19th Century NY Seedsman Peter Henderson Criticized American Landscape

Peter Henderson managed a thriving seed business in New York during the late nineteenth century. This is a cover from his company’s seed caatlog of 1901. Notice the English lawn and curved pathways in the landscape. [below]

From Pinterest

Henderson catalog cover 1901 [From Pinterest]

Henderson seed store

Mr. Henderson was quite direct in his writing.

He considered American landscape far behind that of Europe.

He  wrote the following in the magazine Gardener’s Monthly of 1880, “It must be admitted that in some phases of horticultural progress, we are yet far behind Europe, particularly in the ornamentation of our public grounds. We have nothing to compare with the Battersea Park, London; the Jardin des Plantes, of Paris; or the Phoenix Park, Dublin; and when comparison is made the grounds surrounding the villas in the suburbs of these European cities, with our suburbs here, the comparison is, if possible, more against us, for there it is rare to see a neat cottage without a well-kept lawn, and good taste shown in the planting of its flower beds, its well-trimmed fruit trees and neat vegetable grounds.”

But that is not all.

He criticized rich Americans who built mansions but showed no taste in the landscape for the property.

He wrote, “Here as yet, we have hundreds of expensive mansions, particularly in the suburbs of New York, where the so-called garden surroundings tell all too plainly of the mushroom wealth of its shoddy owner.”

Mr. Henderson preferred the English style of landscape, illustrated on the cover of his catalog from 1901. [above]

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Comments

  1. No one ever plants enough for those who sell garden plants…. Sometimes when I see early photos of houses, I notice that there are a few trees planted around the house, but the photos mostly seem to be taken in winter, so the images are devoid of foliage. I think this might be a holdover from the park-like setting of lawn and trees with no flower beds, the style prior to the Gardenesque style (but it sure does look stark to me). -Beth

    • I think it is hard to predict sales for growers and nursery owners. Gardening is after all connnected to fashion and style just like food and clothing. This year one style is in, and next year who knows?
      The rage right now is the hydrangea, or, as one grower told me, the hottest plant right.

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