Stephen F. Austin State University

Old Gardens and Gardening (August 2011)

Old Gardens and Gardening
By Ann Middleton

The rich soils of Bossier Parish have always produced memorable abundances of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Many letters archived at the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center contain reference to foods and flowers grown in local gardens.

In September of 1900 a letter from Mary Peabody to friends in the area related that "The wind blew cool this morning but it is hot now. It is so very dusty. We have some sweet potatoes in the garden but it is so dry that it is hard work to get any. We had a nice garden this year more vegetables than we could use. Mamma gave some away nearly every day. She put up some Kraut and made some chili sauce and chow-chow. We put up some peaches and pears. We haven't had any turnip greens yet, nor I haven't seen any. Yes I will give you some violets. Will send them when I have a chance. They bloom in the winter, When we think there will be a freeze we cover them with shucks… I would like to see your flower yard I know it was pretty. We had some very pretty morning glories and some roses."

Numerous oral history interviews at the Historical Center also recall bounteous meals of homegrown foods. One Bossier resident remembered that his family cooked whatever they "had a mess of." Other residents spoke of always having plenty of food from the gardens of peas, corn, potatoes, okra, beans, potatoes, turnip greens, cabbage, sweet potatoes, watermelons, and other crops that they raised. Classes were taught in how to can fruits, vegetables, and even meat so that there was food for the winter months. Plain Dealing High School was one location of a Food Preservation Center in the parish.

A wide variety of flowers grew in gardens, too. In a May 1934 issue of The Bossier Banner "Ladye Bird", a local poet recalled an old-fashioned garden containing boxwood hedges, beautiful, pure white lilies, violets, bridal wreath, yellow jasmine, heartsease, pansies and thyme.

In Bossier Parish's early days, as now, gardens were a great source of pride. In the years of the Bossier Parish Fair (1906 to sometime in the 1940s) gardeners' efforts might be rewarded with prizes for the best pecans, peanuts, pears, apples, pomegranates, figs, pumpkins, cushaws, beets, or radishes. Prizes in the floral division might be awarded to those who grew the best chrysanthemums, roses, cactus plants, or ferns.

If the current emphasis on growing your own plants has piqued your interest about gardens and gardening in the past in Bossier Parish, please visit the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center for more information.