Banksia serrata

Virginia L.T. Gardner is a pansy person, even though her initial encounter with the flower wasn’t successful.

The Santa Barbara resident, who grew up in Pennsylvania, came to love gardening and all things botanical as a small child because her grandmother had an enchanting 18-acre home that included a hillside rock garden, a woodland, apple orchards, a vegetable garden and more.

“My grandmother once let me plant a totally improper plant at the base of a tree: a pansy, because I loved pansies so much and wanted to, even though it wouldn’t grow there,” Gardner said.

“Pansy comes from the French word ‘pensée,’ which means “thought,’” she said. “I’ve always been partial to pansies.”

Gardner, now 80 and a longtime horticulturist, is also partial to art and books.

Flowers, art, books — and thoughtfulness — make up the bountiful bouquet of a donation Gardner has made to UCSB Library’s Special Research Collections: two sets of folios with botanical illustrations appraised at $50,000.

The first is Banks’ Florilegium, 35 folios featuring 743 copperplate engravings of drawings of plants collected on explorer James Cook’s 1768-1771 voyage to Australia and New Zealand aboard the H.M.S. Endeavour. The drawings were done by Sydney Parkinson, a Scottish botanical artist commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks, a British botanist who traveled with Cook, to create the illustrations.

Gardner’s second donation is a folio of Ferdinand Lukas Bauer’s Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae. Bauer was an Austrian botanical artist, also hired by Banks, to travel with English navigator and scientist Matthew Flinders on his exploration around Australia.

“These new resources will advance scholarly research at UCSB,” said Danelle Moon, director of UCSB Library’s Special Research Collections. “As noted in the publisher’s catalog, from the Smithsonian: ‘It is as though a great buried archaeological cache of art and science is opened to the world....Yes, Banks' Florilegium now lives, a part of the stock of Western civilization, a permanent flowering (1988).’”

Banks, Gardner said, was a wealthy man who eventually lost his money and thus was not able to make prints of the drawings. In 1990, she said, a London printmaker finally made prints from the original copperplates. She heard about the folios from a librarian friend at the British Museum of Natural History.

One hundred folios were printed. Gardner’s husband, Theodore Roosevelt Gardner II (they are now separated), bought her No. 50.

The folios, she said, were “intended for the wealthy of the 18th century. They were the TV of the nobility; they would spend evenings looking at them.”

At UCSB, they will be available to scholars and students to observe and study for free.

Illustrations from Gardner’s donated folios will also be part of a UCSB Library botanical exhibition this fall featuring items from Special Research Collections.

“Scientists, artists, historians and the public will all have access to these beautiful illustrations, which will greatly enhance UCSB Library’s collection of rare illustrated folios,” said University Librarian Denise Stephens.

Gardner wanted the books to be housed at UCSB, she said, “because if you have a gorgeous state-of-the-art library, they belong there. Not everyone believes in libraries the way UCSB and Chancellor Yang do.”

She originally planned to offer the folios to the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Gardner said, but wanted to keep them close by in Santa Barbara.

Gardner has been a devoted Southern California gardener for many years. She was a volunteer guide at local botanical gardens, and received several gardening awards, including Horticulturalist of the Year from the Southern California Horticulture Society for her business selling botanical books at garden shows. In 2017 she won the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Native Choice Award at the Santa Barbara Beautiful Awards for the water-wise landscape at her home on Garden Street (yes, “Garden” Street).

One of Gardner’s eight grandchildren, Jeremy Gardner Scharf, is a theater student at UCSB, she said.

“He’s not interested in gardening,” Gardner said.

But he might someday act in a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet” with these words from Ophelia: “And there is pansies. That’s for thoughts.”