Our friends Art and Mary sent us a copy of the David Landreth Seed Company catalog for Christmas. Obviously I have excellent sources for seeds and starts, having been gardening for over 30 years. But the reason why Art and Mary sent the catalog became apparent the instant I turned back the cover. Landreth is the oldest seed house in America and it has a remarkable history. Many families that settled in America in the 1800s would have literally starved to death without this seed catalog. Landreth began the annual publication of his catalog in 1847 (although the Landreth family apparently sold seed as early as 1784).
Recognizing the fact that many immigrants arriving in America to start a new life knew nothing about agriculture, and that these same immigrants were attempting to make a life on the land, Landreth endeavored to use his seed catalog to teach people how to farm and garden. The catalog didn’t just list seeds for sale. It also explained how to plant the seeds and care for the plants as they grew, how to design and maintain gardens of all sizes, how to handle the many challenges that arise for the gardener, and more. The demand for the catalog was astonishing.
Now this is the thing that I find most amazing: by the 1860s, every home in America that had a postal address received a catalog! The Landreth catalog taught thousands of immigrants how to grow the food they needed to survive in the New World. A huge number of these immigrants had never farmed or gardened, and the Landreth catalog explained to them how to grow their food.
A highlight for me in this year’s Landreth catalog is the African American Heritage Collection page, which lists seeds originally brought to America from Africa and the Caribbean by people who were enslaved. The many plants that were introduced to America by Africans and people of Caribbean origin include cabbage, collards, gourds, okra, peanuts, hot peppers, pumpkins, watermelons, and the Cherokee Purple Tomato (one of my very favorites). Herbs brought by enslaved people include Genovese basil, plain parsley, sage, spearmint, and thyme. I have never grown peanuts and am thinking of buying some from Landreth and giving them a shot this coming summer. According to the catalog, they make good container plants. Peanuts on my deck?
Few accomplishments in life are as satisfying as growing one’s own dinner.