Online Botanical Prints Include Local Artist

Drawings and paintings of plants, especially flowers, often appearing in books and journals, have long been an important part of garden history. 

Recently the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, the oldest such Society in America, founded in 1829, made available on line 1000 of its rare botanical images from the MHS library’s Botanical Print Collection. Some of the artwork dates to the year 1620.

Over a period of three months the MHS, located at Elm Bank in Wellesley, Mass., partnered with Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library to digitize the images. 

Executive Director of the MHS Katherine Macdonald says, “People want to access information on line.” Now, what was once available in the MHS library only to experts, is accessible to everyone.

Isaac Spague's Wild Columbine (1882), part of the MHS' Digital Collection

Local artist Isaac Spague’s Wild Columbine (1882), part of the new MHS’ Digital Collection

The collection includes almost 60 illustrations from the nineteenth century artist Isaac Sprague  from Hingham, Mass. He supplied the drawings for the book Lessons in Botany by Asa Gray, Professor of Natural History at Harvard. Gray, with whom Sprague worked for twenty years, called Sprague “America’s greatest living artist” and “the most accurate of living botanical artists.”

The MHS collection includes Sprague’s black and white drawings from books with Gray, but also over 50 colorful chromolithographs from the book The Wild Flowers of America, published in 1882. The first illustration in the book is Sprague’s’ painting of the native flower called Wild Columbine, Aquilegia japonica, which is also included in the new digital collection from the MHS. [above]

You can access the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s botanical prints online at the Digital Commonwealth repository. The images are available for the purposes of viewing and studying but not for commercial use.

Now anyone from around the world can view this digital print collection of botanical art from the MHS. The collection is no longer confined to the four walls of the oldest horticultural library in the nation. Macdonald says, “People can enjoy these prints from home.”


Advertising Builds Loyalty

Coca-Cola, born in Atlanta at the end of the nineteenth century, owes a great deal of its success as a soda to the power of advertising.

In 1985 the company, then called Coke, changed the soda’s formula for the first time in 50 years.

The current newsletter from the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History at Duke University said, “Consumers boycotted the new product and called Coke’s hotline to complain.”

Coke listened. The company reintroduced the old formula as Coca-Cola Classic, just 75 days after the launch of the New Coke.

Advertising builds loyalty.

A parallel case took place in the nineteenth century American seed business.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) enjoyed a following of loyal customers across the country.

To them, he was their “Mr. Vick” who provided garden advice and, of course, seeds. For them he became the voice of the Vick Seed Company.

He sought to instill in his customers a love of flowers or, as he wrote, “a love of floriculture.”

Vick chromo of 1873

Vick chromolithograph  sold in his seed catalog of 1873

He persevered with that goal throughout the years of his leadership of the company.

In his seed catalog Vick wrote in the section called “Flora Decorations” the following words, “For many years we have endeavored to teach the people to love flowers, and how to gratify this new-born love.”

He wanted his readers to enjoy flowers but also to decorate both home and garden with flowers. He said, “Believing we could do no better service to our readers than to show them how to make home tasteful and pleasant.”

Through his consistent message about flowers customers remained faithful to Vick and his company. Even his chromolithographs that he offered for sale illustrated that theme. [above]

He advertised widely in newspapers and magazines around the country.

Advertising for Vick also came in the form of the regular seed catalog as well as his garden magazine, Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

Advertising builds loyalty.



Roses Became Essential in Cottage Gardens

Yesterday I noticed in my garden a single ‘Knock Out’ rose bud that had survived several recent cold nights here in New England. What a nice surprise to see the red bud.

Since I have so much shade on my property, growing roses is not an easy job. I have three or four shrub roses scattered around the garden. 

The rose has long been an essential part of the English cottage garden.

Margaret Hensel in her book English Cottage Gardening for American Gardens writes, “Roses, I discovered in England, are among the most important features of a well-designed cottage garden.”

In southern Maine, in the town of Alfred, during the summer I visited a rose garden called Old Sheep Meadows Nursery. The color and size of the roses, growing in this Nursery over fifty years, were amazing. Most were shrub roses and climbers.

The photo below shows roses climbing a trellis at the Nursery. [below]

Rose garden in Alfred, Maine

Old Sheep Meadows Nursery in Alfred, Maine

In the Victorian period roses served as a symbol of everything magical about flowers. You may recall that was the time of the ‘language of flowers.’ Flowers, especially roses, spoke about a person’s emotions and thoughts, hidden deep inside, but now open for all to see, simply with the petals, color, and scent of the flower.

Nicolette Scourse in her book The Victorians and their Flowers writes, “In the Romantic era early in the nineteenth century, roses climbed artificial ruins and classical columns, while high Victorian taste preferred strongly scented, full-faced flowers straddling gothic trellises and arbors.”

The late eighteenth century English landscape gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818) restored the importance of flowers in the landscape. He wrote about and illustrated a rosary or rose garden.

No matter how small the garden, roses, even in a cottage garden, had to be included.

Roses became essential in cottage gardens.


Cottage Gardens Can Be Found across America

In the late nineteenth century English garden writer William Robinson and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll helped to popularise less formal gardens in their many books and magazine articles.  They sought to encourage the cottage garden style among their many readers.

Thus it was no surprise that by the start of the twentieth century there was a surge of interest in the cottage garden. Both Robinson and Jekyll admired the ability of the cottage gardener to grow so many plants so well in a limited space. They thought that idea would help other gardeners.

Today we have cottage gardens across America.

Margaret Hensel in her book English Cottage Gardening for American Gardens writes, “Over English Cottage Gardens bookthe years I have discovered dozens of the most wonderful cottage gardens here in the United States, every sort from tiny dooryards on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod to Midwestern backyards and San Francisco terraces.”

No matter how small your garden is, you can cultivate a cottage garden.

Hensel writes that the “romantic, slightly overgrown look is so characteristic of cottage gardens.” That’s what she saw across the country.

What is so appealing about the cottage garden is that it can be a garden of any size, even a small back patio area in a city setting.

The cottage garden idea gives a certain inspiration for gardeners with limited space.  It also tells those of us who have an acre or more that we can still garden by using the space well with the careful selection of the number of plants, chosen for their size, color and texture. That might mean perennial beds and borders, and even areas of ornamental grasses.

Here is an example of a border of perennials on a rather small property called Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakfast in Londonderry, NH which I visited this summer. [below] The size and color of these perenials fit in so well.

Bed of Perennials in Backyard Garden in New Hampshire

Border of Perennials in a New Hampshire Backyard Garden 

Cottage Gardens Can Be Found across America.


Everybody Loves Cottage Gardens

What is it about cottage gardens that we love?

There is a certain sentimentality and at the same time an immediate connection with a cottage garden. Perhaps it’s because cottage gardens display a landscape that is both in a beautiful form and in a small space.

The excellent use of limited space may well be what we find so attractive in cottage gardens. The cottage garden represents an ideal way to deal with limited space for a homeowner.

English cottage gardens for centuries represented the gardening of laborers or cottagers who had little money and a limited outdoor space, but a love of gardening that inspired them.

Margaret Hensel in her book English Cottage Gardening: For American Gardeners says it all when she writes, “The magic is not in having the biggest garden on the block but in making whatever space you do have as beautiful as it possibly can be.”

Then she lists the essential flowers in any cottage garden: delphiniums, roses, hollyhocks, old-fashioned pinks, and oriental poppies.

The blog called offers this image in a post about cottage gardens. [below] The image illustrates so well an English cottage garden that happens to be in England’s Worcestershire.

English cottage garden

English cottage garden in Worcestershire [thanks to the blog Gardening Green]

It is no surprise that to this day we love the English cottage garden.

Hensel dedicates her book “to all of the gardeners whose gardens and love of gardening made it possible.”

What do you think about the cottage garden?


Nineteenth Century Seedsman James Vick Encouraged Women to Grow Flowers

New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) became famous for spreading the love of flowers, or floriculture, among his customers, many of them women.

In nineteenth century America garden writers created a link between growing flowers and the identity of women.

Even before she wrote poems, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was engaged in gathering, tending, categorizing, and pressing flowers. That is the theme of the book The Gardens of Emily Dickinson by Judith Farr.

James Vick (1818-1882)

James Vick (1818-1882)

When Vick died, his obituary appeared in the magazine Ladies Floral Cabinet.

The notice in the magazine said: “As this issue of The Cabinet was nearly ready for press the wires told us of the death, May 16, of one as well-known as any other among the lovers of flowers–one who has done much to popularize their cultivation by the masses–and his name will long be held in memory as one who has been a benefactor of his race.”

The link between flowers and women had roots in English authors of the nineteenth century.

Wade Graham wrote a garden history book with the title American Eden: From Monticello to Central Park to our Backwards: What our Gardens Tell Us about Who We Are.

He said, “That there was a moral lesson to be found in flower gardening [for women] was widespread, supporting a minor publishing industry, including books such as Mrs. Loudon’s [Gardening for Ladies] and Joseph  Breck’s Flower Garden, in which Breck compared women to flowers, as ‘they resembled them in their fragility, beauty, and perishable nature.’ “

Published in 1863, the book Every Lady Her Own Gardener appeared first in England, and within a few years saw an American edition as well. The author Louisa Johnson wrote “The amusement of floriculture has become the dominant passion of the ladies of Great Britain.”

Nineteenth Century Seedsman James Vick Encouraged Women to Grow Flowers.


Nineteenth Century Garden Advertising Sold Dreams

The fashion desinger Ralph Lauren once said he did not sell fabric. He sold dreams.

Ralph Lauren XX

Ralph Lauren 

Here is a man who created a certain look in his clothes, and branded them with what has become the famous Polo horseman. But what Lauren sold was a dream, not clothes.

Though not everyone may buy into his fantasy fashion world, the story of the tie salesman who went on to dress Oscar winners is a classic tale of advertising.

Nineteenth century garden advertising did much the same thing in selling seeds and plants. They sold a dream of what kind of garden anyone could cultivate.

From the late 1880s the Rawson Seed Company maintained its headquarters in downtown Boston. The building included five floors, all of which Rawson used for its business of selling seeds.

On the first floor people entered a store front in which they could buy seeds, bulbs, and tubers to take home and plant in the garden.

In his seed catalog from 1888 Rawson included a chromolithograph of a woman standing in her cottage garden. [below] The title at the top of the illustration simply read “Gems from the Wild Garden.”

1888 Rawson Seeed Company catalog

1888 Rawson Seed Company catalog

Any seasoned gardener would know that these flowers do not appear at the same time in the garden, but some in the spring, others in the summer, and the remainder into the fall.

Yet the ad was not selling seeds, but a dream of what kind of garden you could have.

The chromo probably inspired more than one novice gardener, who might have thought “I could have a garden just like this.”

Nineteenth century garden advertising sold dreams.

Olmsted Firm Designed Early Twentieth Century Formal Garden

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822 – 1903) designed Central Park in the Romantic English garden design style, sometimes called the natural look. After his death, his firm, called the Olmsted Brothers, took on projects more formal in design, including a home landscape in Brookline, Massachusetts.

According to Mac Griswold and Eleanor Weller in their book The Golden Age of American Gardens, 1890-1940, “at the turn of the century Brookline, Massachusetts was the richest suburb in America.”

The property of Colonel Thomas H. Perkins, at the corner of Heath and Warren in Brookline, reflected that wealth. An extensive lawn surrounded his home, as did greenhouses and orchards of fruit trees, a kitchen garden, and flowers.

After the Colonel’s death, Perkins grandson Louis Cabot in 1895 built his own twenty-three room mansion on the property, not far from where his grandfather’s home once stood.

In 1916 Mrs. Cabot, then a widow, sold the house to Henry Lapham. Quite soon after that the Laphams employed the Olmsted firm to design and install a formal garden.

The archives from the Olmsted firm, also located in Brookline, not far from where the Cabot house once stood, made this plan available. [below]

Design Plan for the Henry G. Lapham property, Brookline, Mass. [Olmsted Archives)

Plan for the formal garden at the Henry G. Lapham property, Brookline, Mass. [Courtesy of the Olmsted Archives)

 In the early twentieth century there was renewed interest in the formal garden, both in England and in America. The Olmsted firm’s design for the Laphams followed the trends of the time.

The plan, dated 1916, illustrates the symmetry in the lower garden. Two flower beds stand on each side of the rectangular pool with its water feature in the center.  The pathways are straight lines as well. A high red brick wall surrounds most of the garden.

In the 1920s the Lapham  garden was featured in magazines like Architectural Forum, House and Garden, Horticulture, and Garden Magazine. The Brookline Garden Club often toured the garden.

The Olmsted Brothers firm designed this early twentieth century formal garden.

Flowers Appeared in this Nineteenth Century Brookline Landscape Plan

English landscape gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818) re-introduced flowers into the landscape in the late eighteenth century.

Nicolette Scourse wrote in her book The Victorians and their Flowers, “Flowers had re-entered the grand garden towards the end of the eighteenth century. Humphry Repton, Capability Brown’s successor, had introduced terraces of flowers around the mansion to bridge the gap between building and landscape.”

Thus it was no surprise that at the Boston Athenaeum I saw flowers in the Thomas Handasyd Perkins landscape plan of 1849 for his extensive Brookline property, outside of Boston.  The colored plan on the desk in front of me measured 20 inches in height and 64 inches in width. Col. Perkins grandson, the painter and architect Edward Clarke Cabot (1818-1901), drew the plan.

Cabot’s most famous architectural design was the Boston Athenaeum at 10 1/2 Beacon Street, near the State House.

In 1851 Cabot painted this watercolor called the Algerine Corner, Milton. [below]

Cabot painting [Athenaeum]

Edward Clarke Cabot’s watercolor Algerine Corner, Milton 1851  [Boston Athenaeum]

In the Perkins plan there were rows and rows of colorful tiny dots, indicating the beds and borders of flowers that he cultivated.  That garden choice coincided with the latest fashion in modern landscape gardening.

Thomas G. Carey, who wrote Memoir of Thomas Handasyd Perkins in 1856, referred to the flowers that Perkins cultivated. He said “After his retirement from commerce, Col. Perkins found sufficient occupation in the management of his property; in various matters of public nature which interested him; and in the cultivation of trees, and particularly of fruits and flowers, on his estate at Brookline.”

Gardens of Colony and State wrote in 1931 about the Perkins estate in these words, “His place was considered more advanced in horticultural sciences than any other in New England.” And also, “Visitors noted in September 1835  the annual and other flowers blooming profusely.”

Flowers appeared in this nineteenth century Brookline landscape plan.

Early Nineteenth Century Massachusetts Landscape Illustrated Modern English Garden Design

Recently I spent an afternoon at the Boston Athenaeum in the center of the city. This grand old library, founded in 1807, has long provided Bostonians a wonderful spot for reading and research. I am happy to be a member.

Boston Athenaeum ,10 1/2 Beacon Street, in 1855

Boston Athenaeum ,10 1/2 Beacon Street, in 1855

What I came across was the plan for the early nineteenth century property of Thomas Handasyd Perkins (1764-1854) who lived in Brookline, a town just outside of Boston. Perkins had provided funds to build the Boston Athenaeum.

Brookline has its own identity as a town, dating to 1705, with its own local government even though it is just a short drive to downtown Boston when traffic is low.

The plan illustrates the modern form of landscape gardening, begun in England in the eighteenth century. The extensive lawn, and the many greenhouses, are what I remember most in the plan.

Thomas Handasyd Perkins (XX-XX) [Courtesy of Wikipedia]

Thomas Handasyd Perkins (1764-1854) 

Boston horticulturist Marshall Wilder writes in his book of 1881 called The Horticulture of Boston, “For fifty years Col. Perkins’ estate was kept in the best manner by experienced foreign gardeners, and at an expense of more than ten thousand dollars annually. He frequently received trees and plants from Europe, the products of which were prominent at the exhibitions of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.”

England’s Sir Joseph Paxton, head gardener at Chatsworth, gave Perkins a grape that Perkins grew in his orchard in Brookline.

Like other prominent men who owned large estates, Perkins illustrates how wealthy landowners chose to garden both for growing fruits and also for illustrating the modern landscape style, popular in England.

Historians Carl Seaburg and Stanley Paterson  write in their biography of Perkins called Merchant Prince of Boston that at the Perkins’ garden “Encouragement was given to ornamental gardening, with an eye to the art of landscaping.”

The property, with its white house, was located at the corner of Warren and Heath Streets in Brookline.   Today Tom Brady lives not too far away. That area in Brookline has long been known as home to the wealthy and powerful of Boston.

Eventually, the Perkins’ daughter Eliza married Samuel Cabot, whose son Lewis built another mansion in 1895 on the same property. It became known as the Cabot estate.

In the early 1970s I lived in the Cabot estate after it had first passed into the hands of the Henry Lapham family in the early twentieth century, and then later in 1942 purchased by the Discalced Carmelites, a Catholic religious order, which I joined.

Perkins’ nineteenth century landscape in Brookline iIllustrated the modern English garden design in America.