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A Contemplation Upon Flowers: Garden Plants in Myth and Literature

By Bobby J. Ward

Foreword by Ann Lovejoy

Whimsical, scholarly, informative, and entertaining.

Fine Gardening

This is a perfect bedside book for the literate gardener and makes a terrific gardener's gift book. It is an entertaining survey of 80 plant genera, with a multitude of references to, and extracts from, myth and literature from Shakespeare to the Victorian language of flowers. Based on prodigious research, it includes much literature that has fallen into undeserved obscurity, as well as selections from the great poets. It is a delightful study of the influence of the world's flora on humanity, from the mundane to the mystical.

Awards for this book: Garden Writers Association of America Quill & Trowel Award, New York Times Editor's Choice - Best Books for Gardening

Media reviews

"Whimsical, scholarly, informative, and entertaining."

—Barbara Blossom Ashmun, Fine Gardening

"If a gardener's curiosity about plants seems to increase the longer one plants, prunes, and propagates, this excellent meditation on plants will help appease such inquisitive tendencies."


"Luscious trivia, and a great deal more, can be found in Bobby J. Ward's A Contemplation Upon Flowers."

Country Living Gardener

"From casual flirtations to lifelong affairs, Bobby Ward probes our relationships to the flowers of gardens, fields and forests. With the relentless fervor of the paparazzi, he delves into literature past and present to unveil the joyful as well as the dark emotions that plants incite. His sumptuous commentary brings to life writers who exult the triumphs and lament the tragedies that have inextricably bound us to ornamental plants throughout history."

—C. Colston Burrell, Horticulture

"The scientific to religious history of our living antiques is explored in this exquisitely penned book, sure to be treasured by any literary gardener."

—Pam Beck, Raleigh News and Observer

"'A Contemplation Upon Flowers' can mesmerize the mind."

—Nell Lewis, Greensboro News and Record

"An informative discourse on garden plants of myth and literature ... beautifully illustrated with 17th century botanical engravings and wood cuts."

—Ann Armstrong, Port Townsend Leader

"It's an Alistair Cooke/cardigan sweater sort of book for gardeners with a scholarly bent. Mr. Ward has sorted through a massive amount of literary bric-a-brac and compiled an entertaining, if questionably useful, volume of scientific and literary trivia about plants."

—Peter F. Sleight, Morning Star

"At a time when the outpouring of new gardening books, good, bad, and indifferent, seems to be unabating, it has been a joy to read an authoritative work that is totally different and absorbing. Bobby Ward's book is the result of five years of meticulous research into old botanical books and herbals, early gardening books and travel writings around the world, the works of the major and minor poets, classical novels, and much more. The result is a compendium of over eighty plant genera, each describing the earliest references to the plants in history and in legend, in poetry and in prose, including their earliest uses in herbalism and medicine. One of its great joys is the abundance of quotations, that are long enough to give a feel for the work from which they are taken, especially the poetry, and there is a comprehensive bibliography for those who want to discover more. I found it fascinating to be given such a deep insight into the feelings engendered in past generations by the old favourite plants which we now take for granted, especially at a time when growing 'new' plants is the primary aim of most gardeners."

—Jack Elliott, Trillium

"The book is easy to use as compared with other such titles, in part because it is arranged by type of plant, and because Ward weaves it all together, gives historical and botanical context, with his commentary."

—Valerie Easton, Garden Notes

"Here is a book that is different, a book that will delight gardeners who wish to know more about the flowers they grow. It is not about their botany or cultivation but about the love and respect or occasionally even fear they engendered in the past."

—Jack Elliott, Trillium

"This is a great resource for further delving into literature with a horticultural flavour."

Victoria Times Colonist

"Another good reference to savor."

—Karen Baar, Diversion

"This book provides yet another delicious escape from work weather and worry for gardeners who love to trace the history of plants, following their travels and remarking their shifting popularity."

—Nancy Brachey, Charlotte Observer

"A fascinating compendium of thoughts about flowers."

Avant Gardener

"The book is the result of several years of research and promises to give readers more than that amount of pleasure."

—Suzanne Hively, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"An exceptional read, full of enticing, well researched, beautifully crafted words that bring to life many of the plants we already grow in our gardens. As a lecturer and plantsman, I found myself unable to put it down — each page revealing a multi-dimensional, highly entertaining, take on the plants we as horticulturists have already come to appreciate. I will find Bobby Ward's work eminently useful in my writing, lecturing and for simply embracing more exuberantly the historical interaction between the plants I grow and the human condition. A requisite adjunct to any botanical or horticultural reference book currently available!"

—Dan Hinkley, Pacific Horticulture

"This book offers much information and entertainment."

Library Journal

"Ward is meticulous in identifying the particular plants referred to in the literary selections he quotes."

Library Journal

"Thoroughly delightful."

—Valerie Sudol, Newark Star-Ledger

"[An] exquisitely penned book, sure to be treasured by any literary gardener."

—Pam Beck, Raleigh News and Observer

"One can open this book on any page and find something very special."

—Betty Mackey, Hunt

"Such a beautiful and entertaining look at folk fancies and plant facts that you're inspired to start writing poetry about what's in your own garden. When you read author Bobby Ward's delightful touches of humor and references about his own garden, you simply want to put on your gardening rags, run out into the backyard, and start growing goodies."

—Don Denevi, Palo Alto Daily News

"If you enjoy herbal lore and history, this is a perfect book to read in the hammock amongst the poppies, roses, honeysuckle, and evening primrose."

American Herb Association Quarterly Newsletter

"This book is pure joy for the avid gardener."

—Lynette Walther, Palatka Daily News

"Rich with literary references, this book would be useful for public speakers or writers, but anyone who appreciates plants will enjoy dipping into it for simple reading pleasure."

—Marge Howard-Jones, California Garden

"The book captures the historical significance of each flower."

—Marty Figley, Michigan Observer and Eccentric

"Gardeners and literature buffs will thumbthin the pages in no time."


"A Contemplation Upon Flowers: Garden Plants in Myth and Literature offers new terrain for a garden romp."

—Gloria Mazure, Albany Times Union

"Combine poetry, literature, botanical information together with a generous measure of love of flowers and the result is this entertaining book. And, this book will provide untold hours of pleasure to any plant lover, as the reader returns again and again to discover more with each visit."

—Terry Peters, North Shore News

"This work, besides being pleasurable reading, may have particular value as a source of tales and quotations."

—Joann Karges, Sida, Contributions to Botany

"He has built a charming paper garden by excerpting from and commenting on hundreds of literature references to many of our favorite flowers."

—Lucio Russo, Cactus and Co.

"A Contemplation Upon Flowers may inspire you to view your own garden in a different light, and to consider new additions to your borders based on what William Blake or the ancient Romans said about them."

—Tim Morehouse, Cincinnati Enquirer

"This is a highly entertaining compilation and a most worthy addition to the flowers-folklore field."


"This is a timeless book than can be picked up and enjoyed again and again, and I will."

—Marjorie Daughtridge, Pinehurst Pilot

"Altogether a pleasing book for dipping into, with charming prose and poetry that discusses beliefs about plants such as ivy and lilies, primroses and poppies, daisies and buttercups."

—Judy Glattstein, Home Monthly

"A book that will delight gardeners who wish to know more about the flowers they grow."

—Jack Elliott, Trillium

About the author

Bobby J. Ward

Bobby J. Ward travels extensively in order to interview modern plant explorers and see the landscape and locations where they do their species collecting. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and a sweet, peaceful dedication to his private gardens.

Read more about Bobby J. Ward

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This book is print-on-demand

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