Human Flower Project

‘Buried Treasures’: Of Bulbs and Libraries


Judy Glattstein brings wonders of the New York Botanical Garden to light.


image“Tubercules alimentaries” (detail)

Maubert’s hand-colored engraving

in Le Règne végétale

by Oscar Reveill

Photo: Courtesy of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library

The New York Botanical Garden

Those “that have found a way of coping with hard times and harsh conditions” deserve their due. We mean, of course, bulbs. Many, like iris and tulips, actually require “hard times” (frost temperatures for a stretch) to launch their showy flowers in the spring.

In the Northeastern U.S., where winter means “harsh conditions,” the New York Botanical Garden presents a timely encomium, curated by bulb expert Judy Glattstein. Out of flower season, “Buried Treasures: The Nature and Art of Bulbs” exhibits an array of dazzling prints and paintings from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library: hand-color crinum lilies striped and grand as circus tents, engravings of coveted tulips, and lowly chives. All grow from these mysterious underground stems that store food and moisture. (Max Weber might have called them the Protestants of the plant world.) 

image“Garden View in Spring” (detail) from A Garden of Flowers by Crispijn van de Passe

copperplate engraving (1615) 

Photo: Courtesy of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library

The New York Botanical Garden

Judy Glattstein has authored eight books on botany and horticulture, three of them specifically about bulbs.  Though all bulbs are underground stems, Glattstein explains succinctly the differences among rhizomes, corms, true bulbs, and tubers. The show looks at the edible (onions),  the fragrant (lilies), the grand (fritillaria) and the homely (garlic). “Buried Treasures” informs home gardeners which bulbs will naturalize and when to plant them. And Glattstein’s catalogue essay offers tasty prose— Of autumn crocus:  “Pair them with perennials such as dwarf asters, which flower in tandem with colchicums, or creeping thyme that protect the leafless crocus flowers from muddy rain spatters.”

“Buried Treasures” includes ten thematic displays of what Glattstein calls “these lumpy things we stuff underground” and the glorious blooms they produce. She worked for nearly a year on the exhibit, commuting from her home 80 miles away in New Jersey to the botanical garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library. “The best part of the entire project was doing the research,” she writes, “being turned loose in the Rare Book Room and finding all these fabulous works. I could have filled twenty cases.” Glattstein is a digger. Combing through a good library presents thrills and triumphs as stunning for her as the bulb gardener’s rewards. From her generous letter of November 28:

image“Tulips,” mezzotint

after Philipp Reinagle

in Temple of Flora

by Robert John Thornton

Photo: Courtesy of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library

The New York Botanical Garden

“Decades ago when I was in Holland doing research for ‘The American Gardener’s World of Bulbs’ -  my first book about bulbs - my friend Carla Teune (now retired from her position as hortulanus for the Leiden Botanic Garden) took me to Teylers Museum in Haarlem. They sat me down, handed me a pair of white curator’s gloves (NYBG does not use gloves, taking the approach that sensitivity of touch is more important, helps prevent damage to pages as they are turned) and brought out Besler’s enormous books. It was said at the time they were published that one needed a wheelbarrow to move the two volumes from place to place.

“Anyhow, to get to the point of this meandering - the Teyler volumes had been annotated, here and there, in quill pen, in Latin, noting, ‘see L’Obel,’ ‘see Mattioli,’ ‘see Clusius.’ They were all ‘good old boys’ sharing publishers, wood block illustrations, information and, I’m sure, plants. At the time, I swear to you, I felt my hair stand up. I was touching history, part of the chain that went before, hoping to become a link in the chain that will follow.”

The current show in New York is just such an extension (even including two works from Besler’s Hortus Eystettensis). Congratulations to Glattstein and all at New York Botanical Garden and its library. The show will be up through the holidays, until January 7, with special guided tours this weekend. See the NYBG website for directions and hours. And see Bellewood Gardens for more of Judy’s adventures with lumps.



Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12/04 at 06:37 PM

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