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Book cover of African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South

African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South

by Richard Westmacott

Publisher: University of Tennessee Press
Pages: 198
Paperback
ISBN: 9780870497629






Available to Buy

Overview of African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South

Much acclaimed upon its initial publication in 1992, this book was the first extensive survey of African American gardening traditions in the rural South. For this reprinting, author Richard Westmacott has written a new preface in which he describes the traveling exhibit based on the book and compares his original research with his recent observations of   gardening practices in the Cayman Islands.

The book remains a valuable and richly illustrated resource for those interested in African American material culture and the history of vernacular gardens. It includes measured drawings and physical inventories of African American gardens in three geographic areas: the low country of South Carolina, the southern piedmont of Georgia, and the black belt of Alabama. The descriptions are enhanced by the author's personal interviews with the gardeners, in which he documents the aesthetic qualities, designs, and purposes of their yards and gardens.

Westmacott traces the evolution of African American yards and gardens and over the last two hundred years and discusses the possible African origins of certain traditions, such as the swept yard. He also notes similarities in attitude between rural southern blacks and whites regarding the importance of the agrarian lifestyle, self-reliance, and private ownership. Despite such similarities, he shows, the patterns and practices in which those beliefs are manifested among African Americans are uniquely their own.

The Author:  Richard Westmacott is a professor of environmental design at the University of Georgia and lives in rural Georgia.

Synopsis of African-American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South

This book is the first extensive survey of African-American gardening traditions in the rural South. Richard Westmacott has recovered valuable data for those interested in African-American material culture and the history of vernacular gardens by creating measured drawings and physical inventories of African-American gardens in three geographic areas: the low country of South Carolina, the southern piedmont of Georgia, and the black belt of Alabama. The descriptions are enhanced by the author's personal interviews with the gardeners, in which the aesthetic qualities, designs, and purposes of their yards and gardens are documented. Westmacott traces the principal functions of African-American yards and gardens over the last two hundred years. During slavery, African-American gardens were used primarily to grow life-sustaining vegetables, often to raise some chickens and pigs. The yard of a crowded cabin was often the only place where the slave family could assert some measure of independence and perhaps find some degree of spiritual refreshment. Since slavery, working the garden for the survival of the family has become less urgent, but now pleasure is taken from growing flowers and produce and in welcoming friends to the yard. Similarities in attitude between rural southern blacks and whites are reflected in the expression of such values as the importance of the agrarian lifestyle, self-reliance, and private ownership. However, the patterns and practices in which these beliefs are manifested are uniquely African American.

Publishers Weekly

While this is a welcome addition to the field of vernacular garden history, it is most likely to reach a limited circle of specialists. Westmacott has written a social history examining how African Americans have used their gardens and yards in three areas of the rural South from the years before the Civil War to the present. He first frames his topic by surveying historical African gardening practices and accounts of African Americans' yards and gardens, including some pre-Civil War accounts. He then begins a detailed comparison of contemporary gardens in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, with separate chapters on function, composition and gardening practices. The book's most interesting sections are toward the end, where Westmacott discusses the values, ideals, and beliefs these gardens have symbolized for their owners, and how these concepts may have changed over time. He also explores the complex issues of identity for the gardeners, and what makes their gardens characteristically African American. Westmacott's thorough appendices include the questions used in structured discussions with gardeners, garden survey plans, studies of plant use and a list of references. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.)

About the Author, Richard Westmacott

Richard Westmacott is a professor of environmental design at the University of Georgia and lives in rural Georgia.

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Editorials

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly

While this is a welcome addition to the field of vernacular garden history, it is most likely to reach a limited circle of specialists. Westmacott has written a social history examining how African Americans have used their gardens and yards in three areas of the rural South from the years before the Civil War to the present. He first frames his topic by surveying historical African gardening practices and accounts of African Americans' yards and gardens, including some pre-Civil War accounts. He then begins a detailed comparison of contemporary gardens in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, with separate chapters on function, composition and gardening practices. The book's most interesting sections are toward the end, where Westmacott discusses the values, ideals, and beliefs these gardens have symbolized for their owners, and how these concepts may have changed over time. He also explores the complex issues of identity for the gardeners, and what makes their gardens characteristically African American. Westmacott's thorough appendices include the questions used in structured discussions with gardeners, garden survey plans, studies of plant use and a list of references. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.)

Library Journal

In this scholarly yet understandable work, landscape architect Westmacott describes African American gardens in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Employing the methods of historical and ethnographic research, he uses oral interviews with the gardeners to ascertain the evolution, patterns, and functions of African American yards and gardens. Because ``African- American gardens have received little systematic attention to date,'' and because there is no book comparable to this interdisciplinary contribution to the fields of garden history, landscape architecture, and African American material culture, this liberally illustrated book will surely satisfy. Highly recommended.-- Angela Washington-Blair, Brookhaven Coll. Learning Resource Ctr., Farmers Branch, Tex.

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