Verbena Essential Victorian Flower

Verbena essential Victorian flower.

What is good about annuals is that they continue to bloom until the Fall, or even til the first frost.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) defined them as “those plants that live but one season.”

In the nineteenth century when colorful flowers became an essential in every garden, the verbena rose to become an important addition to the garden. Vick called it “one of the most showy and valuable plants of the garden.”

English horticulturist David Stuart wrote in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens, “The verbena was acknowledged, even by contemporaries, as central to the whole bedding movement.”

Bedding meant a design on the lawn, often a diamond, a circle, or a half-moon. Flowers and plants with colorful leaves made up the design. Weekly trimming and weeding followed for the season.

Vick, in an article called “Bedding Plants” wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in November, 1881: “The term, bedding plants, has long been in use, and is applied to all those tender plants that, preserved through the winter under glass, are there propagated and raised, and finally planted in beds in the spring to serve for the decoration of the garden for one season. Such plants are Geraniums, Heliotropes, Verbenas, Lantanas, and a multitude of other flowering plants.”

Today verbenas continue to be an important summer flower for the garden.

The plant grower Proven Winners offers a hybrid variety of verbena called dark blue superbena. [below]

Proven Winners dark blue superbena variety of verbena.

Though today we may not include carpet bedding in the landscape because of its high maintenance, in Victorian times bedding always depended on a well-trimmed lawn.

Vick offered a bit of caution to his readers about the lawn. He wrote,”This style of gardening [bedding] is admissible only with grounds kept in elegant condition; otherwise it would be like jewels in a swine’s snout.”

Even though we do not cultivate carpet bedding, we can still enjoy the Victorian summer flower called the verbena.

 

Exotic Plants Still Treasured

Exotic plants still treasured.

Exotic plants in our gardens have been a standard since seventeenth century plant collectors like John Tradescant the Elder and John Tradescant the Younger from England traveled the world in search of unusual plants.

In his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens David Stuart makes the case that such new plants introduced from other countries have changed the garden forever.

He calls the ‘golden age’ of gardening the time before exotics had burst in through the garden gate.

The reason they change the garden is what progeny may result from these new plants.

Stuart writes, “So many species have arrived in the garden that the genetic potential of the mix has hardly been taped. At any moment, a new plant discovery, or the development of a group of plants by an unknown gardener or nurseryman, may have the potential to transform our gardens all over again.”

A plant grower like Proven Winners travels the world for garden plants like new annuals and shrubs to introduce to the American gardener.

Sometimes  PW finds a new plant variety with a hobby gardener.  If PW sees potential in the plant, the company then tests the plant for several years before it becomes available on the market.

Thus a new plant finds a home in our gardens.

PW works with sixty breeders all over the world. Many are hobbyist breeders in England, France, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Korea, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, and America.

A breeder could be a garden hobbyist who might find a natural mutation or a hybrid in a greenhouse or in the garden.  PW then tests that plant.

The trialing process takes three years.  PW grows thousands of plants to test each year.

I remember when PW’s Euphoria ‘Diamond Frost’ first came on the market.  It won twenty-three  awards at that time. I grew it in my garden in a container and loved it. The tiny white flowers resemble ‘Baby’s Breath.’ 

Today PW offers another Euphorbia called ‘Diamond Delight’ which according to many gardeners is even better than ‘Diamond Frost.’ [below]

 

Euphorbia 'Diamond Delight' [Courtesy of Proven Winners]

The Euphorbia called ‘Diamond Delight’ [Courtesy of Proven Winners]

As in the nineteenth century when the plant business was booming for the middle class gardener, plant hunters still travel the globe to find new plants for the garden.

Today we still depend on exotics in the garden.

Lawn Mower Became Essential Nineteenth Century Garden Tool

Lawn mower became essential nineteenth century garden tool.

The lawn continues to be important to many homeowners.

The ‘modern’ design of the English garden, as it was called in the early eighteenth century, included a lawn.

The house was to appear as if  “in a sea of green.”

The gardeners during this period used a scythe to cut the grass.  Eventually the lawn mower appeared on the market, first in England, then by 1850 in America.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) sold lawn mowers in his seed catalog.

Vick wrote in his company catalog of 1875, “Lawn mowers are now a necessity. As a general rule, we may say there can be no good lawn without this useful machine. Not one in ten thousand can use a scythe with sufficient skill to secure a good lawn.”

Buckeye Lawnmower ad 

Vick recommended a lawn mower called the “Charter Oak”. He said, “Its workmanship, and the principles upon which it is constructed, we are disposed to think it is one of the best, if not the best Lawn Mower ever introduced.”

In an ad the manufacturer wrote these words about the ‘Charter Oak’ mower, “The machine is light and easily operated, beautifully and mechanically made and finished, leaving no essential point overlooked; has a three blade solid revolving cutter, preventing any appearance of ribbing on the finest English grass lawn.”

By the end of the nineteenth century the Buckeye lawn mower appeared on the market. [left]

The illustration seems to say “It is so easy to use, even a child could mow the lawn.”

Whatever a homeowner used was not as important as the goal of keeping the lawn in the home landscape trimmed.

Thus the American home owner could boast of a lawn in the long tradition of the English garden.

Empress Josephine Introduced Dahlias

Empress Josephine introduced dahlias.

It is spring and time to think about planting dahlia tubers.

Down in my basement I have containers of dahlias that I stored there right after last Thanksgiving. They now sit, wrapped in newspapers, in large plastic containers

Within the next few weeks I will take them outdoors, inspect each, and plant them for that unbeatable fall color that dahlias provide in the garden.

From its home in Mexico the dahlia has been on a long journey to become a gardener’s favorite.

In the early 1800s Empress Josephine introduced the French to dahlias.

English garden writer Penelope Hobhouse says in her book Plants in Garden History, “Josephine was one of the earliest to develop dahlias (already by 1789 cultivated as varieties in the botanic garden in Madrid), obtaining new seeds of species through the botanical explorers Aim Bonpland and Friedrich Humbolt direct from Mexico.”

Josephine cultivated her dahlias in the gardens at Malmaison, her summer palace.

Napoleon liked the formal garden style that one could enjoy at the grand garden of Versailles.  Malmaison, however, took on the design that Josephine preferred, the more natural look of the English garden, with its lawns and scattered trees. [below

View of the Park at Malmaison [Artist, Auguste Simon Garneray]

Josephine loved gardening, and developed her garden as plant collections, including roses, begonias, cape heaths, and dahlias, according to English garden writer David Stuart’s book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens.

Dahlia historian Martin Krahl agrees.

He writes in his fascinating study called Of Dahlia Myths and Aztec Mythology: The Dahlia in History  “The Empress was single-handedly responsible for introducing many exotic plants to Europe.”

After Josephine received some of the earliest dahlia seeds in France, her love of dahlias would spread.

Around the same time that she was growing dahlias in her garden, England and other European countries, then America, also adopted the dahlia.

Two Irish Gardens Inspire Herbaceous Borders

Two Irish gardens inspire herbaceous borders.

Since the late nineteenth century when English garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935) encouraged the herbaceous  border rather than beds of annuals, the border has been an important part of garden design.

Once garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1935) arrived on the English garden scene and befriended Robinson, she also became an advocate of the herbaceous border.

David Stuart writes in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens “The great Edwardian herbaceous border has a fascinating past, and has been resilient enough to evolve into new forms relevant to contemporary gardens.”

Thus, he implies that we still include the herbaceous [American gardeners say ‘perennial’] border in the garden.

Two Irish gardens might provide some inspiration.

Late last fall I saw two herbaceous borders in Ireland, one at Powerscourt Castle and the other at the

Powerscourt herbaceous border [courtesy photo]

birthplace of St. Oliver Plunkett called Loughcrew.

Loughcrew’s border was installed in the nineteenth century. The original Powerscourt herbaceous border predates that period but the current border was installed with new plants in 2014.

Both included dozens of perennials as well as a few annuals like dahlias, which were blooming at that time.

In 1883 William Robinson wrote in his book The English Flower Garden, “In planting, plant in groups, and not in the old dotting way. Never repeat the same plant along the border at intervals, as is so often done with favorites.”

You need to fill the whole border with plants. Robinson wrote, “Have no patience with bare ground”

Now that we are approaching summer, perhaps a herbaceous border might be in the works for your garden.

These two Irish gardens certainly stand as a testament to how beautiful such a border can be.

 

Nineteenth Century Bedding Plants Included Popular Geranium

Nineteenth century bedding plants included popular geranium.

In the nineteenth century planting annuals in beds on the lawn became a popular fashion.

Plant collectors had introduced tropical and sub-tropical plants and gardeners wanted to display them in the landscape.

Among the new plants gardeners fell in love with was the geranium or pelargonium as it was called.

Stuart writes in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens, “The great bedding genera of mid-nineteenth century gardens – Calceolaria, Petunia, Verbena and Geranium (Pelargonium) – were popular not only because they were brilliantly colorful, assuaging the contemporary taste for gaudy and intense effects, but also because, being from the sub-tropics, they were ‘seasonless’.  As soon as the plants were growing, they also began to flower.”

It was the pelargonium that become the most popular flower for the summer garden.

Stuart says, “The bedding garden owed much of its popularity and ubiquitous appeal to the pelargonium that Masson had collected in South Africa.”

Plant collector from Kew Francis Masson died on one of his plant hunting trips in Montreal in 1805.

Today growers continue to hybridize Pelargoniums. A variety ‘Vancouver Centennial’ celebrates the one-hundreth  anniversary of the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. [below]

Pelargonium ‘Vancouver Centennial’ [Courtesy of White Flower Farm]

In 1883 the English garden writer William Robinson wrote in his book The English Flower Garden  that pelargoniums were either from the southern hemisphere or bred by European growers.

Today we see few of the varieties from the nineteenth century. Stuart writes, “As with verbenas and calceolarias, most of the geranium varieties are lost.”

Nonetheless we still fill our summer flower beds with the newest and most popular annual geraniums. 

Conflicting Eighteenth Century Lawn Advice

Conflicting eighteenth century lawn advice.

It is spring and that mean’s it’s time to look at your grass and figure out what level of maintenance it needs after the winter.

The lawn played an essential role in the landscape design of mid eighteenth century English landscape gardener Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783).

By the end of the century another landscape gardener, Humphry Repton (1752-1818), looked at the lawn a bit differently.

The eighteenth century witnessed conflicting advice on the spot where the lawn begins in the landscape.

In his book The English Garden Edward Hyams, writes, “It was Brown’s rules to bring the lawns or at all events grass which might be rather meadow than lawn, right up to the house itself so that the house stood in a sea of grass and the first incidents in the landscape were at some distance.”

Then he writes about Repton’s idea of the lawn. Hyams says, “Instead of bringing the grass up to the house, Repton designed terraces, often with balustrades of stone piers or with urns carrying flowers, to link the house to the garden or park.”

Though both encouraged the lawn, it seemed more an issue of how close the lawn came to the house.

As happens in style and fashion, the Repton view continued into the nineteenth century and terraces became an integral part of the house architecture.

The lawn would come right up to the balustrades.

By the end of the nineteenth century seed company owners usually encouraged lawns. It was not a question of how close to the house, just as long as there was a lawn.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick wrote in his seed catalog of 1872, “The space in front of the house, and generally the sides exposed to view from the street, should be in grass. No arrangement of beds, or borders of box, or anything else, will look so neat and tasteful as a well kept piece of grass.”

The lawn by then had become an integral part of residential landscape design, which across America followed the English garden tradition.

In his 1873 company catalog Vick wrote, “A place can never look well unless the lawn and walks are in perfect order.”

By that time the differing views of the lawn from the eighteenth century were long forgotten.

Boston Flower Show Honors Capability Brown

Boston Flower Show honors Capability Brown.

Last week the Boston Flower and Garden Show honored England’s eighteenth century gardener to the King, Lancelot Capability Brown.

For months Brown has been in the news quite a bit because 2016 was his three hundredth birthday anniversary.

At the Flower Show Joseph Gray Stonework teamed up with  the plant grower Proven Winners to create an exhibit with Brown as the inspiration.

Together they envisioned the Show’s theme “Superheroes of the Garden” in the person of Capability Brown.

Brown designed over two hundred gardens in England including Warwick Castle, which has a mythical connection to the legend of King Arthur.

Gray said, “My garden is a fantasy design of the Warwick Castle grounds and the hidden lair of Merlin the Magician.”

The exhibit featured this nine-foot high granite fountain of Merlin’s face. [below]

Proven Winners from Pleasant View Gardens in Loudon, New Hampshire provided the many flowers that filled five hundred square feet throughout the exhibit.

Colors like pink in large swathes made a memorable impression on any visitor to this exhibit.

The heavy stone with the delicate looking blooms created a pleasant contrast in this award-winning exhibit and tribute to England’s Capabiity Brown, a true ‘Superhero in the Garden.’

 

London’s Holland House Introduced Dahlias

London’s Holland House Introduced Dahlias

A late eighteenth century painting of dahlias in England indicates the plant, native to Mexico, had already appeared in the country.

It would take a couple of decades, however, to assume its popularity among gardeners everywhere.

In early nineteenth century England the dahlia made its grand appearance in the garden of Lord and Lady Holland. It was after that time that the plant became so popular that by the 1830s some over eager gardeners even became afflicted with ‘dahlia mania.’

Their estate called Holland House in London’s Kensington section had become a gathering place for artists, writers, and politicians.

In her book Holland House: A History of London’s Most Celebrated Salon Linda Kelly tells the story of the Hollands and their many nightly dinner guests who sometimes included Lord Byron and even the Prince of Wales.

Kelly writes “The dinner book [at Holland House], kept by Allen [family doctor who lived with the Hollands], sometimes recorded as many as 50 guests. “

She also writes about the many trips the Hollands took that often included an entourage of servants and a cook.

It was on one of their trips that Lady Holland first saw the dahlia.

Between 1800 and 1805 Lord and Lady Holland lived in France, and also in Spain, where Lady Holland spotted the new flower called ‘dahlia’ that had reached Spain from Mexico about fifteen years earlier.

Lady Holland sent some seeds home to England in 1804 and it is on the strength of that shipment that she is given credit for the introduction of the dahlia into England.

From these came nearly all the dahlias grown in gardens in those early years.

Kelly writes “Lady Holland took great pleasure in the gardens at Holland House…In summer its borders were bright with dahlias.”

Her husband celebrated Lady Holland in this poem he wrote for her:

“The Dahlia you brought to our isle

Your praises forever should speak:

Mid gardens as sweet as your smile,

And in colour as bright as your cheek.”

 

Remember Gardens Speak

Remember gardens speak.

Visiting gardens can open the door to ideas you might express in your own garden.

It is not a passive experience when you step into someone else’s garden to see what the owner has done.

It’s quite the opposite. The garden speaks to you.

A garden can connect with a visitor in a special way.

Just think of a garden that you have visited.

Like time spent with a friend you have not seen for a while, you find you could have stayed there for hours.

In his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden Tim Richardson says , “Landscape gardens are not passive; they speak to us, and as we progress around we communicate back with our actions, and later with our memories.,”

His reference point is the extensive garden of the aristocrats that date to the seventeenth century. His book reveals the inspiration and the work of installing such gardens like Stowe and Rousham that still open their doors to visitors .

But I think you can use his thought and apply it to any visit to a garden.

As spring and summer approach, you know you will seek out gardens to visit.

The garden at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Connecticut is now on my list. I prefer gardens of the late nineteenth century, whether Victorian, Arts and Craft, formal, or natural. That period, when the seed and nursery industries became so important to gardeners, reveals the role of the garden industry in the style and fashion of American gardens.

I remember visiting the Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakdast in New Hampshire. A row of ferns, rose astilbes, and yellow ‘Stella de Oro’ daylilies just stopped me in my tracks. [below]

Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakfast in New Hampshire

Rochester, New York’s James Vick spent time visiting gardens as part of his role of owner of a seed company in the nineteenth century.  He traveled in both America and Europe and always mentioned the gardens he had seen.

In 1878 Vick wrote about the English Ivy he had seen on his visit to England. He said, “Those who have visited the Ivy-clad cottages and palaces and ruins of the Old World, will never forget the admiration with which they first beheld this wonderful plant.”

The memories of gardens visited continue for a long time.