In 1787, Robert Squibb of South Carolina authored the first book about gardening in America, called "Gardener's Kalender." He could hardly have imagined what a thriving industry gardening would become two centuries later, and what a pivotal role ornamental flowers would play in the world of gardening.
"Tulip mania" in Holland during the 17th century was highly profitable. Speculative notes were bought and sold for the most desirable tulips. History records that one buyer paid "two (loads) of wheat and four of rye, four fat oxen, eight pigs, a dozen sheep, two oxheads of wine, four tons of butter, a thousand pounds of cheese, a bed, some clothing and a silver beaker" for a single Viceroy tulip bulb.
Ironically, the tulip was native to Turkey, and was only introduced to Holland in 1593. In 1637, Holland outlawed speculation in tulips, which remain a prized ornamental flower, but at a far more modest price.
The first seed store and florist's's shop opened in New York in 1802. Today, shoppers can buy ornamental flowers at their local florist's, or online for delivery around the world. An example of online florists is Jackson & Perkins, a foremost producer of roses, which head the list of ornamental flowers. Charles Perkins started a modest wholesaling business in 1872, backed by his father-in-law, A.E. Jackson.
The company began selling roses just before the turn of the 20th century, and in 1939, presented "A Parade of Modern Roses" at the World's Fair in New York. The promotion was a huge hit, and the start of the company's mail order business.
During the 1820s, American public interest in ornamental flowers grew in part from attractive cash prizes offered by horticultural societies for the best tulips, Chinese chrysanthemums, hyacinths, carnations and roses.
Cherry blossoms are an important element of ornamental flower history in Japan, but also in the United States. Japan presented thousands of cherry blossom trees to America in friendship. The annual, two-week Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C., usually in February, draws thousands of visitors who come there to admire the springtime blooms. In Japan, it is a tradition to hold special cherry blossom viewing parties called "Hanami" when the pinkish-white blossoms are at their best.
Special cherry blossom forecasts follow news broadcasts so that people can chart the progress of the blooms. Okinawa is usually the first city where the cherry blossoms bloom in January or early February, followed by Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo and Hokkaido in April.
In many cultures, ornamental flowers have symbolic significance. The traditions of the Chinese lunar new year include specific ornamental flowers because of their positive symbolism. Foremost among them is the peach blossom.
In Chinese culture, the peach is considered a symbol of longevity, so the peach blossom tree is a highly regarded center piece of the new year celebrations. If the blossoms open in the first days of the new year, this is thought to be a sign of good luck for the year to come.