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Nineteenth Century English Nurseries Supported Plant Collecting

Gardening resembles clothing as a cultural symbol.  It represents what is in fashion at the moment.

In nineteenth century England plant collecting made varieties of plants from Africa, Asia, and the Americas available to gardeners who had never seen them before.

People gardened to show off their collections.

The garden moved from the eighteenth century picturesque view to a garden with plants to display.

Edward Hyams in his book The English Garden wrote: “High gardening was a product of money, scientific and technical advances, the rise of the great and profitable nursery firms, and plant collecting.”

B. K. Bliss catalog cover of 1879
B. K. Bliss catalog cover of 1879

Soon people had to have the latest in garden fashion, the newest plants. The nurseries, sponsoring plant collectors to hunt the world’s forests and pastures, obliged and became rich in the process.

The same thing happened in America.

The New York seed merchant Benjamin K. Bliss [above] wrote in his catalog of 1860, “We would respectfully invite the attention of all lovers of flowers the following list of plants, containing, in addition to all the leading varieties of former years, many that are new and rare, now offered for the first time in this country.”

Thus marketing the garden became selling the latest fad to the gardener.

In one sense not much has changed.

American gardeners today show that same interest.

It ought be no surprise that those who market seeds and plants fill that need by advertising the “newest” flower or vegetable.

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