Just Enjoy the August Landscape

Just enjoy the August landscape

We have worked hard in the three months of April, May, and June to get the landscape in shape. We planted  trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals.

Late nineteenth century Central Park superintendent Samuel Parsons Jr. (1844-1923) founded the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1899.

He wrote his book Landscape Gardening in 1891.

In it he said that the landscape needs something to sustain us during the hot and steamy months of July and August.

He wrote, “Since we are forced to dwell more or less in the open air in July and August, constrained by fashion and the heat of the weather, it is all the more reasonable to make the extension of the house attractive.”

The past few summer weeks here in the Northeast have been particularly hot and humid.

Who feels like working in the garden in heat and humidity?

Parsons continued in these words: “and to take the opportunity of making this fashion a means of gradually developing a more widespread love of nature.”

Since it is too hot to dig and plant in the garden right now, this is the time we take to enjoy the trees and shrubs and other treasures we have carefully planted either this year or in earlier springs and earlier summers.

Parsons clearly pointed out that the landscape needs a lawn, choice trees, and a few shrubs with color. 

We’ve planted them.

This is the time to enjoy the work we have done.

Parsons gave many recommendations for trees and shrubs that we could enjoy as part of the landscape.

The point he made however was we need to enjoy the landscape now. Just walk around, take it all in, and then sit down for a quiet moment or two.

We’ve worked hard. Now we enjoy.

 

Share

Alexander von Humboldt Influenced Early Ecologists

Alexander von Humboldt influenced early ecologists.

Nineteenth century German scientist, plant hunter, and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) laid the groundwork for what we now call ecology.

He saw nature as united and interconnected. When one element changes, the entirety feels the impact.

He also influenced others, including some Americans, to think of nature in that way as well.

Andrea Wulf writes in her book The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World  that German scientist Ernst Heckel (1834-1919) mentioned Humboldt’s view of ecology in his own book Generelle Morphologie.  Heckel wrote, “All the earth’s organisms belonged together like a family occupying a dwelling; and like members of a household they could conflict with, or assist, one another.”

Heckel wrote, according to Wulf, that ecology was the ‘science’ of the relationship of an organism with its environment.

Wulf credits Humboldt with influencing also the work of American naturalists Henry David Thoreau and John Muir.

Little did I know as I set out to read Humboldt’s biography that I would come to see his writing as the foundation for modern ecology.

My motivation in reading about him was that  I wanted to see how he played out his role as plant hunter. He traveled in Latin America for five years to study its flora and fauna.  In the midst of that process he was also expected to find and bring back plants for European gardens.  At that time plant hunters traveled the world to enrich the gardens, mostly of the wealthy, with new ornamental plants.

Alexander von Humboldt however became much more than a plant hunter. He redefined nature for us.

As Wulf argues so well in her great book, we need to credit Humboldt with initiating a way of thinking about nature that has deep implications to this very day.

 

 

Share

Exotic Vine Once Considered Ornamental, Now Invasive

Exotic Vine Once Considered Ornamental, Now Invasive

Recently I noticed what appeared to be an invasive vine in my garden.

The vine Celastrus orbiculatus, or Oriental bittersweet, had climbed up a lovely white birch tree, practically strangling it. [below]

 Oriental bittersweet [ New England Wild Flower Society]

I cut and pulled as much of the vine off the tree as I could. I was not able to reach the top of the tree, but I can now see the leaves, cut from their stem, drying up.

Oriental bittersweet came to the US in 1886 from Japan as an ornamental vine for the home landscape. That year it was first offered in the New York Kissena Nurseries catalog.

According to Peter del Tredici’s 2014 article “Untangling the twisted tale of oriental bittersweet” in Arnoldia magazine it was the Arnold Arboretum in Boston that popularised this vine for American gardens.

Today it is considered invasive here in the Northeast.

In the New Hampshire Landscape Association Newsletter horticulturist Michael Bald calls it a “most-alarming terrestrial plant species” in his article “Three Invasive Plant Species to Really Watch Out For.”

Climbers were coveted in the late nineteenth century Victorian garden.

Rochester, New York seed coompany owner James Vick (1818-1882) praised such vines in his catalog of 1874. He wrote, “The climbers furnish us with nature’s drapery, and nothing produced by art can equal their elegant grace. As the Lilies surpass in beauty all that wealth or power can procure, or man produce, so these tender Climbers surpass all the producing of the decorator’s skill.”

Vick included the native bittersweet, Celastrus scandens, in the section of his 1889 catalog called ‘Climbers.’

By 1893 imported bittersweet Celastrus orbiculatus was found in many gardens in the United States, according to del Tredici.

Michael Dirr writes in his useful reference book for gardeners Manual of Woody Landscape Plants that today Celastrus scandens has hybridized with C. orbiculatus and so can also be considered an invasive vine.

It may seem hard to imagine that what was once considered a desirable ornamental plant is anything but that for today’s garden.

Celastrus orbiculatus is only one among many exotics that have now become invasive.

Can you name others?

Share

Late Nineteenth Century Gardens Included Perennials

Late nineteenth century gardens included perennials –

Last week I visited the Moffatt-Ladd House and Garden on Market Street in the seacoast city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Portsmouth is home to several historic gardens in the downtown area. Because of its long tradition as an important early American seacoast city Portsmouth includes Colonial, Georgian, and Victorian styles of architecture and landscape.

In 1912 the National Society of the Colonial Dames acquired the Moffatt-Ladd House. Built in the late 1700s, the house once belonged to William Whipple, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The landscape includes an elaborate garden which, in its present form dates to the second half of the nineteenth century when Alexander Hamilton Ladd (1815-1900) owned the property.

Ladd kept a journal of what he planted in the garden. The journal, simply called Alexander H. Ladd Garden Book 1888-1895: A 19th Century View of Portsmouth was discovered only a few years ago and is now available for anyone to read. It provides a wonferful glimpse of American garden history.

In the book Ladd carefully lays out his work in the garden. At one point he planted 60,000 tulips.  Plants were his true love.

He also wrote about his beds and borders of perennials, which, by the late nineteenth century, had become a popular form of gardening, replacing the use of annuals. By the 1870s English garden celebrities writer William Robinson and landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll were encouraging perennial borders.

Rochester, New York nurseryman George Ellwanger (1816-1906) wrote a book called The Garden’s Story in 1889. He  argued against both the stiff formal garden and carpet, or ribbon, beds. He noted that “the objectionable forms of gardening are being superseded by a more natural style–a revival of the old-fashioned hardy flower borders, masses of stately perennials.”

Today you can still see that garden fashion in the garden at the Moffatt-Ladd House in Portsmouth. Beds of stately perennials instead of the dreaded carpet beds and ribbon beds of annuals fill the garden. [below]

Perennials in the garden at the Moffatt-Ladd House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Though it was a very hot day when I visited, I enjoyed this reveal of garden history.

Thanks to all the volunteers who work in the garden to keep it in the style Ladd first laid out in the late nineteenth century.

Share

Milwaukee Honored Alexander von Humboldt

Milwaukee honored Alexander von Humboldt. The city named both a street and park after the nineteenth century German scientist.

I was born and raised in Milwaukee.

The city played an important role in making the German plant explorer, scientist, and writer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) more familiar to Americans.

Humboldt Boulevard, a street on the east side of Milwaukee, croses Fratney Street where my brother and his family lived for many years.

Humboldt Boulevard was named after Alexander von Humboldt.

Humboldt Park in the Bay View area of south-east Milwaukee, not far from Lake Michigan, was given its name in 1900, also to honor the German scientist.

Today the Milwaukee County Parks website says this about the 45-acre Humboldt Park: “Home of Milwaukee’s Craft Beer Garden, Humboldt Park also features a bandshell, ball fields and courts, a lagoon for fishing and ice skating, plenty of pathways, and community events all year long.”

Here is photo of the park from the early twentieth century. [below]

Humboldt Park [Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee]

This is a more recent view of Humboldt Park.  [below]

Humboldt Park [Courtesy of Milwaukee County Parks]

British author Andrea Wulf wrote a book about Humboldt called  The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World . The book is a joy to read because you see the impact of Humboldt on ecology, a field he pioneered. Wulf says, “His name was a household name around the country after he published his book called Cosmos.”

Cosmos appeared in five volumes from 1845 to 1862.

After 1850 Milwaukee was home to many German immigrants.  They developed a beer industry that gave the city several breweries including Pabst, which became the largest brewery in the world by the 1890s.

Wulf writes that “The U.S. Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, sent Humboldt nine American maps that showed all the different towns, counties, mountains, and rivers that were named after him.”

So when, so many years ago, I rode the bus on Humboldt Boulevard, I was honoring Alexander von Humboldt, the German scientist. I never knew that til now.

 

Share

Plant Language Shapes Reality

Plant language shapes reality – 

I just can’t say enough about Andrea Wulf’s book on Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859) called  The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World.

As a retired professor of Communication Studies, I was happy to read her comments on Humboldt’s brother Wilhelm and the latter’s theory about language.

Wilhelm was an educator, interested in ideas and the pursuit of knowledge.

He identified the purpose for language as much more than simply a vehicle for the writer or speaker to formulate an idea.

Language, he said, shapes the way we look at the world.

Wulf writes, “According to Wilhelm’s radical new theory, different languages reflected different views of the world. Language was not just a tool to express thoughts but it shaped thoughts…It was not a mechanical construct of individual elements but an organism, a web that wove together action, thought and speaking.”

The way we talk about plants is the way we relate to them.

For example, as soon as you hear the word ‘succulent’ you probably have a general idea of the kind of plant it is and perhaps its growing habit as well as water and light needs.

I heard recently from a young gardener that succulents are in today. Just the mention of the word can make people who are into plants come up with their ideas of the best and worse ways to deal with this group of plants.

I remember seeing Sansevieria ‘Black Star’ in the landscape at the wonderful estate in Miami called Vizcaya. [below]

There were several beds and borders that included this Sansevieria.  It has a beautiful green color with cream edging. Thus it can add color and structure to the landscape.

Then I realized that I grow it as a house plant as you can see from this table in our living room. [below]

Sansevieria ‘Black Star’

The word ‘succulent’ applied to the genus ‘Sansevieria’  told me what kind of plant it was.

Thanks to the website for Stokes Tropicals you can learn more about this plant:

“Sansevieria ‘Black Star’ is an easy-to-grow, double-duty (indoors or outdoors), exotic-looking plant that thrives on neglect.  Tolerates low humidity. Tolerates low water and low feeding. Tolerates being root bound. Few if any plants are as foolproof to grow.

“Sansevieria is a succulent plant, and needs a well-drained soil. Sansevieria are great and hardy house plants in the United States. You do not have to have a green thumb to grow a Sansevieria. “

The word ‘ succulent’ can mean, as it does for me, Sansevieria.

Wilhelm’s theory about language helps gardeners to see and deal with the world of plants.

Of course, we can’t forget two plant words that stir up all sorts of ideas and subsequent action. They are  ‘native’ and ‘exotic.’

Share

Empress Josephine’s Dahlia Gift

Empress Josephine’s dahlia gift

I first came across the name Aime Bonpland, the nineteenth century French botanist, while I was researching the history of growing and selling dahlias.

Aime Bonpland (1773-1858) [Courtesy of Biografias y Vidas]

Bonpland (1773-1858) became the head gardener for Empress Josephine for ten years at her summer residence outside of Paris called Chateau Malmaison.

It is there Josephine insisted on the landscape style of the English garden of the eighteenth century. And so it was designed in that fashion [below]

View of the park at Malmaison [Gaverney]

Bonpland had been the travel companion in Latin America to Alexander Von Humboldt in their famous trip from 1799 to 1804. [below]

Humboldt and Bonpland in the Amazon rainforest (1850)

It is said that in the early 1800s Bonpland brought back from his trip dahlia seeds to present to Empress Josephine for her wonderful collection of plants.

Martin Kral writes in his well-researched paper “Of Dahlia Myths and Aztec Mythology: The Dahlia in History” that Bonpland and Humboldt saw dahlias growing all around them as they traveled in Latin America.

When he returned to Europe, Humboldt focused on writing his treatise on nature called Cosmos.

Andrea Wulf in her  book The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World writes, “Humboldt’s botanical publications in Paris were delayed because Bonpland was now the head gardener to Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, at Malmaison, her country estate just outside Paris.”

Bonpland was a botanist, interested in plants, and slow to respond to Humboldt’s request he help with writing about what they had experienced on their trip.

It was Humboldt who would record their five years in Latin America, leaving a lasting legacy in his writing. He saw in the trip a new way to look at nature, a forerunner to what we now call ‘ecology’.

Humboldt and Bonpland were, however, a good pair for traveling together since they complemented one another with their individual skills.

Bonpland returned to Latin America after Josephine’s death in 1814.

 

Share

Reading Plants Like Late Nineteenth Century Climbing Rose

Reading plants like late nineteenth century climbing rose.

I am still filled with awe at the life and career of the nineteenth century plant hunter Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859).

He brought both science and imagination to his understanding of nature.

Andrea Wulf in her  book The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World points out that Humboldt read plants.

She writes, “Humboldt ‘read’ plants as others did books — and to him they revealed a global force behind nature, the movement of civilizations as well as of landmass. No one had ever approached botany in this way.”

Humboldt’s view of nature as one, and not divisions by various sciences, took the world of understanding plants in a new direction.

Now that I think of it, his idea of reading plants makes perfect sense.

A plant you have in your garden right now had a journey to that spot, a journey that may have been decades or centuries. It is not simply a sunflower or a lily of the valley.

They both express a time and a culture from which they originate.

I know they are beautiful in their own right, but they also reflect the history of gardening.

Take the rose as an example and one rose in particular.

The ‘Crimson Rambler’ became a popular rose with gardeners in the late nineteenth century.

Tradecard for the ‘Crimson Rambler’ Rose

It was introduced to the garden market in England in the early 1890s.

It had come from Japan to a nursery, first in Scotland, then in England.

Queen Victoria traveled to the nursery to see this special rose.

The ‘Crimson Rambler’ became a popular climbing rose for the next thirty years both in Europe and America.

Eventually it was replaced by other climbing roses, less inclined to problems of disease and insects.

Thus I see more than simply a rose. It represents to me the nineteenth cenutry nursery industry. Its origin tells us it was an exotic in gardens at that time.

The Peter Henderson Seed Company from New York used this rose in its catalog of 1896 [below].

The new ‘Crimson Rambler’ rose appeared here in this 1896 Henderson seed catalog.

‘Crimson Rambler’ was not just a rose. It represented as well the influence of the Victorian garden industry on homeowners everywhere.

Share

Plant Hunter Humboldt Became Early Environmentalist

Plant Hunter Humboldt Became Early Environmentalist

In reading garden history books, both old and new, I often came across the name Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859).

He was a nineteenth century German plant hunter, explorer, and scientist.

Humboldt became an early environmentalist. He saw plants, animals, rock, soil, and water as all connected.  We, as he often wrote, are one with the world around us.

When I found out one of my favorite garden authors Andrea Wulf had written a book about Von Humboldt, I searched the local library and found it.

The title of her book is The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World.

Humboldt gave us a new meaning for nature.

He journeyed to Latin America from 1799 to 1804 with French botanist Aime Bonpland. Together they climbed, walked, and just observed nature wherever they could.

In commenting on his travel, Wulf writes “as he describes how humankind was changing the climate, he unwittingly became the father of the environmental movement.”

As he was climbing Chimborgo Mountain in the Andes Humboldt “saw the whole of nature laid out before him.”

He had created a new vision of nature from his travels in Latin America.

As Wulf so clearly spells out in her book, Humboldt was not so much interested in finding isolated facts but in connecting them. As he said it, individual phenomena were only important ‘in their relation to the whole.’

Since I am interested in gardening and plants, whenever Andrea Wulf mentioned either of the two words I paid particular attention

She writes, “Instead of placing plants in their taxonomic categories, he saw vegetation through the lens of climate and location: a radically new idea that still shapes our understanding of ecosystems today.”

Today when we face so many issues about what to do about the state of the environment, Humboldt provides much insight for the direction we need to take.

We need to use our imagination, he wrote, to begin to address any solution.

 

 

Share

Nineteenth Century Botanical Art Book Illustrated Social Status

Nineteenth century botanical art book illustrated social status.

Botanical art reveals wondrous details about plants through the eyes of the artist.

Ronald King, former Secretary at the Botanic Gardens in Kew, in his book Botanical Illustration says, “It was not until 1530 that attention was turned fully upon the plant and an effort to draw it as it actually appeared.”

Once interest in the study of botany took off in the eighteenth century, especially with Linnaeus’ triumph in coming up with a system to categorize plants, botanical art also grew.

The English physician Robert John Thornton (1768-1837) became interested in botany and made botanical writing his career.

In 1807 Thornton published a book of botanical art with the title New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus. He wanted to promote the work of Linnaeus who distinguished plants by their method of reproduction.

The subtitle was Temple of Flora. The book became an important nineteenth century example of botanical art as well social status.

In his book The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives Stephen Buchman writes, “The most famous work of botanical scientific illustration of all time is the unique Temple of Flora by Englishman Robert John Thornton.”

Thornton enlisted artists Peter Henderson and Philip Reinagle for most of the twenty-eight paintings in the book called a florilegium but did this painting of the cabbage rose himself. [below]

Cabbage Rose by Robert John Thornton from Temple of Flora published in 1807

King defines ‘florilegium’ as a book with portraits of flowers included for their ornamental value.

Buchman writes “The Temple of Flora is properly known as a florilegium, and such books were popular with the wealthy and privileged from the second half of the eighteenth century through the early twentieth century.”

Access to works of botanical art during Thornton’s time was restricted to the more educated and wealthy.

Eventually by the early twentieth century when printing became cheaper and mass education was the norm, books of botanical art were available to everyone.

Share