen Z. —  January 8, 2015 — 4 Comments

January is such a satisfying month for gardening…especially of the armchair variety.

PHOTO: Kris Jarantoski with his favorite library reads.

Kris Jarantoski, the Garden’s executive vice president and director, among stacks of his favorite books

Just think: no digging, no hauling, no sweating. Instead, you have the opportunity to sit in the slowly increasing sunlight, with an inbox or mailbox full of gardening PDFs and catalogs and books. It’s a time to dream and learn and plan.

In short, January’s a fine month for reading about gardening.

Every gardener has his or her favorite books and resources that they turn to in winter. This got us wondering: what does our head horticulturist Kris Jarantoski pull off the shelf when he’s thinking about his next gardening endeavor?

His answers reflect his 30 years of garden experience here—indeed, Kris was the Garden’s very first horticulturist—and a lifetime love of the natural world.

Herbaceous Perennial Plants by Allan Armitage

Herbaceous Perennial Plants by Allan Armitage

Herbaceous Perennial Plants by Allan Armitage

Its full title, Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on Their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes, gives you the sense that this is an authoritative resource, and this gardening classic doesn’t disappoint. Armitage is that rare garden writer who is informative, interesting, and witty all at once. “If my mother had known that the spores overwintered on the blistered, ignored leaves by the garage, she would have removed them. Actually, she would have told her sons to do it, and we would have probably taken the Lawn Boy to them,” Armitage writes of hollyhocks—and his youth.

“This is my most-used reference book,” Kris admits. “We have lots of herbaceous perennials here at the Garden, and I do at my home, too. Armitage’s book is easy to use, up to date (it’s on its third edition), and if you want one place to go for reference, this is it.”


Garden Masterclass by John Brookes

Garden Masterclass by John Brookes

Garden Masterclass and The Essentials of Garden Design by John Brookes

Walk through the blue gates of our English Walled Garden and you’ve entered the world of John Brookes. A visitor favorite since its 1991 opening, the garden’s six “rooms” feature all that Brookes is known for: impeccable thought process, original design, and a masterfully creative use of plants.

Kris was there during every step of that Garden’s implementation. “John Brookes is brilliant,” he shares. “The way he sizes up a landscape, his sense of proportion, and his ability to know how things will work together is amazing. I’ve used his grid pattern on page 83 of Garden Masterclass at my own home—gardeners of any skill level can benefit from it.”


The Gardener's Practical Botany by John Tampion

The Gardener’s Practical Botany by John Tampion

The Gardener’s Practical Botany by John Tampion

An older (1973) but beloved resource, Tampion’s book is important “because anybody who gardens should know how plants work—how they breathe and take up water and have a vascular system,” Kris explains. “If you know how and why plants work—basic, practical botany—then you understand what’s happening when a rodent girdles your fruit trees.” Can’t find Tampion’s book? Try Biology of Plants by Peter Raven/Ray Evert/Susan Eichhorn—just one of the great botany books on the shelf at the Lenhardt Library.


The Artful Garden by James van Sweden

The Artful Garden by James van Sweden

The Artful Garden by James van Sweden

Less a reference book than a work of art about the art of gardening, 2011’s The Artful Garden became the final book by the late landscape architect James van Sweden (who died in 2013). By relating gardening to the arts—music, painting, dance—van Sweden “opened my mind as to how things work together in a landscape,” Kris says. “He was the visionary behind Evening Island, and the great photographs in this book remind me of how we thought about every aspect of the design as we worked on it.” A fine book for daydreaming about gardens large and small.


Garden Design by Sylvia Crowe

Garden Design by Sylvia Crowe

Garden Design by Sylvia Crowe

A true lesson in design by a grande dame of British landscape architecture, this book teaches on the grand and historic scale. Sylvia Crowe created cityscapes, public properties, and institutional landscapes, but she also understood the importance of the land and was one of the first to act on the idea of sustainability. “This is one of the books I return to again and again,” Kris notes. “Sylvia Crowe was ahead of her time, and her thoughts on design continue to resonate today.”


Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C.E. Voight and J.S. Vandermark

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C.E. Voight and J.S. Vandermark

Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest by C.E. Voight and J.S. Vandermark

The secret to many an Illinois gardener’s success, this University of Illinois publication is a favorite of the state’s many master gardeners. “It’s well laid out,” Kris explains, “and the illustrations are very good. The focus is on vegetables that thrive in the Midwest, so it’s a must-read for gardeners in our area. My copy has been well used over the years!”


Landscape Plants for Eastern North America by Harrison Flint

Landscape Plants for Eastern North America by Harrison Flint

Landscape Plants for Eastern North America by Harrison Flint

Which perennial, shrub, or tree, would work best in that tricky corner of your yard? This is the book that tells you. With several thousand plant listings, hundreds of photographs, and handy illustrations of plants compared in youth and at maturity, Flint’s book is a solid reference for seasoned and novice gardeners alike. “Dr. Flint is from the Midwest, and he understands what works in our gardens,” Kris adds. “I think of this book as a truly local resource. His book can be hard to find, though—it hasn’t been updated over the years—in which case you can turn to Michael Dirr’s well-known Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.


Trees for American Gardens by Donald Wyman

Trees for American Gardens by Donald Wyman

Trees for American Gardens and Shrubs for American Gardens by Donald Wyman

“These two titles are sentimental choices for me,” Kris mentions with a smile. “They’re out of date now, but they’re like old friends to me—textbooks used in the horticulture program at the University of Wisconsin/Madison when I was there. Donald Wyman set the tone and format for all the great horticultural reference books to come. When I open these books, it whisks me back to that thrilling time of learning about new plants, especially shrubs and trees.”


The magazine/periodical racks at our Lenhardt Library are a gardener’s guilty pleasure: gorgeous cover after gorgeous cover begs “pick me” for every gardening topic under the sun. A magazine browse is a fine way to spend a January day.

PHOTO: Woman with laptop in the Lenhardt Library.

Bring your sketchbook or laptop and plan your spring garden in the Lenhardt Library.

We asked Kris for his top magazine titles:

  • Horticulture
  • Fine Gardening
  • The American Gardener (the American Horticultural Society’s magazine)
  • Garden Design
  • Chicagoland Gardening
  • Northern Gardener (Minnesota State Horticultural Society magazine)
  • Gardens Illustrated
  • The Garden (Royal Horticultural Society magazine)
  • The English Garden

Nearly all of the above titles are available at our Lenhardt Library (free checkout year-round for members!). It’s a resource that Kris knows well. “I’ve always used our library,” he says. “My dad, who was an engineer, loved books and had an extensive collection, and I inherited that love of libraries from him.”

Pull up a chair. Pull out a book. And enjoy a little armchair gardening in January.

What are your favorite gardening books and websites? Tell us your top three titles in the comments section below!


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Despite all of the electronics and gadgets that surround us and demand our attention, a book is still one of the most thoughtful and personal presents to give and to receive at the holidays.

Here’s a quick quiz; fill in the blanks:

  1. This holiday, I just want to relax on the sofa with a good _____.
  2. My kids ask me to read that _____ to them every night.
  3. Our ____ club is meeting next Tuesday evening for some holiday cheer.

Does this sound familiar to you? It did to us! So we turned to our book experts—the staff at our Lenhardt Library—to ask for their recommendations for holiday gift books.

Librarian Leora Siegel with book stack

Librarian Leora Siegel chills out with some good friends.

Their well-rounded, garden-oriented list covers botany, horticulture, landscape, cooking, arts, crafts, trees, birds, and vegetables—with occasional commentary from the librarians themselves. All selections are part of the Lenhardt Library collection—which means free check-out for members. (Another great reason to become a Chicago Botanic Garden member—click here to join.)

Eight selections are available to purchase at our Garden Shop, too. Shop online, visit the shop before/after your Wonderland Express visit, or come by to browse during holiday hours.

Of course, you can order from our Amazon Smile link; 5 percent of the profits go to support the Garden! https://smile.amazon.com/ch/36-2225482

We even included our library call numbers so you can find these books easily—and browse 125,000 other volumes—when you come to the library. We look forward to seeing you!

A Potted History of Vegetables by Lorraine Harrison

A Potted History of Vegetables by Lorraine Harrison

Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2011.
SB320.5.H27 2011

Compact, lovely to look at, and full of useful information, this is a beautifully illustrated and handy book that includes vegetable history, how-to’s, etc. This tucks nicely into a Christmas stocking, too. 

—Ann Anderson, library technical services manager


Bonsai A Patient Art

Bonsai: A Patient Art: The Bonsai Collection of the Chicago Botanic Garden by Susumu Nakamura, consulting curator; Ivan Watters, curator; Terry Ann R. Neff, editor; Tim Priest, photographer

Garden logo. Purchase online from the Garden Shop

Glencoe, IL: Chicago Botanic Garden in association with Yale University Press, 2012.
SB433.5.C55 2012

This book captures our Bonsai Collection. It has stunning photographs, paired with copy that brings the world of bonsai to life.


Cooking with Flowers by Miche Bacher

Cooking with Flowers: Sweet and Savory Recipes with Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender, and Other Edible Flowers by Miche Bacher; photography by Miana Jun

Garden logo. Available on-site at the Garden Shop

Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2013.
TX814.5.F5B33 2013

This book features common, everyday (and edible!) flowers used in fabulous ways—I’ve given this book to gardeners and to people who love to cook. The illustrations are lovely. The dandelion chapter first captured my interest (what could be easier to acquire?)…and then there was the lilac sorbet…

—Donna Herendeen, science librarian


Encyclopedia of Garden Plants for Every Location

Encyclopedia of Garden Plants for Every Location 
editors Jenny Hendy, Annelise Evans

New York, NY: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2014.
SB407.E53 2014

Destined to be dog-eared and brand new on the shelf, this book is an info book that gardeners of every type and experience level can trust for facts and advice.

—Leora Siegel, library director


Floral Journey Native North American Beadwork by Lois S. Dubin

Floral Journey: Native North American Beadwork by Lois S. Dubin

Garden logo. Available on-site at the Garden Shop

Los Angeles, CA: Autry National Center of the American West, 2014.
E98.B46D83 2014

This book features native American history, encoded in beadwork. Gift this book to history buffs, fashion fanatics, and craft-devoted friends, all sure to be gobsmacked by the sheer audacity and intricacy of it all. Read our full review here


Ginkgo the Tree that Time Forgot by Peter Crane

Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot by Peter Crane

Garden logo. Available on-site at the Garden Shop

New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.
QK494.5.G48C73 2013 

Were you one of the lucky attendees at Peter Crane’s lecture at the Garden in 2013? In his beautifully written and realized book, the former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, goes beyond botany and horticulture to cover the art, history, and culture of one of the planet’s most ancient trees. Read our full review here.


How Trees Die: The Past, Present, and Future of our Forests by Jeff Gillman

How Trees Die: The Past, Present, and Future of Our Forests by Jeff Gillman

Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2009
SD373.G55 2009

A thoughtful gift option for a deep thinker, this book impressed me both with the writing and its illumination of an often-overlooked fact: trees can live extraordinarily long lives. It’s a comfortably sized book for reading, too.

—Donna Herendeen, science librarian


Living Wreaths by Natalie Bernhisel Robinson

Living Wreaths: 20 Beautiful Projects for Gifts and Décor by Natalie Bernhisel Robinson; photographs by Susan Barnson Hayward

Garden logo. Available on-site at the Garden Shop

Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2014.
SB449.5.W74R63 2014

The cover is so stunning that it compels you to open this new-on-the-shelves book, which is filled with step-by-step instructions for designs both simple and extravagant. Or buy the book for yourself, then gift your friends with your own handmade versions.

—Ann Anderson, library technical services manager


Orchids by Fabio Petroni and Anna Maria Botticelli

Orchids
photographs by Fabio Petroni; text by Anna Maria Botticelli; translation, John Venerella

Garden logo. Purchase online from the Garden Shop

Novara, Italy: White Star Publishers, 2013.
Ovrz SB409.P48 2013

We admit it: we’re partial to orchids (The Orchid Show opens at the Garden on Valentine’s Day, 2015). We’re also partial to this coffee table-sized book as a great gift, filled with stunningly detailed and thoughtful photography of the world’s most beautiful flowers. 

—Stacy Stoldt, library public services manager


Peterson Guide to Birds of North America by Roger Tory Peterson

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America by Roger Tory Peterson

Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2008.
QL681.P455 2008

Birds and plants go together. As a gardener, bird watcher and traveler, I’ve always wanted one ID book for the United States, not just the east or west. Slightly larger than the typical Peterson guide, this edition fits the bill.

—Donna Herendeen, science librarian


Plantiful by Kristin Green

Plantiful: Start Small, Grow Big with 150 Plants that Spread, Self-sow, and Overwinter by Kristin Green

Garden logo. Available on-site at the Garden Shop

Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2014.
SB453.G794 2014

What a great idea for a gardening book: focus on the plants that do the work themselves. “It spreads” was once anathema to a gardener, but this book takes a surprising and creative new approach to 150 “free” and garden-worthy plants.

—Christine Schmid, library technical assistant


Seven Flowers and How They Shaped Our World by Jennifer Potter

Seven Flowers and How They Shaped our World by Jennifer Potter

New York, NY: Overlook Press, 2014.
SB404.5.P68 2014

Lotus, lily, sunflower, poppy, rose, tulip, orchid…author Jennifer Potter traces the powerful effects that seven simple but seductive flowers have had on history, civilization, and culture. Tulipmania? Orchid fever? The War of the Roses? All is revealed and explained in this compelling, lushly illustrated book.

—Leora Siegel, library director


The Big, Bad Book of Botany by Michael Largo

The Big, Bad Book of Botany by Michael Largo; illustrations by Margie Bauer

Garden logo. Available on-site at the Garden Shop

New York, NY: William Morrow, 2014.
QK7.L25 2014

The cover alone is enough to propel you into this endlessly fascinating, fun, fact-filled, A-to-Z book. A great gift for anyone (any age!) who loves to cite a good fact, tell a shocking story, or learn about the natural world in unexpected ways.

—Leora Siegel, library director


Vauxhall Gardens A History by David Coke and Alan Borg

Vauxhall Gardens: A History by David Coke and Alan Borg

New Haven, CT: published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press, 2011.
DA689.G3C65 2011

Similar to entertainment parks like Chicago’s Millennium Park or Denmark’s Tivoli Gardens, Vauxhall Gardens is mentioned everywhere in literature, but no longer exists. What was it like? Comprehensive and scholarly, this book explores the details—the history of social life, public gardens, culture—in a large format that does justice to the numerous period illustrations and maps.

—Stacy Stoldt, library public services manager


Especially for Kids

A Flower in the Snow by Tracey Corderoy.

A Flower in the Snow by Tracey Corderoy

London: Egmont, 2012.
PZ7.C815354Flo 2012

A little child…a big bear…a golden flower…and the power of friendship. A book that never grows tired of being read aloud over and over again, it’s a fine gift/addition to your child’s/friend’s library.

—Christine Schmid, library technical assistant


Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Eric Shabazz Larkin

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Bellevue, WA: Readers To Eaters, 2013.
S494.5.U72M325 2013

Kids need to know the true story of Will Allen, former basketball star, who creates gardens in abandoned urban sites to bring good food to every table. This book is inspiring and motivating (and he can hold a cabbage in one hand!).

—Ann Anderson, library technical services manager


The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Garden logo. Available on-site at the Garden Shop

New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1964.
PZ7.S39

This is a  beloved classic, now teaching another generation about the nature of giving. Your child or young friend doesn’t know it yet, but this heartfelt and tender story, illustrated so beautifully by the author, will become a staple on the nightly story request list.

—Christine Schmid, library technical assistant


Theres a Hair in my Dirt! A Worm's Story by Gary Larson

There’s a Hair in my Dirt! A Worm’s Story by Gary Larson

New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1998.
PS3562.A75225T47 1999

Like so many fairy tales and fireside stories before it, this witty, funny tale also has a darker twist, fittingly revealed in the final panel. Adult fans of Gary Larson’s The Far Side might enjoy this book as much as the perceptive kids you’ll gift with it. It always makes me laugh…and scream.

—Stacy Stoldt, library public services manager


Want more inspiration? Check out the library section on our website for hundreds more book reviews. Happy Giving!


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Clicking Through Time

Undercover Science

Julianne Beck —  October 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

In 1860s New Hampshire, botanical artist Ellen Robbins perched before her canvas, creating wildly popular watercolors of fall leaves. Books of her paintings sold well, landing in the hands of high society members such as fellow artist Gertrude Graves, a cousin of poet Emily Dickinson. Graves presented her copy of one such volume, Autumnal Leaves, to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1923, where it remained until being acquired by the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2002. Today, the historic, storied volume is accessible to us all via a visually crisp, easily navigated online library.

ILLUSTRATION: autumnal leaves.

Selection from Autumnal Leaves by Ellen Robbins

Autumnal Leaves is one of the historic books, postcards, and similar materials digitized and conserved by the Garden in recent years and now accessible via the Internet.

“It just opens up the opportunities for more people to see the wonderful pieces that we have,” said Leora Siegel, director of the Garden’s Lenhardt Library, which was established by the Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society in 1951.

The Lenhardt Library’s impressive collection includes materials dating from 1483 to 1917, which are now available online to an expanded audience.

“In this age of e-books, these primary resources are something different. They are something really important to our civilization and culture,” said Siegel, who is delighted to help the public, scientists, historians, and artists from around the world access the remarkable materials.

PHOTO: Leora Siegel.

Leora Siegel directs the Garden libraries.

Publications originating in North America are predominant in the collection. Western European books that once resided in the private family libraries of dukes and earls are also included. In some cases, bookplates were traced back to their original owners.

“They were in private libraries and only the family could read them, and now they are on the web and anyone can get to them,” remarked Siegel. The international component of the digitized collection also includes ikebana illustrations from Japan.

These materials were part of a collection of some 2,000 rare books and 2,000 historic periodical titles collected by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society of Boston before being purchased by the Garden in 2002. Since that time, grants including a $172,000 award from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2011, allowed the Garden to digitize 45 of the books that have traveled time and distance to reach us today.

What did South America’s tropical vegetation look like to illustrator Baron Alexander von Humboldt in the 1850s? How was the Horticultural Building portrayed in Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition?

The answers can be found in the preserved volumes and vintage postcards accessible via the Illinois Digital Archives and the Garden’s new digitized illustrations website, launched in September.

Front of advertising card showing the Horticultural Building at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, with inset of company logo.

Front of advertising card showing the Horticultural Building at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, with inset of company logo.

Front of postcard showing a rowboat on a lake in front of the Horticultural Building at the World's Fair grounds in Chicago, 1934.

Front of postcard showing a rowboat on a lake in front of the Horticultural Building at the World’s Fair grounds in Chicago, 1934.

The new site houses illustrations from a significant number of titles and interpretive notes, and it is continuously updated with material. From books on grafting plants to postcards from flower shows, there is much to discover with cultural and scientific relevance.

ILLUSTRATION: Selection from Water-color Sketched of Plants of North America 1888 to 1910.

Selection from Water-color Sketches of Plants of North America 1888 to 1910 by Helen Sharp, Volume 08

“The botanical illustrations come close to our herbarium specimens in many cases because you really see the roots and the life cycle of the plant,” noted Siegel.

The majority of materials were digitized offsite by the premier art conservation center in the United States, the Northeast Document Conservation Center. When the processed files arrive at the Garden, metadata is added by Garden librarian Christine Schmidt. She then adds the files to a software program that allows them to be accessed through either website. A volunteer photographer also contributes to the files. In the most recent set of 45 digitized volumes, 18 are currently being processed and prepared for the site.

While the rare books are still available by appointment to those who can make it into the library, many of the books are delicate and will benefit from an increased percentage of online viewing into the future.

ILLUSTRATION: Bookplate from "Physiognomy of Tropical Vegetation in South America"

Selection from Physiognomy of Tropical Vegetation in South America: a series of views illustrating the primeval forests on the river Magdalena, and in the Andes of New Grenada

Allowing access to these materials online has yielded many rewards for those who made it possible, from contributing to research around the world to the reproduction of selected images in new book publications, which is done with special permission from the Lenhardt Library.

“People are really blown away,” according to Siegel. Garden exhibitions have benefited from the collection as well, such as the winter Orchid Show exhibition, which was enhanced by complimentary full-text access to some of the rare books from the online portal.

Next, Siegel hopes to digitize the Garden’s collection of an estimated 20,000 pages of manuscripts of scientists’ field notes.

“We have some unique one-of-a-kind manuscripts that no one else has,” she said. “This is just the start.”

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org