Gardeners from Europe Started Nineteenth Century Seed and Nursery Business

The history of the garden industry in America owes much to immigrants.

America in the nineteenth century did not know what to do with professional gardeners, many of whom were trained in British botanical gardens or had worked on estate gardens.  When they came to America some became farmers while others successful businessmen.

1872 Catalog from the Robert Buist Company, Philadelphia

1872 Catalog from the Robert Buist Company, Philadelphia [Courtesy of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society]

 A few like Robert Buist [above], Peter Henderson, and Thomas Meehan began their own seed and nursery business.

In their book Victorian Gardens: A Horticultural Extravaganza authors James R. Buckler and Kathryn Meehan write: “Horticultural commerce [in the nineteenth century] grew in record numbers. In 1868 the American Horticultural Annual published a 5-page list of ‘Nurserymen, Florists, and Seedsmen,’ based on catalogs they had received. Three years later this same column filled twelve pages.”

With the growth in the seed and nursery industries came competition to win customers from every corner of the country.

The companies enlisted the latest in marketing and advertising to achieve that goal.

But it was their skill as practical horticulturists that contributed most to their success in America.

They taught America how to garden in their books, magazines, and, of course, their catalogs.

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