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Gardening Articles In Life Magazine-For FREE!

Google recently digitized the entire run of Life magazine as a weekly and made the archive available for free. I was curious if there was any content in this archive that would be of interest to gardeners and have found quite a bit. Some relevant at the time gardening news, tips, gardener, garden and plant profiles. Here are a few that I've found interesting in my searching over the past couple of days. If you find any that you particularly like feel free to share with the group.

"Garden in Rubble" 1947

German widow,Frau Sophie Wanderer, created a multilevel garden in Frankfurt-Am-Main out of the remains of her bombed out house to supply her with food after WWII. She filled pots, pails and barrels with earth and grew tomatoes, lettuce, beans and tobacco to trade for things. One year she grew 600 pounds of tomatoes and gave most of it away. She fertilized her garden with manure she swept up from city streets!

"J.F.K's New Garden" 1963

Besides being fond of the ladies it seems "master gardener" President Kennedy had a soft spot for a long neglected rose garden and lead the effort to restore it.

"Gardens for U.S. at War" 1942

Story about the six million amateurs that take up victory gardening has an amusing cartoon strip with gardening advice like; "Don't waste good seeds on bad soil," 'Don't plant rows up and down a hill."

"Mrs. Tobin's Garden" 1948

A profile of a garden on Long Island complete with the garden design plan. Check out the picture of the rustic garden path with the sea of spring flowering garden bulbs on either side. Wow!

"Italian Gardens" 1950

If you guessed this was a tour of some garden in Italy, you are correct. Although that pyramid-like garden at Villa La Pietra looks a bit gaudy for my tastes. I can see Donald Trump have a garden designed that looks a lot like that.

"Garden Addict Kicks the Habit" 1958.

Ex-enthusiast find horticulture's perils exceed pleasures.

Phyllis McGinley, who after 18 years of gardening noticed it had taken over her life and replaced her flowers with simple greenery. It is an awesome article, possibly the first garden rant ever published and something that probably every gardener can read and relate too.

"My Garden" 1956

H.R.H The Duke of Windsor has a ten page spread of photos of his garden outside Paris. He provides the captions to the garden photos listing plants and reasons why certain plants are planted. I guess makes him the grandfather of garden bloggers and makes us all descendants of royalty or something.

"A Topiary Garden" 1941

A story about a topiary garden built by an advertising exec in Lake Forest, IL. The estate was later given to the University of Chicago, where the university later developed a chrysanthemum "hardier to cold than any other." The first picture is great and looks like something that the movie Edward Scissorhands was trying to evoke, although I don't agree with the assessment that the plants look "grotesque."

"How to Make an Indoor Rock Garden" 1940

I didn't know that indoor rock gardens were all that popular back then. The article isn't very long though.

"Wildflowers" 1957

I almost didn't read this article because of the "wildflowers" title. The selling of these seeds without much regard to the areas they will be planted in is becoming one of my pet peeves. I thought it was going to be an article about how great and easy it is to grow "wildflowers" by just sprinkling some seeds around your garden. Oh. I. Was. Mistaken. It is a few pages of beautiful botanical illustrations hand painted for this issue of Life. It highlights 50 plants grouped by region from six areas of the United States, that home gardeners can grow in their own garden.

"Flower-Lovers' Ramble" 1963

Pretty cool article about 22 (including a 16-year-old-boy who had this own greenhouse in Great Bend, Kansas) Americans traveling abroad on a themed vacation. They visited 44 gardens across Europe.

I'm going to stop here and let you go and explore on your own. I find Google books to be hard to navigate and confusing, so I've saved a link to my search search results for "garden." If you hover your mouse over the cover of each issue it will display the title of the relevant article within. If you hover for the title you can usually get a good idea if the article is about gardening, gardens like Victory Gardens, a plant, or event like the opening of the greenhouse at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. Or one of the many garden parties Life covered. They must have been very popular back in the day.

Given that the gardening articles are so old, I don't know if I would use them as a reference if they offered a solution to a garden problem, although some gardening wisdom is timeless. Take for example, the article on "Smothering Garden Weeds" that appeared in 1956 about the use of black plastic as mulch. At the time it might have seemed revolutionary, now not many people would be impressed with your ingenuity if you offered it up as a solution since everyone does it.

If you're looking for gardening tips or solutions to problems in your garden try using Google for Gardeners. It is a custom Google search engine I edit and handpick websites to include.


  1. Thanks for this! I had always read that the Duke of Windsor was a keen gardener, and it's fascinating to see his famed English garden in France.

  2. Hi Daffodil Planter,

    Isn't that a cool article? I think my favorite picture in the article about Edward's garden is the one with the window and clematis.

    Why am I speaking out loud in a faux English accent? I dunno.

    Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have fun looking through that archive and seeing if you find something interesting.


  3. Fun to read. I also got sucked into the Career Girl story following the "Mrs. Tobin's Garden" 1948 article. Thanks for the links.

  4. @ StuccoHouse,

    You're welcomed. I know what you mean I've gotten stuck in issues reading other articles and looking at the ads. I mean, I'm bombarded with ads all day and here I am looking at vintage ads on my own because they look cool.

  5. Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed reading the articles. They are all evergreen. That topiary garden was a wonderful thing. Is the garden still there? Have a great weekend!

  6. Thanks for this. What a wonderful resource. You really went one step further by finding the best stories and summarizing them, too. I loved the one about the German woman who made a garden out of her wrecked home.

  7. Way cool, Mr Brownthumb. Thanks for pointing this out--what a great resource! :)

  8. Oh my god, what a great time-waster this is! I love the ads even more than the articles - cars, booze, beer and cigarettes! Gotta love it!

  9. Very cool MBT! Thanks for this post. I grew up on Life Magazine - what a blast from the past! I especially enjoyed the wildflowers article - one that's still timely today. I loved the botanical art in that article too.

    I got a big kick out of the advertisements - many of them were very familiar and nostalgic. The home decor ads. . . what a hoot! Although I didn't like it then and am not crazy about most of it now, mid-century modern is back in style, and some of that stuff is being sold for ridiculous sums in the trendiest of furniture stores.

  10. Oh so many great links there. I'm going to take my time and go back and explore them all. I just wanted to comment on the Italian gardens, and the water feature with the rushing water coming out of the fountain's nose? And your reference to Donald Trump was right on. I could see him standing in the middle with the wind blowing his comb over awkwardly straight up. Thank you for this.

  11. Thanks for telling us about these, MBT. I loved the Wildflowers one, too---the art is just beautiful.

  12. @Stephanie,

    I don't know if that topiary garden is still there. I haven't heard anything about it the past couple of years and stories about gardens get recycled a lot around here. But I'll investigate...


    I could have summerized all 700+results but had to stop myself. That rubble garden was one of my faves too. I guess we could say it is the opposite of a "victory" garden given the circumstances it was started for.


    You're welcomed, hope you enjoy them.


    Aren't those ads awesome? I like looking at them almost as much as I do looking at the articled.

    @Garden Girl,

    You're welcomed, yeah that "wildflower" article is really timely-glad you liked them.

    It will make some good winter reading, right? Good place to spend a cold afternoon when you have time to wander around. Glad you go the DT thing.

    You're welcomed. Glad you liked them.



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