One of the world's famous flower books is Redoute''s "Les Liliace'es" with 486 magnificent plates illustrating flowers of the lily family, but only about 200 copies were printed and these now sell for about $100,000 each, I am told.
More astonishing than the book is a nearly complete set (468 of the 486) of the paintings by Redoute' from which plates in the book were engraved and colored. This fabulous set will be sold at auction Nov. 20 at Sotheby's in New York, where it is hoped the paintings will be kept intact as a group.
Sotheby's estimates the set will bring between 5 and 7 million dollars.
Few readers of the Earthman column are likely to enter the bidding, but the auction gallery will display the entire set from 10 to 5 on four days beginning this Friday, continuing Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, at 1334 York Ave. NW.
Any gardener in New York would find it worth his time to see them -- they are painted on vellum, 12 1/2 by 19 inches each. Like his famous set of rose paintings, the lily pictures were commissioned by Napoleon's wife, the Empress Josephine.
After her death the lily paintings went to her son, Eugene de Beauharnais, who left France and lived in Bavaria. They remained in the family until recently, I learned from Sotheby's, and are in flawless condition. This is hardly surprising since they were famous from the beginning, and are generally thought quite the equal of the more famous rose paintings.
One reason the rose paintings are more famous, though no more beautiful, is that copies of the great Redoute' rose book ("Les Roses") are widely dispersed through the world, and so are the original paintings from which the rose plates were made. Thus a great many more people have seen them.
The lilies, however, have been carefully preserved in folios (from which the individual paintings lift out easily) and Matthew Weigman of Sotheby's reports they have never been exhibited anywhere before. It is believed the only people who have ever seen the originals, since they were painted, were guests of the empress and her family.
Sotheby's has devoted more space for exhibiting the paintings than for any other thing they have auctioned off in their history, Weigman tells me. Another thing, the gallery has issued a catalogue showing all the paintings in color, an expensive undertaking. The catalogue is $45, a hefty price, but less than the $100,000 book, a rarity since its publication in 1802.
Few flowers of consequence are blooming now in Washington gardens, but I have some flowers of Clematis paniculata, which reaches its peak of almond-scented small white flower about Labor Day.
Last July I took hedge clippers and went over one plant of this clematis because it was flopping too far beyond its proper space. This trauma was followed by new growth and flower, two months later than expected.
It might be worthwhile, for gardeners with huge plants of this wild Japanese clematis, to give some of their plants severe surgery in summer, so the flowers would appear from September until hard frost.
We have already had a light frost at my place, sufficient to blacken the great leaves of the banana, but not cold enough to disfigure the basil (which is very tender) or the night jasmine or anything else.
One year I remember seeing tropical water lilies blooming in the capital in December, but that is unusual. I had a nice flower of the blue 'Pennsylvania' or 'Blue Beauty' on Nov. 7, and perhaps the plants will go on for a while yet, though they never open on cold gray days this late in the season.
There are still a few roses about -- we have cut a few red flowers from 'Mr. Lincoln' and 'Alec's Red,' and one or two from 'Jacques Cartier' but of course you expect roses till Thanksgiving, though sometimes they are a trifle wrinkled looking by then, even if not frozen black.
Sometimes I think we take the holly trees too much for granted. They are more valuable in a garden, and really more beautiful, than many evergreens of greater rarity. A chilly damp gray day in November (we shall have some) is a perfect time to admire the holly. It is worthwhile to fetch a chair or stool and allow some time to admire it -- entirely too often we give our hollies just a glance in passing. This is their season now, and they are worth a prolonged look.