Planting a Seed: The Nineteenth-Century Horticultural Boom in America

Between 1850 and 1880, enthusiasm for horticulture swept the nation, particularly the Upper Midwest. Nursery owners and seed traders welcomed the escalating demand for trees and flowers but soon faced consumer complaints about their questionable business practices. Customer dissatisfaction had many sources, ranging from unethical entrepreneurs to faltering industry infrastructure and underhanded dealing. The nurserymen and seed dealers worked diligently to overcome these criticisms, sharing information to improve industry methods and attempting to deflect responsibility for fraudulent practice onto disreputable competitors or inexperienced customers. The conflicts between commercial horticulturists and their broadening customer base reflected tensions within America's rapidly expanding consumer culture and suggested that traditional restraints on industry practice based on personal ties and shared values would no longer suffice when dealing with a newly diversified and seemingly intractable clientele.