When "Martha Stewart Living" magazine editor Stephen Orr accepted his achievement award from the Horticultural Society of New York April 12 he used the occasion to praise an absent fellow honoree, longtime Houghton Mifflin garden book editor Frances Tenenbaum of Cambridge."Frances created the American garden book!"
She was represented by her daughter, Cambridge book designer Jane Tenenbaum. Also attending were author Phyllis Meras of Martha's Vineyard, Ken Carpenter, Maire Gorman, Nancy Grant-Mahoney, John Mendelson, Becky Saikia-Wilson, as well as Betsy Groban and another colleague from Houghton Mifflin, Lisa A. White, Charles A. Wall of McGraw Hill, plus Susan Twarog of Secret Gardens of Cambridge, an annual fundraiser Tenenbaum launched 20 years ago for the Friends of the Cambridge Public Library.
"Before Frances, the only gardenwriters known in America were British," said Sara Hobel in a phone interview before the event. She is director of the Society, which increases awareness and stewardship of New York City's green spaces. "Our library is full of her books."
"Fire & Ice" was the theme of the New York Flower Show Dinner Dance at 583 Park Avenue. The annual event is known for outrageous seven foot tall centerpieces by top floral designers, who this year created either towering infernos of red roses, ranunculus, and radiant Rothschild lilies or frosty white flowering fruit trees. The wittiest table, by Rod Winterrowd, took "Dinner at the Burton's, Gstaad, circa 1965" as its theme. It featured framed photos of Liz and Dick at each place setting, along with antlers and snow dusted evergreens on a cozy faux fur tablecloth. Another table used small taxidermied birds as napkin rings.A third featured a tiered red cake topped with a black raven - but this was just a statue.
Other honorees were David Easton, an Architect and Interior Designer, and Alex Timbers, an Obie and drama Desk award winning writer and director.
Frances Tenenbaum grew up on Long Island, graduated from the University of Michigan, and earned a Master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. While she was in college, she wrote occasional articles for the New York Herald Tribune.
After the war, married with two children, she worked as a freelance journalist and editor, and wrote her first book, Gardening with Wild Flowers (published by Scribners). Frances then became personally and professionally involved in horticulture. After moving to Massachusetts, she started as an editor at Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston.
During her long career in publishing, Frances became one of the nation’s leading garden editors, acquiring and editing dozens of titles on every aspect of popular horticulture and landscaping. "She was very canny. She chose good projects," said Wall. "We did some books that were my idea,"said Meras, one of her long time authors. "But when the books were her idea, they always sold well."
Frances published handsome books on the eccentric author and illustrator, Tasha Tudor, republished Celia Thaxter’s An Island Garden (first published by Houghton 100 years ago), and pruned the valuable but dreary Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening into a single handsome reference and an extensive series of in-depth, full-color books on specific gardening topics. For decades, Taylor’s Guides have been acknowledged as the last word for aspiring and accomplished gardeners alike. "When I was first starting out, I would look through Frances' Taylor guides and think, 'How am I going to learn the names of all these plants?' " Orr remarked when accepting his award Tuesday.
In addition to her latest honor from the New York Horticultural Society, Frances has earned awards from the Massachusetts and American horticultural societies, and the Garden Writers Association of America. When the GWAA listed the 25 most important garden books over the previous 25 years, it included four Houghton Mifflin books, all acquired and edited by Frances.
Frances’s children have followed her bookish tradition. Jane is a book designer in Cambridge, Mass.; David is a science journalist and book author in Madison, Wis.
Past Honorees of the Horticultural Society of New York include, Christo and Jean-Claude, Contemporary artists; Mario Buatta, Interior Designer; John Berendt, author of the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil; Bunny Williams, interior designer; Nancy Clarke, White House Chief Floral Designer; Dr. Shirley Sherwood, botanist, author and one of the premier collectors of botanical art; Elizabeth Scholtz, esteemed Director Emeritus of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and long-time HSNY Benefactor; Chris Giftos, former Floral Master at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Charlotte Moss, Interior Designer; Suzy Bales, author The Garden in Winter; Tony Ingrao & Randy Kemper, Interior Designers.
The New York Flower Show Dinner Dance was Chaired by CeCe Black, Elizabeth Scholtz, Sheila Stephenson and Elizabeth Stribling.
The Horticultural Society of New York’s programs help to expand New York City’s greening efforts and to ensure the benefits of horticulture, from the beautification of home and garden. Their program also includes the community enhancement of public green space, the growing of fresh vegetables on urban farms and the job opportunities of landscape and design and maintenance. Funds raised help support, Green City, Green Work, Apple Seed, The Barbara A. Margolis Library, The Art Gallery and Horticulture Services.