This summer I visited the seed business Comstock, Ferre, & Co. in Wethersfield, CT, near Hartford. James Lockwood Belden started the business in 1820, and in 1845 William Comstock and Henry Ferre took it over.
What impressed me was the age of the buildings on the property. Sure, it’s an old seed company, but it is one whose buildings are still around to see. When I was there, new owners from Missouri had just bought the company and planned to offer many traditional plant varieties. I am happy that they intend to keep the name.
Nineteenth century seed companies were big businesses that used the latest in packaging, mailing, and rail delivery in order to succeed. Cornell University Professor of Horticulture L. H. Bailey wrote at the end of the 19th century: “The development of the seed trade is coincident with the development of the postal service.”
Comstock’s catalog of 1856 said: “We take every precaution to grow the seeds pure, and of the very best quality in every respect. We warrant our stock of seeds to be fresh and pure.” The catalog became their major advertisement.
Nineteenth century seed companies form an important chapter in the history of gardening in this country. They didn’t just sell us seeds, they sold us the how and why to garden as well. Every home needed a garden.
When American seed companies wrote about the garden, their inspiration often came from British writers. The model for the middle-class American garden was the English garden style, with kitchen gardens, flower borders, and lawn.