19 December 2010

Sedums were (apparently) hot in 1810

I know I said I was taking this week off blogging, but this is just too fun not to share.
I've been playing with Google Ngram viewer. Basically, google has scanned a huge number of books, and you can search the entire database to see how often a word has been written in the past 200+ years. It is fascinating, and kind of addictive, giving a little window on how much we write and think about different topics.

Here is a chart of the use of "garden" (blue) and "television" (red) from 1800 to 2008
I love where the garden trend is going! Higher than it has been since the 1950s, and eclipsing television for the first time since the '70s. My generation is coming of age, and we're gardening it up!

It is also fun to look at individual plants. Here's hosta:
Maybe the hosta craze is (finally) over?

Heuchera is still going strong:

Turning to tender bulbs, here are dahlia (blue) and gladiolus (red)
I think it is high time for a come back...

In light of the current mania for succulents, I typed in "sedum"
The recent rise, I expected. But a huge spike in 1810? Who knew?
I could keep going on and on... I'm not sure how meaningful this data actually is, but it sure is fun to play with. Play with it yourself here and be sure to let me know in the comments what your favorite results are! (BTW, if you want to recreate my results, you'll have to change to search from 1800 to 2008 -- the default is 1800-2000)


Carol Michel said...

Great fun. I think "geraniums" might be coming back, too!

Karli said...

This is fascinating. I tried roses which are my favorites, they peaked around 1900. Interestingly, when I changedthe parameters from 2000 to 2008, I saw that roses are making a comeback this century!

Unknown said...

Dahlias and Gladiolus, yes! I think some of the "old fashioned" plants that have been hybridized to death are ready for a back to basics comeback. Thanks to people like Annie and Matt Matthus I've been interested in Dahlias, Primroses, Gladiolus and Chrysanthemums recently.

Joseph said...

Yay! I love geraniums!

When I switched to searching through 2008, I saw a LOT of things are making a comeback. Hurray!

I'm so with you -- there are tons of great old plants that are amazing. Have you seen these mums? http://www.faribaultgrowersinc.com/retail.php
Fully hardy, and way cooler than the generic big box store ones.

Unknown said...

hardy mums! I just picked up an issue of Gardens Illustrated just for it's hardy mums article. I've already got a new post in the works on my blog along this theme.

Kat said...

And poinsettias were extremely popular in the 1940s. That is totally fun and addictive. What a great way to be all geeky with plant information. I love it.

Laurie Brown said...

That is so cool! I had no idea that feature existed. I must try that.

So glad to see gardening is eclipsing television. I'm not done being in love with hostas yet, though!

Anonymous said...

Gotta take these results with a grain of salt. "Beatles" shows a huge spike around 1800.

Joseph said...

For sure -- probably several grains of salt. Alternative spelling (which is what I assume is behind the "beatles" thing?) not to mention that people talk, think, care, and feel about stuff other than what actually gets written in books.

PlantingOaks said...

I think you have to take into account that this is the number of occurrences of those words only in books google has indexed so far. Now, they've indexed a lot of books, so it isn't a problem with sample size, but whether they're choosing a consistent sample over time - and I think they may not be.

For instance, someone linked a graph they made for 'he said' vs. 'she said'.

You may notice there's a significant dip in both through the 1950s to the almost-present. To me, that suggests more that google indexed fewer books with dialogue for that time period (copyright concerns?), than that authors went on a proper-noun or thesaurus kick in those decades.

So, while I think dahlia vs. gladiolus is still a valid comparison, since those words tend to come up in similar kinds of writing, I'm a little less convinced about garden vs. television. I'm very suspicious of the data in an absolute 'popularity over time' sense. That's just too susceptible to sampling changes.

Ahem. But it is fun. If I can just pry my analytical hat off for a bit here.

PlantingOaks said...

the link didn't seem to work right - trying again:

Joseph said...

Planting Oaks,
I totally agree that these results have a lot of potential issues, and that the television-garden comparison could not be valid. I provide these more of curiosity sake and conversation starting than with the idea that they are a deep truth to be pondered. I DO think it is exciting that "garden" is trending upward so sharply, though! Television's dip probably has more to do with the rise of the internet and "new media" than anything else.

Commonweeder said...

You are the second person I've run into talking about this google thing. It is fascinating. I can't wait to try it out. I want to check about peonies - and dwarf conifers.

Anonymous said...

What happened to six and seven?

Unknown said...


maybe the year 1800 saw a jump in books about the Revolution?

this almost shows that

Anonymous said...

I figured out six and seven. Apparently, Google's OCR misreads long s as f, so prior to 1800 most of the hits are for "fix" and "feven."

One side effect of this is that a certain word which I had always thought had been unprintable until the '60s was actually (according to Google) quite popular in the 18th century.

Joseph said...

Oh yeah, I think I read that on the "about" page... seems odd that you would start scanning old books without trying to fix that.

Tom said...

Ugh. I'm so sick of Heuchera. Is it wrong that I prefer Hosta over Heuchera? This was actually a really fascinating post though. That bit about sedum in 1810 is kinda weird.

Tom said...

Also, my favorite graph is Opuntia vs Cereus. Huge peak at 1910's with Opuntia and a very sudden crash. I wonder what's up with that.

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