The first topiary sculptures were trimmed in 1st century Roman villas. By the 16th century, topiary had become an emblem of European landscape design, and it was embraced by colonial American gardens of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of these Victorian-era menageries still grows today at an historic country estate in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. With its century-old living sculptures, Green Animals Garden is the oldest topiary in the United States.
Botanic motifs flourished in Victorian design, and typography was no exception. Ornate filigree details and calligraphic embellishments were often designed as stylized flowers, leaves, and even trees, around the alphabet characters.
Victorian artist Marianne North, one of the only women of her time to travel to places like the Seychelles Islands, Australia, and Chile, and who left behind a trail of impressive art and writing about her botanical discoveries, is not a household name. But that might just change with a new book and exhibit.
"It would not be extravagant to call the beauties of this plant unsurpassable. It is everything to be wished for."—A gardener's account of the Victoria water lily blooming in cultivation, Philadelphia, 1851.
I once visited a terrarium designer in the downtown commercial district of Los Angeles. It was an airy loft space, where glass cases were stacked as high as the ceiling, pencil sketches covered the walls, and young orchids grew alongside bookmarked horticulture books. Reptiles and ferns rustled in a dark back room. Dust and debris floated through the large windows from the bustling open air market two floors below.
Every epoch has had its favorite flowers. If we would form a correct opinion of the ideas, manners, and habits of a nation, we have only to look at its bouquets.
We pride ourselves on being the first to advance the following aphorism: Flowers are the expression of society.—from "The Fashion of Flowers," in Les Fleurs Animées
In the mid-1800s, the newly alluring field of natural history found itself with a captivated audience, and an enduring dilemma. Victorian society clamored to see the exotic species of far-flung botanic expeditions, while natural history museums had not yet come up with a satisfactory way to exhibit them. Professor George L. Goodale, the first director of Harvard's Botanical Museum, explained the problem: “Flowers are perishable.
The rose as a universal symbol of love, desire, and beauty is deeply embedded in our society today. Its significance originated in antiquity, and was also influenced over time by Western tradition, mythology, and religion.