One of the most valuable gifts I ever received was a key that the head librarian shared with me when I was a horticulture student at the New York Botanical Garden in the mid-1970s. This key gave me access to the library when it was closed to the public. I spent hours almost every night for the next two years going through the stacks, pulling books off the shelves, often at random, to educate myself.
One enthusiasm I developed in this way was an admiration for botanical prints and illustrations. The library had an outstanding collection of such works, some of them centuries old. I was fascinated by the way an artist could make me see a plant and its beauties more clearly. The most skilled of these artists combined mastery of technique and composition with expert knowledge of botany, so that their work was not only pleasing to the eye, but taught me the unique characteristics of a species and what sets it apart from all other plants.