Did you know that Mizzou is a botanic garden? Our campus is gorgeous all year round, but it's particularly outstanding in the spring and summer. We're celebrating the natural beauty around us with a new series that links Mizzou's campus gardens with the herbals, botanical books, and gardening manuals in Special Collections.
We didn't have to go far to find inspiration this week. These magnolia trees on the Ninth Street side of Ellis Library are show-stoppers every spring. Daffodils of several varieties provide a cheerful shot of yellow underneath.
We found images and descriptions of these plants in Curtis' Botanical Magazine, a publication that started in the late 1700s with the aim "to unite systematic knowledge with the pleasures of the flower-garden." William Curtis includes several types of narcissus throughout the publication; the ones illustrated here are only a few. About the magnolia, Curtis writes,"There is a magnificence about the plants of this genus which renders them unsuitable subjects of representation in a work the size of ours." We have to agree; in person they're really amazing.
Apologies for my fingers; these volumes of Curtis are really tightly bound! Special thanks to Arthur Mehrhoff at the Museum of Art and Archaeology. Be sure to check out his Pride of Place website, which provided an inspiration for this series.
June is prime time for gardeners in Missouri, and it’s also a great time to take a look at the rare and historic horticulture and gardening books in Special Collections. Since MU has a long history as an agriculture school, Special Collections has a great collection of these early texts on plants, gardening, and landscape design.
The Edible Garden
The last decade has seen a renewed interest in local and sustainable food, including vegetable gardening and heritage or heirloom varieties. The absence of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and modern machinery in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries meant that kitchen and market gardeners had to be experts in the care of a wide variety of food crops. Advice for gardeners from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries contains information on historic plant varieties as well as natural solutions to problems with climate, soils, and pests.
The Flower Garden
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the introduction of a number of new flowering plants as botanists and nurserymen identified foreign species and developed hybrids. Although color publications such as Curtis’s Botanical Magazine remained popular through the period, most gardeners learned about new flowers through descriptions or black and white plates. Botanical gardens such as the Royal Gardens at Kew became popular spots for the public to see exotic and colorful plants in person.
Garden design has changed dramatically from the formalized symmetry of Italian and French gardens to the informal plantings of today. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, English gardeners began to break away from the geometrical patterns of Renaissance knot gardens and Baroque parterres. Instead, the new garden style focused on creating picturesque, naturalistic views. Landscape architects during this period sought to shape the landscape without the outward appearance of control, creating “natural” scenery too perfect to exist in nature.
Search for Gardening, Fruit, Botany, or Landscape architecture in the MERLIN catalog. Limit your search to Special Collections to find more primary sources on historic gardens and gardening practices.