The History of Gardening


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Gardens are, perhaps, the closest and most intimate tie we have to the earth. From Eden to Babylon, and to the gardens of the Alhambra, our cultures, communities, and religions celebrate the garden and its connection to something larger.

They are a symbol of growth, of life, and of hope. Throughout history, people have used gardening as a sacred resource, an escape, a celebration, and a way to come together. Click here to learn how gardening has helped cultivate our region.

The Cleveland Cultural Gardens

What we choose to plant in our gardens is often linked to our cultural roots – the vegetables, fruits, and flowers we plant and nurture are often reminders of families, ethnicity, and origins. Nowhere is this truer than in Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens. The landscaped gardens along Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. began in 1916 with the Shakespeare Garden and then expanded beginning in 1926 into the well-known landmark we celebrate today.

The Gardens are a growing and shifting panorama, illustrative of the different waves of migration and immigration that shaped the city. Their blossoming, so to speak, in the mid-1920s was a bold response to the growth of anti-immigration sentiment in that decade. Their revival in the past thirty plus years is a reflection of the arrival of multiple new immigrant groups in the region. When you visit the gardens, remember that a group’s choice of the statues, markers, and plantings for their particular garden is not only a statement of who “they are” but more importantly, of what they have brought to our nation and our city.This entry was posted in 1920s.

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Gardening 101 with Hale Farm & Village

Looking to start your own garden? Learn from our experts at Hale Farm & Village!

Italian Americans & Their Gardens

For many of the Italians who immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s, farming was a way of life.

Approximately 80% of the Italians who immigrated to the United States between 1880-1920 were Southern Italian contadini, or peasant farmers. Farming was a way of life for Italians. It could be said that they invented the modern concepts of “organic,” “sustainable,” and “locally sourced.”The contadini fed their families with what they planted, either with what they grew or by selling the fruits and vegetables. 

In the neighborhoods in which they settled in America, like Cleveland’s Little Italy, they continued this way of life. Even on the smallest plots of land, they would plant tomatoes, rapini, escarole, cucumbers, and fruit, like figs and grapes, often using seeds brought from Italy. Their techniques were all what is now called “eco-friendly” and included placing barrels under downspouts to collect rain water and composting. When it came time for harvesting, nothing was ever wasted. What could not be used or shared with neighbors would be canned for use over the winter months.

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Victory Gardens

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When the call was made to support the war effort by planting victory gardens, Clevelanders did not disappoint. In 1917, the National War Garden Commission began their call to action: “Do your bit and plant a War Garden. We need the food.” During the war, many men who worked in farming had to leave for the service, so people planted gardens to grow their own food and help increase production on the homefront. It was a way that women and children could support their community, and they grew any number of vegetables and greens. This photograph was taken of a now unknown Cleveland family to promote growing food. The mother has dressed her son as a soldier and her daughters wear Red Cross nurse costumes.

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In Cleveland, war gardens, or “Victory Gardens” only increased during WWII, when even Public Square and the White House lawn became vegetable gardens. Growing food helped ease the troubles of rationing, and boosted morale. Clevelander Alice Collum was featured in the Call & Post with her garden on East 90th Street. Although the homefront effort was a serious topic, Clevelanders enjoyed working in their gardens, and by 1943 there were an estimated 18 million new gardens. They were so popular that they also became the butt of jokes, as seen in this Charles Allen’s Call & Post cartoon.

Pressed Flowers History & Tutorial

Read the story behind this longstanding pastime, and then learn how to make your own artwork using pressed flowers.

Learn More

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Starting Seeds

Step behind the scenes at Hale Farm & Village and discover how to start your own plants from seeds.

Western Reserve Historical Society is the oldest cultural institution in Northeast Ohio, the region's largest American history research center, and one of the leading genealogical research centers in the nation.

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Cleveland History Center
10825 East Boulevard
Cleveland, Ohio 44106 ↗

(216) 721-5722

Thursday: 12:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Friday, Saturday, & Sunday: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm