A Gift From A Flower To A Garden
Epic, US, 1967
Pye, UK, 1968
Art direction: Sid Maurer
Photo design: Karl Ferris
Illustrations: Mick Taylor and Sheena McCall
Here’s a thing: the complete vinyl box set of Donovan’s triumphant A Gift From A Flower To A Garden can still be purchased on a well-known online auction site for less than 20 quid. I know, because I just did and it is a shining morsel of splendidness.
Released in December 1967/January ’68 in the US but not until April ’68 in the UK due to Donovan’s continuing and debilitating contractual wranglings with Pye, the album is considered the first rock box set, at a time when only classical artists were afforded such extravagance. Donovan’s American record company, Epic, were initially very sceptical about the whole project and insisted on releasing it as two separate albums first, despite Donovan’s protestations. Furthermore, Don would have to foot the bill for any extra costs incurred in producing the actual box as well as the fancy six colour separations (or, according to Donovan himself, seven!) needed for printing the photographs.
In the end, the box set sold healthily as the record-buying public preferred the luxury package, and the two standalone albums, Wear Your Love Like Heaven and For Little Ones, stalled in the US charts at #54 and #185 respectively. The complete article was advertised in trade magazines as “His music, his art, his poetry… all in a magnificently designed volume that includes the two LPs, a beautiful art portfolio, complete lyrics, and full-colour photographs. Gift From A Flower To A Garden, a totally unique concept that only an artist as excitingly different as Donovan could accomplish… and he does… on Epic.” I’d rush out and buy it, wouldn’t you? Consequently, the box set reached #19 in the US and #13 in the UK.
Recorded after soon-to-be parent Donovan retreated to the countryside of Hertfordshire in spring ’67, the album was a conscious attempt to reach “little ones” of all ages, “the blessed inheritors of all these lands”, with both the musical and visual elements of the set. Donovan recalls in his 2005 autobiography The Hurdy Gurdy Man, “I envisaged a double album. One would be for the children and the other for the parents. I wanted to release both albums in a set, singing for my generation, our hopes and wishes, and also for our children.”
As for the title, the “gift” is the album, Donovan is the “flower”, who is presenting his gift to all the other flowers, the people in the world, who make up the “garden”. Come on, it was still The Summer Of Love. He also uses the opportunity to directly discourage his fans from the use of drugs; something he himself decided on after being, hmm… turned off during his recent Initiation by Maharishi in LA.
So, what wondrous visual delights do you get for your hard earned 32 shillings and sixpence? Well, you get a beautiful box, on the lilac front of which is an ornately printed title and the iconic infrared “head icon” shot of the boy himself, standing on a cliff top in full psychedelic regalia. The photograph was taken by Karl Ferris, “The Icon With The Nikon”, psychedelic photographer of, most notably, Cream, The Hollies and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Ferris started out as an aerial photographer in the army before working mainly as a fashion photographer (see the full story on Karl Ferris in Shindig! Quarterly #2). Chas Chandler introduced him and his portfolio to Hendrix in ’67, causing the guitarist to comment, “You’re doing with photography what I’m doing with music – going far out beyond the limits and blowing minds.” Ferris’ mindblowing style involved the use of fisheye lenses and the brand new military infrared film, which he pioneered the use of as an art statement – perfect for a London scene immersed in artistic and social experimentation, and influenced by the vibrant colours of the liquid light shows which Ferris was also working on.
The inside of the first box contains the lyrics to “Phonograph Record/The First”, as well as a message from Donovan to his listeners. The back of the second box is navy blue and has Ferris’ photo of Donovan and Maharishi in the latter’s inner sanctum, taken during Donovan’s ’67 US tour, pasted onto it. Inside the box is yet another Ferris photograph, this time from his series taken at Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, showing our mystical minstrel floating in a small boat, opulently decorated with fabrics, flowers, feathers and his mandolin. The photo is surrounded by a colourful border introducing the For Little Ones album, drawn by Don’s artist friends Mick Taylor and Sheena McCall. Epic used this image on the front of their standalone release of the second album, and a further beautiful alternative shot from the Bodiam Castle series on the perfectly dreamlike cover of the Wear Your Love Like Heaven album.
Aside from the two albums, the box also houses the real gem of the package, an orange portfolio containing 12 individual rainbow-hued lyric sheets to the second album, again lovingly illustrated by Taylor/McCall in their folk/psych/Nouveau/arts and craft-stylee.
Donovan’s attempt to speak to his own, as well as to the coming generation extended past the musical content of A Gift From A Flower To A Garden. He purposefully sought to convey beauty and childlike wonder in nature and in human beings, and depicted this in the ethereal images and words of the box set, thus suggesting a way for us all to achieve harmony through the Bohemian Manifesto. It could happen.
Haven’t had enough Gift-era Donovan? Then watch Karl Ferris’ contemporary promo film Wear You Love Like Heaven (also starring Jenny Boyd and Graham Nash), which can be found on the 2010 DVD Sunshine Superman: The Journey Of Donovan.
Gitte Morten © 2013.
This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, April 2013.