Posts tagged ‘garden history’

Harvesting Garden History, One Story at a Time

October is Archives Month, and as gardeners across the country harvest the last of their summer crops, we’re turning our attention to a different type of harvesting: preserving stories about gardens for future generations. Smithsonian Gardens’ Community of Gardens digital archive is celebrating Archives Month with a story-behind-the-story featuring a contributor to our digital archive.

Elizabeth Eggimann is an independent researcher in storytelling and landscape history. During her senior year at Pace University in New York City, she set out to document the untold stories of the community gardeners who have shaped the urban landscape of New York City. Tucked into formerly vacant lots and pockets of green between alleys and asphalt, these nook-and-cranny gardens are vibrant hubs of community energy and activism. Eggimann chose to interview a handful of current community gardeners rather than focus on an all-encompassing narrative of the complex history of urban community gardening in New York City. Their thoughts and wisdom form a snapshot of a city that is ever-changing in the face of development. Eggimann stresses that these oral histories were in many ways a collaborative endeavor. “The narrators are the authors of their stories,” she explains, “without their contribution, time, and generosity this project would not have been possible.”

We asked her to share her thoughts on the experience of embarking on an oral history project spotlighting gardens and gardeners. A few of the stories from her research are featured in the Community of Gardens digital archive.

How did you first become interested in community gardens?

I first became interested in community gardens when I lived adjacent to a garden in New York City’s East Village. A window in my room looked down into the garden space, which, to my delight, offered fantastic bird watching. I slowly began spending more time in the garden—having my morning cup of coffee in there or whatnot—and began feeling really grateful for the spaces presence and availability in my life. It was a retreat from the daily urban ‘hustle and bustle’ I was so accustomed to.

Where did the idea for your project come from? 

I distinctly remember reading Studs Terkel’s Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. This book remains in my memory not only because I found it to be fantastic, but because of the Bertolt Brecht quote included in the preface:

“Who built the seven towers of Thebes?

The books are filled with the names of kings.

Was it kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone? . . .

In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished

Where did the masons go? . . .”

This quote captured the thoughts that had long been stirring in my mind, and is used in the introduction of my research, Garden Memories: Oral Histories of Urban Community Gardens in New York City. The works of Studs Terkel, and New York City’s urban gardening community at large, inspired my project. The project aims to investigate the experiences of urban community gardeners in New York City. I was interested in capturing the voices behind the movement.

Do you have a favorite story or moment from your interviews?

I really enjoyed working on this project. I met amazing and generous individuals, who openly shared their stores, and for that, I am endlessly grateful. I think one of the most moving moments from my interviews was during a discussion with Haja Worley:

“We had a group of young boys from the neighborhood who would come in and do work in the garden. They worked harder than the adults did, and I would give them a little stipend, you know. The thing was to encourage them, and they would come to work almost every day. They would come to the door and say, you know, like, “are we going to the garden today?” Or they see me in the street, “are we going to the garden today?” At the time, there were dealers in the community and we wanted them to know they didn’t have to idolize these drug dealers . . . they would identify with that and wanted to emulate that without knowing the consequences. They were always willing to come and work.”

In this moment, I felt both sad and proud. From first hand experience as a New Yorker, and an American at that, I understand the realness, per se, of the phenomenon Haja is explaining, which is saddening. However, on the other hand, I felt so proud to be talking with a local community member who has taken action and generated change in lives of neighborhood children.

Why do you think it is important to preserve stories of gardens and gardening?

I feel it is important to work across disciplines to tell stories, help assign meaning to events in relation to memory, and preserve knowledge. As a feminist, I aim to interview people around their own subjectivity, exploring time itself, because, to me, that is worth something. I believe in the power of the individual narrative, and the pursuit of attempting to understand a collective history. These gardeners and gardens have, to a degree, shaped New York City’s history, and their voices and stories should not remain unheard. It’s important to preserve these stories so that we can understand how these gardens have come to exist, and what they mean to community members. In doing so, we are tracing the process of becoming.

Read Eggimann’s interviews from Garden Memories: Oral Histories of Urban Community Gardens in New York City:

We rely on storytellers like YOU (both professional and newbies!) to contribute the interviews and memories that make up the fabric of the Community of Gardens digital archive. We’re truly a community of storytellers, and this is a homegrown archive.

Do gardens tell a story about your neighborhood? Anyone can share a story! Get started with our gardener oral history interview guide, or share your story at communityofgardens.si.edu. Help us preserve stories of gardens, and the gardeners who make them grow.

-Kate Fox, museum educator

October 12, 2018 at 7:45 am Leave a comment

Interview a Gardener: Smithsonian Gardens Green Ambassador Challenge

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Gardeners have many stories to tell about their lives and communities. Clockwise from left to right: Four Generations of Gardeners, A Passion for Insects, Watson and Bassett, and Women in the Food Movement.

Smithsonian Gardens is excited to announce a new Community of Gardens Classroom Challenge for teens: Interview a gardener in your community and share the story with the Smithsonian!

Stories about gardens can tell us about where we’ve been and where we’re going. The beliefs we hold, scientific innovation, foodways, and cultural and community traditions are reflected back at us in the why and how of our gardens. From the Victory Gardens of World War II to community garden plots in cities and the tomatoes growing in our own backyards or balconies today, gardens are an expression of our social, cultural, artistic, and environmental values. How can documenting and sharing these garden stories in our own communities inspire others? Why is it important to save these stories for future generations?

This is a project about sharing wisdom, life experiences, and community history from a gardener’s point of view. It is also an opportunity for educators to engage teens in real-world fieldwork. Our lives are local, and investigating local stories and local voices can help students explore how they are part of a community, learn more about where they live from fellow citizens, and learn where they can do good in their own community. Storytelling is an act of sharing and participating in civic life.

By interviewing gardeners in their own community teenagers have the opportunity to connect with fellow citizens and learn more about the impact of greenspaces and gardens where they live.

Get started here or email us at communityofgardens@si.edu for more information. We welcome the opportunity to work with educators and schools from around the country!

Check out our other education resources for teens and teachers:

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

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June 11, 2018 at 8:45 am Leave a comment

Gardening for Good—Part I

Many of the stories in our Community of Gardens digital archive highlight the powerful impact gardening is having on urban, suburban, and rural areas around the country. Community gardening first gained popularity in the United States in the 1890s (read up on this fascinating topic in our online exhibit). For over a century community garden organizations have helped citizens learn to grow their own food, beautify their neighborhoods, and use gardens as a springboard for education and creating connections between neighbors. Right here in our own backyard in the nation’s capital, Common Good City Farm is growing fresh produce for their neighbors and teaching urban agriculture skills. And the Neighborhood Farm Initiative is teaching novice gardeners how to start and tend their own community garden plot through their Kitchen Garden Education Program. Gardens are proving to be key to providing access to fresh, healthy food in communities across the nation. Community of Gardens not only celebrates the hard work of gardening communities, but is also preserving the individual stories that make up this larger movement for future generations of gardeners and historians.

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The Neighborhood Farm Initiative in Washington, D.C. offers gardening workshops for adults and families, teaching them how to plan, tend, and harvest a garden plot in their community garden.

Further afield, Grow Appalachia at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky partners with communities in six different states in the Appalachian region to provide garden grants, healthy summer meals for children in their community, and education and technical expertise for farmers and gardeners.

We recently received three stories about Grow Appalachia gardeners from Alix Burke, a AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with the organization. She has spent almost a year collecting stories and images of gardens and gardeners in the program. The stories, ranging from a retired couple perfecting their home gardening skills to a flower farm managed by survivors of domestic abuse, are part of a verdant quilt of gardens doing good growing across the United States.

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Married couple Della and Charles pose with the bounty of the harvest from their garden. They grew green beans, sweet potatoes, squash, and more. The couple expanded their home garden through the help of Grow Applaachia workshops.

Asked the importance of her work, Burke stated, “It’s important to collect these stories about Grow Appalachia gardeners and their gardens because it captures the lived realities of the program . . . from families bonding in the garden with healthier eating and exercise habits to people who are out of work turning to market gardening as a way to feed their families, both with the food they grow and with income they generate, the people and their gardens are, and always have been, the heart of Grow Appalachia.”

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A flower grown on the Greenhouse 17 flower farm. With support from Grow Appalachia, Greenhouse 17 helps domestic abuse survivors get back on their feet and learn new job skills in horticulture and retail.

Stories about gardens can tell us about where we’ve been, and where we are going. The values and beliefs we hold, scientific innovation, foodways, and even economic trends are reflected back at us in the why and how of our gardens. What has Burke learned from her months in the field speaking to gardeners and learning about their experiences? “No one person’s experience captures what it’s like to be a Grow Appalachia gardener, but everyone’s story, in some way, contributes to the larger narrative of food security and the growing local foods economy in the region, ” she says. “Stories have always been important to the Appalachian region, from oral histories, to bluegrass lyrics, to the memories passed down with shared heirloom bean varieties. These interviews allow folks to continue a longstanding Appalachian tradition of speaking their own truths about their own lives, from the food they grow to the connections they make along the way.”

Are there gardens and gardeners doing good in your area? Encourage them to share their story with Community of Gardens! Get started here or email us at communityofgardens@si.edu.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

June 28, 2017 at 3:32 pm 1 comment

Smithsonian Gardens Launches New Community of Gardens Mobile App

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Community of Gardens is the Smithsonian’s home for sharing garden stories.

Gardening season is here . . . flowers are just starting to peek out in the northernmost climes, and gardeners in other parts of the country are already enjoying spring peas, asparagus, and the colorful sight of tulips and daffodils. Every day, all year long, gardeners across the United States sketch plans, pore over seed catalogs, mix and lay compost, dutifully pull weeds from garden beds, build deer fencing, and tend their plants with love (and sometimes frustration with those finickier ones!). Whether you are gardening for sustenance, relaxation, health, as a creative outlet, or continuing a family or cultural tradition, there is a story behind what you do. Every gardener has a story, and those stories are important to preserve for future generations of historians, scientists, and gardeners!

Smithsonian Gardens is excited to launch its first mobile app to bring stories of gardening in the United States to life. The Community of Gardens app is the mobile companion to the Community of Gardens website, our digital archive featuring stories of everyday gardens contributed by the public.

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The Community of Gardens mobile app for Apple.

Gardens past and present, big and small, can be explored from anywhere with a mobile device. From stories of community gardens to memories of grandmother’s garden roses and “putting up” jars of tomatoes, Community of Gardens is the Smithsonian’s digital home for collecting and preserving stories of gardens and the gardeners who make them grow.

Mobile users can locate stories on a map, or learn how to upload their own story about how gardening has shaped their life and community. A rich trove of writing, photographs, video, and audio bring to life the traditions and tales in our own backyards. Help the Smithsonian preserve the complexity and diversity of our garden heritage by sharing your own garden story or memory at www.communityofgardens.si.edu.

The Community of Gardens app is free is currently available for iPhone and iPad devices in the Apple app store. Don’t worry Android device users, we haven’t forgotten you! Community of Gardens will be available in the Google Play store by early summer, just in time to read and share stories of those first delicious crops of vegetables.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

May 1, 2017 at 10:36 am 2 comments

The Language of Flowers

In literature, mythology, love, and everyday life flowers—light as a feather—are weighted with meaning. In the Victorian era entire guides were published dedicated to the “language of flowers” and the idea that a single flower, or a particular arrangement of flowers, could communicate complex emotions and social cues. Of course, these guides were often at odds with each other and were most likely a faddish folly rather than a prescription for concrete communication in everyday life. One could only hope that if a courting couple were signaling each other with posy holders they were referencing the same book. For instance, a white rose symbolizes “I would be single” according to the 1852 book The Language of Flowers, but in The Illustrated Language of Flowers (1856) a white rose signaled “I am worthy of you.” Unless it was wilted, for then it meant “transient impressions.” Confusion sets in when a white rose was worn with a red rose, which symbolized “unity.” If these books were taken at face value, how easy it would be to send mixed messages. What a beginning to a romantic comedy!

Throughout history flowers have symbolically marked weddings and funerals, the change of seasons, state and national pride, and have symbolized love, hope, rebirth, death, and everything in between. The state flower of Hawaii is the yellow ma’o hau hele (Hibiscus brackenridgei). Hibiscus flowers are often given to visitors to Hawaii as a gesture of welcome. Mexican marigolds (cempasúchil) are known as the flor de muertos and used to decorate the graves of loved ones for Día de los Muertos celebrations.

Flowers find their way into our everyday lives through more personal channels. Our Community of Gardens digital archive is a home for these stories of flowers and gardens and their impact on our daily lives. From the unique peony cultivar developed by a flower-loving neighbor to cakes flavored by the vanilla orchid to memories of a childhood spent in shady backyard abundant with colorful azalea bushes, anyone can share their story with the Smithsonian Institution. We are collecting stories of gardens and plants past and present to preserve for future generations.

Here are some of our favorite flower stories from Community of Gardens—all have a story to tell about the meaning of flowers in our personal histories and culture at large:

Light purple iris in a garden bed

The beautiful “ditch” irises passed down through a family in this Community of Gardens story. The original irises were found on the author’s great-grandparents’ land growing in a swampy area and were transplanted from generation to generation, from garden to garden.

Old photo of a grafted Christmas cactus in a pot

The holidays are just around the corner when the Christmas cactus blooms! At one time Rose Villa Nursery in New Orleans was the largest supplier of grafted Christmas cactus. Read, and listen, to one family’s story of their nursery business and their famous Christmas cactus. 

Close-up of light pin 'Pier Bugnet' rose

The ‘Pier Bugnet’ rose is particularly suited to growing in the cold northern climate of Fairbanks, Alaska. When the rose was in danger of being lost, the Fairbanks Garden Club banded together to save this beautiful flower for their town. Read the full story here.

Do you have a personal story of flowers to share with our archive? We welcome stories about:

  • The development of a particular flower cultivar.
  • Flowers rescued and replanted from family homesteads or lost or destroyed gardens.
  • Family florist businesses or flower farms.
  • Edible flowers. Share your best recipe for squash blossoms with us!
  • Did you grow up in a different country? Is there a flower that reminds you of home, or a flower from your culture you have incorporated into your life in the United States?
  • Flower gardens of all shapes and sizes.
  • What flowers mean to you in your life.

Get started by visiting the Community of Gardens website and clicking on “Share a Story” or emailing us at communityofgardens@si.edu.

 -Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

August 17, 2016 at 12:29 pm 2 comments

Dad’s Garden

Don’t forget, tomorrow is Father’s Day! Father’s Day means letting dad know you love him, handmade cards, and family get-togethers. Special occasions are the perfect opportunity to learn more about your family history. Is your pops passionate about perennials or peppers?  This weekend, trying to get dad gabbing about his garden. Does he remember the first plant he successfully grew? Who taught him how to garden? What’s his favorite thing to grow? Does he have any tips for young gardeners just starting out? Any old photos of his backyard or garden you’ve never seen before? A secret recipe for the perfect compost soup?

In honor of Father’s Day, here are a few of our favorite dad stories from the Community of Gardens digital archive. Community of Gardens is a platform for collecting stories of American gardeners and gardens for future generations. Become a part of the Smithsonian by sharing your dads’s story—or any garden story—today: http://communityofgardens.si.edu

Francesco Pietanza holding squash from his garden.

Francesco Pietanza holding up a prize squash grown in his Brooklyn, New York garden, circa 1950s or 1960s.

  • This sweeping story has it all: A young Italian immigrant arrives in Ellis Island in 1948 in search of his younger brother, settles in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, grows a family, and grows beautiful gardens rooted in his Italian heritage, bursting with fresh figs, tomatoes, and garlic. Read the full story here.

 

Harry Sr. holding his tomato harvest in his home garden.

Paul’s grandfather Harry Sr. with his prized tomatoes in his Colonial Beach, Virginia garden, 1960s.

  • This story spans three centuries, and many bountiful crops of ripe tomatoes. Paul shared his family’s garden history with Community of Gardens, beginning with his great-grandfather immigrating to America in 1881. His grandfather Harry Sr., above, grew tomatoes, and today Paul maintains a large garden that he tends with his children.
George Napientek outside cleaning up tree damage after a storm on his homestead

George Napientek (on the right) cleaning up tree damage after a storm on his homestead, November 1946.

  • George and Olivia Napientek raised their children on this family homestead in Franklin, Wisconsin surrounded by bountiful vegetable and flower gardens. George taught all of his children to work on the farm at a young age. With hard work comes delicious rewards; according to his children (who shared this story), “apples for applesauce and pie came from Pa’s orchard.” I’m sure that pie was delicious with a tall glass of milk from the dairy cows! Read the full story here.

Honor a dad in your life by sharing his garden story with the Smithsonian. Share here or email us at communityofgardens@si.edu. Help us grow our archive!

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator 

 

June 18, 2016 at 8:51 am Leave a comment

Preserving Our Garden Heritage One Pixel at a Time

What better way to celebrate National Garden Month in April than to spend some time enjoying historic garden images from the J. Horace McFarland Company Collection!  Thanks to a Smithsonian preservation grant, thousands of images from this collection at the Archives of American Gardens (AAG) were digitized recently and are now available online through the Smithsonian’s Research Information System (SIRIS).  These images–produced by McFarland’s publishing firm which specialized in printing horticultural publications–are just some of the treasures found in AAG which is administered by Smithsonian Gardens and tasked with collecting historic and contemporary garden documentation as a means of preserving our garden heritage.

Very much a renaissance man, J. Horace McFarland (1859-1948) of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania,was a publisher, author, lecturer, horticulturist and authority on roses.  As the first President of the American Civic Association—a position he held for 20 years—McFarland also advocated for effective civic planning and improvements throughout the U.S. during the Progressive Era (1890-1920) when living and community conditions called out for significant reforms.

McFarland looking over the gardens at his home.

A newly digitized photograph from the J. Horace McFarland Collection showing McFarland looking over the gardens at his home, Breeze Hill, in Harrisburg, Penn. 1942. (PA083039)

McFarland’s printing company, Mount Pleasant Press, published many of the seed and nursery trade catalogs in the U.S. during the first half of the 20th century.  The J. Horace McFarland Company Collection at AAG includes over 3,000 of the firm’s images, many of which were published in books, catalogs, newspapers, and journals.

The images document an extensive variety of gardens across the U.S. dating from the 1900s to the 1960s, everything from popular parks to small flower patches planted behind crowded urban row houses.  Thanks to the broad range of private and public gardens photographed by the firm, the J. Horace McFarland Company Collection provides glimpses into historic trends and events of the times including World War II’s victory gardens and post-war neighborhood development.  Images that show people working in or enjoying these gardens are especially captivating.  In many cases the photographs are the only evidence left of certain gardens and public spaces.

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A World War II-era victory garden at Breeze Hill in 1944. The gardens at Breeze Hill were often employed to stage photographs used by McFarland’s firm, Mount Pleasant Press. (PA083362)

This digitization project was timely since the photographs—which had been pasted onto brittle cardboard mounts –are fragile and subject to continued deterioration.  Rather than scanning the thousands of photographs on a flatbed scanner—both a time-consuming and potentially damaging procedure—each was photographed with a Phase One digital camera under controlled lighting conditions.  High resolution digital images are now readily available for research use and the need to handle the originals has been significantly reduced.  We hope you get a chance to search the McFarland Company Collection online and enjoy the garden history that it documents.

– Joyce Connolly, Museum Specialist, Archives of American Gardens

April 8, 2016 at 9:00 am 2 comments

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