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BOOKS by Judith M. Taylor

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Tangible Memories: Californians and Their Gardens 1800 – 1950
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Xlibris Press 2003


Serendipity keeps on happening by chance, as Yogi Berra might have said. I came across an unpublished manuscript, “California Gardens of Memory” by the late Harry M. Butterfield, in the archives at the University of California. Harry Butterfield was the extension horticulturist for the university and contributed many articles to the literature about California’s horticultural history. The manuscript was the culmination of his work, but he died in 1970 before it could be published.

“Tangible Memories” is built around this core. It contains unique information, and never-before published pictures of seminal figures in California’s horticultural history, all salvaged by Harry Butterfield during his forty year career. It recaptures the mood of the developing California, exemplified by residential gardens and the nurseries which supplied them. Do not look for glossy pictures of flashy estates, but for the gardens which surrounded ordinary people’s dwellings. Butterfield kept exhaustive lists of plants as they were imported into California and provided such information as a tree-by-tree account of the development of the campus at U. C. Berkeley.

The book will be invaluable to anyone interested in the social and economic history of California, as well as its horticultural history. Agriculture and horticulture were both engines of California’s growth and continue to be of major importance. Butterfield had accumulated an immense amount of information about old gardens, nurseries and nurserymen as well as pictures of many of the latter. He had also taken black and white snapshots of gardens, trees and various important figures, which were appended to the manuscript. In preparing the work for publication I clarified and organized his material, updated it wherever necessary, added a number of gardens to the text and obtained further archival images to illuminate these new segments. I also changed the title, since “gardens of memory” suggests cemeteries nowadays.

Dr. Kevin Starr, state librarian of California and distiguished historian of the state, considered the original manuscript to be a primary source document of California history, since in the thirty years since it was written, much of what Butterfield had described has been lost to “progress”.