By Julia Duvall
Western Carolina University’s Highlands Biological Station will be hosting a book signing event to benefit the Highlands Botanical Gardens on Saturday, Sept. 16, from 2-6 p.m. at the Highlands Community Building.
The featured book, “Darwin and the Art of Botany: Observations on the Curious World of Plants,” was co-authored by Highlands Biological Station executive director Jim Costa and noted botanical artist Bobbi Angell and published by Timber Press.
The event will feature talks and a book signing by Costa and Angell, a silent auction offering native plants and a selection of Angell’s botanical copper etchings, all benefiting the Highlands Botanical Gardens and a reception sponsored by the Highlands Biological Foundation, Inc.
The book grew out of a chance meeting between Costa and Angell.
“A few summers ago, I was a visiting scholar at the New York Botanical Garden, where I met Bobbi and she shared with me her interest in Darwin’s work and also my research,” Costa said. “She told me about her idea for an illustrated book that showcased just how beautiful the plants were that Darwin discussed in his books. Up until this point, it was very basic outlines of the plants and she wanted to expand on that, so this is her brainchild.”
Angell was inspired by the artwork at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation in Upperville, Virginia.
“I had been reading a Darwin book about climbing plants and I thought it'd be fun to have the illustrations from Oak Spring worked into the climbing plants book,” Angell said. “I came up with that idea and then I went to the New York Botanical Garden and met Jim and the collaboration began.”
Over a cup of coffee, the idea for the book was born. Angell then asked the Oak Spring Garden Foundation if they would be willing to be part of the project.
Oak Spring Garden Foundation is an operating foundation dedicated to sharing the gifts and ideas of Rachel "Bunny" Mellon. Its mission is to support and inspire fresh thinking and bold action on the history and future of plants, including the art and culture of plants, gardens and landscapes.
“Both the director and librarian who run the foundation were very excited to have the art collection of Rachel ‘Bunny’ Mellon showcased in that way,” Angell said. “I made several trips to Oak Spring to select the illustrations for each of the chapters.”
Angell then pitched the idea to Timber Press, who is one of the leading horticultural publishers in the nation.
Costa and Angell collected writings from Darwin's six botanical books and a selection of other Darwin books and papers to spotlight 45 fascinating plants, each illustrated with beautiful botanical art from the Library at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation. Costa, who has written previously on Darwin's ingenious experiments and how they can be used in science education today, contributed introductions highlighting Darwin's particular interest in each plant, studies such as the intricacies of pollination adaptations in orchids and other species, how carnivorous plants like flytraps and sundews catch their prey and how vines climb.
“The director of Oak Spring, Sir Peter Crane, wrote a wonderful foreword, head librarian Tony Willis contributed an essay on the history of the library at Oak Spring Garden Foundation and Bobbi wrote on the art and artists from Oak Spring's collection featured in the book,” Costa said. “This has been a great collaborative project between me, Bobbi and Oak Spring Garden Foundation.”
“Darwin and the Art of Botany: Observations on the Curious World of Plants” won’t be officially published until October, but attendees of the Sept. 16 event will have access to the early release copies of the book. To register for the event, go to https://highlandsbiological.org/2023-nps/.