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Like the English, Nineteenth Century American Gardeners Formed Horticultural Societies

This week the Boston Flower and Garden Show opens in the exhibition center along Boston’s harbor called Seaport World Trade Center.

Though it has a smaller role in this Show, for years the Massachusetts Horticultural Society sponsored the New England Flower Show that drew thousands of visitors during its week-long run in the spring.

The Massachusetts Horticultural Society had its beginning in 1829 with the leadership of local plantsmen like Joseph Breck (1794-1883).

Along with the Pennslyvania Horticultural Society (1827) and the New York Horticultural Society (1855),  the Massachusetts Horticultural Society modeled itself after a similar group in England.

In 1804, English plant enthusiasts began the Horticultural Society of London, later to become the Royal Horticultural Society. The organization focused on plant science and exploration, and the members encouraged gardens using the newest plants, whether imported from the Americas or Asia. Members were primarily wealthy businessmen and aristocrats who had an interest in building greenhouses and cultivating exotic plants in the landscape.


Breck Nurseries in 1850, located in Brighton, Mass.
Breck Nurseries in 1850, located in Brighton [courtesy of the Brighton Allston Historical Society]

Breck, also editor of New England Farmer, managed  his seed business, which he began in 1818, in Brighton. He served as the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s president from 1859 to 1862.

Boston seedsmen and nurserymen played an important role in the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s early decades.

They were able to educate people about gardening trends and fashion, like the latest fruits and flowers for the garden.

Like the English Society, which was made up of the British landed gentry, at the start wealthy American merchants who were also avid gentleman farmers often formed the membership of local horticultural societies.


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