Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Nature is by and large to be found out of doors, a location where, it cannot be argued, there are never enough comfortable chairs.

Fran Lebowitz

There are rare moments in life when a problem is solved with less effort than predicted.
Wandering around Haberman's Fabrics in Royal Oak, on a completely different mission, I found myself faced with the perfect fabric for the chairs in the cabinet room.  It was so amazing that I was actually reluctant to buy it and took home a small sample to ponder. It seemed too easy.  Luckily when I came to my senses and rushed back it was still there.  Of course only 15 minutes had elapsed since I left the store.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be engaged in lightly.
M.F.K. Fisher

We all have our own way of making sense of the world.
When I took history in school it was almost impossible for me to get a grip on it.  Numbers fly out of my head almost as soon as they enter, so learning dates was a really difficult task with only temporary success.  I have little or no interest in monarchy and the wars people have engaged in make me frantic with disbelief. History of Art was the first thing that held my attention and started to organize my view of time lines.   When on my own, I discovered the history of gardening and food and since then the world has been in better focus.

When I started thinking about my Herbarium I  felt that the practical aspects of plants were as important  to me as the scientific.  For those of us who are in charge of preparing meals, and enjoy the task, ingredients take on a special pleasure.  I decided to approach my favorite cooks in search of recipes that included specific fruits and vegetables.  So far we have done homage to the Plum, the Pear and the Peach. The cook books all have the same square format.  Each has a unifying visual theme and pertinent quote as opening text.  Endsheets are old woodcut images of the fruit in question from Gerard's Herbal.  Eight varieties of the fruit are pictured in original drawings,  complementing eight recipes.  Each edition has thirty-two copies.  Copy number one is destined for a shelf in the Herbarium.

The book of PLUMS was the first in this series and was inspired by our son Barrett's great praise of a plum dumpling that he enjoyed in Wurzburg, Germany.  That recipe coupled with the plum cake  made by my grandmother, Alma Borchert, was a great start for the project.

The book of PEARS was published the following year.  Eight varieties of the fruit are pictured with eight different kinds of insects.

The book of PEACHES is based on design elements typical of different countries or cultures as shown in the Grammar of Ornament which was originally published in 1856.

Monday, July 2, 2012


The Vine arises from her Mother's Juice:
When feeble Plants or tender Flow'rs decay,
They to their Seed their Images convey.

Matthew Prior

The drawer in the Herbarium contains a collection of seeds that originally were acquired for purposes of drawing.  The little glass containers with plastic lids they are stored in were rescued from the trash at the American Museum of Natural History by our son, Barrett.  The bottles retain the information that was taped to them by the ichthyology department and plant information has been added if known.  There are a few seedpods that wander around the drawer awaiting a bottle big enough to suit them but not so tall that the drawer won't close.

Along with loose seeds there are packets brought from Linnaeus's garden in Uppsala by Susan Smith and Michael Schuck, black morning glories in a Christmas card from Wanda Miller, bluebonnets from the Johnson Library in Austin, a collection from Nancy Korda's B&B garden in Silverton, Oregon, lettuce from Villandry brought home by Val Overholt, and exotic gourds brought from the festival in their honor in Lapeer, Michigan, by Liz Cheslock. Vintage products include a box for nasturtiums and a package of belladonna leaves.

It is obvious that very early people understood the purpose of seeds or there would never have been the development of agriculture.  The first great botanist who wrote something significant about seeds was Andrea Cesalpino (1519-1603) a student of Luca Ghini.
In his great work, De plantis libri xvi, plants were not just listed alphabetically but were ordered by their reproductive systems -  their seeds and fruit.  This was, of course, too simple a system to be truly accurate but it did move the field of taxonomy forward.