The Garden Diary of Martha Turnbull, Mistress of Rosedown Plantation - Cover
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The Garden Diary of Martha Turnbull, Mistress of Rosedown Plantation

416 pages / 8.00 x 10.00 inches / 158 halftones

ebook available


  Hardcover / 9780807144114 / April 2012

Winner of the Merit Award (LCASLA)

Recovered in the mid-1990s from the attic of a Turnbull family descendant, Martha Turnbull’s garden diary offers the most extensive surviving first-hand account of nineteenth-century plantation life and gardening in the Deep South. 

Landscape architecture professor and preservationist Suzanne Turner spent fifteen years transcribing and annotating the original manuscript, making it accessible to twenty-first-century gardening enthusiasts. The resulting dialogue between Turnbull’s diary entries and Turner’s illuminating notes demonstrates the pivotal role that kitchen and pleasure gardens held in the lives of planter families. In addition, the diary documents the relationship between the mistress and the enslaved whose labor made her vast gardens possible. 
Turner’s exquisite interpretation reveals not only an energetic gardener but also a well-read one, eager to experiment with the newest gardening trends. Illustrated with engravings from period books, journals, and nursery catalogs, Turner’s annotations provide the reader with a deeper understanding of American horticultural history.
The diary, spanning the years 1836 through 1894, reveals the portrait of a courageous and resilient woman. After the tragic loss of her two sons and husband prior to the Civil War, Martha assumed full responsibility for her family and the plantation. She endured living under siege during the war and persevered during Reconstruction by growing and selling food as a truck farmer. By working daily in her ornamental garden and faithfully maintaining her diary for nearly sixty years, she found the solace and peace to look forward to the future.

Suzanne Turner is professor emerita of landscape architecture at Louisiana State University; owner and principal of Suzanne Turner Associates, a landscape architecture and cultural landscape preservation firm; and co-author of, most recently, Houston’s Silent Garden: Glenwood Cemetery, 1871–2009. She is cofounder of the Red Stick Farmers Market in Baton Rouge and an avid gardener.

Praise for The Garden Diary of Martha Turnbull, Mistress of Rosedown Plantation

“The editor has annotated the book with helpful explanatory notes. Sketches and photographs of the plants, gardens, and the plantation itself will likewise assist readers less versed in nineteenth-century horticulture. Although some readers may be distracted by the extensive editorial comments, most will realize that overall they enhance understanding of the diarist’s intent and motives. This volume will serve as an important addition to the libraries of those interested in historic crop cultivation methods as well as regional history.”—Agricultural History

“The coded plantation diary of Martha Turnbull, surely the greatest hands-on gardener of the nineteenth-century Deep South, is a national treasure, at last made accessible, exciting, and beautiful. Martha’s fifty-nine years as a gardener ran the gamut from camellias to cabbages. She managed the transition from grandee planter in 1836 to a determined survivor in the years of emancipation and tenancy following the Civil War. She was still setting out strawberry plants a bare two years before her death at eighty-four in 1896.”—Mac Griswold, author of Washington’s Gardens at Mount Vernon: Landscape of the Inner Man

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