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Sunday, January 3, 2010

AN OLD SEED CATALOG AND WHAT IT CAN TEACH US.

1926 FERRY SEED CATALOG
Since I was a child, helping my father grow a garden, I have been interested in all things garden. I have grown both large and small plots, grown herbs, flowers, vegetables, native plants and taught gardening classes, sold at farmers markets, all the while collecting old seed catalogs and tools.

As for my gardening pursuits today, I now encourage mother nature to grow her wild plants while I disturb only enough of her ground to grow an organic mini-garden. It provides a bit of vegetables and flowers for me during the growing season.

I still have many of my old seed catalogs stored away in a large box. Recently I unpacked them to enjoy during this chilly, wintry January. As I browsed their pages, I became aware that they "spoke" a history of our home gardens. They were teaching me the social and technological gardening history of a past time period.

To illustrate my point of "teaching,"I will use the 1926 D. M. Ferry Seed Annual (read catalog) pictured at the top of this post. In fact all the photos in this post were taken from this one catalog. Following is what I learned about Ferry's adventures of growing a business that emphasized home gardens.

In 1926 the D. M. Ferry Seed Company was located in Detroit, Michigan. Under the Ferry name they eventually expanded to include an 850 acre track of experimental gardens in Rochester, Michigan. The experimental gardens provided jobs to hundreds, most of them were female gardener positions. Ferry built housing for his employees at this Rochester site which, at the time, was located in a very rural area.


FERRY INNOVATIVE SEED RACKS
Mr. Ferry was an astute businessman. He culled his home gardening business into an international seed company. He made improvements to seed packets by adding color to the packets, introduced retail seed racks to small stores around the nation, and improved varieties through their experimental gardens.

FERRY'S CALVERT LITHOGRAPH -- ZINNIA GIANT DOUBLE
As I was looking over Ferry's 1926 seed catalog I admired the four, full-paged, colored lithographs in the 104 page seed catalog. All the other pages were black and white print. Apparently, in 1926 color printing was either not available or too expensive. Also, color photography seemed non-existent in early catalogs.

FERRY'S CALVERT CELOSIA LITHOGRAPH
While looking at the beauty of the colors used on the featured lithographs, I noticed a name on all of them; Calvert Litho Company, Detroit Michigan. Hmm, who were these folks? I searched the net and found out they were one of the largest lithography businesses in the United States during this period. And what gorgeous lithographs they produced. Visit, I Like Boring Things," to view a parade of Calvert's beautiful historic lithographs. For the history of the Calvert Company click here.

FERRY'S CALVERT BEAN LITHOGRAPH
The beans illustrated above are now considered heirlooms seeds. For a definition of heirloom seeds/plants view here. I could not find a seed source for the Stringless Kidney Wax bean. featured above. However, Full Measure bean seeds can be found here.

1926 CALVERT LITHOGRAPH FOUND IN THE FERRY SEED CATALOG
The Early Fortune cucumber illustrated above is now an heirloom as well as the Early Scarlet Radish and the White Icicle Radish. Early Fortune seeds can be found here. For radish seeds click here for Early Scarlet and here for White Icicle.

Eventually Ferry merged with the Morse seed company and became the Ferry-Morse Seed Company. Today the company is located in Fulton, Kentucky.

Overall, my Ferry catalog taught me the following: history of a seed and agricultural business, early plant research gardens, introductions of new plant varieties, catalogs as art, early garden styles and graphic art technologies. Granted I had to conduct additional research for some of these categories but the catalog was the initial "seed" planted in my mind that led me down this fascinating path. A path that continues to provide more information about old seed companies and seed catalogs.

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