To America, European settlers brought seeds and plants from their native countries and the West Indies. They also traded with Native Americans, who cultivated, among other crops, corn, beans, squash, melons and fruit trees. Seeds, plants and trees were imported from England and continental Europe to supply the colonies with familiar fruit and vegetables. Wealthy landowners and plant collectors such as Thomas Jefferson, John Bartram, and Martha Logan exchanged seeds with botanists in America and Europe. Plants and seeds were imported and sold in shops alongside other merchandise and advertised in local newspapers. In addition to raising animals and growing grain, American settlers planted vegetables and fruit trees for subsistence and herbs for medicine. Those who could afford them also grew ornamental plants.1
Like M’Mahon, many other early American seedsmen and nurserymen were authors of practical gardening literature, and their books often contained catalogues of seeds and plants. While their books and magazines helped sell their products, it would be a mistake to underestimate their idealism and view them merely as merchants. The mission of these gardeners was to bring “civilization” as descended from ancient Greece, and to elevate American horticulture to the stature of European. Like John Claudius Loudon in England, they believed that everyone, regardless of social position, would benefit from a well-kept garden. Moreover, the seed and plant sellers of this period were motivated by a sincere love of plants and an excitement about the possibilities of spreading horticulture around what they saw as a new land of freedom and plenty. OSU Special Collections houses books and periodicals by influential nineteenth century seedsmen such as Bernard M’Mahon, Thomas Bridgeman, Robert Buist and C.M. Hovey that promote horticulture for all classes and provide detailed practical information.