Farmers perturbed over flowers, 1877

October 3, 2014

Readers of William Hoyt Coleman’s column in the Christian Union got a chatty—and patchy—report of the New York State Fair of 1877: no pie judging, no news of prize livestock. Coleman focused on developments in farm machinery, new grape varieties, and a surprisingly entertaining argument about flower-growing.

Some of the heat appears to have been generated after remarks by Mr. Vick (apparently the owner of a nursery), who took farmers to task for neglecting to grow flowers.  “But they were there to speak for themselves,” Coleman points out, “and they did.”  The rambling report that follows includes a sprinkling of delightful moments:  an 80-year-old farmer who “protested with great vehemence against the idea that farmers didn’t love flowers”; the casual mention of keeping a rose bush near the house for drying small bits of laundry; the contrast between farmers’ daughters forced to play croquet in a neglected yard and the sons “dashing about” in (presumably expensive) buggies.

Coleman credits the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry for the “remarkable discussion.”  It was at that time a new organization; it would make a major impact on American culture.

from “The New York State Fair at Rochester.” Christian Union 16 (3 Oct 1877): p. 286.

Wednesday evening there was a discussion on “Fruits and Flowers” at the Court House. Over one hundred and fifty farmers and fruit growers were present and the proceedings were very lively. … Mr. Vick read an essay on “Flower Growing,” in which he bore hard upon the farmers for not taking more interest in flowers. But they were there to speak for themselves and they did. A young farmer said he attended to his flowers as regularly as to his other crops, and he believed it paid. He had bought two dollars worth of seed of Mr. Vick and the same year had received twenty-five dollars in premiums for his flowers. When he sold his former farm the new owner plowed up the flower garden and put in potatoes as it was handy to the house in keeping off the bugs. His crop was three barrels of potatoes worth ten shillings per bl. He did leave one rosebush as it was handy for his wife to dry small things on. An old gentleman over seventy, who said he had been a farmer all his life, wanted Mr. Vick to tell him how he could learn to grow flowers; he had tried a great many times but failed. He had two sons who each had farms but they had both sold out and gone into other business. Somebody said, “Give your wife the money to buy seed and she’ll show you how.” Mr. Quimby thought farmers were buying flower seeds much more largely and that many took great pains to keep plants through the winter where they had only wood fires. An old man of eighty protested with great vehemence against the idea that farmers didn’t love flowers. He had been a farmer all his life, had observed many other farmers, and he knew better. When he was a boy his father used to bring wild flowers from the woods and carefully set them out. He and his neighbor would exchange flowers with each other. Mr. Barry said he knew many rich farmers in the Genesee Valley who paid little attention to the improvement of their dooryards. He had seen their daughters trying to play croquet in grass three feet high while their sons were dashing about in buggies. Mr. B. went on to plead for the elevation of the farmer with unusual force and eloquence. Altogether it was a remarkable discussion. The speakers made their points with great vigor, and the audience applauded lustily. And all about flowers! We could not help thinking that the grange must have a good deal to do with it. Farmers are getting broken in to speaking in public and to thinking on their feet. They have always had good ideas; now they are learning to put them in shape.


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