Archives for March 2011

Seedsman Grant Thorburn Quotes Loudon

New York seedsman Grant Thorborn ( 1773-1863) had been a friend of fellow Scotsman and landscape gardener John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) in London.

In her book Loudon and the Landscape Melanie Louise Simo wrote that Loudon and Thorburn enjoyed after dinner conversation together at Loudon’s home.

In 1794 Thorburn sailed for America.

Grant Thorburn Seed Company catalog of 1899

Grant Thorburn opened the first seed and florist shop in New York in 1802.

In its 1899 catalog the Thorburn Company laid claim to being a worthwhile company to deal with simply because it had been around for so long: “Our leading business principle has always been to supply only the very highest class of seeds. The fact that we have commanded the leading wholesale and market-gardeners’ trade of this country for nearly a century should justify our claim to the patronage of those who have not yet experienced the advantage of dealing with us.”

In his writing about the garden in the catalogue, Thorburn liberally quoted from English garden authorities, including the landscape ideas of his friend Loudon.



Loudon and the Flower Garden

John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843), a successor to both William Kent and Capability Brown, practiced a landscape design with a picturesque look.

In 1836 he drew this plan for N. M. Rothchild in which he proposed a serpentine or winding road into the property and trees spotted throughout the lawn to hide the public road.  The plan reflects the picturesque garden style that Loudon inherited from earlier designers Kent and Brown.

The plan also included a flower garden.

Flower gardens were not generally considered a part of the picturesque or naturalistic tradition, originating in the early 18th century.

Mark Laird, however, in his book The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds 1720-1800 makes the point that flowers were indeed part of the picturesque tradition.

Throughout his designs, beginning at Scone in Scotland, Loudon advocated  for flowerbeds in the landscape.

By mid 19th century American seedsmen and nurserymen, like A. J. Downing, proposed Loudon’s landscape design, including, of course,  flowers.  Loudon, especially through his writing, maintained a prominent role as an English  designer who inspired  American landscapes.




Structures in the 18th Century English Garden

The picturesque English garden style of the eighteenth century included garden structures, like temples, ruins, obelisks, and  classical seats.

S. Lang wrote an essay called  ”Genesis of the Landscape Garden” in the book The Picturesque Garden and its Influence outside the British Isles, edited by Nicolaus Pevsner.  Lang said, “A number of gardens in the first quarter of the eighteenth century have in common one feature that has always been considered an integral characteristic of the landscape Garden, namely, the very profuse presence of garden structures.”  She then mentioned Stowe.

[The Temple of Concord and Victory, part of the landscape garden at Stowe.]



The Temple of Concord and Victory  at Stowe was one of the structures that took me by surprise on my visit last year.  My photo appears here.  I was amazed at its size.

Part of the picturesque design was the element of the unexpected as the garden visitor strolled the property.

And so I was shocked to see the structure. Just what the designers intended.

The structures represented the English love of antiquities, Roman and Greek.



Repton Influences German Landscape Design

Count Hermann Ludwig Heinrich von Puckler-Muskau (1785-1871)

In the early nineteenth century Humphry Repton’s landscape ideas influenced not only England and America, but also Germany.

Elizabeth Barlow Rogers explains from her years of research, teaching, and writing in her newly released Romantic Gardens that Count Hermann Ludwig Heinrich von Puckler-Muskau (1785-1871)  modeled his book Hints on Landscape Gardening on the work of English landscape designer Humphry Repton.  Hints recommended the English model of a picturesque landscape to any Prussian gentleman  about to undertake the task of designing the landscape and

Count Hermann Ludwig Heinrich von Puckler-Muskau (1755-1871)

for his property.

Frederick Law Olmsted valued the work of Puckler, sending his young associate Charles Eliot to Europe to visit  Puckler’s picturesque landscapes.

And so it was that the English picturesque style of gardening provided a model for the landscapes of Europe as well as America in the nineteenth century.



Repton Inspired America’s New Landscape Architect Profession

Frederick Law Olmsted called himself a landscape architect in 1863, the first time anyone had used that term.

This use of “landscape architect” became established after  Olmsted and Beatrix Farrand with others founded the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) in 1899.

In 1907 the ASLA published a new series of classics in landscape architecture.

The first volume  was English landscape designer Humphry Repton’s  The Art of Landscape Gardening.

Repton was  popular  in England at the end of the 18th century.  His work followed the picturesque tradition of Capability Brown, but he returned to a bit of formality as well.  He said, “I do not profess to follow either Le Notre or Brown, but, selecting beauties from the style of each.”

At the opening of the 20th century American landscape architects looked to the English garden for inspiration in landscape design.

Nothing new.

That’s something American seed and nursery company owners had done for decades in the 19th century.



Romantic Gardens

Nineteenth century Romanticism inspired philosophers, poets, musicians, and, of course, gardeners. The new book Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design is based on an exhibition held last year at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

The exhibit showcased images of the landscape and the garden during the Romantic Period from 1798 to 1846 in Europe and America

What I liked about the book is the focus on important people in the period.  By reading about them you felt you understood Romanticism, and the illustrations, which came in the second part of the book, only helped to make the story clearer.

I visited England last year and saw some of the English gardens mentioned in the book like Stowe, designed in the eighteenth century, which became a must-see for every tourist with an interest in landscape, including Thomas Jefferson.  He later designed his landscape at Monticello in the prevailing English picturesque style.  The picturesque garden style as at Stowe prefigured the Romantic Movement and contributed to its development.

The Romantic Movement represented a response to the downside of industrialization, considered a blight on the land and the soul. Mass production turned the human being into a machine, where tangible results equated a worker’s value.

The European park and rural cemetery movement became integral to the Romantic landscape movement. They both provided the public with a connection to nature through lawn, trees, and shrubs, often lost in the crowded streets of the city.  America too took up that theme in parks and cemeteries, like Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, Mass. and Portsmouth, NH’s Middle Street Proprietor’s Cemetery, at the corner of South and Sagamore Streets, which opened in 1831.

Frederick Law Olmsted chose the picturesque landscape style for Central Park, giving the setting a Romantic feel in the pathways, lawn, water, and use of trees and shrubs.  His ideas came from visiting English landscapes like Birkenhead Park.  Olmsted preferred more naturalistic scenery rather than a landscape that showcased exotic plants, which was a feature of the popular Victorian style of landscape, with its high maintenance carpet beds of bright flowers and coleus on the lawn.

Like all movements in history, Romanticism was an expression of human values. This book presents those values elegantly through the images, paintings, sketches, and statuary that made up the exhibit.

Landscape historian Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, who wrote the opening essay, pulls together philosophy, literature, and art to provide an understanding of the Romantic landscape. The second half of the book brings together the exhibit’s works of art, illustrated in private estates and public parks in Europe and America. Her coauthors, teacher and art historian Elizabeth Eustis and curator at Morgan Library John Bidwell, provide clear and compelling commentary on the illustrations.

Rogers’ discussion of Olmsted’s reliance on the picturesque landscape theory is worth the price of the book.  The book ends with images of his Romantic landscape at Central Park.

When you finish the book, you have come full circle. You have seen how the Romantic Movement began and how its expression in the garden provided, and still provides, a sense of oneness with nature.

You feel how good it is to enjoy a garden.



The Catalog was an Advertisement

The  seed and nursery catalog covers from the nineteenth century appeal to so many people because they offer so much color, design, and feel for that period.  You love their look.

They are also ads.

The nineteenth century American style of garden and landscape followed the English model not only  in newspapers but in magazines, and, of course, the garden catalog, as Henderson did in 1897 on this seed catalog cover.

Grant McCracken in his article on advertising in the Journal of Consumer Research says, “Cultures segment the flora, fauna, and landscape of natural and supernatural worlds into categories.”

The distinctions we make of class, gender, and fashion, including gardening, all happen in the way the culture defines it.

So in the nineteenth century American garden writers, like seed and nursery businesses, said the English garden style, sometimes picturesque, sometimes naturalistic, sometimes gardenesque. was the preferable form for the gardener.

McCracken says, “Advertising works as a potential method of meaning transfer by bringing the consumer good [like a plant or seed] and representation of the culturally constituted world together within the frame of a particular advertisement.”

Since the catalog from the seed and nursery industries was often called an advertisement, we can certainly refer to the cover as such, since the colorful illustrations were so carefully chosen by the owner to give a particular message.

In the Henderson catalog above it is the English garden style that is represented, especially  in the lawn.

At that time as well as today, we never just buy a product, like a plant or seed, we buy the dream in the image connected with the product. In Henderson’s cover it was a lawn as lush and green as the one illustrated on the cover.

The cover sold the lawn.



Nineteenth Century Garden: First Mass Media Inspired Garden

[left: An ad for the Dreer Garden Calendar appeared in newspapers of the 1880s.] 


The nineteenth century seed and nursery industries early on recognized the important role of the newspaper for their business.  Cheap daily newspapers covered the country after the 1830s.

Rochester seedsman James Vick wrote in his catalog of 1874: “The influence of the press for good or evil is great in all civilized countries, but greater in America than in any other, because here everybody reads and takes the papers. The editors of newspapers sometimes give nurserymen and seedsmen a good deal of trouble. They are so anxious to furnish their readers the news, that if, by any chance, a report gets into any paper of a new shrub, or flower, or tree, it is copied into nearly all the papers of the country, causing a demand which it is impossible to supply.”

The newspapers were truly the first mass medium of communication for the country, enabling for the first time a mass media produced garden and landscape.

The nineteenth century gardener who read about a plant in a newspaper or magazine had to have it.

Today seed companies and nurseries use social media.

We continue to live in a culture in which the media drive our values, ideas, and fashion, even in gardening and landscape