EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN – Landreth’s Rural Register and Almanac

Lately, as part of my duties as co-editor of the Wisconsin Garden Journal,  I have been spending time in the Wisconsin State Historical Society carefully perusing the very fragile pages of almanacs over a century old.

Evidently, early Americans struggled with imported and often unreliable seed till a young Englishman, David Landreth, set up a Philadelphia seed store in 1784 and began growing his own seed, available at 5 cents a package, including postage.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother) were among his customers.

The first Landreth’s Rural Register and Almanac was printed as a novelty, which afforded him  “an opportunity to come in closer communication with our customers than had previously existed.”  This publication doubled as a seed catalog — the kind of winter reading that  sustains  gardeners waiting through the dormant season to this day.

For as Landreth  stated, The pleasing adornment of our homesteads, the surrounding of an old home or a new one with trees, shrubs and flowers, the neatly-kept grass plot and the trailing vine; are attractions which cost nothing, and yet are so valuable to all who can appreciate a home, and which surely, though it may be silently, impress our children with a love of nature and the refinements of social life.

Here is a timely example of the kind of advice doled out in Landreth’s Rural Register and Almanac, 1883.

The thoughtful man will study out the subject for himself and leave nothing undone which may expedite the varied and pressing labors of Spring.

If tools and implements are likely to be needed, he will provide them in due season; repair the old ones, examine and re-glaze, if need be, the sashes of his forcing frames; overhaul his stock of seeds and make a list of those which may be needed to the end that they may be on hand before the time of sowing; thus not only his interest but his personal comfort will be advanced, and those little trifles which perplex the careless and improvident, may be sources of enjoyment.

With each duty discharged at the proper time, many rough spots in life’s journey may be made smoother.

You can check out the Landreth almanac published in 1847 thanks to the University of Pittsburgh Library System, which digitized the entire volume here .

And to those of you

who celebrate a winter holiday

on December 25,

wishing you a merry one!

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2 replies

  1. Hi, Denise, do you know that Landreth’s is still in business? Google “Landreth Seed Company”. They have a nice web site with some unusual heirloom and open-pollinated varities. I usually order from Johnny’s and Seed Savers Exchange, but I think I will possibly order a few from Landreth’s as well.

    Funny thing is that a few days ago, before you posted, I read about Landreth’s on some other blog (but where???). So I was a bit attuned to the name when I saw your posting.

    Hope you and yours had a nice Christmas.

    DennisP

    • Hi Dennis,
      Yes, I did know they were still in business. I’ve never ordered anything from them, but they certainly have an admirable track record. My grandmother was a farm wife (and country school teacher) and she planted everything based on her almanac. I was too young to really dig into it at the time because they sold their farm and moved to town when I was 10. But I have always been intrigued by almanacs since. Doing research for some old gardening advice that still applies, I gravitated to the almanac collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society.
      It is so cool to sit in the special room where they bring you things from the collection and handle these amazing pieces of history. The books were so brittle that I had to open them with infinite care, memorize a phrase, close the book and type it into my lap top. Then reopen the book and repeat. They weren’t printed on the best paper. I hope someone will digitalize the rest. There is a treasure trove of gardening history between those brittle covers.
      Denise

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