Archives for April 2011

Sarah Goodwin’s Garden

Sarah Parker Rose Goodwin in nineteenth  century Porstmouth, NH loved her garden.  I just finished reading  Margaret Whyte Kelly’s book Sarah- Her Story.

Sarah Goodwin's garden today in Portsmouth, NH reflects the popular 19th century English carpet bedding style.

Sarah’s garden has been reconstructed today as part of Strawbery Banke, the cultural landscape that traces three centuries of gardening in Portsmouth.

The garden illustrates the use of flowerbeds, called carpet bedding, that was popular in the second half ot the nineteenth century.

In her journal Sarah wrote: “I  like all the varieties of landscape gardening–I like bedding out.”  Bedding out followed the design of planting  featured in carpet bedding, where the same plant, usually a variety of annual, was cultivated and kept closely trimmed throughout the summer.

Thus, Sarah’s gardening reflected what English gardeners of that period also enjoyed,like bedding out, carpet bedding, and ribbon beds.


Problem with the Blog

This blog crashed last week. I  was able to save a few of the most current posts.

In a day or so I will post regularly again.

Thank you.


America’s Love of British Garden Writers

Friday’s Boston Globe featured a story about an award that the Horticultural Society of New York recently presented.

The absent honoree turned out to be Houghton Mifflin garden editor Frances Tenenbaum.

Over the years I have read many of her books, so I recognized her name immediately.

The Society’s President Sara Hobel said about Tenenbaum, “Before Frances, the only garden writers known in America were British.”

I would agree.

Before the last ten years, many garden titles on my bookshelf were by British authors.

That, of course, only illustrates America’s longstanding fascination with the English garden.



The Lawn: Signature Feature of the English Garden

Beginning in 1859, and for the next twenty-nine years,  Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan published a magazine called Gardener’s Monthly.  He often provided advice on taking care of the lawn, thus establishing its importance in the home landscape.

Meehan wrote in the magazine’s 1860 issue: “The rarest flowers-the choicest fruits-the nicest arrangement of all things on the most scientific principles, are

lost to us, if they are not crowned by a perfect lawn.  To the lawn we bow; and as a subject of horticulture, offer to the lawn our strongest allegiance.”

In February 1869 Meehan wrote in his magazine that the lawn meant more to Americans than to the English: “Much as the lawn plays a part in English gardening, it is of much more account with us. Our heats render the grass particularly refreshing.”

It is little wonder that the pursuit of the perfect lawn, the signature feature of the English garden, lies deep in the American psyche.



Loudon’s Gardenesque Landscape Style

Before John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843)  English garden writers mentioned only the modern or picturesque and the ancient or symmetrical landscape design.

[left: English immigrant and horticulturalist Henry Shaw’s home, now part of the Missouri Botanical Garden.]


In 1832 Loudon introduced for the first time a new landscape perspective which he  called gardenesque in his journal Gardener’s Magazine.  Loudon wrote: “Mere picturesque improvement is not enough in these enlightened times: it is necessary to understand that there is such a character of art as the gardenesque, as well as the picturesque.”

To focus on certain trees or shrubs, perhaps from America,  Loudon recommended that the landscape gardener position them together in such a way that the visitor will identify them and thus be able to learn about an individual plant variety, as in a botanical garden.

If the location happened to be on the lawn for the collection of plants, that was alright.

Henry Shaw in St. Louis built his nineteenth century landscape in the gardenesque style because he wanted visitors to learn about plants, and not just admire the garden.

But it was Loudon, after his trips to visit  European gardens and his long involvement in landscape design, who first introduced the gardenesque style.

In America seedsman Henry Dreer would echo Loudon’s words in his 1888 company catalog.  Dreer wrote “To this class [gardenesque], belong the groupings of small shrubbery, the beds of perennials, which delight by their apparent disorder, the mixed borders which constantly present a change from grave to gay, from beauty of form and color to that which presents an appearance which would be ill-pleasing were it not for the single redeeming feature of fragrance which charms all the senses through one. For this style of gardening perennials are admirably adored, for they combine in a marked degree permanence and beauty.”

Dreer endorsed mainly the gardenesque view, discussing it in more detail than geometric or picturesque approaches. He sought to instruct the reader about landscape design as well as recommend what plants to buy from his company.

Nineteenth century America followed the gardenesque style, often at the inspiration of the seed and nursery industries.



J. C. Loudon “Father of the English Garden”

I am still reading Melanie Louise Simo’s fabulous book Loudon and the Landscape, a biography of John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843).

Architect, garden designer, and writer John Claudius Loudon

What strikes me about his story is that Loudon really sought to make gardening available to all, not just to the landed gentry.  He thought gardening offered benefits to both the individual and society.

Loudon’s  monthly journal Gardener’s Magazine sought to to teach  gardening as an art and to recognize the value of professional gardeners  who chose gardening as a career.

His readers were not the aristocracy, the wealthy who owned extensive properties, but rather practical gardeners.

In the magazine Loudon even included articles from gardeners.

Prior to  1826, when he began publication of the magazine, the readership for garden writing had been the wealthy, educated landowner.

Loudon changed that when he wrote that growing plants and visiting gardens is a pleasure for all, a theme that resonated with the middle class. He found an audience who embraced him as the “father of the English garden” because he encouraged gardening for everyone.



Henry Shaw’s Hothouse in St. Louis

A British immigrant, Henry Shaw (1800-1889) built his St. Louis, Missouri landscape in John Claudius Loudon’s gardenesque style.  He bequeathed his property to the city fathers who named it the Missouri Botanical Garden.

A spring show of tulips at today’s Missouri Botanical Garden bordered the Linnean House, built by Henry Shaw from 1868 to 1882.

Philadelphia nurseryman and editor of Gardener’s Monthly Thomas Meehan wrote in 1868: “Mr. Henry Shaw is one of those liberal public spirited men who do so much honor to the United States. Some take pride in endowing and establishing one kind of institution, some others. Mr. Shaw’s taste leads him to botany, arboriculture, and gardening. His Botanic Garden and residence at Tower Hill is unequalled to anything of the kind in the United States, and indeed by few others in the world.”

Meehan noted in that same article that Shaw was building the Linnean House  where he would one day showcase  his camellias. “The hot-house department is quite extensive, and the various collections are gradually being filled up. A new palm or tropical house on a magnificent scale was being constructed.”

When I visited the Missiouri Botanical Garden a year or so ago at this time, I saw the  Linnean House, highlighted by dozens of tulips beside it on that Spring day.

Shaw, like other 19th century American gardeners, preferred the English landscape style called gardenesque,  a name Loudon first proposed in 1832.