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  • Gardening history is truly rich

  • I recently read a brief history of agriculture in a back issue of Organic Gardening that provided some glimpses of how we arrived at what we today call gardening.
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  • I recently read a brief history of agriculture in a back issue of Organic Gardening that provided some glimpses of how we arrived at what we today call gardening.
    In the beginning, as they say, there was a garden. All plants were native, food was pure and plentiful, and predators and prey were in balance, though not necessarily equal.
    Then people got involved.
    We had an urge for order and control, to say nothing of our abundant curiosity and experimentation. We noticed how some plants produced better food than others, so we saved the seeds of the best specimens. This led to growing food for whole communities, not just on an individual basis. We observed how some plants were good for medicine, and some were just pretty to look at. Besides, there is something about us that likes digging in the dirt.
    Archeologists tell us that 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, barley, millet, lentils and wild grasses were cultivated in the Greek isles. Meanwhile, in the area of what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan, people were growing wheat, barley, peas, sesame seeds, mangoes and dates. In the Western hemisphere, corn (maize) and beans were grown. Potatoes entered the scene, too, in the Andes mountains.
    In 149 B.C., Cato the Elder, in "De Agriculture," urged farmers to plant grapes and olives, because they draw moisture and nutrients from deep in the subsoil, as opposed to grains, which need more surface water. Even then, people were learning how to grow things in dry climates.
    Irrigation systems were being developed for crops, but it was hard, laborious work. Without thousands of slaves, the public gardens developed by Egypt's Ramses III, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Alhambra in Spain would not have been possible.
    With world exploration growing, plants and ideas were shared more quickly. In 1528, sweet potatoes, haricot (navy beans), cocoa and vanilla beans were introduced to Spain by Hernando Cortez. Until then, the only beans known in Europe were fava beans.
    Honeybees were introduced into the American colonies in 1638. However, they soon escaped their hives, established wild colonies, and supplanted native species. Native Americans called honeybees "the white man's fly."
    An important milestone was the publication of "Species Plantarum" by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnnaeus in 1753. Here he presented his taxonomic arrangement of classifying and organizing plants and animals using binomial nomenclature (two-word naming; one for genus and one for species) that we continue to use — and confuse — today.
    And don't forget the flowers. Empress Josephine Bonaparte had 250 kinds of roses planted in 1803, in France. Around this time, great competition arose among rulers to see whose explorers could return with plants to make the most exotic gardens. This eventually led to the development of greenhouses.
    In 1820, horticulturist Robert Johnson of Salem County, N.J., ate a raw tomato in front of a skeptical crowd, defying the widely held belief that it would kill him because it is a member of the nightshade family. Thank you, Col. Johnson!
    And I would be remiss if I failed to note that the first American state agricultural experiment station was established at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., in 1875. This, in turn, led to the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which established the Extension Service.
    I have barely skimmed the surface of the history of gardening, so I will take up other parts of it in the future — such as how suburbia came to be, including why we have lawns in front of our houses.
    Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.
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