Posts tagged ‘garden history’

The Thrill of the Grill

Farnham Garden

The Farnham family in their Mendham, New Jersey garden, 1960s. Molly Adams, photographer. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens. Note the grill in the background.

Above all else, Memorial Day is a holiday dedicated to honoring those who have lost their lives serving the United States. Unofficially, the long weekend also marks the start of grilling season. As we come together as family, friends, and neighbors to celebrate the arrival of summer and strengthen community bonds, the grill is the hearth around which we gather in backyards across the country. Barbecue and grilling have a long history in America, an ebb and flow of foodways coming together and drifting apart. Each region in America has their outdoor cooking traditions, from the vinegary pulled pork of North Carolina to bean-hole beans in Maine, to tri-tip grilled on the spit in southern California. Immigrants from as far away as Korea and Brazil have introduced new flavors and cooking methods to the American picnic table, expanding our ever-changing menu.

Our newest traveling exhibit is a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Services and the Smithsonian Gardens’ Archives of American Gardens. Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard explores the rise of outdoor living in the decades after World War II, as the suburban backyard became the setting for pool parties, barbecues, and family fun. The exhibit is currently on view at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum and travels next to the Tampa History Center in June 2015.

Just about every town in America has rows upon rows of suburban tract houses, built as housing for returning veterans after World War II. The GI Bill of Rights placed homeownerships within reach of millions of people; by 1959, thirty-one million people owned their own home. With these homes came backyards, small lots that could be transformed into outdoor living rooms with a little imagination, some elbow grease, and a subscription to Popular Mechanics.

As a garden feature though, the grill really hit its stride in the 1930s and 1940s, gaining popularity on the West Coast before making its way east across the country. Fire pits and permanent brick barbecues complimented the low-slung, L-shaped ranch houses gaining popularity in California. The open architecture of the ranch house seamlessly blended the indoors with the outdoors, expanding the living space of the home. Outdoor kitchens, patios, and swimming pools began to take centerstage in the western backyard.

In the years after World War II, as wartime restrictions on materials were lifted and consumers flexed their newfound buying power, novel products for outdoor living flooded the market. The Weber kettle grill was invented in 1951 by combining two metal marine buoys, and was just one of many popular options sold at department and hardware stores nationwide. Pop culture portrayed grilling as a gender-specific activity, with women preparing side dishes indoors and men toiling away outside at a smoking grill. Cliché imagery of the cave man was often invoked when describing the art of grilling, such as in this quote from a 1956 issue of Kiplinger Magazine: “Give a man a patch of yard to call his own, and soon you will see him, garbed in white hat, funny apron and asbestos gloves, solemnly practicing that most ancient of masculine arts—the cooking of raw flesh at an open fire.”

Popular Mechanics April 1960

The April 1960 issue of Popular Mechanics highlighted a number of options for building an outdoor kitchen, including plans for a permanent outdoor kitchen with storage, a serving cart, and a number of budget-friendly simple grills. An outdoor kitchen could fit any budget, small or large. Courtesy of Popular Mechanics.

Grilling was well established in the cultural zeitgeist of the time. Big brands hopped on the barbecue bandwagon as well, even those not peddling grills and ketchup. Want to be reminded of outdoor grilling season in the middle of winter? Why not choose this barbecue-themed wallpaper for your next remodeling project. From aprons to children’s toys, the barbecue motif was as hot as a burger just off the grill. In the 1957 I Love Lucy episode “Building a Bar-B-Q” Ethel and Lucy comically take on the typical suburban do-it-yourself task with humorous results (to which I am sure many homeowners could relate).

Cookbooks provided endless ideas for Jell-O salads and baked beans to accompany your grilled shish kebobs. This weekend, if you’re firing up the grill for a gathering, use it as an excuse to peak into your personal archives. Do you have a favorite family recipe from your mother, grandfather, or great-aunt? Our family recipes are our family stories, whether the ingredients came from the garden or a tin can. I leave you with two summer recipes from my grandmothers, both of whom grew up during the Depression, married veterans of World War II, and raised their families in the Maryland suburbs in the 1950s. Remember, it wouldn’t be a mid-century recipe without either pineapple or mayonnaise—or both!

Isabel's layered salad recipe

Isabel Clough’s recipe for a layered salad from her church cookbook, circa 1960s.

Jean's pineapple recipe

Jean Fox’s recipe for a cream cheese and pineapple spread, written in her own hand, circa 1960s.

-Kate Fox, curator, Patios, Pools & the Invention of the American Backyard

Do you have a favorite family recipe for barbecue, or a side dish with a story? Memories of your backyard or garden from the 1950s and 1960s? Share it with Community of Gardens, our digital archive! We are collecting stories from the public about gardens and backyards in America and building a digital archive of our shared landscape history.

May 24, 2015 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

A Millionaire, a Missionary, and a Mutant Marigold

When David Burpee took over as president of the W. Atlee Burpee Seed Company in 1915 he set out to find a new flower to surpass the popularity of the sweet pea. Always the progressive thinker, Burpee knew the sweet pea craze of the late 1800s was nearing its end and felt it was the perfect time for Burpee & Company to thrill the gardening world with a new “all-American” flower.

Sweet peas. Image © Stanislav Krejčík

Sweet pea blooms. Image © Stanislav Krejčík

The sweet pea had been a favorite among American gardeners for decades, but by the early twentieth century its popularity was waning. Sweet peas were temperamental and difficult to grow. While they looked beautiful in a garden, they were too delicate to use in floral arrangements.

Burpee sought a new flower that would appeal to more gardeners and developed a list of requirements. It needed to be strong and resistant to disease, easy to cultivate, and adaptable to growing conditions throughout the country. In addition, Burpee wanted a flower that had large showy blooms with all the aesthetic appeal of the sweet pea, but none of its less favorable qualities.

It was a tall order, but Burpee felt he found the right flower in the marigold. Marigolds had large, full blooms and long, sturdy stems, making them ideal for cut flower arrangements. They could also be grown throughout the U.S. They seemed perfect except for one flaw: marigold leaves have small sacs containing an oil called terpene which gives the plant a foul odor. The oil protects the plant against natural predators, but also makes it unfavorable among gardeners. Burpee decided rather than giving up on the marigold that he would just ‘fix’ it by getting rid of this unpleasant characteristic.

David Burpee in a field of marigolds. Photo courtesy of Burpee Gardens

David Burpee in a field of marigolds. Photo courtesy of Burpee Gardens

Burpee searched the globe hoping to find a terpene-free marigold variety. By 1931 he had collected hundreds of specimens and seeds. Experts at Burpee’s experimental farms grew thousands of plants from these samples, but met with no success. Every marigold had the odor-causing terpene sacs. All, including Burpee, feared the experiment would never succeed.

Then in late 1933 a letter arrived from Carter Holton, a missionary in China who had seen Burpee’s request for marigold seeds in an American magazine. Holton claimed to have found a completely odorless marigold and offered to send Burpee its seeds for $25. Skeptical, Burpee nonetheless had the requested funds wired to Holton.

Four months later a package of seeds arrived. They were planted at the company’s farm in the spring of 1934. As Burpee watched the plants struggle to grow, he remained doubtful. The Chinese marigolds bloomed late and produced unimpressive flowers. Unconcerned with the bloom, Burpee wanted to know if this variety suffered from the same odiferous curse as other marigolds.

As a test, Burpee fed foliage from the Chinese plants and other marigolds to the barnyard animals at his farm. To his delight they ate the foliage from the Chinese marigold, but ignored the others. Burpee had found his treasure! His horticultural experts immediately began crossing the Chinese marigold with other varieties to develop a plant that was robust and odor-free.

This first generation of marigold hybrids were grown at Burpee’s trial grounds under the protection of armed guards. One of the plants in the trial stood out. By definition a mutant, it bloomed early and produced a large orange flower. Most importantly, its foliage was odorless.

Burpee seed catalog from 1937 featuring the Collarette Marigold. Image from the Henry Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection, National Agricultural Library

Burpee seed catalog from 1937 featuring the Collarette Marigold. Image from the Henry Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection, National Agricultural Library

Burpee employees collected and planted seeds from this new hybrid. Soon dozens of Burpee’s “gift-from-God” marigolds were growing and replicating the favorable characteristics of their mutant parent. By late 1936 Burpee & Company began selling seeds for this miracle flower named the Collarette Marigold “Crown of Gold” to the public. It was even showcased on the cover of the company’s 1937 seed catalog. Just as Burpee hoped, the introduction of a scentless marigold took the gardening world by storm. The plant was the only flower to receive a gold medal at the All-America trials in 1937.

David Burpee helped create a scentless marigold which quickly became a beloved classic among American gardeners. He didn’t stop there, however. As he hinted to a reporter in 1937, “There might be marigolds in many colors—some day—perhaps!”

– Thomas Hull, Smithsonian Gardens Intern

May 22, 2015 at 8:58 am Leave a comment

Growing a Digital Garden Archive

Gardens at Chewonki

The gardens at the Chewonki Foundation in Wiscasset, Maine evolved over a century as the summer camp transformed into a year-round environmental education organization. Generations of students and staff have left their mark on the farm and gardens.

We are a nation of gardeners. Thomas Jefferson grew over 300 varieties of plants at his Monticello home and like any dedicated gardener kept meticulous records detailing the triumphs (and failures) of his adventures in gardening. In the nineteenth century Italian immigrants introduced new vegetables like artichokes to the United States. Today, heirloom seeds originating from around the globe—or grandma’s backyard—can be purchased online and grown wherever we make a home. The Smithsonian Gardens Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History tells a story of citizens feeding their communities during wartime years, as well as a story of the diverse cultures that comprise the American people. In the summer ‘Carolina Gold’ rice, a traditional crop from the Carolina Lowcountry, can be found growing only a few feet from ‘Corbaci’ sweet peppers, a hard-to-find heirloom from Turkey.

Gandhi Garden

Inspired by the quote “you must be the change you wish to see in the world,” the artists of the S.A.G.E. Coalition in Trenton, New Jersey transformed an abandoned lot into a vibrant community garden and gathering space.

April is National Garden Month, and we are celebrating the diversity of American gardens and the gardeners who make them grow. Small gardens and large gardens, community gardens and backyards, our diverse stories are part of a verdant quilt of gardens growing across the country. Gardens tell us where we’ve been, and where we are going. They can tell us stories about how people in our communities lived in the past and articulate our cultural values in the present. So often our everyday stories—the dahlias bred by a great-uncle, the nursery owned by a family for generations, the hot peppers grown as a reminder of a faraway island childhood—are lost to the historical record, and therefore lost to future generations.

Community of Gardens website

Community of Gardens is a participatory digital archive collecting stories from the public about gardens and gardening in America.

Community of Gardens is our answer to the call to preserve our vernacular garden heritage. Community of Gardens is a digital archive hosted by Smithsonian Gardens, in partnership with our Archives of American Gardens, and created by YOU. It is a participatory archive that enriches and adds diversity to the history of gardening in the United States and encourages engagement with gardens on a local, community level. The website uses a multimedia platform that supports images, text, audio, and video. Visitors can add their own story to the digital archive, or explore personal stories of gardens from around the country.

To contribute a story to the digital archive visit the “Share a Story” page on the Community of Gardens website to sign up for an account. Once you have set up your account you may then add a written story and photographs. If you’d like to add video or audio files to your story email them to communityofgardens@si.edu. You will hear from a Smithsonian Gardens education staff member within a few days, and your story will be posted on the website usually within 3-5 business days. Once you have shared a story, share another story, or encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same!

Paul, on the right, shared his family’s garden history with Community of Gardens, beginning with his great-grandfather immigrating to America in 1881. His grandfather Harry Sr., on left, grew tomatoes, and in the nineteenth century his great-grandfather sold vegetables the old Central Market in Washington, D.C. Today Paul maintains a large garden that he tends with his children.

Paul, on the right, shared his family’s garden history with Community of Gardens, beginning with his great-grandfather immigrating to America in 1881. His grandfather Harry Sr., on the left, grew tomatoes, and today Paul maintains a large garden that he tends with his children.

We are looking for any story about gardens and gardening in America—even stories of Americans gardening abroad. Here is just a sampling of the stories we are looking to include in Community of Gardens:

  • What’s growing in your own backyard, or on your apartment balcony? What motivates you to garden and how did you get your start? How does gardening enrich your everyday life?
  • Interview a neighbor or family member about their garden.
  • Memories of gardens past. Do you have strong memories of your grandparents’ garden, or visiting a public garden that no longer exists? Gardens can live on in stories and images through the archive.
  • Family history. This is a good opportunity to get out the photo albums and scan old family photographs. Are you a fourth-generation gardener like Paul, pictured above?
  • Community gardens—past and present.
  • Did you immigrate to the United States from another country? How do your traditions and culture play a role in your garden?
  • College and university gardens.
  • School gardens. Involve your students in telling the story of their garden!
  • Pollinator gardens and beekeeping.
  • Americans gardening abroad. Are you a veteran or member of the Foreign Service? Did you keep a garden while living abroad? How did living in another country influence your garden?
  • Sustainability and eco-friendly gardening.
  • Stories of gardens committed to providing food access in urban areas.

Join us in preserving our national garden heritage—this month and every month. What is your garden story?

 -Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

April 15, 2015 at 8:42 am Leave a comment

Way Down Yonder in the Paw-Paw Patch

Pawpaw tree blossoms

Pawpaw tree in bloom in the Native Landscape garden at the National Museum of the  American Indian.

Ever heard of the pawpaw tree?  Ever tasted its fruit?  Did you even know it had fruit?  Though it may not have the name recognition of an apple or a peach tree, pawpaw trees have a long and important history in the United States. In 1541, Hernando de Soto observed Mississippi Valley Native Americans growing pawpaws and eating the fruit. According to scientist Neal Peterson, the Spanish mistakenly named the pawpaw fruit “papaya.” Spanish explorers selected this name because they observed pawpaw fruit to have a similar green skin and orange flesh to a papaya. Overtime, the English language transformed the fruit and tree species name from papaya to pawpaw (Asimina triloba).

According to James A. Little in his 1905 A Treatise on the Pawpaw, pawpaw fruit helped sustain Native Americans and early American settlers in times of harvest failure. Little wrote that pawpaw trees needed little maintenance in order to survive in the wild, unlike apple, pear, or peach trees. Thanks to its resilience, Native Americans and early pioneers enjoyed pawpaw fruit as a dependable source of fiber and nourishment.  Even members of the Lewis and Clarke Expedition survived on pawpaw fruit during their long journey west in 1804-1806.

Pawpaw tree fruit

Pawpaw tree fruit at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Found between Georgia  and Northern Michigan, pawpaws extend across eastern portions of the United States. Unlike the tropical members of the Annonaceae family to which it belongs, pawpaw trees thrive in harsh conditions of snow and ice. Despite this resilience, pawpaws still struggle to reproduce. Scientists believe the tree is ineffective at attracting flies and beetles to pollinate its flowers, thus creating challenges for reproduction.
The pawpaw tree produces a very nutritious and delicious fruit, which is actually a berry.  The pawpaw berry is also called a “custard apple” and is said to taste like a mix between a banana and a pear, with a hint of vanilla.  The name custard apple derives from the creamy texture of the fruit.

Pawpaw tree foliage

The pawpaw tree has striking foliage in autumn. Pictured here on the grounds of the National Museum of Natural History.

Smithsonian Gardens currently has seventeen pawpaw trees in its Tree Collection.  They can be found in the Native Landscape garden at the National Museum of the American Indian, the Butterfly Habitat Garden adjacent to the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Air and Space Museum.

Next time you stop by one of the Smithsonian gardens keep an eye out for this beautiful tree with a deliciously-interesting past.

-Jessica Brode, Archives of American Gardens intern

November 26, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

In Pursuit of Primary Sources (National History Day Part II)

As a continuation to the National History Day post, we wanted to offer ways to find credible primary sources for any research projects. There is an infinite amount of information available to students today, but it is also infinitely important to know how to search for credible sources. Resources are available both online and in-person if you know where to look.

Collage of Archives of American Gardens primary sources.

The Archives of American Gardens is just one place to look for primary sources related to gardens, parks, and cultural landscapes. Landscape design plans, postcards, and photos can all provide rich primary source material for research.

If your student is looking for something available online these are great starting points:

However, not everything in an institution is available online. If your student has the ability to do so, visiting an archive is a great way to find primary and secondary sources. Local courthouses and city offices hold historical records such as property deeds or census records and registries. Art museums and galleries are also a great source. There may be local colleges or universities in your area with historical collections waiting to be explored. Don’t forget to look for historical societies, churches, and of course libraries which all may have primary sources about your area. All it takes is a phone call or e-mail stating your interest to find out what material is available to you!

-Catherine Bell, Archives of American Gardens intern

October 6, 2014 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

National History Day and the Archives of American Gardens (Part I)

Collage of Archives of American Gardens materials

The Archives of American Gardens contains a variety of materials including advertisements, hand painted glass slides, 35 mm film negatives, and postcards.

During a recent conversation, a parent of a high school student brought up the question of how to find primary sources to use in National History Day projects. That got the Archives of American Gardens staff thinking; maybe we have items that could help students find interesting and exciting ideas for projects. The 2015 theme for NHD is “Leadership and Legacy in History,” and a further description for the theme can be found here: http://www.nhd.org/images/uploads/Theme_2015_5-7.pdf.

NHD encourages participants to develop their understanding of history using both primary and secondary resources, finding new stories beyond what is generally taught in the classroom. While the NHD website offers some great ideas for topics, the staff at AAG have a few of our own to offer. Each of the topics listed are ideas or starting points for an NHD project, and we have included places to find further information and resources beyond AAG collections.

Garden Club of America dedication ceremony of redwoods grove.

Garden Club of America dedication ceremony. The first section of the GCA Grove was purchased in 1931 and formally dedicated in 1934. Photo courtesy of The Garden Club of America. Courtesy of Save the Redwoods League.

Legacy of the Redwoods: How the Garden Club of America saved a Forest:

Milton Hershey’s Legacy: Public Spaces at the Hershey Rose Gardens:

Sargent in the Library at the Arnold Arboretum examining Quercus herbarium specimens.

Sargent in the Library at the Arnold Arboretum examining Quercus herbarium specimens. Photo taken by T.E. Marr in 1904. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Collection.

The Leadership and Legacy of Charles Sprague Sargent:

The Leadership and Legacy of Frederic Law Olmsted: (Note: Materials listed are extensive)

Leader in Conservation: The Legacy of J. Horace McFarland:

Other ideas for further research include:

  • The Leadership of the W. Atlee Burpee Company
  • Legacy of Gardening in America
  • Changing the Landscape: the Legacy of Women in Landscape Architecture and Design
  • Public Parks: the Legacy of Public Spaces in American History

Whatever topic your student may choose, we hope these offer some unique opportunities to create an interesting project for National History Day. The Archives of American Gardens staff welcomes any questions regarding these ideas or collection materials and can be reached at aag@si.edu or 202-633-5840.

-Catherine Bell, Archives of American Gardens intern

October 1, 2014 at 7:45 am 1 comment

Beyond Apple Pie: Apple Cider

This week we are highlighting a tree that is not growing in our Victory Garden—yet. Every Thursday in September we are exploring one of four key maritime regions with connections to the War of 1812 at FOOD in the garden at the National Museum of American History: the Long Island Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and New Orleans. This week’s theme transports us to the Great Lakes region for a discussion of the ever-changing agricultural heritage of the “Eden of the West.” Join us in the Victory Garden for delicious food, cider-making demonstrations from Distillery Lane Ciderworks, rhubarb and apples pies from Whisked! Bakery, and more. Tickets available here.

Apples and cider

A display of apples and cider from Distillery Lane Ciderworks at the September 4th, 2014 FOOD in the Garden program.

What is more American than apple pie? At one point in American history the answer might have been apple cider. Cultivated apples (Malus domestica) originated from the wild species Malus sieversii in Asia and were brought to North America by European colonists in the seventeenth century. Much of the climate of North America was found to be amenable to growing apples. Through the process of grafting, regional varieties proliferated to create a distinctly American pomology. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew apples on their farm estates (here at Smithsonian Gardens we like to think of them as the founding gardeners) and produced cider. Today cider usually refers to the sweet, non-alcoholic variety. The cider (or “cyder”) of the 18th and 19th centuries was a fermented, alcoholic beverage and much different than the commercially-available hard cider today. Dry, cloudy, and lightly effervescent, cider was brewed in relatively small batches and tasted distinctly of the maker’s favorite blend of local apples. Cider apples are more bitter than apples used for baking and eating fresh, and there were hundreds of choices. Jefferson preferred ‘Golden Wilding’ and ‘Red Hughes’ for his cider. According to author Frank Browning in his book Apples, casks of cider were even used as an informal currency, an acceptable payment for goods and services.

Every apple-growing region in the United States was once known for their locally-developed cultivars. Lumpy or squat or pink on the inside, apples can express a certain terroir particular to the people and places who gave them root. Apples with names like ‘Chenango Strawberry’ and ‘Black Oxford’ are stories begging to be told. In the twentieth century Prohibition left cider production at a standstill and a more robust national transportation system put apples on the table no matter the season. Now, at most grocery stores only about a dozen varieties are available, cultivated over the years for their hardiness and sweeter flavor. The United States is now the second-leading producer of apples in the world, after China. ‘Red Delicious’ reigns as local apples have faded away, some lost but others making a comeback as interest in historic American food and foodways grows.

Once “new” to the Great Lakes region, apples are now deeply ingrained in the cultural and culinary heritage of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. At FOOD in the Garden this week our panel will discuss apples and other exotic (and sometimes invasive) species introduced to the Great Lakes region as settlers moved westward in search of fertile farmland. Tim Rose of Distillery Lane Ciderworks will be joined by Jodi Branton of the National Museum of American Indian and Rick Finch, interim director of the Glenn Miller Birth Place Museum for the discussion.

We hope to see you tomorrow evening in the Victory Garden as we raise a glass of cider to food history!

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

September 17, 2014 at 4:23 pm Leave a comment

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