Garden seeds in England before the late eighteenth century: I. Seed growing

Garden seeds in England before the late eighteenth century: I. Seed growing

Thick, Malcolm

Agricultural History Review, Vol.38:1


The innovation and diffusion of commercial garden seed production in England forms the core of this paper, the first of two on garden seeds. Following some remarks on seed production in the three centuries before I6oo the nature, process and adoption of the innovation in agriculture that seed production representedis examined. It is concludedthat Dutch immigrants in the sixteenth  century and their descendants played a vital role in the initial introduction and subsequent spread of garden seed growing in England. The long continuity of production in some areas was determined by local soils and climates, as well as favourable social and institutional circumstances.Contemporary estimatesof pricesand costs show that garden seed growing
was sometimes highly profitable, although uncertainty of yield and foreign competition could bring about losses. Using evidence from probate inventories, the way in which seed production was assimilated into farming at Sandwich is reviewed, and the paper also covers garden seed imports in the period.

In the Agrarian History of England and Wales, V, Joan Thirsk has shown that, between 164o and I75o, the production of many new crops and livestock flourished while traditional agriculture was depressed, Garden seed growing was one aspect of the ‘Variety, diversity, and unique specialization’, which were characteristics of the period. The innovations in crops and livestock each made different demands on labour, land, capital and enterprise and it was only where their particular requirements were well matched to local conditions, and the requisite skills were known or could be acquired, that the innovations could take hold.


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