One of life’s great pleasures is gardening and looking at gardens in books. And since it is National Book Lovers Day, here are some of my favorites.
Whenever I am feeling in need of a serotonin boost, I visit my library or coffee table filled with treasured books as well as novels.
Some of these I mentioned as great Mother’s Day gifts as well. Because the next crop of books doesn’t really hit the market until October – including Lewis Miller’s “Flower Flash” which looks at the behind-the-scenes production of his famous pop-up installations that have sparked a global movement – these are worth reading about again.
Renowned interior designer Charlotte Moss has exquisite taste as well as a discerning curious mind. Because of her luxurious lifestyle and ability to purchase the truly most special flowers in the world – fluttering airy anemones, plump perfect roses cascading in baskets or elegant vases, daring, confident taupe dahlias – this book is one that your mom will just look at constantly to derive joy and a sense of how beautiful life can be.
A proponent of collecting vases as your frames for floral art, Moss shares many examples of how particular themes can be used effectively. I particularly liked the section of how one can use just one type of flower effectively for many different looks, depending on the vase. You see the differences whether it’s an urn or a bottle you picked up somewhere. Turns out that arranging one type of flower in abundance was a favored method of Gloria Vanderbilt, one of the many style icons including C.Z. Guest, Nancy Lancaster and Constance Spry, Moss references. These are also women many of our moms would know and enjoy reading about.
In a section on arranging garden flowers in baskets, Moss advises collecting water bottles we may think of discarding and now can use to put flowers in to line the baskets, which is good advice indeed. When your last name is Moss, you are destined to have wonderful connections to flowers. Of the many books I have by Charlotte Moss, this one is my favorite.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case you can. This is the book I have on my coffee table and look at every day. Without opening a page, you can see that you are in for a treat by just its cover. Created by the editorial team at Phaidon, this book shows how flowers intersect in all parts of life – much as flowerpowerdaily.com does as well. Gathering 300 spectacular images from artists including the great garden photographer Clive Nichols and designers including Nobuyoshi Araki, Cecil Beaton, Robert Mapplethorpe, Georgia O’Keefe, Pierre-Joseph Redoute, David Hockney and Yayoi Kusama, it looks at how different flowers can inspire artists in different eras of history.
One of the oldest images if a fresco of Flora, the goddess of flowers painted on an ancient wall of a Roman villa near Pompeii and then of course you have an Instagram flower shot, created by uber-cool British photographer Nick Night.
But it is the choices that the editors made to find threads that connect different eras and times around the theme of flowers that was quite clever. A painting from Georgia O’Keefe with Jospeh Stella, a tulip image from Clive Nichols paired with a Nicolas Robert image from 17th century, a Liberty floral fabric from the 1930’s opposite Jeff Koons’ flower dog from 1992, a Lewis Miller flower flash next to a Constance Spry love-lies bleeding arrangement in a stone urn from 1934. And then a Kehinde Wiley portrait with his bold glorious floral backgrounds matched with a vase from 1736.
The choices were just sensational including a Walt Disney still of flowers talking matched with an Emil Nolde painting from 1908. This book is a conversation starter and so perfect to have anywhere nearby since it shows how flowers irresistibly play such a role in humanity and the creative arts, century after century.
The Seattle-based Debra Prinzing, the founder of the Slow Flowers movement, is one of the goddesses of the garden, a sage who has spoken, written, taught and talked about the blessing that comes from slowing down and finding solace in gardens as well as sourcing local flowers. She now examines the “romance of devoting space to the pursuit of one’s art.”
Creating a sense of space to create is her latest focus and naturally, people return her phone calls and welcome her into their ateliers which surely people will be inspired by – since having a place to create is soul-feeding and essential for happiness. And don’t think these ateliers have to be big or pricey – au contraire. Any of us can be inspired by converting a truck, a small closet or parsing a garage space to reimagine a place of our own.
Just devote “square-footage to contain our passions,” says Prinzing. Great advice and could inspire your mom too.
This book by Christopher Spitzmiller, written with Clinton Smith and a forward by Martha Stewart , shows the popularity of Spitzmiller and his sensibilities. Best known as a creator of lamps, tableware and prized ceramics, he has become the ultimate weekend farmer and takes readers on a journey to discover how one can happily entertain themselves by being on a farm.
The book purposely shows what happens on a farm for spring, summer, fall and winter and is written in a relatable way so you don’t feel that you are being preached to but instead along for the ride. He also sprinkles garden-planning tips and creates seasonal flower arrangements for all to enjoy.
Considering none of us can travel this year or any time soon, Carolyn Mullet gives Mom a peek at some of the best private European gardens in the world. This book has gotten some buzz and is definitely eye candy. There are 50 gardens showcased here including white-blooming garden rooms on the island of Mallorca, a seven-tiered wonder of stone, plants, and water above Germany’s Rhine River,The Garden of Cosmic Speculation in a quiet Scottish valley. Brand name landscape designers such as Tom Stuart-Smith, Andy Malengier, and Louis Benech are also included in what really is a fantasy experience. Perhaps after giving it to Mom, you may want to discuss visiting one of the locations mentioned since botanical gardens and public gardens are not far away.
Gardener, floral designer, teacher and author Christin Geall, who is based in Canada, has a huge following for sharing ideas on nature, culture and of course flowers. Someone once described her work as tart and sweet which is a wonderful description.The arrangements seem very traditionally classic with Dutch influences but have the perfect dash of daring. Furthermore, each of her arrangements are clearly rooted in a love of history, design, and horticulture since she finds such interesting elements to elevate the work to such magnificence. The book offers lessons and reflections on matching color and creativity which is exactly what you want from a book as well as perspectives on new ways to see flowers linking the past to the present.
For example, while showing lessons on using color effectively, she invokes Goethe and his theories on color, the contrasts of using dark and light. All these meditations and knowledge coalesce to make this a book worthy of any library.
Another option if Mom is a gardener and wants practical tips is this book by Carl Dellatore that was published last year. Considering I know the gardens of several people mentioned here, including Carolyne Roehm, Pamela Salvatore and Sarah Kowitz, this book truly showcases the varieties of gardens people have including what to do with borders, how to create steps in grass, how to grow a successful vegetable garden and examining sunlight and soil conditions for more glorious flowers.
Style icon Carolyne Roehm is a perfectionist whose taste and lust for knowledge has created some of the best flower books of our time. Her father was a teacher which is why she has been so successful at learning so much about flowers and sharing that wisdom. This book came out years ago but is always worth revisiting because the pictures are just so sensational and dreamily beautiful that it never goes out of style. Moms always ooh and ah when seeing it. Furthermore, on Roehm’s website are prints of some of her paintings that one can buy as well.
All these books are beautiful to look at without opening a page. However, there may be one other to consider if your Mom enjoys reading non-fiction books.
This book is written by Sue Stuart-Smith, a prominent psychiatrist, who is married to Tom Stuart-Smith, the celebrated garden designer. The book explores the scientific data to prove what we intuitively already know – gardening is good for your mental health and has been for centuries. There are some very interesting chapters of how gardens helped soldiers heal from trauma following World War I as well as more contemporary explorations of how hospitals are using gardens to speed up recoveries following surgery. There are no extravagant claims here – just facts – and a 30-year knowledge of how gardens heal.
Another favorite right now is Wendy Williams’ “The Language of Butterflies” which looks at how butterflies are essential for the ecosystem of both flowers and humans. For those who want to focus on houseplants, Peter Shepperd’s “Houseplants 101” is also worth checking out.
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD and floral editor for aspire design and home magazine
Photo Credit: Brittany Ambridge, Charlotte Moss