Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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College Archives and Special Collections


@ElizaBTweetin: May 16, 1873: Spring Planting

Posted on May 15, 2014

Since the end of April, Eliza Wheaton has been purchasing seeds, fruit trees, shrubs, and plants for her garden.  Not satisfied with what she could find locally, she went to Boston in search of shrubs.  What did she buy, and how much did she spend?

  • April 26:   Dan’l Cobb for 12 Peach Trees      $  1.50
  • May 1:     seeds                                                  1.50
  • May 2:     grass seed                                            .25
  • May 6:     seeds                                                    .30
  •                 T.B. Wells for shrubs                         11.30
  •                 to Boston for shrubs, &c.
  • May 7:     freight on Arborvitae                              .40
  • May 8:     freight on Pear Trees                             .40
  • May 10:  to Mansfield for plants
  •                J. Breck & Son for Pear trees               6.75
  •                plants at Chilson’s                               13.45
  • May 16:  to Mansfield for plants
  • May 17:   Mr. Wild, for 2 doz. Tomato plants          .75
  • TOTAL                                                              $36.60

Several items in this list are of particular interest to us because Eliza Wheaton was an avid gardener, both designing ornamental beds, and planting vegetables and fruits for summer consumption and preserves for the winter months.  She took advantage of the newly available regional and national sale of seeds through catalogues that became an established industry only in the 1870s.  Joseph Breck (1794-1873) had published the second book on flowers ever published in America, The Young Florist, in 1833, The Flower Garden in 1851, and edited New England Farmer. He began to sell seeds and agricultural implements in Boston in 1836.

Chilson Stoves Advertisement, 1868

Chilson Stoves Advertisement, 1868

Gardner Chilson (1804-1877), a Boston merchant, founded the Mansfield Iron Foundry (1853) and invented award-winning patented hot-air ventilating furnaces and stoves, lived on Rumford Ave. across from Fulton Pond in Mansfield. His formal gardens were tended by Irishman John McGrath.   When Chilson built houses on speculation on Franklin Square in Boston’s South End, they became famous not only for their Italianate design but also for their ornamental plantings [The Garden Squares of Boston].

Heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes

Finally, it is fascinating to speculate whether Mrs. Wheaton purchased two dozen tomato plants as ornaments or for crops. Until the late 1800s, Europeans and Americans, familiar with the South American plant since the 1500s, believed its fruits were poisonous because of the leaf’s similarity to deadly nightshade.  The tomato was not accepted as an edible food until Alexander W. Livingston of Ohio developed in the 1870s the Paragon, a uniform, smooth, red variety.

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