Western Carolina University – Highlands Biological Station hosts a book signing to benefit the Botanical Gardens

Western Carolina University – Highlands Biological Station hosts a book signing to benefit the Botanical Gardens


Jim Costa

Written by Julia Duvall

Western Carolina University’s Highlands Biological Station will host a book signing to benefit the Highlands Botanical Gardens on Saturday, September 16, from 2 to 6 p.m. in the Highlands Community Building.

The landmark book, “Darwin and the Art of Botany: Notes on the Curious World of Plants,” was co-authored by Highlands Biological Station Executive Director Jim Costa and renowned botanical artist Bobby Angell and published by Timber Press.

The event will include talks and a book signing by Costa and Angell, a silent auction showcasing native plants and a selection of Angell’s botanical copper engravings, 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 Angel.

Darwin and art

“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 as well as my research,” Costa said. “She told me about her idea for a picture book showing how beautiful the plants that Darwin discussed in his books were. Up until this point, it had been basic outlines of plants and she wanted to expand on that, so this was her brainchild.

Angell was inspired by artwork at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation in Upperville, Virginia.

“I was reading a Darwin book on climbing plants and thought it would be fun to incorporate the illustrations from Oak Spring into the book on climbing plants,” Angell said. “I had this 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 it would like to be part of the project.

The Oak Spring Garden Foundation is an operating organization dedicated to sharing the gifts and ideas of Rachel “Bunny” Mellon. Its mission is to support and inspire new thinking and bold action about the history and future of plants, including the art and culture of plants, gardens and landscapes.

“Both the director and librarian who run the institution were very excited to showcase the art collection of Rachel ‘Bunny’ Mellon in this way,” Angell said. “I made several trips to Oak Spring to select illustrations for each of the chapters.”

Angell then pitched the idea to Timber Press, one of the country’s leading gardening publishers.

Costa and Angell have combined writings from Darwin’s six botanical books and a selection of Darwin’s other books and papers to highlight 45 remarkable plants, each illustrated with beautiful botanical art from the Library at Oak Spring Garden Foundation. Costa, who has previously written about Darwin’s ingenious experiments and how they can be used in science education today, has contributed introductions that highlight Darwin’s particular interest in each plant, and studies such as the intricacies of pollination adaptations in orchids and other species, and how carnivorous plants such as flycatchers and sundews catch their prey How to climb vines.

“Oak Spring Director Sir Peter Crane wrote a wonderful introduction, librarian Tony Willis contributed an article on the library’s history at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, and Bobby wrote about the art and artists from the Oak Spring collection featured in the book. “This has been a collaborative project,” said Costa. Great deal between me, Bobby, and the Oak Spring Garden Foundation.”

“Darwin and the Art of Botany: Notes on the Curious World of Plants” won’t be officially published until October, but attendees of the Sept. 16 event will have access to early-release copies of the book. To register for this event, go to https://highlandsbiological.org/2023-nps/.

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