Published By The D. Landreth Seed Company  60 East High Street, BLDG #4 New Freedom, PA  17349  800-654-2407

Landreth’s Bloomsdale Farm Circa 1847

Landreth’s Bloomsdale Farm 5 Years Later 1852

By the late 1840’s, The D. Landreth Seed Company had outgrown its 7 acre Philadelphia establishment. The family purchased a 540 acre farm on the banks of the Delaware River in the town of Bristol, Pennsylvania and began a rapid expansion program focusing on constructing thousands of square feet of greenhouse space. By 1852 the Company had the largest greenhouse operation and the largest barn in North America, and they were going to need all of these facilities and more because America was entering the second great decade of American horticulture and agriculture.

In 1851, Joseph Breck, who in 1822 had founded the first seed company in America to devote half of its inventory to flowers with purely ornamental value, published his book entitled, The FLOWER-GARDEN or Breck’s Book of Flowers. Breck had actually written the manuscript 20 years earlier in the 1830’s, but the original manuscript covered nearly 1000 pages and was too expensive to print. In the 1851 manuscript most of the “How To” articles were abandoned and the published book became “ a book of reference to those who have but little time for research, and who desire some simple instructions as to the mode of culture, or the descriptions of the habits, of plants or seeds which they may wish to grow”. The book is considered to be one of the most comprehensive resources detailing American garden flowers of the early and mid-19th century.

Breck’s, Book of Flowers, as it has come to be known contains descriptions for 38 different bulbous rooted flowers, 155 different perennial, biennial and herbaceous flowers and 160 different annuals as well as descriptions for hardy shrubs and low trees, evergreen trees and shrubs and climbing plants. His descriptions were comprehensive, richly detailed from his decades of experience and often filled with his own sentimental biases. The following are just a few of his more colorful thoughts:

Cypress Vine-A Favorite of Joseph Breck

“Cypress Vine – There is no annual climbing plant that exceeds the Cypress Vine, in elegance of foliage, gracefulness of habit, or loveliness of flowers.”

Gomphrena-Soaking Seed in Milk Enhances Germination

“Gomphrena – Globe Amaranth – of which there are three common varieties, the white and the purple and the striped, are desirable for their heads of flowers, which if gathered before they are too far advanced, will retain their beauty for several years. The seed is difficult to vegetate in the open ground; soaking in milk twelve hours is recommended; scalding, perhaps, would do better.”

“Portulacca – Every person who has had any experience in the garden is too well acquainted with the weed Purslane, or Pursly, and would gladly see an extermination, not only of that plant, but all its kindred. It is indeed a troublesome weed; but no one should be condemned because he happens to have bad relations, nor should Portulacca splendens, although a splendid Purslane. In speaking of it we leave off the Purslane, and call it the Splendid Portulacca, for, were its family connections generally known, we should fear it might not receive the attention it deserves; for, truly, it is a great acquisition to the flower-garden, and no plant presents a more brilliant show than this, when planted in masses.”

Hollyhock Nigra

“Hollyhocks – If I were not afraid of advancing a horticultural heresy, I should say that many amateurs prefer Hollyhocks to Dahlias.”

Dahlias-One of Few Flower Varieties Joseph Breck Disliked

“Dahlia – The Dahlia is a native of Mexico, found on the table lands of that country, and I have sometimes wished it had been let alone there, “to waste its sweets on the desert air.” It is so capricious in its flowering, so subject to the ravages of insects, so much influenced by too much heat, or too much dryness, or too much wet; and then, just as it begins to give promise of abundant bloom, having escaped all the casualties of the season, is cut down by the frost, and becomes a blackened, hideous object in the garden; that, after many disappointed hopes, I have sometimes been disposed to say, I would not try it again.”

Balsam-Aged Seed Was Considered The Best Seed

“Balsam – Touch-me-not – The Double Balsam is one of the most prominent ornaments of the garden, in July and August. Old seed is considered by some to be the best, as more likely to produce double flowers. The seeds should be saved from double flowering plants only; all single flowering ones should be destroyed as soon as they appear.”

Joseph Breck was a crusader for flowers and for ornamental plants in general. He considered himself to be a seedsman and florist, of equal distinction, and he used his positions as editor of The New England Farmer and The Horticultural Register to advance his passions for the strictly ornamental. His admonishment in one of the early chapters of his beloved, Book of Flowers, captures best his life long passion:

“ ‘FLOWERS! The cultivation of flowers,’ say some; ‘of what use? It neither gives us meat, drink, nor clothing.’ Well, supposing it does not? Shall we not turn our thoughts to something else besides corn and potatoes, and the productions of the earth which only keep soul and body together? Is there no mind to feed and delight? Shall we always be plodding? Will it always be the inquiry, ‘What shall we eat, and what shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed?’ Must care and business always engross the whole mind? The earth, the seas, and skies are full of the wonders of God’s beautiful creation. Shall we close our eyes, stop our ears, and be dumb, when there is such an endless profusion around us to delight, to cheer, and soothe us? We need not compass sea and land for our gratification; the means are within the reach of every one for innocent and healthy relaxation. It lies around us; it is at our feet; ‘it may be found in the garden, where, in the beginning, everything pleasant to the sight’ was congregated.”

Soon after the publication of The Book of Flowers, but unrelated to it, a 19 year old young man by the name of Dexter Mason Ferry left his home near Binghamton, New York and moved to Detroit, Michigan. He immediately took a job doing the books for a seedhouse known as M. T. Gardner. By 1856, he and another man had partnered with Milo Gardner, and the firm was renamed Gardner, Ferry and Church. In 1867 after the passing of Gardner and Church, the firm’s name was again changed to The D. M. Ferry Company.

Ferry had an exceptional ability to understand what was good business practice for the horticulture industry. In the 1850’s, he introduced the concept of the “Commission Box”. Commission Boxes were wooden chests containing tiny drawers where envelops of seeds were stored and displayed. Today we call “Commission Boxes” seed packet displays. The concept was invented by Dexter Mason Ferry.

The “Commission Boxes” of the mid-19th century were lovely examples of American carpentry folk art. They were usually constructed of chestnut, oak or maple with 30, 40, 50 or more, brass handled doors. Few have survived to the present, so if you ever find one in an antique store – grab it. They are real treasures.

Landreth’s Commission Box Advertisement-Late 1850’s

The D. M. Ferry Company had farms in Michigan and California. The first crop that was grown for commercial seed production in California was a leaf lettuce variety known as Prizehead. This spectacular lettuce produces sweet green leaves edged with burgundy, and even today is one of the most popular lettuces grown.

Dexter Mason Ferry died in 1907, but his son, Dexter Mason Ferry, Jr. took over the company. In 1930, he arranged the merger between The D. M. Ferry Company and California-based, The C. C. Morse Company. Once again, the name was changed, this time to The Ferry-Morse Seed Company. The Ferry-Morse Seed Company was one of the industry’s leaders for more than half a century. In the 1990’s, the company was acquired by France’s Group Limagrain, the third largest seed company in the world. Today, the American headquarters of Group Limagrain-Ferry Morse is in Fulton, Kentucky.

In 1852, The United States Government came to The D. Landreth Seed Company and asked the Company to pack hundreds of pounds of seed into sealed glass containers. The Company agreed to do this under contract to the Federal Government. Later that year, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who was an astonishing 58 years old at the time, took the glass containers packed with the seed on board his four ships which were about to sail for Japan.

On July 8, 1853, Commodore Perry arrived in Japan intent on presenting to the Emperor of Japan a letter from the President of the United States, Millard Fillmore. For more than 200 years, the Japanese had been a closed society trading only rarely with a few Dutch and the Chinese. The United States needed to open up a trading and political relationship with the Japanese to market American products and so that American whaling ships could replenish coal and supplies.

Perry had meticulously studied the Japanese culture before setting sail and had some understanding of the procedures that he must follow. The negotiations were unproductive and tedious, and not at all civil. Early in the process, Perry fired on and destroyed several buildings lining the harbor. The Japanese did not possess and had never seen steam technology and they were terrified. They finally came to terms with the fact that they could not defend themselves and they could not sustain their isolation policy. On March 31, 1854, the United States and Japan signed the historic treaty which opened up Japan to the West. It was known as The Convention of Kanagawa.

Perry then shared with the Japanese the gifts from the American people including the hundreds of pounds of seeds packed by The D. Landreth Seed Company. In turn, the Japanese filled the holds of Perry’s ships with gifts from the Japanese people. Hundreds of varieties of trees, flowers, shrubs, vegetables and herbs were included. When Perry returned to the United States in 1855, the plant and seed material was given to The D. Landreth Seed Company to be cultivated and made available to the American public.

Japanese Weeping Cherry, Bristol, PA
Possibly An Original Specimen Brought Back By Commodore Perry From His Historic Trip To Japan

In Bristol, PA, on the front lawn of a private home which sits on land that was once part of Bloomsdale, the Landreth family farm, a Japanese weeping cherry tree grows. Most aged weeping cherries have trunks which grow to a maximum diameter of 18-24 inches. This weeping cherry has a trunk with a diameter of 42 inches. Though not substantiated, the size of the trunk and the tree’s location on what was once the old Landreth estate indicate that this tree is approximately 150 years old and could, in fact, have been part of the plant material that Commodore Perry brought back from Japan.

Landreth’s 1852 Catalog

During the 1850’s, the concept of the modern seed catalog emerged. Prior to this time, seed catalogs had really been organized as lists with a modest amount of detail about the seed variety, some growing instructions and the pricing. With the success of Landreth’s Rural Register and Almanac, introduced in the mid-1840’s, all of the major American seedhouses adopted a similar format and began to provide the American public with information that would help them become better farmers and gardeners. The number of pages in a seed catalog increased substantially. Articles about gardening were added. Scientific and political facts were included, and chapters, organized by month, taught novice farmers and gardeners the tasks and timing of garden related work to help ensure a successful harvest. Detailed descriptions of gardening tools and equipment, vegetables, flowers, herbs and specific cultivars were provided and perhaps best of all, the seed catalogs began to include illustrations of the flowers, vegetables, herbs, tools and equipment.

Illustrations From The 1850’s Landreth Catalogs

These illustrations are some of the finest, most detailed and most exquisite folk art ever produced. Until the late 1850’s, the illustrations were exclusively pen and ink drawings or elaborate woodcuts all rendered in black and white. They were highly detailed and reasonably accurate. By the late 1850’s, printing technology had been developed that allowed for the publishing of colored pictures. Color only served to further enhance the images. The printers of the mid-1800’s excelled at their craft. If kept well, the printed images from this period have retained their integrity and detail. The inks have not run and, most importantly, the colors have not faded. The images reprinted for this newsletter come from the Landreth catalogs of the 1850’s. They have not been photoshopped or reworked in any way, and 150 years later, they remain stunning examples of American folk art and American printing talent.

Colored Catalog Illustrations from the Late 1850’s Landreth Catalogs

The great decade of the 1850’s came to a tumultuous end with the country tortuously divided and about to face the greatest challenge since its founding. Americans on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line had developed an avid interest in farming and gardening. Horticulture was now nearly as important as agriculture. The pre-eminence of the great vegetable seedhouses like Landreth had been surpassed by the end of the decade by the rise of the floral focused merchants like Robert Buist and James Vick. Unfortunately, with the eventuality of war becoming a reality in the minds of all Americans, the future of the American seed trade seemed doubtful.

Coming Soon
Part VII: The Period: 1860-1870

Come Visit The Landreth Booth For Unique Holiday Gardening Gifts At The Following Holiday Shows

Lancaster Christmas Show

November 13-15, 2009

Maryland Christmas Show

Frederick Fairgrounds, Frederick, MD
November 20-22, 2009
November 27-29, 2009

Pennsylvania Christmas Show

PA Farm Show Complex, Harrisburg, PA
December 2-6, 2009

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Copyright 2008 by The D. Landreth Seed Co.
60 East High Street
New Freedom, PA 17349
For more information contact

*** We have had many requests for the back copies of this newsletter series, Parts I-V.
You can find Parts I-V by going to our website, clicking on Gardeners’ Resources, clicking
on Archived Newsletters and clicking on The Commemorative Newsletter Series. If you wish
to print the newsletters, go to the very end of each newsletter and click on the link which
has the newsletter in a PDF format. You can print the PDF file.

The 225th Anniversary Commemorative Newsletter Series
A History of American Vegetables, Herbs and Flowers
From the Landreth Perspective
(In Twelve Monthly Installments)

Part VI
The Period: 1850-1860

Volume V: Issue 6

June 2009