Marvels at Our Feet

The Online Exhibition for The Liberty Hyde Bailey Gardener’s Companion (LHBGC)

Image above: Liberty Hyde Bailey, detail from Self-portrait in Horticulture Forcing House, 1898. Cyanotype print. Liberty Hyde Bailey Papers, #21-2-3342. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. Also available online here.

Introduction | Exhibit Homepage | Credits

Dig Deeper with the “Patron Saint of American Gardening”

Liberty Hyde Bailey, Jr. (1858-1954) is remembered today for many things—advocate for nature-study in the common schools, visionary of the early land-grant college and extension systems, national leader in the country life movement, philosopher of the earth, poet, photographer—but perhaps he is best remembered by the moniker “father of modern horticulture,” or as scholar James Kates has put it in his discussion of Bailey’s agricultural journalism, the “patron saint of American gardening.”

While his academic training was in the science of botany, Bailey’s upbringing was among working farmers in the mid-nineteenth century, and his vision for horticulture (the study of cultivated plants) was a democratic one, similar to what today we sometimes call “citizen science.” Bailey believed that “The amateur is the ultimate conservator of horticulture” (LHBGC v), and that this fact, far from denigrating the field, actually elevated it. In his 1928 book, The Garden Lover, he writes:

The growing of plants for the sake of the plants is the happy privilege of the amateur. I wanted to use the word amateur in the title of this book but feared that readers would think it meant persons not serious-minded or the tyro or novice or smatterer, and that they would pronounce it as if in rhyme with expenditure. So I chose the word lover, despite its connotations, remembering that amateur is the descendant of the Latin amator, the lover.

L. H. Bailey, The Garden Lover, 1928, pg. 4

This digital exhibition extends and supplements the recently published book titled The Liberty Hyde Bailey Gardener’s Companion, referred to throughout the exhibit as LHBGC, and is compiled by the anthology’s editors John A. Stempien and John Linstrom. We hope that you will enjoy the material presented here, either on its own or with book in hand. The exhibition is divided into four parts, each digging a little deeper into a different aspect of some of the subjects that show up among the 50+ essays and poems collected in the anthology. Bailey’s Gardens explores the several physical places where Bailey devoted himself to his own gardens, which often directly informed his garden writing. The Plants provides more in-depth profiles of several of the plant families that show up in the anthology and that carried special meaning in Bailey’s writings. The Forerunners takes a closer look at several of Bailey’s forerunners in the field of horticulture who he names in the anthology, drawing on portraits written for Bailey’s Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture and, in one case, an obituary that Bailey himself wrote for The Annals of Horticulture. Finally, The Sentiment digs a little deeper into what Bailey called the “garden sentiment” and how that idea relates to his larger “earth-philosophy,” to unpack some of the reasons why Bailey thought gardening could be such an important force in a democratic society. One of the many effects for Bailey of this garden sentiment was the recognition that each of us, everywhere, whenever we step outside, are surrounded by “marvels at our feet.”

Every family can have a garden. If there is not a foot of land, there are porches or windows. Wherever there is sunlight, plants may be made to grow; and one plant in a tin can may be a more helpful and inspiring garden to some mind than a whole acre of lawn and flowers may be to another. The satisfaction of a garden does not depend upon the area, nor, happily, upon the cost or rarity of the plants. It depends upon the temper of the person. One must first seek to love plants and nature, and then to cultivate that happy peace of mind which is satisfied with little.

Liberty Hyde Bailey, in The Liberty Hyde Bailey Gardener’s Companion (LHBGC), pg. 13
Cover of The Liberty Hyde Bailey Gardener’s Companion: Essential Writings, the book on which this exhibition is based and which it is intended to supplement. Available now.

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