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Nineteenth Century Garden Catalogs Instructed

Nineteenth century garden catalogs instructed the American gardener.

The owners of the nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries considered themselves teachers.  Thus, their company catalog did not hesitate to instruct its customers.

Both in word and illustration the reader learned about gardening.

New York seedsman Peter Henderson on his 1899 catalog cover showed the vegetable crops in the field, but also provided the gardener with an image of the English style landscape around the home. [below]

Philadelphia nurseryman and writer Thomas Meehan in his garden publication Gardener’s Monthly said in 1866: “We commence our eighth annual volume with the feeling of a novice new to his work. We direct the same pen, and the same page conveys our teachings to those who read.”

Henderson catalog of 1899
Peter Henderson & Co. catalog of 1899

In 1885 the Baltimore horticulturist, who once worked for seedsman Robert Buist, William D. Brackenridge wrote in the same magazine: “The country has arrived at a high state of progress in horticulture …by the descriptive and illustrated catalogs spread broadcast over the length and breadth of the land by the almost innumerable nurserymen and florists found in every section of our diversified and fertile country.”

Gardeners depended on the seed and nursery trade, not only for garden products like seeds and plants, but also for instructions on how to plant and care for trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables, and, of course, the lawn.

For much of the nineteenth century the seed and nursery industries depended in turn on England’s search for new plants for the garden, innovations like the Wardian case and the glass house, along with the many garden books and magazines by English writers.

American seedsmen and nurserymen must have taught us well since to this day we still love the English garden.

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