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
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
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.
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