Landscapes of Green and Gold: The Environmental Vision of the California Horticulturalists, 1849–1900
From the earliest days of the Gold Rush, California's fruit growers played an outsized role in shaping the state's distinctive environmental consciousness. A horticultural enthusiasm for fruit orchards and landscaped parks spread nationwide beginning in the mid-1840s, but it found its peak expression in California. Fueled by mining wealth and motivated by the desire to lay claim to an unfamiliar landscape, horticulturalists early on pursued ambitious plans for world-class vineyards, orchards, and silk plantations. They envisioned their work as more than just commerce and believed that their actions improved the very nature of the place. Orchards, they thought, would bring health, stability and domesticity to a state plagued by the tremendous environmental and social disruptions of the Gold Rush.
As fruit growers slowly achieved commercial success, they reluctantly came to recognize that the orchards could not shield them from the tension of Gilded Age life. The fruit trade industrialized, harnessing itself to a combination of cheap labor and expensive technologies. Men and women who had planted orchards with a vision of the idealized middle landscape, found themselves working at an urban pace and increasingly distant from their ideas of proper Victorian nature. The nascent environmental movement responded by turning away from the orchard and towards the mountain wilderness as its new, iconic landscape.
A single orchard off the San Francisco Bay figured prominently in both the rise and fall of horticulture as an environmental program. The orchard's founders, John and Louisiana Strentzel, lived in an emotionally and intellectually rich relationship with the landscape. Their son-in-law, the naturalist and Sierra Club founder, John Muir, took over management of the property but rejected the horticultural worldview and publicly renounced the orchards as his home. These conflicting responses offer us a window into the great diversity of environmental thinking in nineteenth-century California. It is an underlying argument of this work that the relationship to the agricultural landscape is inherently no less profound or meaningful than that to the wilderness, and that its serious consideration can help illuminate an alternate strand of environmental thought that is more accepting of the human place in nature.
0477: Environmental Studies