A facsimile edition of the first book written for southern gardeners
First printed in 1860 on the eve of the Civil War, Ladies' Southern Florist by Mary C. Rion was the first book to provide gardeners in the South with a comprehensive list of ornamentals—trees, shrubs, flowers, bulbs, and roses—ideally suited to the Southern climate. This small but pivotal work is equally significant as the earliest garden book in the South written by a woman. Prior to its publication, Southern gardeners had to turn to English garden books or guides geared to Northern gardeners, which offered little in the way of advice on growing plants in a region characterized by mild winters, hot and humid summers, and periods of extended drought.
This facsimile edition of Ladies' Southern Florist not only offers a historical perspective of gardening in the South during the antebellum period but also serves as a wonderful resource at this time of growing interest in garden history, period gardens, and heirloom plants. While many of the 150 plants described by Rion had long been favorites, she also featured many newly introduced specimens from China and Japan that found instant favor with Southern gardeners, including camellia (Camellia japonica), fragrant olive (Osmanthus fragrans), gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides), pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira), crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), and a wide selection of roses. Whether enjoyed for its historic merit or employed as a guide for selecting traditional time-tested plants, Rion's work celebrates the timeless joys, pleasures, and rewards of gardening in the South.
Mary C. Rion (1829–1901) was trained at a young age in both plant collecting and gardening. Rion's interest in plants, gardening, and landscape design flourished with her visits to the finest ornamental gardens in Columbia. Once she married, Rion found time to indulge her interest but found few books offering advice on preparing and planting flower gardens in her region. Thus, she set out to combine her firsthand knowledge with that of Northern gardeners and produced Ladies' Southern Florist.
A native South Carolinian, James R. Cothran is a practicing landscape architect and urban planner in Atlanta, Georgia. He holds degrees from Clemson University, the University of Georgia, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He also serves as adjunct professor in Georgia State University's Heritage Preservation Program. Cothran currently serves as a board member of Trees Atlanta, the Cherokee Garden Library, and the Southern Garden History Society.
Debra McCoy-Massey is currently the vice president for research at the Arthritis Foundation national office in Atlanta, Georgia. She holds degrees from the University of Georgia and Georgia State University in history. Her interest and research on Mary Rion is the result of graduate work in the Heritage Preservation program at Georgia State University.