Hitching a horse to a tree and other garden lessons from 100 years ago

A century old, “Manual of Gardening” is full of advice that still stands today for casual, home gardeners.

As February ends and before the garden chores of March begin, I am taking a break. I have gathered a few books and settled into my spot. Several years ago, I received a 1910 first edition of the “Manual of Gardening” by L. H. Bailey. Although this book is well over 100 years old, instead of keeping it untouched on the shelf, I find that it is a treasured resource.

From the beginning Explanation and Chapter 1, Bailey sets the expectation that this book is for the “homemaker himself or herself rather than the professional gardener.” Within the following 500 pages, he covers a wide range of topics, including the definition of a garden and how to hitch a horse to a tree.
Yes, remember this was written in 1910, and he gives detailed instructions of inserting a hitching rod into a tree rather than trying to wrap the reins around the tree when a hitching post is not available. What does this have to do with gardening? It’s all about protecting the tree (and the horse).
The author gave advice on such relevant topics as how to hitch a horse to a tree — in a way that doesn’t harm the horse or the tree.

Although the information about a hitching post is dated for most, the in-depth information of plants and shrubs by geographic region is still spot on. He gives plant names, times to seed, how to place plants in the soil, and ways to overcome any obstacles that might hinder the plant’s success. Obstacles such as watering, sun, shade, mice, rabbits, fumigation and spraying are discussed. He shares information about trees, perennials, annuals, and the preparation of the garden space. There are even 1915 newspaper clippings about tent caterpillars tucked between the pages — I love that now I share these pages with someone from the past.

Mr. Bailey was an American horticulturist and botanist. He spent much of his teaching career at Cornell University, establishing and serving as dean of the State College of Agriculture at Cornell, eventually donating his extensive collections (herbarium, library and seed catalog collection) to Cornell University, establishing the L. H. Bailey Hortorium.
This book is comprehensive and full of information and a few garden photographs. The photos are good, but it’s the 100-plus-year-old sketches that cause me to linger. Some are very functional; then others are simply gorgeous.
Sketches of Morello Cherry and May Duke Cherry trees are intricate. A bouquet of verbenas and one of columbine are frame-worthy. I’m not sure who gets credit for the art, but it is beautiful.
I also have a book published in 1922. It appears to be some sort of collection of The House Beautiful magazine articles. The book cover is faded and has doodles masking the title. “The Manuel of Gardening” is a small book; the 1922 book is over-sized and filled with black and white photographs. I bought it at a little booth during a street fair.
While it mostly features houses, what’s a house without a garden? One of my favorite chapters is “Building Dialogues, what we learned from the landscape architect.” It’s here the book talks about how early to bring the landscaper into the construction conversation (early!) and how to situate the home on the property. There are also pictures that demonstrate the lessons of patience, showing that over the years as landscapes mature they hide flaws and add interest to the property.
The look back into the past is a reminder that as much as things change, and I do think gardening follows trends, the basics of growing and nurturing a plot of soil stay the same. L. H. Bailey believed we attach to the ground through gardening. I think he might be right.