French Gardening history

suzanne cook
Wed, 25 Jan 2012 16:08:40 PST
Thanks for that, Jim.

I agree and must admit that there's a lot I don't know about horticulture.
I propogate heritage cultivars, mostly vegetables, some flowers, or
whatever I can get my hands on and have the space for. I sell these to
those gardeners you describe, and have found the same thing: they don't
appreciate the value of these little gems, or the care that was put into
growing them.


> Michelle wrote:"It's  a shame that the horticultural trade does not
> include dates on theirlabels, or a tiny amount of basic history relating
> to a plant. Surely that
> might make us, the consumers, see them in another light sometimes. It is
> lamentable that such collective knowledge can be lost by "laisser faire""
> I'm always amazed about how incurious so many gardeners are. When I meet a
> new gardening friend, there are two things in particular I look for.  You
> might be surprised to learn that a plenteous collection of plants is not
> one of them.  The two things I look for are cold frames and a good
> library.  While I'm checking out the cold frames, I'm also listening to
> see if the library has had any influence. The "collective knowledge" whose
> apparent loss Michelle deplores is not lost at all - it's still there in
> the old books. It's always surprising to me how poorly read most persons
> in the horticultural community are - and those with undergraduate degrees
> in horticulture are no exception. Until recently there was an
> understandable excuse for this: the older literature was scattered and not
> easily accessible.  One of the recent developments that I'm really glad to
> see is that some early twentieth century books and periodicals have been
> scanned and made
>  available on line. If that continues, then we should experience a huge
> surge in horticultural knowledge. 
> Michelle is right though: as a culture we have lost this knowledge, if we
> ever had it. It seems to be a rare gardener who reads anything but
> catalogs these days.  Most of the gardens I see are what I think of as
> "farmer gardens" or "suburban sprawl gardens" or "hoarder gardens".  To me
> it's obvious that our primary gardening accomplishment, the thing we are
> best at, is acquisition. I'm a stubborn old-timer in this regard: to me, a
> pile of plants does not a garden make. And a pile of plants presided over
> by someone who does not know the names of those plants might as well be
> a pricey compost heap in my opinion. The worst ones are the ones who don't
> know the names but sure can quote the catalog prices! 
> Michelle also mentioned dates. My own appreciation of gardening has been
> hugely enhanced by a fair grasp of when and how things happened. But a
> preoccupation with dates can also lead to a sort of fanaticism,
> reminiscent of those people who work quotations from Shakespeare or the
> Bible into everyday conversation. Our knowledge of the dates of
> introduction of many plants is comically inadequate. Self styled garden
> historians  often use dates of introduction based on the appearance of a
> plant in one of the famous old herbals or other books. If you see the
> dates 1597, 1601 or 1629, be suspicious: those are the dates respectively
> of Gerard's Herball, Clusius' Historia and Parkinson's Paradisus. Those
> citations might in fact be the first in the printed literature, but in
> most cases the plants themselves almost certainly existed long before
> that. Another pitfall with dates is that Americans, joined at the hip as
> we were with England for so long, often take the
>  dates of introduction to England as the dates of introduction to America.
> With many plants it can be difficult to determine if the date cited is
> based on the date of commercial launch or the date the seed which
> produced the plant germinated (to cite two extremes, extremes which in
> the old days might be a decade apart). 
> One of the big problems with dates is that it can be extremely difficult
> to determine the identity of old plants. Of course you can recognize the
> genus, and in unhybridized plants perhaps the species, but the more
> granularity you expect in the identification, the more likely you are to
> be off the mark. 
> So dates are interesting, but I think they often need to be taken with a
> grain of salt, especially the old ones.  
> I like to collect plants introduced in my year of birth, something easy to
> do with well documented plants such as roses and tulips. But I don't take
> those dates too seriously. 
> Jim McKenney
> Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA
> zone
> 7
> My Virtual Maryland Garden
> <> 
> Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
> Editor PVC Bulletin /<> 
> Webmaster Potomac Lily Society
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Suzanne Cook
311 Stevens Road
Victoria, BC
V9E 2J1
(250) 479-9478

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