As informative as it is lovely, Seeing Flowers (Timber Press, $29.95) embodies the same features of grace and balance that it celebrates in its subject. The angiosperm is a marvel of design and efficiency; it also comes in an amazing variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Teri Dunn Chace, former Horticulture magazine editor and author of The Anxious Gardener’s Book of Answers, provides the words, Robert Llewellyn, the photographer for Seeing Trees, Remarkable Trees of Virginia, and other landscape albums, took the pictures. Together, the two present twenty-eight families of flowers, from buttercups and daisies to orchids and roses, in stunning new ways. Chace’s essays include practical growing tips, facts about petals and sepals, and unusual lore. Llewellyn’s pictures, using a technique developed for microscopes that involves stitching together images taken from various focal points, offer the closest thing to a bee’s-eye view of these plants a human observer is likely to get.
Britain is known for its avid gardeners, but what first stimulated this popularity came largely from elsewhere. In The Brother Gardeners (Knopf, $35) Andrea Wulf traces the chain of adventures, discoveries, and friendships that brought about a revolution in botany in the 18th century. When the period began, gardens were formal, geometric constructions enjoyed by the aristocracy and based on French models. By 1760, gardens were everywhere, and even amateurs cultivated their own plots. Wulf focuses on the nearly 40-year trade in plants between the Pennsylvania farmer, John Bartram, and Peter Collinson, the London merchant eager to have specimens of every tree, shrub, flower, and weed he could get from the colonies. Soon English nurseries were supplying European buyers with North American species, while the archetypal English landscaper, Capability Brown, designed gardens full of exotic magnolias and tulip poplars. British gardens continued to reflect the spread of the British Empire, incorporating plants brought back from voyages to Tahiti, the Antipodes, and China. Meanwhile, the introduction of West Indian cotton seeds to Georgia in 1732 set the course for future events.