Abstract: Garden Spot of the Universe: The Commercial Transformation of the Georgia Peach

Tom Okie


Southern peaches spent much of the nineteenth century growing from seed in haphazard plots, to be consumed by hogs and humans living within a few miles. But by the start of the twentieth century, <i>Prunus persica</i> found itself in thousand-acre grids, shipped to urban consumers on the other end of the continent. This transformation sprang from the ideals and activities of a group of horticulturists who represented the peach as a quintessentially New South crop—a sophisticated, permanent alternative to the wasteful ways of Old South cotton culture. These horticulturists promulgated a vision of a landscape unified in beauty and productivity; studied weather patterns, soil, and insects to refine cultivation techniques; and bred and imported new cultivars: sturdy, uniform peaches designed to endure long transport and still entice buyers. This paper examines and explains the contours of this transition by profiling the southern horticulturists who labored in sometimes contradictory ways to make Georgia the "garden spot of the universe." As it turns out, feeding the denizens of "the universe" would require something more like a factory.