May 4th Sunday Went to church this morning and at
intermission called with Mother at Mr Whitwells
Mrs Daniel Clark went with us Heard two good
sermons from Mr Whitwell. Orinthia went
in the afternoon, staid at home this morning
Have been reading since church in the book of
flowers & called in the other part of the house
to see Mrs Stetson who came Friday night
The Flower Garden or Breck’s Book of Flowers is probably the book to which Evelina gravitated on her return home from church. Its subtitle was “In which are described all the various hardy herbaceous perennials, annuals, shrubby plants, and evergreen trees, desirable for ornamental purposes, with directions for their cultivation” and it probably took her mind away from Reverend Whitwell’s sermons. Written by Joseph Breck, head of an eponymous gardening firm, the “book of flowers” was published by J. P. Jewett of Boston and was immediately popular. It met a need among a burgeoning population of female gardeners like Evelina who were happily creating “parlor gardens” for their homes.
Naturally, women had gardened before the nineteenth century, but earlier gardens, at least of the kitchen variety, were generally planted for culinary or medicinal purposes. Flower gardens existed, certainly, but tended to be presented within a larger landscape that was most often designed by men. Female participation in gardening was a more recent phenomenon, promoted assiduously by landscape designers like Andrew Jackson Downing, authors such as Englishwoman Jane Loudon, taste-setters such as Sarah Josepha Hale, and commercial gardeners like Breck. All were guided by “the nineteenth century urge for the beautification of the American home and its surroundings.”**
The Church, too, latched on to the fashion for flower gardening. As Godey’s Lady’s Book counseled, women needed to “[s]tudy the flowers and behold the wisdom, the goodness and mercy of the Almighty.” *** According to a diary kept by Oliver Ames, Jr., Easton’s own Reverend William Chaffin, a few years later, drew an appreciative “analogy between the cultivation of the Garden and of the Spiritual nature.” Religion was to be found among the pinks and pansies.
* Catalogue for Joseph Breck & Sons, 1887
** Ann Leighton, American Gardens of the Nineteenth Century, 1987
*** Godey’s Lady’s Book, May 1851