When Fuchsia and Verbena Were the Rage

Plant collectors brought wonderful new garden plants to England in the nineteenth century.

Soon the plants decorated American gardens as well.

The verbena and the fuchsia were in that group

In Business History Review Cheryl Lyon-Jenness wrote an article entitled “The Nineteenth-Century Horticultural Boom in America.”

She said, “Colorful, long-blooming bedding plants like fuchsias and verbenas were all the rage.”

Fuchsia

The fuchsia, native to South America, came into English and American gardens about the same time in the first half of the nineteeth century.

Soon after there were many varieties of fuchsia.

Noel Kingsbury in his book Garden Flora said “A French book in 1848 listed 520 varieties [of fuchsia]. Forty years later aroud 1,500 were listed.”

Rochester, New York seed merchant James Vick (1818-1882) loved the fuchsia.

He wrote in his catalog of 1880: “The Fuchsias, as all know, are elegant flowers, delicate in coloring and exquisitely graceful in form.”

However he saw more value in them than simply house plants.

He said, “The usual plan is to obtain plants, flower them in the house a little while, and then consider them useless. This is all wrong.

“No flower will make a more beautiful bed or screen near the house or on the borders of the lawn, than the Fuchsia, if partially shaded; and it will even bear almost entire shade.”

Then Vick offered pots of thirty-six different varieties of fuchsia.

The price was 25 cents a pot, or $2.25 for a dozen.

Verbena

Verbena in the garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly (1880)

The annual verbena, or Verbena x hybrida, has a long history in this country. The plant is originally from South America but made it’s way to England in the early nineteenth century.

David Stuart wrote in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “The Verbena had been in England since 1826.”

 Denise Wiles Adams in her book Restoring American Gardens says, “Verbena x hybrida was the result of extensive hybridization beginning ca.1840 between four species of Verbena.”

According to the December issue of the Southern Cultivator in 1855, Philadelphia seedsman Robert Buist (1805-1880) introduced the verbena to the United States.  The date seems to be around 1839.

It has been a favorite ever since.

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How many hybrids of one plant do we need?

I love the weigela shrub.

At the edge of our front lawn the old-fashioned weigela florida has bloomed each spring for many years.

Did you know, according to Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, there are 170 varieties of this shrub available on the market?

Most of them come from Holland and Canada.

My question is: who needs so many varieties of one plant?

In my Garden

I am happy our weigela florida shrub continues to provide color outside the front door. [below]

This Weigela grows right outside my front door. [photo by Ralph Morang]

History of the Weigela

Robert Fortune (1812–1880), the Scottish plant collector, introduced it in 1845 from China to England, where it first grew at the gardens of the Horticultural Society.

This shrub, with its reddish-pink bell-shaped flowers, was named after the German botanist Christian von Weigel.

Soon American nursery catalogs listed it as the newest exotic plant from England.

In 1848, the English garden periodical Curtis’s Botanical Magazine wrote that it grew in the Royal Gardens of Kew and other botanical gardens in Great Britain.

Weigela florida grows four to five feet high and just as wide, and is valued as a specimen or border plant.

The leaves are two to five inches long, and usually have one end narrower than the other, a pointed tip, and a notched edge. The flowers measure an inch and a half in length. The inner envelopes of the flowers are usually a white, pink, or red color.

This shrub does well in most fertile soils, but prefers a moist, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade.

It blossoms in springtime, mostly during May, April, and June.

What I like about it also is that this shrub is easy to grow and maintain.

A question

I need to ask you a question nonetheless.

How many hybrids of one plant do we need?

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Nineteenth Century Commercial Botanical Artist: Dellon Marcus Dewey

To sell seeds and plants in the nineteenth century the garden industry had to rely on botanical art to persaude a customer.

The commercial botanical artist like Dellon Marcus Dewey (1819-1889) provided colorful illustrations for the plant sales person.

When the customer saw the image of beautiful flowers or shrubs in the plant peddler’s book of illustrations, it was just a matter of time before he (or possibly she) decided to purchase.

Nineteenth Century Rochester, NY

Rochester, New York had received the name ‘Flower City’ in the mid nineteenth century because of its number of garden companies that sold seeds and plants.

The botanical artist played a key role in selling them.

Rochester’s D. M. Dewey was one such artist.

Historian and librarian Karl Kabelac wrote an article for the University of Rochester Library Bulletin called “Nineteeth Century Rochester Fruit and Flower Plates.”

Kabelac writes “His [Dewey’s] premises in the Reynolds Arcade [in downtown Rochester] were spacious and convenient.

“Here not less than thirty artists and others are employed in making drawings, paintings, etchings, photographs, etc.

“And in reproducing the same either for the trade regularly, or to fill special orders from Nurserymen or Horticultural Societies.”

Dewey had already painted 275 plates by 1859, when he began his own business.

Twenty years later he offered over 2300 plates including this pear. [below]

Dewey plate 1860. Courtesy of U of Rochester

Dewey’s Book

In 1872 Dewey published a book of his botanical art work with the title: The Nurseryman’s Pocket Specimen Book, Colored from Nature. Fruits, Flowers, Ornamental Trees, Shrubs, Roses, etc.

Cultural historian Charles Van Ravenswaay in his book about the art work of Joseph Prestele Drawn from Nature praised Dewey.

Van Ravenswaay wrote, “Dewey used several different techniques, including his distinctive hand-painted work, to produce a popular art of more than average quality.

“This tireless man with his fertile, inventive mind, exploited to its full potential the nurseryman’s plate business and dominated it throughout its best years.”

Dewey proved to be an extraordinary artist who helped people see the potential of improving the home landscape with just the right plant.

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Last Year Saw a Rise in Gardening

What amazed me in the last few days was the number of articles I read about an increase in gardening over the past year.

The Boston Globe ran a story with the title “Sowing Seeds of Climate Action in the Garden” by Leah C. Stokes.

The focus in the story was the number of people who took up gardening during the past year of the pandemic.

People had a lot of time on their hands and gardening became one way to keep busy.

For Stokes, however, as it turned out, it was more than just a past time.

She already was convinced of the importance of gardening, but she went deeper in appreciating the value of the soil.

Her gardening became a real way to relate to the earth, a thought totally unexpected on the part of so many gardeners.

Stokes says, “Gardening gives us another way of living with the earth.”

She had been gardening before, but now saw new opportunities with her status as confined to her home.

Her appreciation of the soil increased for sure.

She writes, “I found my ambitions growing under quarantine and wanted to try large-scale composting.” And she did just that.

Children too took up gardening

On the website Kids Gardening we learn about gardening with young people.

During 2020 many of them took up gardening for the first time.

Emma Shipman, Executive Director of Kids Gardening, writes that Sadie, age 6, was introduced to gardening during a Zoom call.

Shipman writes “Her teacher used our lesson plans to inspire the kids in her class to get outdoors during the Spring quarantine.”

Sadie planted her first garden in an old raised tub that her sister painted.” [below]

Courtesy of Kids Gardening

Stokes writes, “This year’s gardening trend could be like a seed: the beginning of something much bigger.”

Learning about Gardening

So, whether you were a beginner in the garden, or someone who already had a deep passion for gardening, the past year opened up the garden gate in new ways for so many people.

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Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti Provides New Year Message

As we enter the new year, Pope Francis offers some wonderful guidance.

The Pope writes in his new encyclical Fratelli Tutti “No one can possess the whole truth or satisfy his or her every desire, since that pretension would lead to nullifying others by denying their rights.”

So how can we go forward with a richer and fuller life?

By an openness to encountering others, not how we see them, but as they are.

He writes, “Life, for all its confrontations, is the art of encounter.”

Francis takes a stab against social media, or a view of social media that says it’s more than it is.

He writes, “Digital connectivity is not enough to build bridges. It is not capable of uniting humanity.”

He writes near the end, “Kindness facilitates the quest for consensus; it opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges.”

He offers great advice and encouragment, especially as we see outselves on the threshold of a new year.

Happy New Year!

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A Victorian Christmas Tree

It’s that time of year again.

Time to welcome the Holidays.

I hope the Holidays provide you a sense of an all-embracing tradition of love and understanding.

May the Holiday tree inspire you to see the best in each and every person.

Images of the Season

Here is the greenhouse at the University of New Hampshire, Durham.

This is how it looked a couple of years ago at this time of the winter during the annual Holiday display.

UNH Greenhouse new poinsettia display

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas.

Hope you enjoy this wonderful Victorian Christmas tree.

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How about a Talk on My New Book?

Right now I am looking for opportunities to talk about my new book All about Flowers: James Vick’s Nineteenth-Century Seed Company.

The book will be out in late April.

Ohio University Press will publish the book just in time for spring gardening.

Here is a flyer on my talk “Favorite Victorian Flowers.” [below]

James Vick

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) sold the garden flowers that we still grow today. He truly filled the role of a Victorian horticulturist.

His great passion was his love for flowers. He spent his life helping people garden and develop a love for floriculture.

The flowers for the garden, many annuals, that he sold we still grow and love today.

The Talk

Do you have a group that would like to hear a garden talk called “Favorite Victorian Flowers?” The talk is based on my new book, and filled with flowers from Vick’s catalogs and magazine.

If you want me to give a talk, on Zoom if you prefer, please let me know.

Look forward to hearing from you soon.

   

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Can’t We Just Enjoy Gardening

Lately I have been reading about gardening in the nineteenth century.

By the 1870s the garden Industry witnessed more seed companies and nurseries spreading across the country.

Every homeowner wanted a landscape with a garden.

The seed houses and nurseries, however, had as their goal the ‘selling of the garden.’

They felt it was their job to sell the consumer ways to make money off the garden. Therefore they wrote about ways one could succeed in harvesting a crop, selling flowers, and joining an outside market to peddle your goods.

We are talking about gardening, and love of gardening, or are we?

Garden Writing

Cheryl Lyon-Jenness, author of For Shade and For Comfort, wrote an article called “Planting a Seed: The Nineteenth-Century Horticultural Boom in America.”

She points out the heavy commercializing of gardening in the nineteenth century.

Lyon-Jenness then adds that there was not a surge to profit from gardening from every voice, though.

In 1872 the Pomological Society of Michigan cautioned against the onrush in garden writing about the financial gain found in gardening .

The Society published an article called “Floriculture for the Million.”

It said, “It is time that some improvement should be taking place in our horticultural literature; we have, I think, enough books like some recently published: ‘Money in the Garden,’ ‘Gardening for Profit.’ ‘Practical Floriculture,’ teaching mainly how to grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers to sell.

“Let us have something like ‘The delight of Horticulture,’ ‘The moral use of flowers,’ and books of that character, and it will be the commencement of better times in horticulture.”

I never thought of it that way.

We don’t always have to make money from gardening, or see gardening in dollar signs.

Sometimes, can’t we just enjoy gardening?

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Update on the Book

Publishing a book during a pandemic has several unique differences from earlier times.

One is that everyone in the publisher’s office is probably working from home.

Another is that it seems to take longer for decisions to be made.

That appears to be the case with my new book All about Flowers: James Vick’s Nineteenth-Century Seed Company.

I want to give you an update on the book.

Ohio University Press, 2001

The publisher just informed me that the publication date has now changed to the end of April.

The original publication date was late September, then January, and now April.

But what can I do?

I am writing about it here because the publication of this book is an important event for me, following several years of research and writing.

Talks on the Book

I plan to give a few talks about the book.

Today is the first such talk to the Garden Club of Harvard in Harvard, Massachusetts. Of course I will use Zoom. After several weeks writing, editing, and choosing the right image, my slides ‘are ready for their close-up’, i.e. for Screen Share.

I have also been offered some other opportunities to speak about the book on Zoom during the coming year.

Book Launch

I will probably have the launch of the book on Zoom as well.

The format is still undecided but there will be a host for the event. Not sure if a bookstore or another venue will sponsor it.

Editing

Meanwhile I continue to edit the manuscript. The publisher sends me chapters in an email, I edit them, and return them via email. Pretty efficient.

Do keep tuned.

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Marigolds Remain the Same after Decades

We like to plant new varieties of old favorites.

Some old favorites however remain pretty much the same year after year.

In her book Popular Annuals of Eastern North America 1865-1914 garden historian Peggy Cornett Newcomb writes that after a long time as a garden favorite the look of the marigold has not changed.

She says, “Comparison of descriptions and photographs of marigolds at the turn of the century and now shows that their appearance then was virtually indistinquisable from today.”

What’s in a name?

The features of the ‘marigold’ are its orange/yellow color and daisy-like appearance.

The Encyclopedia of Gardening says that the name marigold is applied to several different kinds of plants.

It includes the genus called calendula or pot marigold as well as the genus called Tagetes which we know by the names African or French marigold.

The popular annual calendula is a beautiful flower for the summer garden. [below]

Calendula [courtesy Burpee Seeds]

Victorian Gardens

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  in his seed catalog of 1880 wrote this about the calendula: “The Calendula is the fine old and well known Marigold family, which every one knows, but may not recognize by this name.”

Vick made reference also to the same flower. He said “The old Pot Marigold [or Calendula] much favored for boiled mutton, is C. officinalis.”

On the herbal site called Sunkist Herbal, we read its role in Victorian society: “The calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a hardy annual with single or double daisy-like blooms of yellow or orange.

“The 3- to 4-inch flowers open with the sun and close at night, leading the Victorians to believe they could set a clock by the flower.

“The name ‘calendula’ is from the same Latin word as ‘calendar,’ presumably because the flower was in bloom almost every month of the year.”

In 1880 Vick wrote in the October issue of his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “Every one knows the old yellow Marigold, for it is common as the Sunflower, and has been as long as we can remember. It is called in the books Calendula, but that makes no difference, for it is the same old Marigold that many of us have grown for half a century. That name was given because it was thought some species were in flower every month of the calendar.”

He concluded, “The Calendula will probably never take rank with the best annuals, but we are glad to see it make a bold start for the front after so long a stay in the rear. If its improvement should continue, there is no telling the future of this good old flower.”

Vick sold seeds for calendula and other marigolds like African and French marigolds as well.

New Seed Catalog

Yesterday I received the enormous annual seed catalog from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.

The catalog has its name on the front cover: The Whole Seed Catalog 2021.

It measures 9″ by 11″ with its total pages numbering almost 500. Yes, it is quite large.

In the ‘Flower’ division there is a section for the marigold.

The catalog says, “Marigolds [Tagetes]. Cheerful flowers native to Central and South America, marigolds are strikingly beautiful and amazingly easy to grow.”

So though the marigold may go by different names, its look has remained the same for a long time. And we continue to grow it.

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