JoAnne Skelly: Who was Liberty Hyde Bailey? |

JoAnne Skelly: Who was Liberty Hyde Bailey?

JoAnne Skelly

About 25 years ago, I purchased a 1933 three-volume set of The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture by L. H. Bailey (Liberty Hyde Bailey).

First published in 1914, the cyclopedia was a “discussion, for the amateur, and the professional and commercial grower, of the kinds, characteristics and methods of cultivation of the species of plants grown in the regions of the United States and Canada for ornament, for fancy, for fruit and for vegetables: with keys to the natural families and genera, descriptions of the horticultural capabilities of the States and Provinces and dependent islands, and sketches of eminent horticulturists.”

These marvelous volumes contain amazing colored plates and black and white engravings. After I bought them, I researched L. H. Bailey, who was born in 1858 and died Christmas Day 1954. He was known as the Father of Modern Horticulture.

Bailey attended what is now Michigan State University and studied horticultural botany, an experimental field of study at the time. Studying cultivated (whether ornamental or food plants) rather than native plants was considered low class. As a professor at Cornell University, he founded an entire department on ‘nature-study.’ Later his work became part of Cornell’s Cooperative Extension program, providing practical arts to New York residents to improve their lives and livelihood. He served as director of the New York State Experiment Station at Cornell doing research related to the practical issues that farmers faced. He also became the Dean of the College of Agriculture at Cornell.

L. H. Bailey advocated mightily for rural people. President Theodore Roosevelt, after listening to a speech by Bailey, called for a “Commission on Country-Life” to survey the needs of rural people across the country. He made Bailey the chair of the Commission. Some people credit Bailey’s report on the findings of the Commission for the development of rural electrification, the parcel post and the modern highway system.

Besides being Dean of the college and a professor, Bailey was also a best-selling author on gardening and farming. The Cyclopedia volumes that I have are considered an outstanding accomplishment for the depth of information they contain. In addition, he also wrote The Cyclopedia of American Agriculture. His dictionary of horticulture, the first of its kind, is titled “Hortus.” After retiring, Bailey traveled and wrote an influential book on environmental philosophy, “The Holy Earth.”

L. H. Bailey’s solo botanical explorations were renowned and his plant collections from around the world contributed greatly to the field of horticulture.

This information is taken from

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at