Posts tagged ‘garden history’
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.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!
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
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.
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.
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
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.
If your student is looking for something available online these are great starting points:
- The National Archives and Records Administration’s hub for primary sources and learning activities with primary sources in the NARA collection: docsteach.org
- A page which NARA gears towards the NHD theme each year: docsteach.org/home/national-history-day
- Curated sets of primary sources by the Library of Congress ranging on topics spanning America’s history: loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/
- A site detailing how to find information from Presidential Libraries, which are a subsidiary of NARA: archives.gov/presidential-libraries/research/
- For artwork and other cultural pieces check out the Google Cultural Institute (google.com/culturalinstitute/about/) and digitized artworks from internationally renowned galleries and museums: www.google.com/culturalinstitute/project/art-project
- Search your state’s archive for any digitized material: http://www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/state-archives.html
- The Smithsonian’s Collection Search Center is a catalog for all materials across the Smithsonian’s many institutions: http://collections.si.edu/search/
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
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.
Legacy of the Redwoods: How the Garden Club of America saved a Forest:
- Primary source from the Archives of American Gardens’ Garden Club of America Collection: http://tinyurl.com/ltrszno
- Secondary Source giving background information: http://www.savetheredwoods.org/wp-content/uploads/GCA-Grove-FAQs.pdf
Milton Hershey’s Legacy: Public Spaces at the Hershey Rose Gardens:
- Primary sources- catalog link to images of the Hershey Rose Garden from the Archives of American Gardens: http://tinyurl.com/mxpvfaj
- Primary sources- records from the Hershey Community Archives relating to the Hershey Rose Garden: http://media.hersheyarchives.org/archon/index.php?p=core/search&subjectid=426
- For more information on the Rose Garden and Milton Hershey see the Hershey Community Archives: http://www.hersheyarchives.org/
The Leadership and Legacy of Charles Sprague Sargent:
- Primary sources- images connected to Sargent from the Archives of American Gardens: http://tinyurl.com/pojn46l
- Primary sources- catalog link to images and documents on the Arnold Arboretum from the Archives of American Gardens: http://tinyurl.com/mxrzbhr
- For more information on Charles Sprague Sargent and the Arnold Arboretum: http://arboretum.harvard.edu/about/our-history/
The Leadership and Legacy of Frederic Law Olmsted: (Note: Materials listed are extensive)
- Primary sources- catalog link to images pertaining to Olmsted and his works including Arnold Arboretum, Rusty Rocks, Central Park, and Franklin Park in the Archives of American Gardens collection: http://tinyurl.com/od8vjwr
- The Olmsted Archives at the National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/frla/olmstedarchives.htm
- For more information on Olmsted and his specific projects: http://www.olmsted.org/the-olmsted-legacy/frederick-law-olmsted-sr
- For more information on the “Emerald Necklace:” http://arboretum.harvard.edu/about/emerald-necklace/
Leader in Conservation: The Legacy of J. Horace McFarland:
- Primary sources- images of parks in the J. Horace McFarland collection at the Archives of American Gardens: http://tinyurl.com/kwk869r
- Information on collection materials at the Archives of American Gardens: http://gardens.si.edu/collections-research/aag-mcfarland-collection.html
- Information on McFarland and materials relating to him at the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library: http://specialcollections.nal.usda.gov/j-horace-mcfarland-collection
- The Pennsylvania Museum and Historical Commission holds materials pertaining to McFarland and the American Civic Association: http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/bah/dam/mg/mg85.htm
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 email@example.com or 202-633-5840.
-Catherine Bell, Archives of American Gardens intern
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.
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
This is the second in a series of blog posts highlighting heirloom plants growing in our Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History with ties to the FOOD in the Garden theme of the week. Every Thursday in September we are exploring one of four key maritime regions with connections to the War of 1812: the Long Island Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and New Orleans. We hope to see you tomorrow evening in the Victory Garden as we enjoy garden-fresh food, cocktails and hard cider from New Columbia Distillers and Distillery Lane Ciderworks, and learn more about two hundred years of Chesapeake Bay foodways. This week’s event is sold out, but you can follow @amhistorymuseum on Twitter for live updates. Tickets for the programs on September 18th and 24th can be purchased here.
This spicy heirloom pepper has deep roots in African-American history, the fishing industry, and the food traditions of the Chesapeake Bay region. The fish pepper is both a decorative and culinary treasure; beautiful variegated foliage provides an attention-grabbing backdrop for the striated peppers that range from white to green to deep oranges and reds. It’s a workhorse plant that’s pretty enough to show off in the front yard as an ornamental and produces peppers with a mellow heat all summer long.
The origins of the fish pepper (Capsicum annum, the same species as the Tabasco pepper) are mysterious, but it likely arrived in North America by way of the Caribbean. A possible genetic mutation caused the plant to produce the prized spicy, light-colored peppers. African-American slaves and freedmen in Antebellum Maryland used the pepper to add an unanticipated heat to fish, shellfish—and even terrapin—stew. It was a prized “secret” ingredient in white sauces. The creamy, green young peppers added undetected heat to a white sauce without muddying the color. According to the authors of Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots along the Pepper Trail, the decline of the fish pepper (and its brush with extinction) is closely tied to the decline of the fishing industry in the Chesapeake Bay, though this heirloom is now is making a culinary comeback in the Baltimore area and is available from some seed companies.
Here are two past blog entries from Smithsonian Gardens and the National Museum of American History on the history of fish pepper. Enjoy!
-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator
Imagine yourself after a long day outside; you are driving down the road on a hot summer day with temperatures in the upper 90s. Now imagine there is no air-conditioning in the car; immediately a pungent odor of battery acid hits you and mingles with the stench of the other passengers’ sweat. This experience is not common today thanks to temperature controls that are standard in most cars, but it would have been the case whenever you rode in a car until air conditioners were installed in automobiles in 1939.
There were no pine-scented cardboard trees to dangle from the mirror during this time, and many car owners desperately wanted a reprieve from the foul smell. The auto vase, a term coined by auto magnate Henry Ford, was the solution to the problem. As early as 1895, small vases, which held one or two flowers that emitted a sweet fragrance, became the first automobile air-fresheners.
The auto vase is comprised of a small bud vase with a bracket that allowed it to be mounted inside the car either on the dashboard or by a passenger side window. Vases came in many designs and colors, in a variety of price ranges. They not only improved the smell but also added a touch of elegance to the car interior. Pressed glass, cut crystal, metal, porcelain, ceramic, and even wood were used for the vases, which were often paired with brackets that were fancier than the vases themselves. The fixtures could be made of silver and some were even gold plated. Smithsonian Gardens preserves three examples of these auto vases in its Garden Furnishings and Horticultural Artifacts Collection. One of the three is made from Depression glass with a sky blue satin finish, and is encircled by a nickel-plated bracket.
Auto vases were sold in jewelry stores, auto parts stores, and catalogs from companies such as Sears. Henry Ford was so pleased with these simple solutions that he offered them in his parts department and added them to his system of mass production. The service these vases provided made them a desirable feature to add to any car. With improvements in car batteries and air-conditioning becoming standard in vehicles, the auto vase was no longer necessary. In recent years, however, there has been resurgence in these novelties. Cars such as the Volkswagen Beetle revived these little vases for a fresh twist on their interiors, and drivers of other cars have caught on to the trend.
For more information about auto vases:
Steele, Evie. “For your Limousine.” Classic Car, vols. 23-25. Michigan: Classic Car Club of America, 1975. p. 22-23.
Stout, Sandra. Depression Glass Price Guide. Wayne, PA: Wallace-Homestead Book Company, 1980.
____. “Origin of automobile bouquet holders.” Popular Mechanics, May 1913. Hearst Magazines, 1913. p. 678-679.
Lounsbery, Elizabeth. “Some Automobile Accessories.” American Homes and Gardens, Vol. 10. Munn and Company, 1913.
____. “Flower-Decorated Motor Cars the Vogue.” Automobile Topics, Vol. 18. E.E. Schwarzkopf, 1909. p. 386.
–Janie R. Askew
Research Assistant, Smithsonian Gardens
MA Candidate, History of Decorative Arts
The Smithsonian Associates – George Mason University