Monday, May 22, 2017

By End of 18C - Many Ways to Get Seeds & Plants

By End of 18C - A Variety of Ways for American Gardeners & Farmers to Get Seeds & Plants

By the end of the 18C, enterprising plant & seed dealers were successfully spurring on ever-widening circles of clients to new heights of interest in plant collecting & in emerging botanical class & order delineations. They also persuaded their customers that greenhouses & stovehouses were status symbols. Their sales pitch was definitely aimed at those who would see plant collection as a reflection of their superior taste & knowledge.

Mid-Atlantic gardeners at the end of the 18C did not depend solely on seed merchants & nursery owners for their seeds & plants. In fact the gentry & the middling sorts alike were still using traditional techniques of exchanging plants. Wealthy Charles Carroll of Carrollton wrote from Annapolis to friends in England for seeds he remembered from his years of British schooling. While the Carrolls continued to buy seeds from London & the colonies, the elder Carroll instructed his son as to which neighbors would give him seeds & starts from plants he admired.

During the same period, Annapolis craftsman William Faris both bought & traded seeds & plants. On March 3, 1792, he noted in his diary, “Planted Carrots & parsnips that Mr. Wallace sent me for Seed;” & on May 5 of that year he wrote, “Doct Scott sent Me Some Carnation or rather pink plants & I sent him some Evening primrose plants.” Faris traded for or received as gifts most of his garden plants & seeds, as did the majority of gardeners at the turn of the century.


When craftsman Faris did buy seeds & plants from Baltimore, he sometimes sent cash for the garden stock by way of ship Captain John Barber, who ran an regular shuttle between Annapolis & Baltimore. Faris recorded in his fiscal accounts on March 7, 1798, “Cash sent by Capt. John Barber to Mr. C. Robinson for garden seeds-7/6.” Usually, however, Faris bough his Baltimore seeds from Maximillian Heuisler, who personally delivered them to Annapolis. The capitalistic nursery & seed business was nipping at the heels of traditional garden barter exchanges.


Some gardeners still ordered their stock directly from England, especially the gentry, like the Carrolls, who had been ordering goods from Britain through their factors for decades. Faris’s neighbor, Dr. Upton Scott made a list of flowers from the English garden periodical Curtis’s Botanical Magazine &recommended to the Edward Lloyd family, at Wye plantation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that “if cultivated at Wye, (they) would add greatly to the beauty & elegance of that delightful Place.” Scott advised the English dealer, “It is hoped the Nurseryman employ’d will endeavour to execute this Commission with fidelity & dispatch …under an assurance that, if he transacts the Business satisfactorily, he will have more calls upon him from this quarter of the Globe.”


But direct orders to England diminished as early mid-Atlantic seed merchants & nursery owners began to offer a wide variety of seeds & plants, both imported & locally grown, to the public. They could appeal directly to potential customers’ senses, by selling flowers at the height of their bloom, & to status seekers who were amassing plant collections, by offering unusual stock.


They also tailored their sales promotions to the changing gardening market in the region, as it expanded beyond traditional gardeners, who planted principally for sustenance, to those who planted for pleasure & status during their growing leisure time, decorating both house & grounds with plants.


Gardening for pleasure was no longer just the province of a few wealthy planters but increasingly an avocation of the expanding of artisans & merchants, who were amassing capital that they could exchange for ornamental luxuries that would proclaim their status to their neighbors. In the early years after the Revolution, these emerging groups were continually coaxed by clever entrepreneurs to dispose of their extra capital on ornamental gardening.

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