Seeking resources on 19th century American vegetable and herb gardens
December 17, 2014 8:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find historians, writings, examples... whatever I can about 19th century American (especially mid-Atlantic) veggie and herb gardens and could use some help! I'm basically looking for resources on what someone might have had in their home garden.

So far, I've found Peter Hatch at Monticello, Barbara Wells Sarudy and her amazing blogs and Rudy Favretti (does anyone know how to find contact info on him? is he still active?)
posted by youcancallmeal to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
U of Chicago published From Yard to Garden by Christopher Grampp.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:03 AM on December 17, 2014

Best answer: Common-Place has a few articles and reviews that might give you some leads.
posted by arco at 9:06 AM on December 17, 2014

Look at the kitchen garden sections of Bernard M'Mahon's 19th-century guide, The American Gardener's Calendar. There are several editions available on Google Books.
posted by yarntheory at 9:08 AM on December 17, 2014

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening by William Woys Weaver is about precisely this subject, and is a delightful book to boot.
posted by OmieWise at 9:24 AM on December 17, 2014

I really liked this book: The New Traditional Garden - Michael Weishan
posted by infodiva at 11:10 AM on December 17, 2014

You should check out Rubens Peale's diary; the one I am thinking of runs from 1862-1865. He was an artist, but the diary contains a lot about the home garden/gardening, including specific plants. He lived in Pennsylvania. His handwriting is a bit hard to read, but fortunately the Smithsonian Transcription Center put the diary up and so the entire thing has now been transcribed. Here's the link to the diary at the Transcription Center. Click on any page and the transcription of it will be on the right. Also note this page and this page at the end of the diary.
posted by gudrun at 12:50 PM on December 17, 2014

There are a lot of primary sources on Google Books: 1, 2, 3.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:02 PM on December 17, 2014

Check out The Home Acre on Project Gutenberg. It was written in the 1800s about planting and growing trees, fruits, and vegetables in a home garden.

Gutenberg is a great resource for things like this. Do some keyword searches and see what pops up.
posted by ananci at 3:48 PM on December 17, 2014

In addition to Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, check out the rest of William Woys Weaver's books.
posted by Lexica at 5:44 PM on December 17, 2014

what someone might have had in their home garden.

This is a topic I deal with in my work, and the first part of the project is to define "someone." Everything about gardening (especially in the 19th century) was highly variable based on economic class, ethnicity, geography, and time period within the century. Thomas Jefferson's garden, for instance, is quite different from a subsistence family garden in a poor rural area, and even the plant varieties were more wildly different then.
posted by Miko at 6:16 PM on December 17, 2014

Michael Twitty is a food historian who studies the antebellum South, specifically looking at how African food traditions spread and were preserved. His site is
posted by judith at 11:36 PM on December 17, 2014

Response by poster: Miko - The someone in question is Mary Pickersgill, she of the Star Spangled Banner Flag. So, small house in an urban setting in the 19th century mid-Atlantic.

(I was hesitant to mention this before because I didn't want to limit replies.)
posted by youcancallmeal at 8:05 AM on December 18, 2014

Best answer: OK! Here are some tactics:

Visit some of these gardens and other local historical organization gardens. This place seems to have recently put in a historic kitchen garden. Also, you can email/call people who work at those historic sites to ask about their archives and gardening resources.

In the later 19th century, the expansion of government agencies related to scientific agriculture spawned tons and tons of publications - USDA bulletins, farm journals, etc - that contain specifics about gardening. That's all a little late for Pickersgill's life, but there are also seed company catalogs, which give you a great sense of what was available for and advertised in a given area. A search on Google Books of what was available, say, 1800-1856 might be productive. For instance, searching Google Books with the term "kitchen garden maryland" and limiting results to 1800-1860 gets you the Price Catalog of Kitchen Garden, Herb, Flower and Field Seeds, and the Flower, Fruit, and Kitchen Garden. There are also a lot of magazines which were starting up by the 1840s, like the Cultivator and Gardener's Monthly and Horticultural Advisor. Where things aren't available online, a university library or even local library might be able to hook you up.

Garden clubs are also an incredible resource. Garden Club of Virginia, has Historic Garden Week, Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland could be helpful. There is also a National Historic Gardens Foundation which has some publications and might be able to point you in the direction of specific resources.

As you can see, reconstructing the contents of a historic garden is usually part of a big primary research project. There are few processed resources that are specific enough to give guidance; it involves drawing on archaeology, ethnobotany, period print sources, and manuscripts. Going by general "they ate this then" guidelines can be trickily misleading, because what people grew depended a whole lot on their economic situation and ethnicity, in particular. Anyway, I hope some of these places to look/outreach to will be helpful!
posted by Miko at 9:01 AM on December 18, 2014

Best answer: My friend Kyle has been tending a 19th century kitchen/medicinal garden at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, and keeping a blog: A Garden of Antietam.
posted by usonian at 10:33 AM on December 18, 2014

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