By: Maclaren Guthrie, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2021, Anthropology, Bloomington
In the past, agriculture was a much more dominant field than floriculture. Now both fields are appreciated and utilized by families everywhere, though some may argue floriculture is even more prevalent than agriculture in relation to how many people were taking part in the activities.
The reason for this transition is due mainly to technological advances, like the usage of trains for shipping and the invention of time saving farming equipment, which made it unnecessary for all families to do all their own farming.
More can be read about these changes in my previous blog, “Transition from Agriculture to Leisure Gardening in Bloomington, Indiana circa 1860s” (Guthrie 2017b).
Common plants around the 1860’s-1890’s, as noted by the “Affectionately Yours” Wylie Family Letters, included pansies, fuchsias, geraniums, begonias, roses, and gloxinias. There were many other flower varieties mentioned, but these were some of the most often written about.
For example, in an 1874 letter to Louisa Wylie from Emma Dennis, her aunt, she mentioned receiving a Forget-Me-Not from a woman named Lizzie (possibly Emma’s sister). To expand the view beyond the Wylie’s, some other common available plants in addition to those were hyacinths, lilies, daffodils, narcissi, gardenias, and violets (Leighton 1987).
The way that these flowers were displayed is still fairly similar to the way we decorate with them now. In this era, flowers were kept in vases, in window boxes, in their own patches outside, but also in garden pits. These garden pits are similar to early greenhouses, and the Wylie’s had two of these garden pits of their own (Guthrie 2017a).
A written account of the Wylie’s having window boxes is in a letter from Louisa Wylie to her husband Hermann from 1874. In this letter she says, “I am glad that the house is brick and that we can have a flower window. I must now determine what flowers to take with me.” (Herald 2011).
Additionally, the garden beds of the time were commonly circular, symmetrically arranged, and edged with rock (Leighton 1987).
Floriography was also popular during the 19th century, which was another way people became more involved in floriculture.
Floriography, more commonly known as the language of flowers, gained popularity due to the strict etiquette surrounding social interactions; the use of flowers to convey emotions helped get around these social rules (“The Language of Flowers”‘). This way to communicate became especially prevalent during Queen Victoria’s reign.
The first dictionary focusing on the meaning of flowers, Le Languge de Fleurs by Charlotte de la Tour, was published in 1818 in Paris, France. There were many other dictionaries published during Queen Victoria’s reign as well. One of the more popular ones was called Flora Symbolica by John Ingram from 1869.
Today, floriculture is something that many families are a part of in one way or another. Many of the flowers that were popular in the 19th century are still popular today although we have more options for our gardens since seeds and pre-planted flowers from around the globe are more accessible.
Over the years our knowledge of gardening and flowers has increased, so it has become easier for us to utilize that knowledge into making the gardens of our dreams possible. We have different methods of getting similar results through the continued development of gardening tools among other things.
Floriculture as a whole is continually evolving as a field along with those who explore it, and even those who just want some pretty flowers in their yard or on their tables.
Guthrie, Maclaren. “An Introduction to Wylie House Floriculture.”, Indiana University, 17 October 2017, https://blogs.iu.edu/bicentennialblogs/2017/10/17/an-introduction-to-wylie-house-floriculture/
Guthrie, Maclaren. “Transition from Agriculture to Leisure Gardening in Bloomington, Indiana circa 1860’s”, Indiana University, 7 December 2017, https://blogs.iu.edu/bicentennialblogs/2017/12/07/transition-from-agriculture-to-leisure-gardening-in-bloomington-indiana-circa-1860s/
Herald, Elaine, and Jo Burgess. “Affectionately Yours, Volume II.” IUScholarWorks, Indiana University, 2011, http://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20331
Leighton, Ann. American Gardens of the Nineteenth Century. University of Massachusetts Press, 1987.
“The Language of Flowers.” Royal Collection Trust, www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/themes/exhibitions/painting-paradise/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace/the-language-of-flowers.