Special Collections

Horticulture Collections

Suitable for Cultivation [exhibit catalog], 1990.

Suitable for Cultivation [exhibit
catalog], 1990.

The Unidel History of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Collection contains over five thousand publications covering every aspect of the field of horticulture, from agriculture through floriculture, from art historical subjects such as landscape architecture and park design to more scientific ones, for example agricultural chemistry. The Collection contains early herbals and botanic works; eighteenth-century British agricultural treatises, eighteenth and early nineteenth century gardening dictionaries and manuals; British, French and German landscape works.

However, its great strength is in American imprints and practical and ornamental horticulture. The collection contains rare runs of early agricultural and horticultural society reports and periodicals, unique copies of seed catalogs issued by short-lived firms across the country as well as runs of major firms, nursery plate books, trade catalogs, and advertising ephemera. Monographic holdings covering the literature of vegetable and fruit culture, gardens and gardening are comprehensive, including every edition of many works, often in variant issues and bindings. The collection is strongest beginning in the 1820s, a time of enormous increases in American horticultural publishing, and continuing through the golden age of American horticulture in the decades following the Civil War. Thousands of seed, nursery, and agricultural implement catalogs range in date from the eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century.

The sections below describe in further detail the different types of horticulture resources available in Special Collections.


Southern Fodder Corn of Superior Quality, n.d

Southern Fodder Corn of Superior Quality, n.d

Agricultural holdings in Special Collections consists of over five hundred and fifty titles published from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. The strength of the collection is in American works published between 1780 and 1880, but also includes representative examples of British, French, and German agricultural publications. Of these holdings over a hundred and fifty titles comprise the publications of agricultural and horticultural societies from throughout the United States, providing a record of organized agricultural cooperation and the spread of agricultural progress across the country. Among the earliest societies whose publications are represented in Special Collections are the Agricultural Society of South Carolina, organized in 1785; the Society for the Promotion of the Useful Arts, organized in 1804 as successor to the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts, and Manufactures, and predecessor to the New York State Agricultural Society; and the Chester County Cabinet of Natural History, founded in 1826 by William Darlington.


Herbier de la France, 1780-1791.

Herbier de la France,

A number of related areas of study influenced the development of horticulture and agriculture, among them botany, botanic exploration, medical botany, dendrology, arboriculture and forestry. An expanding body of botanical knowledge and the introduction of new plant species have transformed what was cultivated in the garden and on the farm. Printed illustrations made possible the broad dissemination of botanical knowledge and stimulated further discoveries.

Special Collections holds over five hundred titles published from the early sixteenth century to the twentieth relating to the botanical sciences. This botanical collection is particularly strong in American publications between 1810 and 1870 and British works from the early seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries. The collection also has representative examples of European imprints, including French, German, Dutch, Italian, Belgian, and Swiss works. Of these titles over a hundred and fifty relate specifically to trees and forestry. Special Collections also holds over a hundred and fifty titles relating to materia medica and medical botany, including herbals. These collections provide a rich resource for studying the development of botanical science and its integral relationships with horticulture and agriculture.


Language of flowers: Souvenir of the St. Louis Exposition, [1904].

Language of flowers:
Souvenir of the St. Louis
Exposition, [1904].

Literature relating specifically to flowers has its origins in classical and medieval herbals, which emphasized the botanical/medical aspects of flowering plants, while floriculture forms part of practical horticulture. Both types of flower book are generally characterized by their use of illustration for instruction and identification. One genre of flower book, the florilegium, consists almost entirely of illustrations, with little or no text. Special Collections holds over 200 titles relating specifically to flowers and floriculture, printed between the late sixteenth and the late nineteenth centuries. Over half of this collection consists of American works published between 1830 and 1900. The remainder is European, with British and French works predominant.Besides monographs on flower gardening, floriculture in nineteenth-century America may be studied through the catalogs of seed and nursery establishments, particularly those well known for flower seeds, such as Joseph Breck & Sons, Briggs Brothers Company, John Lewis Childs, Dingee and Conrad Company, and James Vick. Although no American magazines on floriculture existed prior to 1870, all horticultural periodicals devoted some space to the subject, notably The Horticulturalist and Vick’s Illustrated Monthly . Toward the close of the century a few magazines appeared, such as The Mayflower, devoted wholly to floriculture. Special Collections has an extensive collection of these publications.

A sub-genre of the flower book is the literary or moral tract on the language of flowers. Although consisting almost entirely of sentimental poetry and essays on the moral and religious significance of flowers, these popular works often included illustrations of flowers, a few rather elaborate, and had some influence in popularizing the cultivation of flowering plants. Special Collections holds over 100 titles relating to flower language and flowers in literature, principally published between the decades of 1830 and 1880. These illustrate the tastes and preferences in the flowers grown during this period.


Gardener's Kalendar

Gardener’s Kalendar

General gardening literature in the University of Delaware Library’s Special Collections is represented by over three hundred titles, many in multiple editions, spanning the mid-sixteenth to the late nineteenth centuries. British and American imprints are present in roughly equal proportions, providing an opportunity to study the evolution of Anglo-American horticultural practices over a four-hundred-year period. British gardening works in Special Collections range from the late sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, with the greatest concentration of titles from the eighteenth century. American gardening literature is very well represented for the entire nineteenth century. In addition to American monographs on general gardening and practical horticulture, gardening magazines such as the Magazine of Horticulture, American Journal of Horticulture, Gardener’s Monthly, and Meehan’s Monthly played an important role in guiding and instructing a large American audience in the pleasures and profits of garden cultivation.

Special Collections holds over three hundred titles relating specifically to fruit culture and vegetable gardening, and hundreds more that include some aspects of these topics. The holdings consist primarily of materials written by nineteenth-century American horticulturalists and plant breeders, particularly between the 1840s and 1890s, and include examples of British and French works. Early English works in particular provide a context for the heritage of American fruit and vegetable growing practices. Among the earliest American publications specializing in fruits and vegetables are William Coxe’s A View of the Cultivation of Fruit Trees published in 1817, and Thomas Green Fessenden’s New American Gardener, published in 1828. Examples of late nineteenth century practice are recorded in popular manuals such as Peter Henderson’s Gardening For Profit; A Guide to the Successful Cultivation of the Market and Family Garden , the popularity of which is demonstrated by numerous reprintings well into the twentieth century.

Landscape Architecture

Rudiments of Landscape, 1813.

Rudiments of Landscape, 1813.

Special Collections’ holdings in gardens and landscape architecture number over three hundred titles published from the early seventeenth century to the present. The collection is fairly evenly distributed among American, British, French, and northern European imprints, including Germany and the Netherlands. Representation of American publications is strongest between 1850 and 1930. The strength of British works represented in the collection falls between 1760 and 1820, the years framing the development and maturation of the English informal garden, offering an opportunity for studying its influence on American design practice. In addition, Special Collections holds over one hundred works relating to the design and history of nineteenth-century American cemeteries and public parks, providing an additional resource for studying the development of American garden and landscape architecture.

Seed and Nursery Trade

The history of the seed and nursery trade is thoroughly documented in the horticultural collections of the University of Delaware Library in trade catalogs, sample books, original illustrations, posters, advertising circulars and broadsides, seed packets, trade cards, and other ephemera. Foremost among these materials are the collections of seed catalogs and nursery sample books. Special Collections’ holdings in seed catalogs comprise the serial publications of over 700 American and European seed houses and nurseries from the late eighteenth century to the present, with a concentration in the years between 1870 and 1930. The collection contains catalogs for over 600 firms across the United States, particularly from New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Michigan, and Illinois, and a representative collection of over 100 European seed catalogs. Holdings include runs of well-known seed catalogs produced by the W. Atlee Burpee Company (1881-1981), Ferry & Co. (1874-1913), James John Howard Gregory (1869-1933), Peter Henderson & Co. (1872-1947), and James Vick (1866-1900), and examples of notable and obscure seed growers.

An outstanding major resource for the study of the nursery trade in the United States is a group of nearly 100 nursery sample books dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the first decade of the twentieth century. These unique sample books contain watercolor and stencil paintings, hand-colored lithographs, chromolithographs, and photographic plates illustrating fruits, flowers, shrubs, and trees that were selected by nurserymen to represent their stock. Most of the nursery plates in this collection were produced in Rochester, New York, an early center for horticultural publishing and illustration due to the large number of major nurseries in the area. These books were used by nurseries throughout the country. Nurserymen would select the plates they wanted from the horticultural printer’s catalog of prints, bind them in leather, and stamp the finished volume with the name of nursery. The sample book could then be used as a lavishly illustrated catalog of the nursery’s stock both at the nursery and by salesmen travelling the countryside as the nursery’s representatives. Although sample books were compiled from commercially produced plates, each volume is unique to the nursery it represents, demonstrating the range and specializations of the nurseryman’s stock and the tastes and preferences of his clientele.

Several companies that contributed to the early development of illustration for the nursery trade represented in this superb collection of nursery sample books include the Rochester lithographers and publishers D. M. Dewey, Rochester Lithographing Company, Stecher Lithograph Company, and Vrendenburg & Co.; and E. B. and E. C. Kellogg of Hartford, Connecticut.

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