May 2, 1852

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Frontispiece, Breck’s Book of Flowers, 1851

Sunday May 2d

1852 Have been to church and at noon went

into Mrs Howards with Mother & Henrietta

After meeting went with Oakes A & Mrs

S Ames to call on Mrs Perkins at Mr Kimballs

also called at Mr Nahum Williams

Mrs Kimball has her garden laid out quite

prettily but the walls are too narrow I think

Evelina was almost as interested in other people’s gardens as she was in her own. After church, she and her son, Oakes Angier Ames, and sister-in-law,  Sarah Lothrop Ames, made a few calls around the neighborhood. The day “was cloudy + fair by turns,”* and as they visited, Evelina was able to see what others were doing in their yards.

The group stopped at the home of John and Lusannah Kimball, whose garden Evelina judged to be pretty, certainly, but “too narrow.” Perhaps Mrs.Kimball was building a perennial border, as opposed to the central bed configuration that Evelina used. Taste in gardening design was changing, with the latest ideal illustrated in Joseph Breck’s popular new book on flowers. Was this the look that Evelina was aiming to achieve in her yard?

The whole family seemed to be out and about, at least for the ride to and from the meeting house. The usual group, representing all three Ames households, was in attendance.  It would be the last Sunday ever for this particular ensemble.  In only two weeks, the Ameses would be back at church for a funeral for one of their own.

*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection


October 1, 1851



Oct 1st Wednesday.  Put a quilt into the frame in the

sitting room got it in about ten marked it

and quilted awhile and went into the garden

to save some flower seeds.  have got some nice

Balsam seed and a few china pink seed among

others. Passed the afternoon at Olivers with

Mrs Drake & Torrey

Quilting, gardening, and socializing made up Evelina’s day.  She set up a quilt frame in the sitting room and worked on a quilt she had begun about ten days earlier. She couldn’t stay inside, though, as the day was “fair” and “pritty warm for the time of year.”* The sunshine drew her to the garden where she moved through her annuals, saving seeds for next year.

She got “some nice Balsam,” a flower that today we call impatiens. At the time, it was reckoned to be “one of the most prominent ornaments of the garden,”** according to Joseph Breck, a Boston horticulturalist.  Breck’s important guide, his eponymous Book of Flowers, had proved helpful to Evelina earlier in the year and must have been doing so again as she put her garden to bed. Breck particularly admired some of the variegated varieties of Balsam as “decidedly the most elegant.” He had specific advice about saving Balsam seed: “Old seed is considered by some to be the best, as more likely to produce double flowers. The seeds should be saved from double flowering plants only; all single flowering ones should be destroyed as soon as they appear.” Did Evelina follow his advice?

After gardening, Evelina probably changed her dress and went next door to see Sarah Lothrop Ames and her guests, Caroline Drake (Mrs. Lincoln Drake) and another woman, Mrs. Torrey. The two guests may have been related to one another (Caroline’s maiden name was Torrey.) They had no immediate connection to Col. John Torrey, however, who appeared often in Evelina’s journal. The women would have sat, had tea and chatted – a pleasant occupation on a pleasant day.


* Oliver Ames, Journal, Courtesy of Stonehill College Archives

** Joseph Breck, Book of Flowers, Boston, 1851, pp. 185 – 186

*** Heirloom impatiens balsamina, Courtesy of


June 6, 1851




June 6 Friday  Worked in the garden an hour or two this morning

mended some cotton stockings swept & dusted &c

About three or four Oclock went with Olivers wife

& Mrs Mitchell to North Bridgewater called at

Mr Summers to take Frank Mitchell home & at Mrs

Carrs & Susan Copelands to get my bonnet  The bonnet

is done well  When I returned home found Orinthia

here.  Jane Howard brought her up. 

At last, a bonnet to take home and trim.  Evelina was clearly pleased.  She picked it up in North Bridgewater (today’s Brockton) with her sisters-in-law Sarah Lothrop Ames and Harriett Ames Mitchell.  The ladies retrieved Harriett’s eldest son, Frank Ames Mitchell, in the process. Not yet ten years old, whom had he been visiting?

Otherwise, Evelina’s day was full of quotidian activities: mending, sweeping, dusting. Nothing out of the ordinary popped up in the domestic department. Gardening, too, continued. On this day, Evelina may have planted the asters she picked up yesterday at the Howards’, compliments of a Howard daughter, Louisa.

Joseph Breck in his Breck’s Book of Flowers, 1851, admired the China Aster: “The varieties are now very numerous, and possess exceeding beauty, some of them being almost as large as a small Dahlia, and much more graceful.”

Breck warned against letting the asters “degenerate in to inferior flowers,” and recommended sowing the seeds in May, “in patches,” and transplanting them to “a bed well prepared the last of June.” It may be that Evelina was transplanting the seedlings a little early.  Time would tell.

* Image from


May 4, 1851


Vintage Ad for 1887 Brecks Seed Catalog (Original)


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