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The Latin word florilegium, literally meaning ‘gathering flowers’, is commonly used to address a collection of flower images from the long seventeenth century (c. 1575–1725). Also called flower books, these picture books compile a selection of flowers and decorative plants that were rare and curious to the period. The genre is mostly produced in areas north of the Alps, including northern France, the Low Countries, Germany, and England, and is largely connected to the horti- and floriculture of the period. While not always, many flower books partially functioned as elaborate visual catalogues of the rare plant collections of specific gardens that once existed.

This paper delves into the small tasks that were seemingly simple and unimportant, but integral in making the rare and curious flowers available. As most of the flower species and their varieties in florilegia were not wild, they were cultivated in gardens in order to produce living specimens that also served as models for some of the images. Unlike plants such as succulents and pineapples, growing florilegium flowers did not require complex tools or climate-controlling structures. Instead, it is the small and accumulative tasks—from creating a suitable growing environment by managing the soil to selecting seeds and bulbs for ensuring the desired qualities—that amounted to the blooming flowers in gardens and florilegia. By turning to the small tasks, this paper emphasizes the concept and practice of care that was (and still is) essential in horticultural practices.

Jessie Wei-Hsuan Chen is an early modern historian of plants and their visual and material culture. Her plant-based research interests intersect the history of art, the history of science and technology, the history of the book, and the history of knowledge. Chen has recently obtained her doctoral degree from the Art History Department at Utrecht University. Her PhD project investigated the forms of knowledge and the making of seventeenth-century florilegia. The research was funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and received the 2020 Stacy Lloyd III Fellowship for Bibliographic Study from the Oak Spring Garden Foundation. Additionally, Chen has published on the woodblock making and printing of botanical woodcuts at the early modern Plantin Press.

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