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California Nurseries in the 19th Century Sold Plants from the East Coast

After 1850 a booming seed and nursery business appeared on the West coast. That same year when California became part of the United States,  local nurseries began to import plants from states in the Northeast and Europe.

The trains after 1869 provided the largest variety of plants for the California nursery business.

American gardening on the Pacific coast resembled gardens from the Atlantic coast area.

California native poppy

California garden historian Tom Brown wrote, “Virtually ninety-five percent of the plants seen today are introduced species and varieties, and a great percentage of these were introduced before 1900.”

As was the case in states across the country, most of the nurseries in California developed after 1880.

Brown also wrote: “It was found that plants that had to be kept in heated greenhouses in Massachusetts and could therefore be afforded only by the wealthy, or were even symbols of wealth, were perfectly hardy out of doors in much of California and could be grown by anyone.”  Thus California gardens resembled those on the East coast.

Luckily, from the nineteenth century a native California poppy, Eschoscholtzia Californica, [above illustration from Renee’s Garden] often made its way into the seed and nursery catalogs around the country.  In his catalog of 1874 Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick wrote of this flower: “A very showy class of hardy annuals.”  And so it is even today in many American gardens.

East coast cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Boston featured early nineteenth century nurseries that sold seeds and plants, but as the country expanded, local seed companies and nurseries developed to meet the needs of gardeners. And so it was  in California that with the rush of new settlers, most of whom came from the East, new gardens appeared as well, stocked with their familiar plants from the East coast.

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