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Fruits of Our Labor: A Social and Cultural History of Kitchen Gardening in Imperial Russia

Christine Ruane, University of Tulsa, Fellow 2012–2013

I am working on a social and cultural history of kitchen gardening in Imperial Russia.  I seek to understand the practice of kitchen gardening—what was planted, who worked in them, and what cultural meanings Russians attached to the gardens. During my fellowship, my morning excursions through the garden were invaluable in allowing me to understand better the particular role that kitchen gardens played on estates. My research in the library focused on early modern Russian horticultural practices. One of the major themes of my work will be to highlight the conflict between peasant horticulture and scientific agriculture. And while I know what scientific agricultural practices were, I was puzzled by what constituted traditional gardening.  After reading the work of nineteenth-century Russian ethnographers, contemporary ethnobotanists, and historians, I now feel that I have a greater appreciation of peasants’ understanding of their horticultural work and how this formed an essential aspect of their overall worldview. And since peasants constituted the workforce of almost all kitchen gardens in Imperial Russia, this appreciation is essential for my project. Furthermore, I also undertook a study of eighteenth-century landlords and scientists, who introduced new horticultural practices based on European botany. I particularly benefited from my work in the DO Rare Book Room and at the Library of Congress. Finally, all of the fellows and the staff in Garden and Landscape Studies created a collegial environment in which to work and think about gardens.