Charles Mason Hovey
From: Fruits of America, Vol 1.
Life and Times
Charles Mason Hovey was born 26 October 1810, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is known today for his plant breeding and promotion, particularly with strawberries. He also promoted the zinfandel grape, and was the one who shipped it first to California.
Charles’s parents were Phineas Brown Hovey (8 Nov 1770 – 19 Apr 1852) and Sarah Stone (7 Jun 1769 – 9 Dec 1846.) In 1824, he graduated from Cambridge Academy in Massachusetts. In 1832, at the age of 22, he started a seed store and a small nursery with his brother Phineas in Cambridge. Two years later, in 1834, at the age of 24, he started a magazine called “American Gardeners’ Magazine” (renamed in 1837 to “The Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and all useful discoveries and improvements in rural affairs.”) In the preface to the first issue under the new name in 1837, he said the name change was to avoid confusion with other magazines. He published the magazine until 1868. He said he had been inspired to start it by the Gardener’s Magazine from London.
Charles was also the author of “Fruits of America”, two volumes of which were published in Boston by Hovey and Co. from 1847 to 1856, and a third volume which was started but not completed. The book contains over 100 colour plates, which are now quite valuable.
In 1860, he won a sterling silver ladle for his plant breeding efforts, inscribed: ‘N.Y. State Agl Society 1860/ First Premium/ on Pears & Apples/ C. M. Hovey.’
He was the president of the Massachusetts Horticulture Society for four years, from 1863 to 1867.
Charles died on 2 September 1887 at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
His work on strawberries
When Charles started his nursery in 1832 he had twelve varieties of strawberries. Only two years later, in 1834, he had 50. Charles was searching for hardier strawberry breeds.
In 1836, he introduced the “Hovey” variety of strawberries. The parentage is uncertain, though as during his plant breeding experiments, his labels got mixed up, so the Hovey could have been the result of one of six crosses he had made.
The Hovey was larger and hardier than other varieties at the time, and with good flavour. But though it gained immediate popularity in New England, other areas of the country didn’t seem interested in it. By 1854, he wrote that he didn’t feel that further breeding attempts with strawberries would pay much further dividends, and certainly none that would be noticeable to most people.