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The Late Nineteenth Century Garden Industry Linked to a Consumer Culture

The consumer culture began in this country about 1880, when products became standardized, emerging from factories in mass numbers.  Bartering no longer worked for services and goods because the exchange of money provided whatever people needed.

The garden industry also grew during the last two decades of the century.  Large and colorful catalogs appeared. The mail order business became bigger than ever.

The seed companies and nurseries sold a style of garden that appeared in catalog after catalog, the English garden design.

The Currie Company catalog
This Currie Company seed catalog referred to itself as a “Horticultural Guide”.

In the Currie Brothers seed catalog of 1894, we read: “A careful perusal of the pages of our ‘Guide’ will reveal the fact that it is not simply an ordinary Catalogue of Seeds, Flowers, Plants, etc. but a valuable book of reference, designed as an assistant to the gardener and the farmer. All the best and most useful Vegetables, Flowers, Plants, Grains, and Grasses adapted to our climate are fully described and instructions for their culture given.”

The catalog provided more than just products. It sold the dream and hope of a particular landscape and garden.

Advertising in mass circulated magazines, catalogs, and newspapers followed the same pattern.  No longer just information about a product was presented, but how the product would make you look better or make your house and property  look better.  They sold dreams and hopes.

By the late nineteenth century a growing consumer culture meant what things and products you owned determined your worth.

Home landscape included anything that would show off the property, including a lawn, a water feature, flowerbeds on the lawn, and trees to line the property with the kitchen garden and fruit trees behind the house.

The garden industry in an effort to become part of the culture and succeed in its business now across the country provided a standardized view of the garden to middle class America. And the same garden appeared from California to Maine.

All the customer had to do was send in money  for those seeds or plants.


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