Saturday, January 15, 2011

Gardening Book of Yore

My father-in-law's house is full of old things passed down from generation to generation -the kind of things city people can't save easily because of lack of space. The most numerable and important are the books. My wife brought Henderson's Handbook of Plants and General Horticulture to my attention. The title page states that Peter Henderson is also the author of " 'Gardening For Profit,' 'Practical Floriculture,' 'Gardening For Pleasure,' Etc, Etc." and, of course, joint author of "How the Farm Pays." The edition you see here is the second, published in 1890, and the first -1881.

 Very nice illustrations, if a bit stylized.

A time when agricultural production was taken most seriously: "that it is discreditable to themselves and their country to be outdone, even in Peas"! I cannot say that New York is  any longer known for its stock of pea seed. I have since discovered, in my own seed search this season, that Peter Henderson was a seedsman, himself.

One hundred twenty years ago, most in this country still lived on or near the farm, yet there were books not unlike those today. Popular then -the garden calendar. What's old is new again, and like many things of old, there is much humor to be found:

"Plants In Rooms—Are They Injurious To Health? The question whether plants may be safely grown in living rooms is now settled by scientific men who show that, whatever deleterious gases may be given out by plants at night, they are so minute in quantity that no injury is overdone by their presence in the rooms and by being inhaled. Though we were glad to see the question disposed of by such authority, experience had already shown that no bad effects ever resulted from living in apartments where plants were grown. Our green-houses are one mass of foliage, and I much doubt if any healthier class of men can be found than those engaged in the care of plants. But timid persons may say that the deleterious gases are given out only at night, while our green-house operators are only employed in daylight. This is only true in part. Our watchmen and men engaged in attending to fires at night make the warm green-houses their sitting-room and their sleeping-room, and I have yet to hear of the first instance where the slightest injury resulted from this practice. Many of our medical practitioners run in old ruts. Some Solomon among them probably gave out this dogma a century ago; it was made the convenient scapegoat of some other cause of sickness, and the rank and file have followed in his train. A belief in this error often consigns to the cellar, or to the cold winds of winter, the treasured floral pets of a household."

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