Well-worn Volumes Tell Gardening Histories

| October/November 2004

Whether you’re trying to determine the history of your own backyard garden or working on a historic planting for a museum or living history farm, you need facts.

Old and new books can be a big help in finding the answers. Some do their jobs so well they become worn from use, while others just sit on the shelf.

Part of the fascination people feel for historic gardening is in tracing the stories of gardens and plants, and the people who tended them in olden times. No single book tells the whole story, but following are a few reliable standbys that can be of service and are easily purchased or accessed through public libraries or the Internet.

Not mentioned here are many books on plant hunters, garden designers, gardening styles and individual flowers, but these books do exist. Many are traced easily in the card catalog of a good public library or through the flower societies, which have standard references they recommend to members and other inquirers.


Ann Leighton’s trilogy is the best for a nicely detailed overview of garden history of the United States. She begins in colonial times and works her way through the 19th century. The three volumes, in chronological order, are Early American Gardens, American Gardens in the Eighteenth Century and American Gardens of the Nineteenth Century. Published by the University of Massachusetts Press, they’re available in paperback for about $20 each.


Some early horticultural works already have been reprinted, and more are coming out all the time, so watch for them in your local bookstores as well as in gardening periodicals and on the Internet.

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