• Alison Murray

Things to do in the garden during lockdown day 82: remember black agricultural pioneers

'A weed is just a flower growing in the wrong place'. George Washington Carver was a pioneer of biodiversity in the late 1800s. He was also black.

I have grown up with this quote, but never knew until today that George Washington Carver was an agricultural scientist, environmentalist and inventor and changed the face of agriculture in the US in the late 1800s. There is all too little about him online and I am sure the colour of his skin has played a role in my not knowing of his existence, let alone anything about his amazing career. It took a poppy flowering, and looking up this quote for me to discover a man who I should have known about and been taught about as a child, in my degree, and horticultural studies. Shame.


George Washington Carver was born a slave, and worked his way up against astonishing odds to become a researcher at Tuskagee University. He pioneered crop rotation in order to improve the soil and help poor farmers in the Deep South. Coton farming had depleted the soil of nitrogen and left people staring. Washington Carver encouraged growing sweet potato and other crops including peanuts for their nitrogen fixating properties which provided a crucial source of protein to the population. He invented over 300 food and commercial products and improved the nutrition of a nation. He even has two species of fungi named after him. This is the man that first invented peanut butter, so why isn't he a household name, globally, yet Kellogg is?


Livescience and The History Channel have interesting article on him. There is also a gorgeous children's book called 'A Weed is a Flower' by Aliki Brandenberg.

I will leave my poppy for the bees and whip it out when it has finished flowering. Sometimes it is really worth letting the interlopers flower and enjoying them and remembering George Washington Carver (not just his quote) before you dig them out.


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