Selby Gardens Unlocking Library Vaults for “Secret Garden” Exhibit

April 25, 2016


Selby's Secret GardenSARASOTA, FLA. – April 18, 2016: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is known world-wide for its tropical plant collections, which include nearly half of the known plant families in the world. Hidden, though, in the institution’s research library and plant vaults is another secret collection rarely seen by the public – the Gardens’ rare books and the preserved plant collection gathered by explorers in the field.

An exhibition of rare botanical illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries that show plant life in exquisite color and artistic technique will be on display later this year in “Selby’s Secret Garden,” hosted at the Museum of Botany & the Arts in the historic Payne Mansion.

From August 26 – November 27, guests will experience historic works of this highly-skilled art form used to depict detail, form and color of a plant species. The drawings will be accompanied by complementary pressed and preserved plant specimens, which are other tools of the botanical trade. In mid-October, the Gardens’ Tropical Conservatory will run a concurrent display when it is transformed into a cabinet of botanical curiosities with a distinct Victorian flair, creating a truly magical “secret garden.” The exhibition is sponsored in part by Williams Parker and The Sarasota County Tourist Development Council.

“Botanical illustrations are a widely-admired form of art, and Selby Gardens has an historic collection to showcase,” said Jennifer O. Rominiecki, president and CEO of Selby Gardens. “These are amazing works of art that rival any traditional art display. By showcasing these antique prints and books alongside our living plant collection, we want visitors to realize the full connection between nature and art.”

The Gardens’ botanical library began with a bequest made in 1973 from the estate of William Cole of Winter Park, Florida. Botanical artwork evolved out of necessity. Early pioneers of botanical research left written records that were often misleading – one species could be helpful, while a similar one was poisonous. Scientists describing newly-discovered plant species turned to botanical illustration for visual aids to accompany their narratives.

The practice of botanical illustration dates back thousands of years. During the 16th – 18th centuries, plants from the New World and other exotic locales began arriving in Europe en masse, and enthusiasts demanded careful renderings of the new discoveries.  Wealthy nobles, merchants and other collectors began commissioning paintings of prized specimens. Some of the era’s most talented artists were patronized by European royalty.  Before color printing became widespread, these illustrations were hand-colored, and the resulting artworks are now prized by collectors.

While incredibly beautiful, prints are still used today as a valuable scientific tool to support plant identification and research. A selection of classes and lectures related to the exhibit will be scheduled throughout the show, including offerings from Selby Gardens’ Academy of Botanical Art, led by master instructor Olivia Braida.

The exhibit is curated by Dr. David Berry. Berry earned his doctorate on the history of museums, gardens and libraries from University of Oxford. Berry is currently the Assistant Director of Curatorial and Academic Affairs at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. For additional lectures and classes associated with the exhibit, visit

The “secret vaults” of Selby Gardens include its research library, herbarium and spirit lab. These facilities house seldom-seen treasures of important botanical tools. The Selby Gardens library is home to approximately 7,000 volumes, including a rare book collection dating to the late 1700s, as well as 14,000 issues of scientific journals and thousands more historical files, maps, photographs and reference materials. The library is regarded as one of the finest botanical libraries in the southeastern United States and is frequented by visiting scholars throughout the world. Within the library, the rare book collection consists of 65 titles and more than 500 bound volumes, as well as more than 2,000 loose prints, many of them hundreds of years old.

The herbarium consists of about 112,000 plants that have been pressed and preserved. The plant records have been collected over the institution’s 40-plus years during expeditions throughout the tropics.

The Selby Gardens spirit collection is the second-largest such collection in the botanical world with nearly 28,000 vials of mostly orchid flowers set in preservative fluids, second only to Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. The blossoms retain their three-dimensional shape and assist with plant identification and description.



About Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the display and study of orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads, epiphytes and tropical plants with a focus on botany, horticulture and environmental education. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 900 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas, regular admission $19 (ages 12 and up), ages 4-11 $6, Members and children 3 and under enter free. Contact us at (941) 366-5731 or  Get social with us on Facebook, Instagram and more by searching @selbygardens.


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