High Plains Horticulture: A History

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High Plains Horticulture: A History
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High Plains Horticulture: A History
Lewis, Rosemary
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Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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High Plains Horticulture: A History | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 12:59:19 PM] Home High Plains Horticulture: A HistoryHigh Plains Horticulture: A HistorySubmitted by jainlayconley on 2-23-2010 09:08 AMAuthor: John F. Freeman Publishing: Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2008. Photos, map, bibliography, index. xii + 270 pages. 6 x 9. $34.95 hardcover. Reviewer: Rosemary Lewis In imagining the West, nineteenth-century boosters painted verbal pictures of prosperous settled towns, replete with shaded sidewalks and lush gardens. Drawing largely from agricultural bulletins and agency reports, John Freeman examines the effort to provide this bucolic vision of arboreal splendor. He reports on the efforts of plant inventors who grafted, cross-pollinated, and nurtured thousands of varieties of trees, shrubs, fruits, and vegetables in the search for a new high plains landscape palette in some of the most unforgiving terrain in the nation. This is not intended to be a technical treatise but a social history, although Freeman provides the reader with a primer in botanical nomenclature, hybridization techniques, water law, and federal lawa lot of material for a relatively slim volume. The geographic area is vast, some 120,000 square miles in five states stretching from the southwestern corner of South Dakota to the Arkansas River Valley, and from the Front Range to central Kansas and Nebraska. These lands encompass the Great American Desert, a region explorer Stephen Long dismissed in 1820 as devoid of agricultural potential with minimal water, poor soil, and scouring winds. Establishing trees formed the core achievement necessary to tame the plains. With the exception of cottonwoods and willows found along waterways, and a few stands of pines, few species of large vegetation are native to the area. Trees formed windbreaks, produced fruit, and became symbolic of and essential to the well-being of communities in Freemans presentation. Trees denoted permanence, an outward expression of optimism in the future. This is embodied in a photograph that shows a young family in front of their soddy, bracketed by two seedling trees that are barely more than sticks in the ground. Even a century later, the hope this family must have held in their new home, watching their trees grow alongside their children, is almost palpable. But this is not the story of the sodbusters or of the commodity crops of wheat and sugar beets, but of specialty plants and the scientists who answered the call to make the desert bloom by way of the agricultural experimental stations. The era examined is largely between 1850, with the establishment of Fort Laramie, and 1930. Beginning in 1887, under provisions of the Hatch Act, agricultural experimental stations and their attendant land-grant colleges replaced the trial-and-error experimentation of the previous decades with a more rigorous scientific approach. Three horticulturists stand out with their pioneering efforts: Charles Bessey in Nebraska, Aven Nelson in Wyoming, and Niels Hansen in South Dakota. Numerous other adherents to the vision of making the desert bloom included Nathan Meeker and his EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanCasimiro Barela, state senator for over 37 years, fought to ensure Colorados first constitution was published in English, Spanish and German.


High Plains Horticulture: A History | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 12:59:19 PM] Auraria Library 303-556-4587 1100 Lawrence Street Denver, Colorado 80204 In the News Partners & Donations About Us Contact Us followers at the Union Colony of Greeley, who faced a blank canvas to dig the ditches and plant the vegetation despite setbacks from grazing cattle and harsh weather. Arbor Day, established in Nebraska, and proponents of school garden programs provided teaching moments to introduce children into the difficulties and successes of gardening. Jules Sandoz, familiar to readers as the central figure in Mari Sandoz Old Jules appears not as a crusty, remote father but as a respected horticulturist from the Sandhills. Coloradans will recognize a number of familiar figures: Denvers Mayor Robert Speer, landscape designer Saco Rienk DeBoer, dahlia grower and nurseryman W. W. Wilmore, and Dr. James Feucht of Colorado State University. Some narrative attention to horticulture in the past half century is provided, but it is more of an addendum to the pioneering efforts of the early agricultural experiment station work. This includes a presentation of Denver Waters xeriscaping initiative, the PlantSelect lists issued by Colorado State University, and the Denver Botanic Gardens for those plants best suited to the local environment. A little more information on just how the academic efforts paid off in application to farms outside the experimental stations, expressed in harvest yields or planted acreage, would have broadened the appreciation of the work done on the stations as more than abstract research. Freeman mentions federal government plans in the 1930s to purchase submarginal lands, restore the native vegetation, and turn the lands over as a public commons in response to the Dust Bowl. This is, in essence, the story of the Pawnee National Grasslands located in the very heart of the high plains, an outcome that is not discussed in this book. Freemans very readable and informative narrative fills in a gap, between the ideal and the reality of gardening on the high plains, and the effort it took to produce the landscape we take for granted today. Without human intervention countless millions of the trees dotting our landscape would succumb to the relentless forces of nature within a matter of years. That we enjoy the comparatively forested landscape is largely thanks to horticulturists and the federal agencies that, in so many facets, impacted western settlement. Reviewer Info: Rosemary Lewis is a recent MA graduate in public history from the University of Colorado Denver and a backyard gardener. Colorado Heritage carried her article Where Have All The Flowers Gone? The Rise and Fall of Denvers Floral Industry in January/February 2009. Add new comment