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October 7, 2008

America's Botanical Heritage captured in new book from CW and Yale University Press

The plants of America’s colonial and early federal gardens have been gloriously revived in a new book from Colonial Williamsburg, “Flowers and Herbs of Early America,” written by Colonial Williamsburg curator of plants Lawrence Griffith with photographs by staff photographer Barbara Temple Lombardi.

Griffith drew on years of archival research and field trials to document the great variety of early American flowers and herbs and to explore how they were cultivated and used.

“I grew plants such as the hound’s-tongue, ragged robin and costmary just for the sake of their names. I grew short plants like pennyroyal, all-heal and strawberry blite and tall plants like crested cockscomb and the joe-pye weed,” Griffith recounts. “I came to know – completely by chance – the cinnamon-colored American groundnut, whose convoluted shape is mystifying, and the swamp milkweed, whose predation by orange aphids is equally so. Plants about which medicinal claims were made came to my notice: St. Mary’s thistle, blessed thistle and motherwort.”

Griffith said his mission was “to demonstrate the palette of plants they might have grown in colonial Virginia and the feasibility of their growth.”

Lombardi’s exquisitely detailed photographs capture the delicacy and strength of the flowers and herbs. “The closer I got to the flowers, the more fascinating they became,” said Lombardi. “Lying there on the ground with my camera, I found the art in nature.”

Elegant period hand-colored engravings, watercolors and woodcuts provide provocative visual counterparts to the modern photography.

The book is a dazzling treat for armchair gardeners as well as an important contribution to our understanding of colonial and federal plants.

“The flowers and herbs found in Colonial Williamsburg’s gardens have always been a subject of interest and affection on the part of our guests,” said Gordon Chappell, the Foundation’s director of landscape and facilities services. “Lawrence Griffith and Barbara Lombardi have produced a distinctive work that will appeal to all who love gardens.”

“Flowers and Herbs of Early America” is an invaluable companion for today’s gardeners, who will appreciate the advice of a master gardener on how to plan, choose appropriate species and maintain a beautiful period garden.

“Not only is this a useful work for the garden historian, historic gardener, and cottage gardener, but it has great relevance to 21st-century gardening,” said Frank Robinson, executive director of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Va.

Gifts from Janet and Fred Brubaker of Somerset, Pa., Teresa and Ken Wood of Chester Springs, Pa., and the Mars Foundation of McLean, Va., have made possible this exquisitely photographed and meticulously researched book of Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area flowers and herbs.

"Flowers and Herbs of Early America” will be vailable in mid-October at WILLIAMSBURG Booksellers® in Colonial Williamsburg’s Visitor Center, 101A Visitor Center Drive, by phone at 1-800-446-9240 or at The book is published by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in association with Yale University Press, which will distribute books outside Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area. The suggested retail price for the book is $50.

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture — stories of our journey to become Americans — while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution for its guests, it also invites them to interact with history. “Revolutionary City®” — a daily dramatic live street theater presentation — is a 2008 Rand McNally Best-of-the-Road™ Editor’s Pick. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

Media Contact:
Barbara Brown
(757) 220-7280