University of Delaware Library

Special Collections

Flowers and Floriculture


Briggs  and Co. proof Literature relating specifically to flowers has its origins in classical and medieval herbals, which emphasized the botanical/medical aspects of flowering plants, while floriculture forms part of practical horticulture. Both types of flower book are generally characterized by their use of illustration for instruction and identification. One genre of flower book, the florilegium, consists almost entirely of illustrations, with little or no text. Beautiful flower illustrations were costly to produce. Lavishly illustrated flower books were designed for a limited circulation, while works on practical floriculture, intended for a general audience, relied on less expensive graphic techniques or were issued without illustrations.
For example, the woodcut illustrations in John Parkinson's Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629), the first important English gardening book to deal with floriculture in any depth, cannot be compared to the fine engravings in many herbals of this same period. John Rea, when confronted with the cost of illustration for his Flora: seu, De Florum Cultura (1676), which first appeared in 1665, included no illustrative material for his text, and even derided Parkinson for the poor quality of his illustrations. Nineteenth-century American works on practical floriculture, intended to reach a broad gardening readership, are noted for their dearth of illustration. One of the earliest American floriculture books, The American Flower Garden Directory, by Thomas Hibbert and Robert Buist, published in 1832, has been described as "sumptuous" by one horticultural writer for its single, colored frontispiece.

A few early publishers, such as Christopher Plantin at Antwerp, attempted to reduce the cost of illustration by amassing a stock of flower woodcuts to be used in several publications. Examples of this method are found in Plantin's publication of Rembert Dodoens's Florum, et Coronariarum Odoratarumque Nonnullarum Herbarum Historia (1569), one of the earliest works to make a distinction between ornamental and medicinal plants. Illustrations for these early works were designed to be hand colored. Crispijn van de Passe's Hortus Floridus (1614), includes detailed descriptions for the coloring of each plate.

Special Collections holds over 200 titles relating specifically to flowers and floriculture, printed between the late sixteenth and the late nineteenth centuries. Over half of this collection consists of American works published between 1830 and 1900. The remainder is European, with British and French works predominant. Although flowers were cultivated in America from the earliest colonial times, flower gardening did not become widespread in this country until late in the nineteenth century. Prior to this period, the cultivation of food plants dominated American gardening and horticultural literature, and only with the growing prosperity of the nation after 1870 did Americans take to raising flowers as a standard part of their gardening activities. Nevertheless, growing flowering plants in early nineteenth-century America had a small, but active following. The idea that tending a flower garden was a frivolous endeavor compared to raising fruits and vegetables, or at best valuable for instruction in social and moral values, is reflected in A Treatise on the Cultivation of Ornamental Flowers (1828) by Roland Green, the earliest American book on floriculture. The work states that the cultivation of flowers is most suitable for the health and exercise of the retired; the teaching of neatness, order, and the value of labor to the young; and the cultivation of neatness, mildness, virtuousness, and correct taste in young ladies. Most flowering plants during this period were grown in pots and tubs rather than in open gardens, fostering a preference for small, short-stemmed flowers, such as camellia, bouvardia, and heliotrope. The colored frontispiece for The American Flower Garden Directory, mentioned above, is of Camellia japonica fimbriata, one of the most popular flowers of the time. Long-stemmed flowers, such as the rose, one of the oldest and most commonly grown ornamental plants in this country, did not achieve a popular vogue until after 1870. Nevertheless, a few works on rose culture appeared in print before 1860, beginning with The Rose Manual (1844), by Robert Buist. Perhaps the work that best represents the broadening interest in flower cultivation in late nineteenth-century America is Practical Floriculture, A Guide to Successful Cultivation of Florist's Plants, for the Amateur and Professional Florist, by Peter Henderson. This guide first appeared in 1869, and was revised and enlarged through numerous editions for several decades.

Besides monographs on flower gardening, floriculture in nineteenth-century America may be studied through the catalogs of seed and nursery establishments, particularly those well known for flower seeds, such as Joseph Breck & Sons, Briggs Brothers Company, John Lewis Childs, Dingee and Conrad Company, and James Vick. Although no American magazines on floriculture existed prior to 1870, all horticultural periodicals devoted some space to the subject, notably The Horticulturalist and Vick's Illustrated Monthly. Toward the close of the century a few magazines appeared, such as The Mayflower, devoted wholly to floriculture.

A sub-genre of the flower book is the literary or moral tract on the language of flowers. Although consisting almost entirely of sentimental poetry and essays on the moral and religious significance of flowers, these popular works often included illustrations of flowers, a few rather elaborate, and had some influence in popularizing the cultivation of flowering plants. Special Collections holds over 100 titles relating to flower language and flowers in literature, principally published between the decades of 1830 and 1880. These illustrate the tastes and preferences in the flowers grown during this period.

Rembert Dodoens (1517-1585).
Florum, et Coronariarum Odoratarumque Nonnullarum Herbarum Historia. Antwerp: Christopher Plantin, 1569.

Crispijn van de Passe (1593-1667).
Hortus Floridus. . . . Arnheim: Jan Jansson, 1614.


Jean Franeau (fl. 1616).
Jardin d'Hyver ou Cabinet des Fleur. . . . Dovay: Pierre Borremans, S. Pierre & San Paul, 1616.

Consists of twenty-six elegies on flowers, illustrated with fifty-four engravings by Antoine Serrurier.


Pierre Vallet (fl. 1616).
Le Jardin du Roy Tres Chrestien Loys XIII. . . . Paris: Pierre Vallet, 1623.

A florilegium of "The Garden of the Most Christian King Louis XIII." It includes detailed instructions for coloring the plates.


39. Giovanni B. Ferrari (1584-1655).
De Florum Cultura Libri IV. Rome: Stephanus Paulinus, 1633.


40. John Rea (d. 1681).
Flora: seu, De Florum Cultura. London: G. Marriott, 1676.

First published in 1665.


The Compleat Florist. . . . London: J. Duke & J. Carwitham, 1740. 2 volumes in 1.

This anonymous work consists entirely of 100 hand-colored etchings of flowers with brief descriptions of their culture and month of flowering.

Etienne Pierre Ventenat (1757-1808).
Description des Plantes Nouvelles et Peu Connues, Cultivées dans le Jardin de J. M. Cels. Paris: Crapelet, 1800.

Illustrated with engravings of flowering plants by the Belgian-French botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840).


James Maddock and Samuel Curtis (1779-1860).
The Florist's Directory, A Treatise on the Culture of Flowers. London: John Harding, 1810.

The first edition of this work appeared in 1792. It contains details on the culture of flowers of particular interest to florists and was the standard English work on the subject for nearly thirty years.


Roland Green.
A Treatise of the Cultivation of Ornamental Flowers. Boston and New York: J. B. Russell & G. Thornburn & Son, 1828.


Robert Buist (1805-1880).
The American Flower-Garden Directory. Philadelphia: A. Waldie, 1832.


Hermon Bourne.
Flores Poetici: The Florist's Manual. Boston: Monroe and Francis, 1833.


Thomas Bridgeman (d. 1850).
The Florist's Guide. . . . New York: W. Mitchell, 1835.

This book was for many years the standard work on flowers for the American florist and gardener.


Edward Sayers.
A Treatise on the Culture of the Dahlia and Cactus. Boston: Weeke, Jordan and Company, 1839.

The first book by an American author on a specific flower. Sayers was also author of The American Flower Garden Companion, published in 1838, and two other books relating to fruit and grape culture.


The Queen of Flowers, or, Memoirs of the Rose. Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1841.


Robert Buist (1805-1880).
The Rose Manual. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1844.

The first American book on rose culture.


Joseph Breck (1794-1873).
The Flower Garden; or, Breck's Book of Flowers. Boston: John P. Jewett, 1851.

Charles van Ravenswaay Collection

Peter Henderson (1822-1890).
Practical Floriculture. New York: Orange Judd, 1869.


Edward Sprague Rand (1834-1897).
Seventy-five Popular Flowers, and How to Cultivate Them. Boston: J. E. Tilton and Company, 1870.


Briggs & Brother, Rochester, N. Y.
Proof of a chromolithographic advertising poster. Rochester: C. F. Muntz & Co., 1872.


Vick's Monthly Magazine. Rochester: James Vick, 1878-1909.

Rochester seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) expanded his quarterly seed catalog, the Floral Guide, into this monthly magazine. Each issue began with a chromolithographic frontispiece that was nearly always of a flower.

Charles van Ravenswaay Collection

The Mayflower. Floral Park, N. Y.: The Mayflower Publishing Co., 1885-1906.


The Mayflower is the Best Publication on Flowers. . .
. [New York: The Mayflower Publishing Co., ca. 1888]. Broadside.


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