Grit

Exhibit of Seed Catalogs

Chanhassen, Minnesota
– The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum takes a trip down memory lane with
“Seed Stories: Catalogs of Life and Gardens in America,” an exhibit
of historic seed catalog covers opening January 7, and continuing through April
3 in the Reedy Gallery and Snyder Building.

The exhibit
comprises nearly 150 catalog covers, pages and plates, culled from the Andersen
Horticultural Library’s extensive collection of more than 57,000 historic seed
and nursery catalogs. 

Seed catalogs
were once a staple on everyone’s parlor tables. Brimming with folk art,
exquisite plant portraits, whimsical fairies and gnomes or fair maidens in the
garden, they highlight rural society’s desires and interests, enterprises and
passions. One will find advertisements for hunting dogs, pigs, chickens,
pleasure boats, farm implements, porcelain vases and heal-all tonics.

“The cover
images alone make this collection worth perusing. It’s exciting to share them
with the public,” says Kathy Allen, head librarian of the Andersen
Horticultural Library, which is part of the University of Minnesota
Libraries. It is housed in the Arboretum’s Snyder Building.

Many Midwestern
companies are represented, including Lippincott seeds, Northrup King, both
originally of Minneapolis,
and Farmer Seed of Faribault, among others. (Northrup King is now a division of
Syngenta corporation.)

Of special note
are three seedhouses owned and run by women, quite an unusual feat in the early
1900s. These include Jessie Prior, Emma V. White and Carrie Lippincott. 

Another company,
the Oscar Will Seed Co., “sprouted” in Bismarck, North Dakota,
in 1881. It was that area’s first-ever seedhouse and had the distinction of
introducing several Native American seeds into the trade, including those from
the Mandan,
Arikara and Hidatsa cultures.

The stories
behind the scenes, including Minneapolis
seedswomen, regional pioneers and colonial innovators, give a more intimate
look at the life and gardens surrounding these catalogs. Themes such as
patriotism and marketing occur across companies and time. The attractive and
engaging period artwork decorating these covers is alone worth a visit –
especially for those visitors who fondly recall eagerly thumbing through the
well-worn catalog pages.

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the largest public garden in the Upper Midwest, is part of
the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource
Sciences. It is located nine miles west of I-494 on Highway 5 in Chanhassen.
Open daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Adults: $9; free for ages
15 and younger and free for members. Admission is free all day Thursday,
November through March.


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

  • Published on Dec 21, 2010
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