Archives for January 2011

Landscape in 1865

In 1865 Boston financier and horticulturalist Horatio H. Hunnewell (1810 -1902) gave $2000 to the Massachusetts Horticulture Society  to encourage the art of landscape gardening.

[left: The Hunnewell Pinetum, a collection of evergreens, still stands today as a symbol of early 19th century gardening by H. H. Hunnewell, who created the Pinetum, much like the English had done before him.] 

Hunnewell said: “The laying out and planting of our country places are often the result of chance rather than any well-dedicated plan.”

Landscape gardening had developed into an art form in England by 1800 and seedsmen and nurserymen in this country tried to instill the ideals of that style in their catalogs.

Philadelphia nurseryman  Thomas Meehan wrote in his garden magazine of 1865 Gardener’s Monthly: “The art of Landscape Gardening deserves to be, and must be encouraged in this country. The reason of there now being so few good Landscape Gardeners here is the general neglect which they experience–let the art be appreciated as it should be, and men of ability will enter its ranks.”

Nineteenth century America was developing its own sense of horticultural identity.  The kind of landscape, especially in the suburbs, and in public parks like Central Park, would however follow the English model.

The nineteenth century seed and nursery catalogs embraced  the English garden style of picturesque and later the gardenesque, which included a lawn, flowerbeds, trees, and shrubs.

Though England provided the kind of landscape style we needed, the seedsmen and nurserymen convinced us of the importance of that style.  Meehan wrote in his magazine of 1865: “We all wish to see the public grounds of this country equal to those of Europe.”

America followed the English style of landscape and garden both on the property of  private homes and in public parks.

H. H.  Hunnewell contributed to the evolution of  America’s landscape gardening



Garden as Play

[left:A child appears in the garden in this 1891 catalog from the B.A. Elliott Seed Company.] 

I have come to the end of Morris Brownell’s book on poet Alexander Pope Alexander Pope and the Arts of Georgian England.  What struck me was how slow the idea of ‘picturesque landscape’ evolved over the 18th century in England.

It did not happen over night.

Brownell writes:  ”Typically, the landscape garden has been seen as the plaything of men like Pope, Walpole, and Chesterfield, all of whom have been characterized as frivolous dilettantes and dabbling amateurs.”

The picturesque landscape evolved with men talented in the art of painting, poetry, architecture, music, and gardening. They found the picturesque garden in their playing with the idea of garden but also with gardening itself.

That gives me a sense of clarity on the picturesque I did not have before.

As today, people garden, people play in the garden, and discover what their style means in that process. It is nature  as art that comes to life in the process of discovering what the garden means.

The English created the landscape garden, also called the natural  or picturesque view, over a period of decades, and with the contribution of artists, poets, and architects. Many of them were also gardeners.

I like that feeling of discovery as I garden, playing as it were. What about you?



Alexander Pope and the American Garden

[left: The Shell Temple in Pope’s Garden at Twickenham. By William Kent c. 1725-30] 

Landscape designer Ian Robertson once gave a talk at the annual spring seminar that Colonial Williamsburg sponsors.

His theme was the English influence on gardens in America.

One of the English writers he mentioned as  important for gardeners during the colonial period was the English poet Alexander Pope.

I just read  Morris Brownell’s book on Pope Alexander Pope and the Arts of  Georgian England to get some background on him and the influence he had over the emerging 18th century English landscape garden.

Brownell writes that “The important innovations in landscape design in the early eighteenth century were the work of amateurs, of which Pope is the outstanding example.”

[left: Alexander Pope, English poet and landscape designer] 

It was Pope who encouraged the new natural landscape, distinguished from the older formal, clipped look borrowed from the French and Dutch..  Brownell writes: “The distinguishing mark of the design at Twickenham [Pope’s own property near London] from the outset was picturesque.”

So when the colonists arrived, the English gardenists, like Pope, helped define  how the garden should look.

I am discussing the origins of the 18th century English garden because it is that model the American seed companies and nurseries promote in the 19th century.

The  picturesque garden idea came from painters, poets, architects, some of whom were amateur gardeners as well.

Americans had no such history, and so we looked to the English for a view of the garden.

The picturesque, first championed by Pope,  had evolved by the 19th century to include flowerbeds and exotics in the landscape, to become what J. C. Loudon then called the gardenesque



The Palladium Bridge at Stourhead

[left: Stourhead’s Palladium Bridge, built in 1762] 

Last year on my visit to England’s Stourhead, laid out between 1740 and 1764,  I was amazed at the surprises awaiting me as I walked along the pathway from the house.  Earlier the guard at the property’s entrance had said that if I wanted the full effect of the garden, I needed to begin up at the house. And so I did.

As I walked the path around the lake, which was a component of the picturesque landscape style of mid-18th century England, one surprise after another greeted me.  You do not see  the garden all at once, but gradually come to understand  its design by engaging in its carefully structured parts.  The element of surprise is essential in the design.

Morris Brownell, in his book on Alexander Pope Alexander Pope and the Arts of  Georgian England, writes “Paintings of Claude [Lorraine] and his English imitators include architectural features reminiscent of Stourhead. This indicates that pictorial was an important as literary inspiration in the gardens of Stourhead.”

The Palladium Bridge, built in 1762, stands as an example of the 18th century picturesque movement in landscape design.  The Bridge, designed in the style of Palladio, the Italian architect revered by Pope,  stands over the water and links two sides of the property.

With a nod to the classics in its intricate design the Bridge has held up to form one of the garden surprises at Stourhead.

The 18th century English picturesque garden arose from architecture, painting, poetry, and gardening.  It is that garden style that American nurseryman and landscape designer A. J. Downing recommended in the 19th century.

You can see that the English garden style, sold by 19th century American nurserymen like Downing, had a long history in which people wrote about it and designed with its principles.



Painting Influenced Eighteenth Century English Garden

I just finished  a book about Horace Walpole (1717-1797), the English natural landscape writer.  Though he was not a trained horticulturalist, he wrote about gardening and gardened himself.

[left: Lorraine’s Appollo and the Muses (1680), at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.] 

His idea, along with others at that time, was that landscape painting formed an important source for understanding the new natural landscape design that was emerging in England.  Claude Lorraine (1604-1682), the French painter, Walpole  found particularly important for understanding the natural view.

I had to see one of Lorraine’s paintings so on a recent cold December afternoon I visited the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

On the grand Museum’s second floor I discovered  Lorraine’s painting Appollo and the Muses, dated 1680.

What struck me about the painting was the light and darkness, along with the focus on nature  through  sky, trees, mountain, and water.  The images that refer to Roman deities was necessary to get the painting more acceptance.

Seeing the painting opened up the world of early 18th century English landscape design, where the picturesque or natural view was evolving.  The fame of Lorraine as a landscape artist spread throughout Europe, with Rome as the center .

Horace Walpole and his friend poet and gardener Alexander Pope (1688-1740) would often raise the connection that the new landscape gardening had with  painting and poetry. They considered the three linked together as works of art.

The natural, picturesque landscape view emerged  from the work of such  garden enthusiasts of the 18th century.

Morris Brownell  in his book Alexander Pope and the Arts of  Georgian England wrote, “If we must date the introduction [of the picturesque view of landscape gardening] into England as a significant aesthetic, we ought to date it from Pope.”

Pope was a collector of landscape paintings.

The English gardeners of the first half of the 18th century gardened in a style defined in painting and poetry and they called it the picturesque.

By the end of the 18th century the picturesque view of the landscape  would be the model that English garden designer Humpry Repton expressed in his own work.

And from that time it also influenced American gardeners, especially in the use of the lawn as a setting for the picturesque scene.

Who or what influences how you garden today?



America’s Early 20th Century Native Plant Movement

[left: Wilhelm Miller’s book appeared in 1915, and gave a new direction in garden design by more focus on native plants.] 

In 1901 Chicago landscape architect Wilhelm Miller (1869–1938)  wrote a book called What England Can Teach Us about Gardening. He considered the English garden  the model for the American garden.

The same message appeared throughout the nineteenth century in the catalogs of American seed companies and nurseries, their  books, and their magazines.

By 1915 Miller had changed his mind and wrote another book with the title  The Prairie Spirit in Landscape Gardening to tell us so.  According to the Library of American Landscape History, it was ”the first book to address the question of a truly American style of landscape design.”

Miller, with landscape architects Jens Jensen and O.C. Simonds, initiated the American Prairie Spirit movement in garden design.  The book’s theme centered  on using native plants, like  grasses and wildflowers, in the landscape, and moving away from exotics.  That was an important moment for the American garden because the  landscape it encouraged did not include the basic elements of the English design that had been important in 19th century America.

Miller’s book formed an early expression of American garden design that was independent of the English garden view.  A similar view of the importance of native plants was also happening in England, especially through the work of horticulturalist William Robinson.

In 1977 America Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden started their landscape architecture partnership and gave us a more recent definition of the new American garden. Their garden work stands today in many cities, including Washington,DC.  Mass plantings of ornamental grasses and low maintenance plants form the backbone of their design principles.

Recently an article in  The American Gardener magazine showcased nurseryman Neil Diboll as the “Prophet of the Prairie”.  Diboll’s work  centers on teaching the beauty and sustainability of prairie plants.

From the beginning of the twentieth century American gardening moved away from the dependence on the English garden style, which had dominated the look of the American landscape in the nineteenth century.  The  door opened to  less reliance on exotic plants and more focus on native plants.

That door is again open.

Today there is renewed interest in the use of native plants, and a return to a more natural landscape.

Miller was a pioneer in proposing an American definition of landscape design.



Gardeners as Consumers

Advertising in the nineteenth century increased after daily newspapers began  to sell for pennies in the 1830s.

Ads usually just listed information about the product or service, with perhaps an image.  By the 1890s advertising evolved into creating a need in the consumer for the product.

Selling roses in this 1867 ad that appeared in Gardener’s Monthly meant simply telling the reader you had roses to sell. By the end of the century advertising included images and reasons why you needed the product. 

Nurseryman and editor of his own magazine Gardener’s Monthly Thomas Meehan wrote in  1867, “The Gardener’s Monthly is sustained by genuine horticulturalists, all of whom are buyers.”

He portrays the gardener as one who has to invest in garden seeds and plants, and perhaps tools.

Not much has changed today, except the variety of products and services. We still buy.

By 1900 businesses, including the green industry, were creating needs in order to move products into the home, where women did most of the buying.  Lithograph images of the newest rose, growing up the side of a suburban home, captivated the reader of seed and nursery catalogs.  ”I too could have this rose.  My home too could look like this.”

The Crimson Rambler rose, which came from England in 1893, became the most coveted rose by 1900, and most catalogs listed it as a must have plant for the landscape.

The Dingee and Conard Rose Catalog of 1912 featured the ‘Crimson Rambler’ climbing rose which appeared in many seed and nursery catalogs of that time. 

Sound familiar?



Nineteenth Century American Seed Companies and Nurseries Foster English Garden Design

[left: American landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852)] 

In the 1880 edition of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan printed this question from a reader in Ohio: “Do you consider F. R. Elliott’s Handbook of Practical Landscape Gardening complete and a reliable work, or can you recommend a better work on this subject?”

Meehan told the reader that the Elliott book was fine, but for a deeper  treatment of  the topic, he might consider A. J. Downing’s Landscape Gardening,  Frank Scott’s Suburban Home Grounds, or Edward Kemp’s How to Lay Out a Small Garden.

The four authors Meehan recommended followed the English landscape design, with its  lawn, curved walks, trees, and groups of shrubs.

And so Meehan  endorsed the  English garden design.

The same book titles appeared in other seed and nursery catalogs as well.

Kemp was  English, the other three American. Downing found English horticulturalist John Claudius Loudon his inspiration.  Elliott and Scott revered  Downing. As a college student, Scott spent a summer with Downing at his home in New York, studying landscape design.

It is no surprise that we love the English garden with so much encouragement from the nineteenth century green industry, in both catalog articles and advertising,  to adopt that style .

Interesting to note the influence on how we garden.

What garden book, what designer do you like?



The Natural vs Formal Landscape Design: Once again

[left: The more natural landscape at the estate of A. J. Downing in mid 19th century Newburgh, NY. Photo courtesy of Francis Loeb Library, Graduate School.] 

In 1864 Philadelphia nurseryman and writer Thomas Meehan in his Gardener’s Monthly agreed with English landscape designer Edward Kemp that landscape design should include more art than the ‘old’ natural view encouraged.

John Claudius Loudon, the English  horticultural champion who wrote books, articles, and edited a magazine til his last hour, wondered how America could be satisfied with the natural landscape because America had “so much inimitable natural scenery”.  American landscape needed art, expressed in symmetry and formality.

Meehan fought for a return to more formality in the landscape, and in that effort, he wrote , that “I stood alone in urging this point to the attention of American gardeners.”

Andrew Jackson Downing, the New York landscape designer, writer, and editor, supported the English natural look for American landscapes. Downing turned down an article that Meehan had written for Downing’s magazine The Horticulturalist. The articleencouraged the formal, artistic view of the landscape, something Downing did not encourage.

What I find curious in the art versus natural landscape debate  in nineteenth century America is that the seedsmen and nurserymen of that time were quite vocal in the debate. They did not stand on the sidelines.

Loudon, Downing, and Meehan  had strong opinions on the kind of landscape American  gardeners should cultivate.

That debate goes on today as well.

Do you like a more natural landscape, with native plants, and little formality?  Do you avoid rows of closely trimmed hedges, or an extensive lawn to maintain?