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CW Journal : Spring 08 : Plants of an Age

Plants of an Age

by Ed Crews
Photos by Barbara Lombardi

The closer you look, the more you see. The proof of that old saw is this sampling of a few of the thousands of Colonial Williamsburg photographer Barbara Lombardi’s 200mm macrolens portraits of Historic Area flowers and herbs grown, in the main, by Lawrence Griffith, curator of plants. She began shooting in 2000, before she discovered the Mars Foundation had given Griffith a grant for a three-year study of species familiar to Virginia’s colonists, but not so well known today. The result was their collaboration on a soon-to-be published book, Flowers and Herbs of Early America.

“It’s more than just a picture book,” Griffith says. His footnoted text is to be complemented not only by Lombardi’s pictures but by reproductions of plates from 1771’s two-volume Figures of the most beautiful, useful and uncommon plants by Philip Miller, and the seventeenth-century watercolors of Alexander Marshal’s Florilegium. “The book will provide the reader with a vocabulary of plants that are suitable for historic sites, that are demonstrably easy to grow, and have an inherent historical interest.” He says the volume is to run 180 to 200 pages.

Lombardi spent a good bit of time in Griffith’s small test garden behind Colonial Williamsburg’s Lewis House on Francis Street getting as close to their subjects as she could—usually within an inch or two. “It’s a whole different world,” she says. “You have to lay down on the ground. You sit, and you squat, and you shoot.” She took more photographs in the Colonial Garden, an outdoor shop on the Duke of Gloucester Street.

The work took patience as well as skill. Lombardi says flower photographs can be made “whenever things are in bloom,” but it was five years before she was done. “Larry just planted and I just shot.” Griffith verified the presence of the plants in the Old Dominion between 1607 and 1820, and learned their histories and uses.

He says his text “is a selective, discursive recounting of my experience with, and research about, a selection of annuals, biennials, and perennials that I have grown in the field, firsthand, and about which I’ve read and researched extensively.”

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