Seed Catalogs Capture Stories of Our Lives, Our Communities @ Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
"Seed Stories: Catalogs of Life and Gardens in America," an exhibit of historic
seed catalog covers opening Jan. 7, 2011, and continuing through April 3 in the Reedy Gallery and Snyder Building.
The exhibit comprises nearly 150 catalog covers, pages and plates, culled from the Andersen
Horticultural Library's extensive collection of over 57,000 historic seed and nursery catalogs.
Seed catalogs were once a staple on everyone's parlor tables. Brimming with folk art, exquisite
plant portraits, whimsical fairies and gnomes or fair maidens in the garden, they highlight rural
society's desires and interests, enterprises and passions. One will find advertisements for hunting
dogs, pigs, chickens, pleasure boats, farm implements, porcelain vases and heal-all tonics.
"The cover images alone make this collection worth perusing. It's exciting to share them with the
public," says Kathy Allen, head librarian of the Andersen Horticultural Library, which is part of
the University of Minnesota Libraries. It is housed in the Arboretum's Snyder Building.
Many Midwestern companies are represented, including Lippincott seeds, Northrup King, both of
Minneapolis, and Farmer Seed of Faribault, among others.
Of special note are three seedhouses owned and run by women, quite an unusual feat in the early
1900s. These include Mrs. Jessie Prior, Miss Emma V. White and Miss Carrie Lippincott.
Another company, the Oscar Will seed company, "sprouted" in Bismarck, N.D., in 1881. It was
that area's first-ever seedhouse and had the distinction of introducing several Native American
seeds into the trade, including those from the Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa cultures.
The stories behind the scenes, including Minneapolis seedswomen, regional pioneers and colonial innovators, give a more intimate look at the life and gardens surrounding these catalogs. Themes
such as patriotism and marketing occur across companies and time. The attractive and engaging
period artwork decorating these covers is alone worth a visit - especially for those visitors who
fondly recall eagerly thumbing through the well-worn catalog pages.