This piece looks at the use of ornamental plants by residents of the mid-west as both social marker, but also as something with personal significance. LJ looks at three interconnected families (The Lawrence’s, Buell’s, and Copely’s) in the Violinia township in Michigan. Certain plants and ultimately the care of those plants had attained various symbolic meanings not only in the town but also nationally. Homeowners who took care of their gardens, shrubs, and trees were seen as well-meaning, educated, and overall as socially acceptable people. Various ornamentations also represented the wealth that some families had (or wanted others to perceive) by their choice of flower/trees/ grass/etc. Many were able to purchase seeds from out of state giving them a far greater variety to choose from which also showed the countries budding industrialism.
Tree’s were especially important during this period as they created a more appealing landscape during both summer and winter. The government of Michigan encouraged families to plant trees along roadsides (making it a law and then providing a tax break to families who lived along various rural roads) and during the countries centennial event. The growing or exchanging of plants was often seen as a community building as groups would come together to purchase and distribute seeds, but individuals would also create bonds through exchanges.
The plants allowed for families to have a distraction from farming. While farming was labor intensive and required for many’s survival, the tending of flowers/trees were not which allowed it to be more enjoyable and desired. Where men/boys would often have to do the labor that came along with the pruning and pruning of trees/shrubs, the men/boys would also aid with the tending of the garden beds (Women/girls would also at times aid with the leave raking and sod filling). Some women cared greatly for their plants and flowers, often moving their plants between the house and garden depending on the season while doing their best to assure the survival of strictly outdoor plants (like roses).