The oldest gardening book in my collection is the 1951 Better Homes & Gardens Garden Book. Meredith Publishing Company offered this practical guide to home gardening and filled it with gardening advice from how to use your space to planning for continuous bloom. Two chapters are set aside for growing vegetables and fruits at home.
The classic America’s Garden Book by James Bush-Brown and Louise Bush-Brown is another essential gardening guide originally published in 1939. Every now and then, I still consult my 1958 edition.
Gardeners today have the luxury of finding a gardening book to address specific gardening interests, but that wasn’t always the case. Here’s a brief history of how gardening books evolved over time:
One of the oldest gardening books is the Sakuteiki or Records of Garden Making, written nearly 1000 years ago in Japan. The book explains how to construct different types of gardens, where to place stones and how to incorporate grape vines and fruit trees into the landscape.
Thomas Hill (or Hyll) wrotein 1563, one of the first gardening books written in England. Subsequent editions used the shorter title, He followed with his next gardening book, The Gardeners Labyrinth, in 1577. Both were best sellers in their day.
In 1699, Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets by John Evelyn was published. This gardening book was also a cookbook and it may have been the first to promote a vegetarian diet in England. The book’s pages include unusual recipes for soups, egg dishes, salletts (salads) and puddings.
British gardening books flourished in the 18th century with publications like The Practical Kitchen Gardiner (1727), Foreign Kitchen Vegetables (1729) A Botanical Arrangement of all the Vegetables Growing in Great Britain (1776) and Linnaeus’s System of Vegetables (1788).
Farmers and gardeners in America turned to resources like farmer’s almanacs for weather forecasting and information for timing their plantings by the phases of the moon. Robert B. Thomas compiled his first “Farmer’s Almanack” in 1792 as a helpful and humorous guide. Now The Old Farmer’s Almanac is considered the oldest, continuously published periodical in the country.
Fearing Burr, Jr. wrote the classic book Field and Garden Vegetables of America in 1865. This classic includes “full descriptions of nearly eleven hundred species and varieties; with descriptions for propagation, culture, and use.” Many lovely line drawings illustrate the heirloom vegetables, herbs and medicinal plants. The guide also included a chapter for medicinal plants and one for miscellaneous plants that included egg-plant, okra, pepper and tomato.
What’s the oldest gardening book in your collection?