Beauty, week after week

Special to The Times

Gardeners are innate timekeepers who clock hours by the tilt of the sun and days by the life of a bud and flower. Months are marked by the spin of the moon, seasons by the length of day, and years by the girth of once-tiny trees.

Despite such acuity, every gardener needs a calendar. Not a garden journal, where every smidgen of minutiae is stored, but an illustrated 12-month calendar to hang on a wall or splay across a desk — beautiful and useful with prominent dates on organized grids in which one can scribble the vital events, mundane tasks and highlights of the gardening year.

As always, the selection of garden-themed models for the new year is abundant. While rose bouquets are typical calendar fare, an intrepid few wander off the garden path with riveting images tweaked by fine artists with slightly skewed perceptions of plants, flowers and the natural world.

None is more deliciously twisted than "The Evil Garden" by author and illustrator Edward Gorey (Pomegranate, $13.99), which depicts a Victorian family and its guests, entering a garden of mad creatures and odiferous flowers — never to come out again. In September: "A hissing swarm of hairy bugs … Has got the baby and its rugs." Uh, oh! The work of controversial photographer Kate Breakey appears in "Flower Portraits" (Ronnie Sellers Productions, $12.99). These haunting, richly textured images are borrowed from "Small Deaths," her series of larger-than-life painted photos that also includes postmortem birds and other animals.

"Flower Power," photography by Bonnie Muench (Browntrout, $12.99) is a psychedelic riot of kaleidoscopic blossoms that keeps you guessing: flower or alien, flower or alien?

Black-and-white photography captures an abstract essence that the human eye cannot detect. Twelve such masterworks by Edward Steichen — including lily pads and a pear on a plate — are collected into an eponymous 2005 calendar (Pomegranate, $13.99).

The classic images by Karl Blossfeldt in "Art Forms in Nature" (Catch, $12.95) study detail, geometry and structure. Brett Weston's shots in "Nature's Patterns" (Pomegranate, $13.99) dramatize shadow, line, contour and light.

This newcomer is truly bent. For "Flower Spirits: Radiographs of Nature" (Ronnie Sellers, $12.99), Steven N. Meyers uses medical techniques to expose botanicals in "invisible light." Among the astounding entries: a columbine with dark nectar in the depths of its spurs and a fan of rhododendron buds, pregnant and ready to burst.

Paintings of the garden are the meat of calendar pages. The vivid flowers in "Georgia O'Keefe" (Graphique de France, $11.99) nearly jump off the glossy white paper. Equally stunning are the dreamy green scenes by Gustav Klimt in "Nature Impressions" (Tushita, $12.99) and seasonal delights from a Chinese scroll, laid out in panoramic style (longer than tall) in "One Hundred Flowers" (Pomegranate, $12.99).

Overall, the paper and print quality of large-format calendars are astonishing. They are, in a sense, fine art for the masses, first-class reproductions at very reasonable prices.

And with so much value at such a low cost, who doesn't have room for a second or third? Perhaps a more traditional choice for the garage or potting shed, such as Robert Smaus' "2005 California Garden Calendar" (Los Angeles Times, $15.75), or "Gardening by the Moon" (, $12.95), which encourages gardeners to "work with the forces of nature" by following ancient agricultural guidelines. Be sure to request the "long growing" version, tailored for warm-winter climates.

You'll find alternate formats when shopping: week-by-week engagement calendars, pocket-sized datebooks and desktop easels with tear-off months to reuse as postcards. The ambitious fact-filled "Gardener's Page-a-Day" by Katherine Whiteside, with photos by Richard Felber (Workman, $11.95), fits nicely next to the phone, where its sheets can double as scratch paper.

Most radical, though, is the "ECOlogical Calendar" (Pomegranate, $14.99), with four 3-foot-long panels representing each of Earth's seasons and designed to alter the way we relate to time.

Along with the familiar Gregorian days, dates and months alongside, each beautifully illustrated section includes a guide to the visible night sky, the ratio of daylight to darkness, a tide chart and seasonal adaptations of flora and fauna — events that link gardeners to the cosmos at large. For more, go to .

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