“Bergamot Balm and Verbenas”

Bergamot Balm and Verbenas: The Public and Private Meaning of Ornamental Plants in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century Midwest by Cheryl Lyon-Jenness explores the social uses of ornamental plants in the homes in mid-western families. To do this, Jenness explores the examples of three individuals/relatives in Michigan in order to evaluate the personal and societal significance of owning ornamental plants. All families shared similar lifestyles and interests in horticultural activities which is found in journals kept by all three families. In these journals/diaries, social life in the mid-west rural region is connected with ornamental plants. Ornamental plants became associated with social class and personal identification through the overall appearance and maintenance of these plants. Lawns represented what a family presented themselves as to society and how they lived their lives (according to “public norms and progressive values”). Maintenance of the lawns and plants required a lot of time and labor. However, rather than a burden, it was often a favorable pastime for these families and was used an aid during difficult times. As well, the exchange of plants among these families and the community built stronger community values and better access to these ornamental plants. However, Jenness argues that these plants symbolize far more personal meaning to the individuals than just simple public appearances.

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