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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Gardeners’ Chronicle   [before 8 October 1864]1

I should be very much obliged if any one who possesses a treatise on gardening or even an Almanac one or two centuries old would have the kindness to look what date is given as the proper period for sowing Scarlet Runners or dwarf French Beans. I am anxious to ascertain, as far as is possible, whether these plants can now be sown at all earlier than was formerly the case.2 The title, date, and place of publication of any old treatise should be given.3

Charles Darwin, | Down, Bromley, Kent.


The letter was published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette on 8 October 1864 under the sub-heading ‘Ancient Gardening’.
Between 14 September and 16 November 1864 (‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 12, Appendix II)) CD was writing on ‘Laws of Variation’ (see Variation 2: 293–356); this included an examination of adaptation to climate in plants and animals. CD wanted to discover whether frost resistance in beans had increased over time through natural selection; he thought this would be reflected in earlier sowing times being chosen than formerly. CD had observed the natural variability of frost resistance in beans during a frost on 24 May 1864 that killed most but not all of the scarlet runner-beans (Phaseolus multiflorus) and dwarf French beans (P. vulgaris) in his garden at Down, Kent (see Variation 2: 309, 314).
CD received several replies to his inquiry (see letter from George Edward Frere, 8 October 1864, letter from James Buckman, 10 October 1864, letter from J. C. Gould, 10 October 1864, and letter from C. W. Dilke, 12 October 1864), but concluded, ‘I have not been able, by searching old horticultural works, to answer this question satisfactorily’ (Variation 2: 314). See also CD’s note on the enclosure to the letter from J. C. Gould, 10 October 1864.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Asks anyone who possesses a treatise on gardening, or an almanac, one or two centuries old, to look up what date is given as the proper period for sowing scarlet runners or dwarf French beans. CD wants to ascertain whether these plants can now be sown earlier than was formerly the case.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Gardeners’ Chronicle
Sent from
Source of text
Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (1864): 965

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4629,” accessed on 16 October 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12