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Developed by the Smithsonian Institution Horticulture Services Division
in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).
April 22 - June 18, 2006
Church Exhibition Gallery, Lyman Plant House
Feast Your Eyes: The Unexpected Beauty of Vegetable Gardens traces the visual appeal of vegetable gardens across centuries, continents, and cultures, from the floating gardens of the Aztecs and the highly manicured potager of Louis XIV’s Versailles to the emergence of World War II victory gardens in America.

Considered the Cinderella of the horticultural world, the vegetable garden has typically been outshone by the flashier gardens of her floral sisters. Centuries ago, vegetable gardens were the belles of the ball, designed to be both productive and pleasing to the eye. In the ensuing years, vegetable gardens were perceived as so unappealing that they had to be banished from the landscape. Today, vegetables gardens are making a startling comeback, seen as a source of not only food but also beauty. Some vegetables have even made the leap in becoming prized members of the flowerbed in their own right.

Most of the Aztec chinampas have long since fallen into disuse, buried by the urban sprawl of Mexico City. However, the town of Xochimilco (“where the flowers grow”) has preserved its chinampas system. Visitors can still take boat rides along the canals and see the gardens awash in flowers and vegetables.

Hand-colored glass lantern slide
Edward Van Altena, photographer
Smithsonian Institution Horticulture, Archives of American Gardens, Garden Club of America Collection

Chinampas at Xochimilco, Mexico,
1920s-1930s
The Enid A. Haupt Garden at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1989. Ornamental cabbage provide vibrant color to a fall garden, as in this Victorian parterre at the Smithsonian's Castle.
Thomas Jefferson grew more than 250 vegetable varieties in his 24-bed, 1,000-foot-long terraced vegetable garden. An early champion of the tomato, he constantly tried new varies of vegetables, keeping detailed notes about planting, sprouting, and harvesting times.

Eleanor C. Weller, photographer
Smithsonian Institution Horticulture, Archives of American Gardens, Garden Club of America Collection

Monticello’s Vegetable Garden, 1984
Charlottesville, Virginia

©2006, The Botanic Garden of Smith College
Northampton MA 01063, (413) 585-2740

Smith College
Last updated on Tuesday, July 18, 2006.