Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Charming Gardening Binding and the Half Ton of Iron That Made It Possible

I wish I could have a larger photo of this binding Robert Buist's The Family Kitchen Gardener! The large gold stamping on the cloth binding is champ. I wonder how many tools are there that I can't see.

The Family Kitchen Gardener : containing Plain and Accurate Descriptions of all the different species and varieties of Culinary Vegetables; with their Botanical, English, French and German names, AlphabeticallyArranged, and the best Mode of Cultivating them, in the Garden or under Glass; with a description of Implements and Medicinal herbs in General Use. Also, Descriptions and Characters of the Most Select Fruits, Their Management, Propagation and Culture. Illustrated with twenty-five Engravings. New York : J. C. Riker, 1848. First Edition.

Below is the new 1832 technology that made this impressively large area of gold die stamping possible.  
The larger the area of a stamp, the greater by far is the needed force to stamp gold. The Imperial Arming Press ushered in a wonderful period of stamped bindings.  Because of its power, even the less tractable materials such as cloth could be firmly and flatly squished allowing gold to clearly show the details of a complex design. 

Look at this thing and note the classical details in the cast iron!!

Lion paw feet, acanthus leaf leg decoration... still my heart.

Here is another binding from the same period.  Note the blind (ungilt) stamping around the central motif.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Robert Buist's Gardening Book Has the Longest Title I Have Ever Seen

Go to the bottom of the page for a very large image of Buist's nursery in 1840 and enjoy touring it!  I like the system for controlling the heat in the cold frames.

Advertisement depicting a bird's eye view looking northwest at Robert Buist's enclosed nursery and greenhouses on Twelfth Street, south of Lombard Street. Two long rows of hotbed frames extend west from Twelfth Street and run the length of Rodman Street behind a three-story building marked "140" (a preconsolidation address). Men and women stroll along the central walk that separates the two rows of hotbed frames inside the grounds, accessed from Twelfth Street by the entrance gate adorned with the proprietor's name "R. Buist". Outside of the nursery, several men and women converse on the sidewalk. One of the men holds a driving whip, and is presumably the driver of the stalled horse-drawn carriage in front of the entrance. Another driver stands in front of a team of horses pulling a covered cart, grasps the reins, and leads them along Rodman Street toward a man attempting to rein in a rearing horse. Also shows men, women, children, and dogs on the sidewalk. A few trees dot the empty landscape behind the nursery. Buist established his business in 1828, which was known as Robert Buist Company well into the Twentieth century.

The 1839 book, by the respected Philadelphia nursery 
and seedsman Robert Buist, has the longest title I have seen!

 The American Flower Garden DirectoryContaining Practical Directions for the Culture of Plants in the Flower Garden, Hot-house, Green-house, Rooms, Or Parlour Windows, for Every Month in the Year. With a Description of the Plants Most Desirable in Each, the Nature of the Soil, and Situation Best Adapted to Their Growth, the Proper Season for Transplanting, &c. Instructions for Erecting a Hot-house, Green-house, and Laying Out a Flower Garden. Also, Table of Soils Most Congenial to the Plants Contained in the Work. The Whole Adapted to Either Large Or Small Gardens, with Instructions for Preparing the Soil, Propagating, Planting, Pruning, Training, and Fruiting the Grape Vine. With Descriptions of the Best Sorts for Cultivating in the Open Air          Link

Not much to look at now with its faded embossed cloth binding which
may have been green originally.  Green is an extremely fugitive color .

In 1840, Loudon wrote in his London periodical, 

The Gardener's Magazine and Register of Rural and Domestic Improvement, the following review. 

This differs from most of the American works on gardening, in being an original composition from beginning to end. It is most judiciously adapted to the country in which it is published ; and the author is one of the best cultivators in the United States. There is no American work that we know of at all to be compared with it in point of usefulness. We owe the author an apology for not having sooner acknowledged the receipt of the copy he kindly sent us above a year ago.

I am beginning to wonder at the number of horticulturists that came from Scotland!!  Robert Buist was one of them arriving here in the United States in 1828 after having served his apprenticeship in Scotland.  Once here he first worked for David Landreth who was one of the earliest nurserymen in our history. 

This is Buist. from Gardener's Monthly and Horticulturist, vol.XXII, 1880

 In only two years, he went into business with a Mr. Hibbert as a florist in Philadelphia.  They were very successful.  One of their famous plant introductions was the poinsettia obtained through the Minister to Mexico,  Mr. Poinsett.  When Mr Hibbert died, Buist continued on his own, and was succeeded after his death in 1880 at age 75 by his son  of the same name.  His obituary, in 

Gardener's Monthly and Horticulturist goes into great and affectionate details of his life.  It is a good read! 

1851 Buist building in Philadelphia.

Buist made trips to Europe for new varieties of plants and seed which he brought back and raised in his nursery.  It was noted he was going in an issue of the  Philadelphia Florist and Horticultural Journal of early 1852, saying - We shall look anxiously for the return of Mr. Buist, with the plant novelties of Paris and London, he set out on his important journey on last Saturday, in the "Arctic" in good spirits—we hope we will be borne out in our statements, that Philadelphia is not behind the time in Horticulture...

 An entry later in the year in the same Journal asked, while Buist's trip was of interest to be sure, why was it important enough to be mentioned in the minutes of the society?    (A wee bit of rivalry perhaps?)

This title page is too cool to leave unshared :-)

The Gardener's Monthly in 1870, in a piece about bedding plants and how they were being improved, contained this...

These colorful catalog covers are the son's.  And I think this above building is his period as well.


More books by the first Robert Buist:

  • The Family Kitchen Gardener: Containing Plain and Accurate Descriptions of All the Different Species and Varieties of Culinary Vegetables ... Also, Descriptions and Characters of the Most Select Fruits, Their Management, Propagation, Etc. Illustrated with Twenty-five Engravings 
  • The Rose Manual: Containing Accurate Descriptions of All the Finest Varieties of Roses, Properly Classed in Their Respective Families, Their Character and Mode of Culture, with Directions for Their Propagation, and the Destruction of Insects 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March Dreams...

Over the years, the New Yorker magazine could be counted on to know what was in peoples dreams.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Chromolithograph Lushness - Seed Packet Art

Seed packets are what drew me into looking at the seed trade.

The early packets are what I enjoy the most.  I love the soft texture of the lithography.

For a chromolithography intro, go to end of post.

 The Label Man has written a nice "in a nutshell" introduction to packets.  "Of the very early printers of antique seed packets you will find Genesse Valley Lithograph Co. who printed many of the Burts seed packets."

These first two are so lush!!
This nasturtium packet was represented as 1910. 
Note it has red lines and less text.  Its reverse side is at the bottom of this page.

This is the reverse of the packet at the top of the page.


"Chromolithography, or the technique of "printing in colors," had a dazzling and meteoric life. After centuries of black ink on white paper, chromo-lithography burst onto the American scene about 1840 and then vanished by the 1930s. But during this nearly one hundred year period, chromolithography revolutionized the printing industry and intoxicated the world with lush colorful hues. It transformed calling cards, wedding announcements, greeting cards, tickets, cigar box labels, advertising posters and many other types of printed ephemera into eye-catching works of art that proved too beautiful to be thrown away after temporary use. " from THE JOHN and CAROLYN GROSSMAN COLLECTION

An excellent page on the process that makes it very clear.

Lithographs are pulled from litho stones...a super fine limestone.  Look HERE.

When I was in college in Philadelphia, the kitchen door's step stone was a litho stone from a former tenant, another art student.  I lived in a what they called a trinity house, or a father, son, holy ghost house.  It had 3 floors, each floor just one tiny room. The stairs were very narrow, steep and twisted and most people who lived in them had a story of sliding down the stairs when missing their step on the shallow treads.

Row Houses of Philadelphia
The Trinity is the smallest and therefore cheapest to construct, and it normally served as housing for the working-class or servants of larger properties nearby. These homes were often constructed on courts (mine was, with 3 trinity facing 3 others in a small courtyeard off a back ally) behind larger properties or in narrow alleys that divided larger blocks. The bandbox is typically no larger than sixteen feet on any side, with one room on each floor, rising two or three stories with enclosed winding stairs. The privies, or “necessaries,” were normally at the rear of the courts. -  (When they modernized them with inside plumbing they took a little square along the front wall for a tiny bathroom that had a shower. )

Monday, March 3, 2014

John Bartram's Gift

Two greats in the horticultural history of the United States are John Bartram and William Prince.

When I was reading a seed and plant catalogue published by Bartram in 1807 I was gobsmacked to see this inscription!!

"Bartram founded the American Philosophical Society with his friend Benjamin Franklin.  His garden was a source of inquiry and pleasure for luminaries like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  His seed and plant business thrived, with lists appearing as early as the 1750’s in London publications.  His international plant trade and nursery business survived him and thrived under the care of three generations of Bartrams."  Link

William Prince, Sr. established the first commercial nursery in the United States in Flushing, New York, was one of the early exporters of plants too, and importer of plants from Europe, and was responsible for discovering new fruit varieties.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Vials of Contempt - The Wonderberry Story

This is a fun story of trash talk across the Atlantic, plant hybridization, and the magic of advertising.  My wanderings in the internet took me from California of the early 1900s to Siberia today.  The journey left me wanting to try a jar of sunberry jam! 

The article below was printed in the San Francisco Call in the spring of 1909. 
 (Another article in it trashed John Muir...)

However, Burbank got flak from this side of the pond as well.  

The Literary Digest, Volume 39 - July 31,1909

What Is the Wonderberry?
Some of the horticultural papers are exercised over the identity and properties of a plant called the wonderberry or sunberry , advertised as a recent production of Luther Burbank and described as an edible combination of two wild berry plants of the nightshade family, both of which yield poisonous fruit.  The catalog of one dealer who professes to be the only one to offer this marvel, says of it:  Its influence in an economic sense on the human race will be far reaching, for it is entirely novel and distinct and valuable article of food which anyone may grow in abundance anywhere at practically at no cost; in short, get the maximum results from a minimum output in labor or expense.  Luther Burbank’s apparently wild estimates of its value have been more than confirmed by our large crops of the past summer, and by the fruiting specimens in our greenhouses this winter.”

Mr. Burbank is quoted in The Rural New Yorker (New York, July 10) to which we are also indebted for the extract given above, as making the following statement concerning the parentage of the new plant:
“ This absolutely new species of berry plant is of great scientific interest, having been produced by the combination of two very distinct wild species, Solarium guineense of West Africa and Solanum villosum of the West Coast of America. Neither of these wild species bears edible berries, but this new species bears the most delicious, wholesome. and healthful berries in the utmost profusion, and always comes as exactly true from seed as any species produced by nature.”

After examining the seeds of the plant, and looking up the history of its parents, The Gardeners' Chronicle, an English publication, concluded that the wonderberry was practically the same thing as the black nightshade, which in England is a poisonous plant. To a correspondent who wrote direct to Luther Burbank about this Mr. Burbank replied, making an offer of $10,000 to any one who can prove that the wonderberry is either the black nightshade or is identical with any previously known berry. The editor of The Rural New Yorker as stated in that paper, then purchased  wonderberry seeds and grew, under glass, the plant represented in the accompanying picture. This plant, the editor asserts, has been declared by expert botanists to possess all the characteristics of the black nightshade. Communication with Mr. Burbank elicited a letter, parts of which are as follows:

“Having no personal or financial interest in the sunberry, or ‘wonderberry,’ as it has been rechristened by its purchaser and introducer. I would refer you to my own statement of the origin of the sunberry. As to its absolutely unique character you perhaps can be further informed by those who know it a little better than you do . . . . . . .

" Perhaps, also, you may obtain some further information,:\vhicli you evidently need, from some of those who have seen the plants growing on a large scale during the past three years, and who have eaten the fruit fresh. and canned or in sauces, pies, and in all other ways in which the Vaccinium pennsylvanicum is used; but the verdict of the people is the one which stands. That verdict is final, and the editor of The Rural New Yorker will be obliged to accept it. Fortunately, the sunberry, like corn and cucumbers, can be tested in a single season, while the value of fruit-trees can be obtained only by long and extensive trials.”

$10,000, in the possession of which, apparently, the question of edibility is not involved, but only that of identity with the black nightshade or some other existing berry. On this point the editor proceeds to give botanical testimony. Dr. N. L. Britton, of the New York Botanical Garden, says of Mr. Burbank’s production:

“Of course, it is a Solanum, of the aflinity of Solanum nigrum, the black nightshade or garden nightshade, which runs into a very great number of races in nature, a good many of which have been regarded as species by different botanical authors. Solanum vilIosum is one of the best marked of these races, and may, perhaps, be better regarded as a species than as a race or variety."

Dr. Charles F. Wheeler, of the United States Department of Agriculture, is quoted as writing, on the same subject:
“ In regard to the question of the identity of the so-called wonderberry, said to have been produced or originated by Mr. Burbank . . . I can say that I have carefully examined the plants growing here and can not separate them from the plant named by Linnaeus Solanum nigrum [black nightshade]."
Prof. L. C. Corbett, of the Government Testing Gardens at Arlingtop, gives it as his opinion that the wonderberry is identical with a plant that has been known and sold for years as the “garden huckleberry "; and E. C. Matthews, who has grown the new Burbank berry in Mexico, states his belief that it is simply the black nightshade and nothing else. Entirely by the way, The Rural New Yorker mentions that the berries grown on its own specimen, shown in the illustration, “have been sampled by a dozen people," and that “only two would swallow after tasting,” while “no one wanted a second dose." The editor maintains that this showing puts him far ahead in the running for Mr. Burbank’s $10,000.

 But when doctors disagree, who shall decide?  There seems to be strong evidence on both sides.  As it is easy to grow the “wonder berry” and to decide whether its fruit is or is not good to eat, that part of the problem ought to be settled in a season or two.  Meanwhile, the exploiter of the “wonder” ought to reap a golden harvest.

This company, Dust Bowl Seed, caught my eye for their good photography.  The berries are tiny, green pea size. 

Here is another source  with a nice photo that has testimonials!  I love testimonial advertising :-)
I planted these just for fun. They have a strange but good taste. I wasn't sure what to do with them and looked up Wonderberry Jam. It is the best jam I have ever made. So simple and very unique.
From what I have been reading the berries should be considered only for cooked recipes.  Their flavor seems to blossom in the cooking and with the addition of a sweetener and a little acid.  They are not a blueberry substitute as a fresh fruit.  I thought would need a good size garden to support enough plants to be useful but it seems a few plants will do for home use jams.   

 I came across a Blogger site,  The Tasty Vegetable Garden, by a gardener in Siberia,  Victor Syarheenkawhich tells about his experience with the plant...and he has many other interesting posts.

A Seed Savers Forum gives a great review of the fruit from people who grow it.  Check out this positive review if you are interested in the sunberry.

A very interesting pdf on a related berry, Schwartzbeeren,  and traditional German recipes is worth saving.