Saturday 24 December 2011

Welcome & Hello to Garden History Matters

Welcome and hello to the first post on the first blog of Garden History Matters.  And what matters today are heritage or heirloom fruits and vegetables.  Thankfully the renaissance in ‘growing your own’ has brought to the fore the plight of so many of our older fruit and vegetable cultivars - and the shocking loss of them during the latter part of the 20th century.

Did you know, for example, that Europe has lost perhaps 2,000 fruit and vegetable cultivars since the 1970s, and in America the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation estimates that 96 per cent of the commercial vegetable cultivars available in 1903 are now extinct.

We need to preserve what has survived by growing heritage/heirloom cultivars and supporting those organisations such as Grow Organic and Seed Savers Exchange who do invaluable work in preserving seed.

I mention this apropos of a blatant plug for my next book - Heritage Fruits and Vegetables (available April 2012, pre-order here) which examines the history of our favourite fruits and vegetables.

One of the research challenges was to obtain primary source materials, in particular early books.  Many are rare and therefore not held in many libraries, and far too costly to purchase.  However, before starting I had discovered the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), which to quite their website is a:

  ‘consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global “biodiversity commons.”’

What this means for the garden historian is that the BHL holds hundred of monographs and periodicals I`(including the complete run of Gardeners’ Chronicle)  which can be downloaded, free, as a pdf which you can read at home.  The perfect research tool!

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