Each letter was tagged with an index-card sized piece of paper that captured the name of the contestant and their mailing address. As I read and reviewed the letters, I became curious about where they came from. Where did these gardeners plant their Burpee seeds? Early into the digitization project, I came across a letter from Canada (little did I know at the time that they traveled much farther than that) and I began to record in a spreadsheet where these letters originated. I then plotted this data into Google Map Maker. Below is a map of the locations of the letters which provides a sampling of presumably where Burpee Seeds were sown, nearly 100 years ago.
This curiosity continued as I began to review and approve Burpee letters and photographs already transcribed through the Smithsonian Transcription Center. This time, instead of just recording where the letters were sent from, I wanted to know what types of plants the gardeners grew. The resulting map shows the variety of vegetables grown and is organized according to plant family. Before researching and learning the taxonomical classification of several of the plants, I never would have imagined that tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants all share the same family, Solanaceae (let alone the same genus Solanum!). Below is a map of the majority of vegetation grown and recorded in the Burpee letters from the Transcription Center.
The last map I created is an amalgamation of information from the letters I digitized or reviewed that answers the question: How far did Burpee seeds travel? It is a map of the international locations where these letters were sent from.
When I began working with the Burpee Collection I never imagined how much I would learn from the letters of gardeners past. I read about how the Burpee seeds impacted the lives of gardeners, of the gardens they tended, and the plants they loved to grow. More than anything I learned how the ephemeral beauty of a garden is anything but fleeting; gardens will remain eternal as long as there are seeds to grow.
Melinda Allen, Winter Intern
Archives of American Gardens