In honor of the patriotic spirit of the Fourth of July, plus the gardening season that is upon us, we take a special look at victory gardens!
Though more known for their place in the Second World War, victory gardens (or war gardens as they were initially called) were first advocated during World War I. In addition to rationing other goods, citizens were urged to do their patriotic duty and grow their own vegetables, fruits and herbs at home in order to free up resources for the military. It was hoped that with more resources, the U.S. forces would have better success on the warfront.
The National War Garden Commission produced posters supporting the idea as well as handbooks for novice gardeners. Even school children participated by caring for plots on school grounds. Women were persuaded to “Join the land army” by going to work for farms left understaffed as male laborers went off to war. These programs were not only beneficial to the war effort, but were also considered a great morale booster on the homefront. Being directly involved in the cultivation of their food was thought to be liberating and empowering for citizens.
In this image, the Baltimore-based seed company J. Bolgiano and Son, then in its 100th year, hopes to encourage buyers by embracing this patriotic verve. The cover from this 1918 seed catalog even included a quote from President Wilson, “Everyone who cultivates a garden helps greatly to solve the problem of the feeding of the nations”. The altruistic message was driven home with imagery of Uncle Sam and proud servicemen.
Like other trade literature and advertisements, seed catalogs reflected the times in which they were produced. They offer a window to social history, graphic arts and of course horticultural and botanical knowledge from the past. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries holds a collection of 10,000 seed and nursery catalogs, dating from 1830 to the present. The group, which includes a large portion donated by Mrs. David Burpee in 1982, is part of the National Museum of American History Library’s Trade Literature Collection. Read more about victory gardens, including one grown by the Smithsonian Gardens, on their website here.