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LSU Press to Release “The Garden Diary of Martha Turnbull, Mistress of Rosedown Plantation”

Book Offers Significant Contribution to American Horticulture History

03/26/2012 04:02 PM

BATON ROUGE – Recovered in the mid-1990s from the attic of a Turnbull family descendant, “The Garden Diary of Martha Turnbull, Mistress of Rosedown Plantation,” released in April by LSU Press, offers the most extensive surviving first-hand account of 19th-century plantation life and gardening in the Deep South.


Landscape architecture professor and preservationist Suzanne Turner spent 15 years transcribing and annotating the original manuscript, making it accessible to 21st-century gardening enthusiasts. The resulting dialogue between Turnbull’s diary entries and Turner’s illuminating notes demonstrates the pivotal role that kitchen and pleasure gardens held in the lives of planter families. In addition, the diary documents the relationship between the mistress and the enslaved whose labor made her vast gardens possible.


Turner’s exquisite interpretation reveals not only an energetic gardener but also a well-read one, eager to experiment with the newest gardening trends. Illustrated with engravings from period books, journals and nursery catalogs, Turner’s annotations provide the reader with a deeper understanding of American horticultural history.


The diary, spanning the years 1836 through 1894, reveals the portrait of a courageous and resilient woman. After the tragic loss of her two sons and husband prior to the Civil War, Turnbull assumed full responsibility for her family and the plantation. She endured living under siege during the war and persevered during Reconstruction by growing and selling food as a truck farmer. By working daily in her ornamental garden and faithfully maintaining her diary for nearly sixty years, she found the solace and peace to look forward to the future.


Turner is professor emerita of landscape architecture at LSU; owner and principal of Suzanne Turner Associates, a landscape architecture and cultural landscape preservation firm; and coauthor of, most recently, “Houston’s Silent Garden: Glenwood Cemetery, 1871–2009.” She is cofounder of the Red Stick Farmers Market in Baton Rouge and an avid gardener.


For more information, contact Erin Rolfs with LSU Press at or 225-578-8282 or visit

LSU Media Relations