Victorian Dahlia ‘White Aster’ Still Shines

Victorian dahlia ‘White Aster’ still shines.

The online garden business called Old House Gardens works with twenty-one growers in fifteen states to provide its tubers and  bulbs.

The Sun Moon Farm in Rindge, New Hampshire supplies some of it’s dahlia tubers.

Recently I drove to Rindge to check out Sun Moon Farm, and, of course, see its dahlia field.

No fancy sign welcomes you to this CSA working farm. During the growing season the farm supplies vegetables to households in NH as well as Cambridge, Massachusetts.

At Sun Moon I found many dahlias in bloom.

The rows of dahlias seemed to go on forever. [below]

Rows of dahlias at Sun Moon Farm

A dahlia I was in search of was the dahlia ‘White Aster,’ first offered for sale in 1879.

That makes it, according to the Old House Gardens’ catalog, “the world’s oldest surviving garden dahlia.”

I was amazzed at the long row of ‘White Asters’ I saw that morning. Magnificent. [below]

Sun Moon’s dahlia ‘White Aster’ filled its own row in the field with its cheery white flower.

This dahlia shines with its hundreds of small, ivory globes, making it a treasured pompon type which just might add that white color you need in a late summer bouquet.

A letter about white dahlias appeared from a  customer in Rochester, New York seedsman’s James Vick magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1879.

The customer wrote, “For four years I have grown dahlias in my garden…

“Last spring I wanted a white one and mother bought me a root for twenty-five cents. When it had flowers in September, it was the prettiest thing I ever saw.

“The flowers were not half as large as my old ones, just as pretty as could be, and didn’t look much like Dahlias, but more like Asters.

“This plant was the nicest plant I had, for there were, I guess, hundreds of flowers”

In response Vick wrote the following: “There are plenty of the small Dahlias, and of all colors that can be desired, except the long sought blue.

“There are two very good white sorts White Aster and Little Snowball.

“This class of Dahlias is called Pompon or Bouguet, and bears great numbers of flowers, from one to two inches in diameter.”

Vick recommended ‘White Aster’ but also recognized the importance of dahlias for the fall garden.

He wrote, “The dahlia is our best autumn flower. We can depend upon it until frost, no matter how long delayed.”

 

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Goddess Flora Protects Flowers

Goddess Flora protects flowers.

Recently I saw the film Wonder Woman.  The superhero’s name was Diana Prince, or rather Princess Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons.

I loved this fantasy movie built on a comic book heroine.

I saw some connection in the film to our fascination with gods and goddesses, even iin the garden.

In Roman mythology Diana was the goddess of the hunt, the moon, and nature. She was associated with wild animals and woodland.

In eighteenth century England there was a love of classical Greek and Roman writing about horticulture and agriculture. In the landscape Temples and statues appeared that shared in that classical tradition.

Henry Hoare’s Temple of Flora (1744-1746) at his grand garden Stourhead still stands today as one shining example.

In his book New Principles of Gardening (1728) English landscape gardener Batty Langley listed the names of gods and goddesses that would be a fit subject for a statue in the garden.

He wrote, “There is nothing adds so much to the Beauty and Grandeur of Gardens, as fine Statues; and nothing more disagreeable than wrongly plac’d”.

Then he named the statues that would be appropriate for areas of the landscape like open lawns, woods, fruit-gardens, and orchards

For the flower garden he recommended a statue of  Flora or Cloris, goddesses of Flowers.

Here is an early image of Flora, goddess of flowers. [below]

Flora, goddess of flowers, by  Sandro Botticelli (Florence, 1445-1510)

Flora, in Roman religion, was the goddess of flowering plants. Titus Tatius who ruled with Romulus is said to have introduced her cult to Rome.

Romans considered Flora the one who would provide the blooms to flowering plants so they would thrive, grow, and reproduce.

Flowers were so important to the Romans that they inspired a goddess to provide for them and stand as their champion against draught and other plant disasters.

Flora’s temple in Rome stood near the Circus Maximus. Her festival, called Floralia, was instituted in 238 B.C. The celebration included floral wreaths worn in the hair much like modern participants in May Day celebrations.

A representation of Flora’s head, distinguished only by a floral crown, appeared on coins of the republic.

Paintings of Flora since that time make such a crown an essential element in depicting her.

In 1731 Sir John Clerk of Penicuik wrote a poem called “The Country Seat” about the gardens and estates of England.

In the poem he writes, “”Where Flora with a Knot of gaudy Flowrs may dress her lovely head.”

 

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To Spread the Love of Flowers 

To spread the love of flowers

Recently on a sunny Thursday morning I drove to Butternut Gardens in Southport, Connecticut.

Though it took a long time to drive there, the garden visit proved a wonderful experience.

The owner Evelyn Lee grows 700 dahlias. Of course they were in bloom and the rows of color provided a glorious sight.

Lee calls herself a flower farmer. She is also a floral designer.

She cuts the dahlias as well as other annuals and perennials she grows for arrangements for her customers.

It is, however, the love of flowers that she seeks to spread in her work.

She said, “I want a community of flower lovers.”

I thought how much her thinking reflects that of nineteenth century Rochester seedsman James Vick (1818-1882).

Vick sought new ways to promote the love of the Victorian flowers to his customers.

His writing in his seed catalog and monthly magazine reflected that motive.

In 1878 he wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “Earnestly have we desired to see the people of this country appreciate the beauties of nature, study nature’s laws, and, above all, love flowers and delight in their culture.”

Lee starts to cut her flowers in the garden at 7:30 in the morning.

Her collection of dahlias include several in the ‘Karma’ series. Here is her dahlia ‘Karma Sangria’, cut and awaiting its showcase in a new bouquet. [below

Dahlia ‘Karma Sangria’ in the temperature-controlled barn at Butternut Gardens

To spread the love of flowers is an awesome goal for any gardener.

There is something so awesome about gardeners like James Vick and Evelyn Lee who seek to share the beauty in flowers.

We are all the better off because of their work.

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NY Italian Garden Reflects Victorian Period

NY Italian garden reflects Victorian period.

A recent visit to the Sonnenberg House and Gardens in Canandaigua, New York revealed a bit of American garden history.

The drive on the New York thruway back to Boston from the Association for Garden Communicators annual conference in Buffalo meant passing the Sonnenberg estate which is not far from Rochester.

There I saw the nine gardens that dot the estate landscape including the Italian garden.

Located in the area directly behind the house the Italian garden is filled with plants, many potted for the summer season. [below]

The Sonnenberg landscape includes this Italian garden behind the house.

In 1900 the owner Mary Clark Thompson, whose father was once the New York governor, hired Boston landscape architect Ernest Bowditch. A couple of years later he designed this Italian garden for Mrs. Thompson.

The center of the Italian garden includes a Fleur-de-lis pattern of flower beds.  The popular ‘carpet bedding’ pattern appears on the lawn.

This garden design reflects the Victorian interest in Italian gardens at that time. In 1904 novelist and garden design enthusiast Edith Wharton, following her trip to Italy, published her book  Italian Villas and their Gardens.

You could define the ‘Italian’ garden as a reflection of the Renaissance garden that later also influenced the landscape of Versailles.

The Sonnenberg garden displayed that grand formal style of design with water features along with straight lines of clipped shrubs and several planters filled with tall, showy tropical plants.

The coleus for the carpet beds in the Italian garden were grown in Sonnenberg’s own Lord and Burnhan greenhouse.

Visiting this grand estate and garden is like a trip into the late Victorian period. 

Sonnenberg House and Gardens, restored and now well maintained, is one of America’s most preserved country estates from that time.

 

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Victorian Conservatories Reflected Class Status

Victorian conservatories reflected class status.

A couple of years ago I visited Pittsburgh during the annual meeting of GWA, the Association for Garden Communicators.

There I saw the Phipps Conservatory, designed by Lord and Burnham of New York City, at the Pittsburgh Botanical Garden.

This summer in Buffalo, during another GWA annual meeting, I had the opportunity to see the Lord and Burnham Company’s South Park Conservatory at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. The designers modeled it after the Crystal Palace in England.

When it opened in 1900, it was the third largest public greenhouse in the United States and was ranked the ninth largest in the world. [below]

Such conservatories also reveal a bit of garden social status for that time.

Wealthy homeowners included a greenhouse or conservatory as part of the requirements of a modern house.

The Conservatory at the Buffalo Botanical Gardens

On the drive back home from Buffalo I stopped at the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion in Canandaigua, New York, right off the New York thruway.

In 1903 the Lord and Burnham firm also designed the Sonnenberg conservatory and greenhouse complex. [below]

 

Sonnenberg’s Conservatory and Greenhouse Complex

There is a similarity among all three glass structures more than the same designer.

They remind me of the importance that conservatories had on gardening during the Victorian period of the late nineteenth century.

To have a greenhouse or conservatory spoke to the homeowner’s wealth and knowledge about plants.

The conservatory became a status symbol as well.

No surprise that these Victorian gardens, two public, and the other private, included such a structure.

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Summer Garden Included Elephant Ear

Summer garden Included elephant ear.

Colocasia, or elephant ear, is a popular plant for the summer garden in the Northeast.

It is a tropical plant that now appears in many beds and borders.

L. H. Bailey wrote in 1900 in his The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture: “Summer bedding for subtropical effects employs cannas, musas, castor-oil plants, crotons, palms, ferns of coarse habit, screw pines, dracaenas, araucanas, [and] elephant-ear caladiums.”

He refers to the elephant ear plant as a caladium.  This plant, like the caladium, is also a genus in the Arum family.

This summer I planted my first elephant ear.

It all began at a local box store in the second half of June.

While checking out the bulbs and tubers in the store, I came across one elephant ear tuber in its original package marked down to half price. The tuber measured five inches high and about four inches wide.

I had never planted an elephant ear before so I thought I would try it.

I planted it in a container at the end of the driveway, a shady area.

Soon the large leaves started appearing. That elephant ear grew just fine. [below]

Elephant ear growing in a container  in my garden

In 1875 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) included this tropical plant in his book The Flower and Vegetable Garden under the section ‘Bulbs & Plants.’

He wrote about both planting and storing the bulb. He said, “Roots obtained in the spring will make a good growth in the summer, and in the fall should be taken up and stored in the cellar, like Dahlias”.

During the summer I visited the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

There, near the Visitor Center, I saw a border of elephant ears, both purple and green in color. [below]

Berkshire Botanical garden included elephant ears along with a purple castor oil plant

Then while touring the gardens of Buffalo, New York during the Garden Writers Association annual meeting, we visited a garden that had several elephant ear plants in containers.

The owner brings in the containers after the first frost.  She stores them in the garage for the winter which she spends in Florida.

For me I guess this was the summer of the colocasia or elephant ear.

 

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Plant Marketing Drives Garden Design

Plant marketing drives garden design.

Garden architects and garden designers know a limited number of plants when they approach a client.

Some designers tend to use the same plants and similar schemes in the landscape.

One reason for that could well be that nurseries and garden centers can provide only so many plants. Original cost, space for storing them, and their popularity dictate what plants a nursery will carry.

Since inventory is limited, marketing available plants becomes important for a nursery.

It is no surprise that the same plants appear in both the nursery and in the landscape over and over again.

The book The Genius of the Place:The English Landscape Garden 1620-1820 includes a number of readings about the history of the English garden.

The book’s editors John Dixon Hunt and Peter Willis include an article from The Spectator by Joseph Addison, dated June 25, 1712.

The passage from Addison’s article made it clear that a nurseryman’s available stock became integrated into the garden’s design.

That was also a time when nursery owners were often the landscape gardeners, or landscape designers.

Addison wrote, “But as our Modellers of Gardens have their Magazines of Plants to dispose of, it is natural for them to tear up all the Beautiful Plantations of Fruit Trees, and contrive a Plan that may most turn to their own Profit, in taking off their Evergreens, and the like Moveable Plants, with which their Shops are plentifully stocked.”

This was written  in 1712. Have things changed that much?

Profit from available stock is cheaper than ordering plants outside that inventory.

I love this illustration. It says it all. [below]

Joseph Addison, however,  loved the new natural look that was appearing in English gardens at that time.

He wrote, “You must know, Sir, that I look upon the Pleasure which we take in a Garden, as one of the most innocent Delights in humane Life.”

 

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Buffalo Garden Tour Included Colorful Front Walks

Buffalo garden tour included colorful front walks.

Recently I had the pleasure of touring some of the gardens in Buffalo on what has become over the last twenty years the phenomenon known as Gardens Buffalo Niagara.

The two-day tour, held annually at the end of July called Garden Walk Buffalo, this year offered four hundred gardens to visitors.

Though I did not see all four hundred on my Garden Writers Association group tour I saw several.

After walking the streets of Buffalo in search of the gardens, I came across several houses with an outstanding front entrance where plants provided so much color and structure.

It seemed to me there were as many different designs of entry ways to the house, as there were houses.

This shady entrance provided a wonderful setting for a collection of various sizes and colors of hosta. [below]

#1 This house used many hostas as a welcome to a guest at the front steps.

This home [below] offered an array of perennials and shrubs to greet the visitor.

#2 Perennials and shrubs line this front walkway.

To me the most outstanding entrance way had to be this house [below] with mostly shrubs and trees. Though the plantings were young, they were at the height that made a wonderful warm welcome.

#3 More mature trees and shrubs fill this front yard.

Another house offered hydrangeas, coleus, and clematis as the signature plants at the porch [below].

#4 Hydrangeas welcomed us here.

This year’s annual Buffalo garden tour hosted 60,000 visitors. They travel not only from the Buffalo Niagara region but from throughout New York state, around the U. S., Canada, and beyond.

Luckily the rain held off for us as we toured the gardens.

Long will I remember this array of gardens, including many with an outstanding entrance way.

 

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Victorian Container Gardening

Victorian Container Gardening

Gardener Lucy M. Clark writes the following guest post on how the Victorian influence in gardening still lives on. 

 

Victorian estates paid a lot of importance to landscaping and container planting.

The Victorian Period was a time of vanity, culture, and high regard to social class. Back then it mattered that you were rich and had an estate with beautiful landscaping. Gardening was among the most well-loved leisure activities, including container planting.

If you want to venture into Victorian container planting, here are some tips.

Parlor plants were common decorative materials in the Victorian era.

A Brief History

For this topic, it’s important to note that plant life had become so much more diverse in that era. People would plant these delicate florals and rare species of plants in beautiful vases, jars, and pots. This type of gardening is known today as Victorian container planting. This practice turned gardening into an art form. They were using expensive brass jars, cement pots, and other unique containers for both indoor and outdoor plants.

Brass jars and carved vases were commonly used as planters.

Some of the more lavish Victorian homes would have greenhouses and solariums where their plants could thrive. However, since Victorians loved to decorate with rich, dark colors, and heavy embellishments, the indoor plants had to be tough to be able to survive the harsh conditions of a typical Victorian home. These included heliotropes, palms, jasmine, and ferns among many others. Victorian indoor plants were considered not just decorative materials but also a mark of one’s social class.

Parlor Plants

Parlor plants have a way of brightening up the room and making it feel more luxurious. As in Victorian homes, parlor plants go well with heavy home embellishments. You can choose from a wide array of parlor plants if you wish to incorporate one into your own home. Thankfully, we now have modern solutions to improving plant growing conditions indoors. Here are some parlor plants that were common in the Victorian era. Maybe you want to consider getting these too!

Sword Fern

Back in those times, ferns were used as decorative material in various containers. These included metal, wood, pottery, paper, and even gravestones. Because of pteridomania, the craze among gardeners for ferns, people had their own parlor plant ferns in lavish vases and pots.

Sword ferns can grow 3-4 foot fronds, which were truly a sight to see in that era. The now popular Boston fern was later discovered in 1984 by a Massachusetts florist.

 Sword ferns are a common parlor plant in the Victorian era.

Aspidistra

Hailed as a “cast iron” plant, the Aspidistra was favored by many Victorians because it didn’t require much maintenance. In fact, this plant can survive low light and neglect. Just give it some good soil to thrive. Occasionally the Aspidistra produces brown and purple flowers near its base and grows with large, glossy leaves with clumpy and corn-like features.

Palm

Another Victorian favorite was the Kentia parlor palm, which was pretty much a constant in Victorian photographs. The Kentia palm can grow up to 5-12 feet indoors and has lush, arching leaves. This structure makes it quite the visual in Victorian homes. The less light this type of palm receives, the more foliage it produces.

 The Kentia palm is a favorite parlor plant among Victorians.

Jerusalem Cherry

The Jerusalem Cherry parlor plant was given its name because of its popularity around Victorian holidays. It is a native to Peru and grows as a shrubby and bushy houseplant with white flowers that turn to red-orange berries. Unlike the three other parlor plants, the Jerusalem Cherry is much more high-maintenance. The plant requires high indoor humidity, as well as bright lights to support both structure and flowering. While its berries add a lot of color to a Victorian room, these are somewhat poisonous. Today’s florists and garden centers would replace these parlor plants with ornamental pepper.

Choosing Containers

Because it wouldn’t be Victorian container planting without beautiful containers, you may want to choose vintage ones that blend perfectly with luxurious, dark-colored Victorian rooms. Considering that you want these parlor plants to mimic the classic Victorian style, you can’t say no to vintage articles of furniture and decorative materials.

This specialty shop offers antique vase and brass jar copies that can be used for Victorian container planting.

Luckily for the classics-at-heart, you can get copies of Victorian vases and planters in specialty shops and garden stores. You can choose from a variety of classic designs and materials for the perfect containers that will match your room. You can also make good use of wooden planks or pallets to make your own vintage jardinieres. These are great for both indoor parlor plants and outdoor florals and shrubs.

Of course, nothing can match the charm and history of authentic Victorian plant containers. For the Victorian era lovers, you may want to check out your local antique store for some of these pieces.

Conclusion

It’s a comfort to know that a lot of people are still committed to preserving the Victorian culture, whether it be in fashion design, arts, or, in this case, gardening. With its expansive influence on modern society, the nineteenth century is truly a gift.

 

Hi there! I’m Lucy – founder of GardenAmbition.com and I’m a self-confessed garden fanatic. Gardening has always been a passion of mine and will always be my favorite pastime. Now that I am married and have one adorable son, I have the time to write and share my personal experiences with other garden enthusiasts.

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Early 1900s Advertising for White House Lawn Seed

Early 1900s Advertising for White House lawn seed

Since the White House landscape took on the design of the modern English Garden from its begining, it was no surprise that the lawn played an important part in the long history of the White House garden.

According to Marta McDowell’s book All the Presidents’ Gardens, during the Taft administration, the Oval Office was added to the West Wing, nudging Teddy Roosevelt’s tennis court farther out on the South Lawn.

The Michell Seed Company from Philadelphia supplied the lawn seed.

The fact that the White House used its grass seed became a message in Michell’s advertising.

In 1912, as McDowell notes, Michell’s promoted its grass seed with these words “On the White House Grounds in Washington, at all recent National and International Expositions…in the best known public parks, and finest estates.”

Michell’s often included a lawn on its catalog  cover. [below]

A 1904 ad for Michell’s Seed Company [thanks to Pinterest] 

Thus in both word and image the lawn took on an importance from the White House to the average American home to the country estate.

Like the English, early White House gardeners used sheep to control the height of the lawn.

Later a horse drawn mowing machine cut the grass.

Eventually fuel-powered lawn movers became the choice of the White House gardeners.

In 1935 the Frederick Law Olmsted firm from Boston prepared a landscape management plan at the request of the White House.

As Marta notes, in the plan the lawn continued its essential role in the design of the area both north and south of the White House.

 

 

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