Are gardens important?

Guest blogger: Mariecris

My father was the only gardener in the family. As for me, I did not inherit my father’s green thumb and as a child I developed the perception that flowers and plants were places bugs lived. Luckily, as I grew up I began to appreciate flowers.  Sadly all my plants seemed to die.  Accepting this fate, I never gave flowers, plants, or gardens much thought.  But two researchers have ignited my interest in gardens.

Ayse Gilbert and her friend, Mina Jacobs, have been in the Archives looking for pictures of gardens in Anchorage before statehood.  Ayse Gilbert is giving a talk at the Anchorage Museum entitled, “Beyond Cabbages and Potatoes; gardeners, and their gardens in territorial Anchorage,” on May 20th at 7:30pm.  The event is open to the public. Below is a description of the talk:

Garden enthusiast and artist Ayse Gilbert has reviewed the history of early Alaska gardening and plans a PowerPoint slide show with old photos of Anchorage gardens and gardeners. Ayse will also provide a plant materials list for those who wish to recreate an early Alaska garden.

I have to admit, I’ve never thought about the difference between pre-statehood and post-statehood gardens. But it does bring up the question of how did the physical landscape of Alaska change after statehood? How did public gardens change?  How did home gardens change? And why is this important?

Flowers that adorn gardens are a reflection of the cultural landscape.  For example, there are French gardens and then there are English gardens. Each style reflects their philosophy on what is aesthetically pleasing. Then there are the qualities societies define as beautiful. Why are roses elegant and daisies silly and quirky?  Why are dandelions garden pests? Why did horticulturists spend thousands of years to create a line of hardy roses that would grow in cold climates? Because gardens are personal.  Home gardens allow people to create their own beautiful piece of the world, while gardens that decorate the town and city sidewalks visually tie a community together. They are the ultimate personalized stamp a person, family, or community can put on their environment.

So what do Anchorage’s territorial gardens tell us about territorial Alaska?  Well, one way to find out is go to Ayse’s talk on May 20th.  Below are pictures she found in our archives that I think provide insight in to Anchorage’s gardens, gardeners, and life before Statehood.

Johanson-Erickson family papers, circa 1940s.

Marie Silverman photographs, circa 1915-1930?

What do these photos of gardens and gardeners tell you?

As I finish off this blog entry, I think about my dad’s gardens.  He had flowers decorating the front of the house, but his favorite was his vegetable garden. Every spring and summer he would proudly present us with gigantic green beans, zucchini, and tomatoes. He would ask my mom to cook all sorts of dishes using his vegetables. My sister and I became very adept at making zucchini bread.  We ate well and that made my dad happy and proud. So, what’s my answer to are gardens important? Yes.