Charyl Lyon-Jenness, “Bergamot Balm and Verbenas”

Jenness opens up this article noting how “in 1879 S. Q. Lent, a commentator for the Michigan Pomological Society” noted when traveling through Michigan, one will notice that “it is a rare exception to find a single farm on which something has not been done toward the ornamenting of the premises” (201).   Jenness notes that midwesterners began to write in journals, articles, and newspapers that “ornamental plants were a particularly appropriate way to make home attractive, that they had a positive moral influence on family members, and that they communicated the family’s virtue to the rest of the community” (202).  Jenness continues to discuss how “domestic reformers, horticultural advisers, and commercial nurserymen” would advertise these ornamental plants by “advocating shade trees and flowering shrubs” and would assign “public meaning to ornamental plant culture” (203).  These ornamental plants were thought of as illustrating the intelligence and well-mindedness of the individuals living inside the house (203).  As noted by Jenness, “Flourishing flower beds or stately shade trees, along with well-kept dooryards and neatly mown lawns, were quiet yet very public reminders of middle-class values and respectability” (203).  Jenness then continues by asking “What did ornamental plants mean to the families who cultivated them?” (204).  Jenness discusses two families, the Lawrence and Buell, and the significance behind the diaries left from them describing their daily activities and life regarding cultivating these ornamental plants.  Jenness then notes that “ornamental plant chores not only required a commitment from all family members, but as Esther’s diary revealed, demanded attention throughout the year” (210).  Furthermore, Jenness notes that by looking at the diaries, “in the Lawrence and Buell households, both male and female family members appeared to find ornamental plant care important enough to alter work patterns and family interactions to meet its demands” (212).  Jenness notes how from looking over these diaries and journals, Jenness collected that “over the years, the Lawrence and Buell families not only altered patterns of daily life and neighborhood interactions to accommodate their interest in ornamental plants, but actively used flowers and trees as ways to cement and signify family bonds” (216).  Overall, Jenness notes the importance of ornamental plants not only to the society, but to the families growing these plants themselves.  These plants made connections, strengthened relationships, and built an inter-connected community.

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