26 November 2009
Today the Bodleian launches its latest publication, a social history of twelve popular flowers. Pick of the Bunch by Margaret Willes, is richly illustrated with art from the botanical collections of the Plant Sciences and the Bodleian Libraries.
The book tells the tale of twelve enduringly popular flowers including the rose, the violet, the dahlia, the carnation, the tulip and the snowdrop. It explores how they acquired their names, how they arrived in our gardens, how they were portrayed by artists and who were their devotees.
The list of favourite flowers has remained remarkably constant over the centuries. From late-sixteenth, early seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish flower-pieces we can see what were considered desirable at that time: the rose, iris, carnation and lily, old favourites redolent of the Middle Ages; the snowdrop, violet and fritillary, 'natural' flowers of the meadow; and the tulip and hyacinth, fashionable bulbs that could command huge sums. A reader poll conducted by the BBC recently showed that most of these flowers are still our favourites, topped by the rose, lily, primrose and iris.
The author delves into their symbolic associations in classical and Christian traditions, and the complex language of flowers compiled by the Victorians. She also suggests where they can be seen today, from the spring-time display of fritillaries in Magdalen College Meadows to the late summer fireworks of the Dahlia Walk at Biddulph Grange.
Margaret Willes read Modern History and Architectural History at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. She was an editor in three London publishing houses before becoming the Publisher at the National Trust until her retirement in 2005.
The book has been released just in time for Christmas. A related botanical title from the Bodleian Library Publishing is The Magnificent Flora Graeca: How the Mediterranean Came to the English Garden and is available from the Bodleian Bookshop (www.bodleianbookshop.co.uk), where it retails for £19.99.