Iris "Canopus"

Special Collections at NAL holds the J. Horace McFarland Papers. The collection of close to 400 boxes equaling about 432 linear feet consists of the following:

  • Photographs
  • Descriptive rose cards
  • Original watercolor paintings
  • Nursery and seed trade catalogs
  • Horticultural publications
Two young boys transporting vegetables in the garden

Two young boys transporting vegetables in the gardens of Breeze Hill

The bulk of the collection contains about 40,000 various photographic formats of individual plants, including annuals, perennials, herbs, fruits and vegetables, shrubs, trees, buildings, scenery, gardening, farming, and wildlife. Images of the J. Horace McFarland Company’s building interior, employees, and equipment are included. Photographic formats range from the 1890s to the 1960s.

70th Annual Catalog of Barrett's Best Seeds, The W.E. Barrett Co., Providence, Rhode Island

Barrett's Best Seeds, 1918

An innovative businessman with diverse interests, McFarland mastered the art of horticultural photography. As the use of photography in publishing increased, so did McFarland’s collection of plant and garden photographs. He found most of his subjects in gardens along the East Coast and his own trial gardens. Mount Pleasant Press kept an extensive library of photographs mounted on cards and offered the images for sale to clients wishing to use the illustrations in publications. This was a method of expanding the company’s service.

Helleborus orientalis

Helleborus orientalis

An estimated 9,000 watercolors depicting a variety of garden plants are included in the collection. One-third of the watercolors are rose varieties.

Company artists worked in the Breeze Hill gardens drawing plants in watercolor to get an accurate color record on paper. They did this because McFarland still felt that the new color photographic methods of the early twentieth century did not measure up to his standards for color work. Therefore, he relied on his skilled artists who sometimes made several versions of the same plant variety in order to get a proper average of the colors found in nature. Eventually, these colors were transferred to plates that were run in the printing of the nursery catalogues or other publications.