University of Delaware Library

Special Collections

Fruits and Vegetables


Illustration for seed packet The first European settlers in the New World found the native inhabitants cultivating a variety of indigenous food plants. Many of these native plants have become regular additions to the modern garden and orchard, including corn, beans, squash, melons, pumpkins, gourds, cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, plums, cherries, grapes, and sunflowers. The immigrants were quick to introduce the fruits and vegetables they had brought with them across the Atlantic. The earliest introductions included peas, watermelons, cucumbers, lettuce, peaches, and apples. Cultivating fruits and vegetables remained a necessity for the early colonists, who obtained stock from native plants, seeds imported from Europe, neighbors with established gardens, and a few early nurserymen such as George Fenwick and Henry Wolcott, Jr. of Connecticut.
Not until the end of the colonial period, however, did organized seed distribution and plant breeding succeed commercially with the founding of David Landreth's seed business at Philadelphia in 1784, and the breeding of plum varieties by the Prince Nursery of Flushing, New York, in 1790. It was largely through efforts of the seed and nursery industry that the nineteenth-century American garden expanded beyond the standard family kitchen garden of well-established crop varieties.

Special Collections holds over 300 titles relating specifically to fruit culture and vegetable gardening, and hundreds more that include some aspects of these topics. The holdings consist primarily of materials written by nineteenth-century American horticulturalists and plant breeders, particularly between the 1840s and 1890s, and include examples of British and French works. Early English works in particular provide a context for the heritage of American fruit and vegetable growing practices. Among the earliest American publications specializing in fruits and vegetables are William Coxe's (caA View of the Cultivation of Fruit Trees, published in 1817, and Thomas Green Fessenden's New American Gardener, published in 1828. Examples of late nineteenth century practice are recorded in popular manuals such as Peter Henderson's Gardening For Profit; A Guide to the Successful Cultivation of the Market and Family Garden, the popularity of which is demonstrated by numerous reprintings well into the twentieth century.

The materials in Special Collections relating to nineteenth-century fruit culture contain fine depictions of fruit varieties reproduced by a variety of graphic techniques. Examples include the wood engravings in William Coxe's A View of the Cultivation of Fruit Trees (1817); the hand-painted lithographs in Robert Manning's Book of Fruits (1838); the spare engraved outlines of fruits in A. J. Downing's The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America (1845); the chromolithographs in C. M. Hovey's two-volume work, The Fruits of America (1852-1856); and the four-color photographic plates in U. P. Hedrick's The Grapes of New York (1908). Worthy of special note are the unique stencil and watercolor images found in collections of nursery sample plates, such as those compiled for The Specimen Book of Fruits, Flowers and Ornamental Trees published by D. M. Dewey of Rochester, NY, ca. 1875, and owned by Robert Williamson, proprietor of the Capital Nurseries, Sacramento, Cal. D. M. Dewey, a prominent horticultural publisher whose work was widely circulated, devised a technique of stenciled outlines and freehand painting that could be mass produced quickly and cheaply. Although the results were noted more for their stunning color than for their accuracy, the illustrations were used by nurserymen throughout the nineteenth century.

Publications relating specifically to vegetables and vegetable gardening were not nearly as numerous as those on fruit and fruit culture, and the subject was often subsumed as a chapter in general gardening books. In addition to monographs on vegetables, such as Fearing Burr's important The Field and Garden Vegetables of America (1863), seed catalogs and horticultural journals also provide insights into contemporary plant varieties and planting techniques. Several seed companies, such as the Robert Buist Company, Peter Henderson & Co. and the W. Atlee Burpee Company, were known for the variety and quality of their vegetable seeds. Seed and nursery establishments were primarily responsible for the development, introduction, and dissemination of new vegetable varieties, and many of the books on vegetable gardening were written by the owners of these firms as a means of encouraging the use of new varieties and giving instruction on proper cultivation. Farm journals also provided encouragement for vegetable gardening. Agricultural and horticultural periodicals such as The Genesee Farmer, The New York Farmer and Horticultural Repository, and The Rural Carolinian regularly featured articles on vegetable gardening and new vegetable varieties, and are good sources for the contemporary review of new introductions and state-of-the-art cultivating techniques. The development of new plant varieties during the nineteenth century offers a perspective on those varieties that are not currently popular, or those that have been lost forever to the American gardener.

Johann Domitzer.
Pflantzbüchlin von Mancherley Artinger Propffung und Beltzung der Bäum. Frankfurt: Herman Gülfferichen, 1554.

This handbook on the cultivation and protection of fruit trees was first published in 1529 and reprinted in many editions.


Leonard Mascall (d. 1589).
A Book of the Arte and Manner How to Plant and Graffe All Sorts of Trees. . . . London: Thomas Wight, 1592.


Ralph Austen (d. 1676).
A Treatise of Fruit-Trees. . . . Oxford: Thomas Robinson, 1657.

This treatise first appeared in 1653.


John Evelyn (1620-1706).
Acetaria. A Discourse of Sallets. London: B. Tooke, 1706.

Second edition of Evelyn's treatise on salad herbs and vegetables. The first edition appeared in 1699. The second edition consists of the sheets from the first with a new title page added.


James MacPhail.
A Treatise on the Culture of the Cucumber. . . . London: T. Cadell, 1794.

Describes the author's design for a brick frame for forcing cucumbers. MacPhail's frame became a popular addition to vegetable gardens.


Thomas Andrew Knight (1759-1838).
Pomona Herefordiensis; Containing Coloured Engravings of the Old Cider and Perry Fruits of Herefordshire. London: Agricultural Society of Herefordshire, 1811.


George Brookshaw.
Pomona Britannica, or A Collection of the Most Esteemed Fruits at Present Cultivated in Great Britain. London: Bensley and Son, 1817.


William Coxe (1762-1831).
A View of the Cultivation of Fruit Trees. . . . Philadelphia: M. Carey and Son, 1817.

First American work on pomology.


New York Farmer and Horticultural Repository. New York: New York Horticultural Society, 1828-1837.


Robert Manning (1784-1842).
Book of Fruits. . . . Salem, Mass.: Ives & Jewett, 1838.


Thomas Bridgeman (d. 1850).
The Kitchen Gardener's Instructor. . . for the Cultivation of Culinary Vegetables & Herbs. . . . New York: T. Bridgeman, 1840.

First published in 1836.


The Orchardist's Companion. Philadelphia: A. Hoffy, 1841-1843.

First American journal wholly devoted to pomology.

Melva B. Guthrie Fund


Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852).
The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America. New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1845.

The standard American pomological authority to the end of the century, going through numerous revised editions. A. J. Downing was also the author of the influential A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, first published in 1841, and the founder of the journal The Horticulturalist in 1846.

Charles van Ravenswaay Collection


Charles Mason Hovey (1810-1887).
The Fruits of America. . . . Boston: Hovey and Co., 1852-1856. 2 volumes.


Fearing Burr (1815-1897).
The Field and Garden Vegetables of America; Containing Full Descriptions of Nearly Eleven Hundred Species and Varieties; with Directions for Propagation, Culture, and Use. Boston: Crosby and Nichols, 1863.

The most comprehensive work on vegetables of its time, with entries for varieties now lost to the gardener.


Peter Henderson (1822-1890).
Gardening for Profit; a Guide to the Successful Cultivation of the Market and Family Garden. New York: Orange Judd & Company, 1867.

Although the title to this popular work suggests a general gardening manual, the book is devoted almost entirely to vegetable gardening.


Dellon Marcus Dewey.
The Specimen Book of Fruits, Flowers and Ornamental Trees. Carefully Drawn and Colored from Nature for the Use of Nurserymen. Rochester: D. M. Dewey [ca 1875].

With the ownership stamp of Robert Williamson of Capital Nurseries, Sacramento, Cal. Consists of 119 mostly stencilled and hand-colored illustrations. Bound at end are Robert Williamson's Annual Catalogue for the Season of 1873-4; Price Catalogue of the Capital Nursery. . . for the Winter of 1874 and 1875; and 1871. Dewey's New Catalogue of Colored Plates of Fruits, Flowers, Etc.


E. D. Darlington and L. M. Moll.
How and What to Grow in a Kitchen Garden of One Acre. Philadelphia: W. Atlee Burpee & Co., 1888.


Ulysses Prentiss Hedrick (1870-1951).
The Grapes of New York. Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, 1908.

First in a series of six monumental reports on the fruits of New York from the New York Agricultural Experiment Station. The others are on plums, cherries, peaches, pears, and small fruits. U. P. Hedrick was a member of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, Geneva, N. Y., from 1905 to 1938 as Horticulturalist, Assistant Director, and finally Director. Hedrick wrote a number of other works on pomological subjects, and he was author of the standard history on American horticulture, A History of Horticulture in America to 1860.


Exhibit Home | Essay | Gardening | Flowers | Nursery Trade | Landscape | Agriculture | Botany

For reference assistance email Special Collections
or contact:

Special Collections, University of Delaware Library
Newark, Delaware 19717-5267
(302) 831-2229

Last modified: 12/21/10

  • UD Library Special Collections  •   181 South College Avenue  •   Newark, DE 19717-5267  •   USA
    Phone: USA +1 302-831-2229  •   ©2014