How Does Your Garden Grow?

Boys' and girls' garden club from the Albert Belmont Graham Collection, ca. 1920, via Ohio Memory.
Boys’ and girls’ garden club from the Albert Belmont Graham Collection, ca. 1920, via Ohio Memory.

It’s mid-February, and after the winter we’ve had this year, many (most? all?) of us are eagerly looking forward to spring’s warmer temperatures and opportunities to spend some time outdoors.

A long-standing tradition during this period is the planning of this year’s garden, whether it’s a vegetable plot, a flower bed, or a few pots of herbs.  While it’s still too early to plant in the ground, Bernard McMahon, author of The American Gardener’s Calendar, tells us that there’s plenty to do right now:

Farming in Trumbull County, from the Ohio Guide Collection via Ohio Memory.
Farming in Trumbull County, from the Ohio Guide Collection via Ohio Memory.
  • Find the perfect spot for your kitchen garden
  • Select seeds for your garden
  • Learn about new plants you might enjoy
  • Sketch and design your garden plots

Of course, you can easily find much of this information online or in recently-published books at your library.  Why look to a book that was published in 1839 for gardening advice?  Well, have you heard of scorzonera?  How about salsify, or skirret?  They’re all root plants, by the way, and are all similar in flavor (kind of like an oyster), in growing habits (plant them early in well-cultivated soil and let them grow until fall), and in preparation (they can be boiled, stewed, or roasted, and if you leave them in the ground, the shoots from year-old plants may be prepared like asparagus).  These root vegetables were commonly grown until the 19th century, but when refrigeration made food storage easier, these vegetables – which were easily preserved in cold storage for winter use – fell out of favor.  The American Gardener’s Calendar, however, introduces them to a new generation of gardeners.  Maybe one of these will become your new favorite vegetable!

The American Gardener’s Calendar also gives month-by-month instructions for growing pineapple in your hothouse.  While most of us probably don’t have a hothouse – I would imagine most 19th century gardeners didn’t have one, either – the instructions for growing pineapples are extensive and could certainly be modified for today’s gardener.  What a fun experiment!

The digital version of this title is freely available to our Ohio Memory visitors.  We hope that you’ll find inspiration for your own gardens within its pages… or, if not, we hope reading it will make spring feel a little closer.

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Thank you to Shannon Kupfer, Digital/Tangible Media Cataloger at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

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