Nineteenth Century American Gardeners Planted Herbs in Kitchen Garden

In nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs, seeds of vegetables, annuals, and perennials received many pages. Herbs, however, only a page or two.

The focus in the catalog was on a kitchen garden, which could include herbs and even some flowers, but not what we now call an ‘herb garden’.

The herb garden at Blithewold in Bristol, Rhode Island.

The herb garden at Blithewold, a public garden in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Though the catalogs recognized the importance of herbs for cooking and medicinal needs, vegetables seemed to be more important.

The list of vegetables might include an herb like parsley.

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick wrote in his 1880 seed catalog under the section called ‘Herbs’: “A few Pot Herbs, or Sweet Herbs as they are usually called, should have a place in every vegetable garden. Every cook and every good housekeeper knows the value of the little patch of herbs upon which she makes daily drafts in the summer, and which furnishes such a nice collection of dried herbs for winter seasoning, without which the Thanksgiving turkey would be scarcely worth the having; while as domestic medicines several kinds are held in high repute.”

Vick then lists about twenty herbs from anise to wormwood.

The idea that the kitchen garden should include at least a few herbs endured til the end of the century. L. H. Bailey, Cornell horticulturist and author, wrote in 1900: “It is in the Kitchen-garden that the sweet herbs and the garnishing plants may be grown.”

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