Archives for May 2011

Wisteria Vine at John Adams Home

This is the time of the year the purple flowers of the wisteria vine put on their show.

America’s most famous wisteria has to be the one that climbs thirty feet up the side of President John Adams’ house, part of the Adams National Historic Site, in Quincy, Mass. Now that it is in bloom it attracts  both history lovers and gardeners.

A wisteria vine, Wisteria sinensis, climbs thirty feet up the side of President John Adams home in Quincy, Mass.

The vine  came to England from China in 1816.

As the story goes, according to a book by Wilhelmina Harris, long-time superintendent of the Site, First Lady Abigail Adams planted the vine.  Abigail died in 1818, and Donald Wyman, noted horticulturalist from Boston’s Arnold Arboretum, wrote that the vine, which originates in China, was introduced into America in 1816.  So it is quite possible Abigail planted it.

The wisteria vine grows slowly but once it is rooted pushes aggressively along any surface it can climb.  You need a trellis or arbor to support it.    Bob MacKenzie, the head gardener at the Adams house, says,  “We have to keep trimming it so that it does not take over the house.”

When England sent plant explorers around the world, beginning in the eighteenth century, trees and shrubs as well as this wisteria were part of the find.  English gardeners treasured exotic plants like this wisteria called Wisteria sinensis.  In the nineteenth century it was common for Americans to import English exotic plants.

According to Flowers: A Guide for Your Garden by Ippolitio Pizzetti and Henry Cocker, two East India  Company captains transported the first plants of Wisteria sinensis from China in May of 1816.

Shortly after that the Wisteria sinensis must have made its way from England to Quincy and  the Adams home.

In the nineteenth century the English gave America exotic plants as well as a garden style.  As in the case of the wisteria, the plants eventually became part of our landscape pallette.




Jefferson Preferred the English Picturesque Landscape

Once it was permitted to travel to England following the Revolution, Thomas Jefferson sailed across the sea to survey the English landscape for ideas for his property in Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello featured the modern style of the English garden, also called the picturesque.

He used as his guide for what gardens to visit the  book by English writer Thomas Whatley  Observations on Modern Gardening.  Some consider the book the best description of picturesque modern gardening, written before landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752 –1818).

In a 1917 article in the American magazine Landscape Architecture the architect  Fiske Kimball (1888 – 1955) wrote: “Landscape gardening in America as an art, even though not as a profession, may claim as its father the father of American independence itself, a worthy forerunner of of Downing, Olmsted, and Eliot.”

Jefferson created his landscape with the principles of the picturesque English style.

His friend, Philadelphia seedsman Bernard McMahon, author of the most important early book on gardening American Gardener (1806), promoted the same style of English landscape gardening.

Jefferson’s picturesque style would continue to influence the American home landscape throughout the 19th century.


Advertising Works

Advertising begins with  knowing what values might the company  connect to the product so that a customer can identify more easily with the message in the ad.

A customer does not want a product or service unless it enables him/her to feel more a part of the culture, i.e. more loved, more wanted, more desired, simply by buying the product.

That kind of advertising began to emerge in America in the  late 1880s with the publication of magazines like Ladies Home Journal.

Advertising then became not just information to the consumer as earlier ads had done, but a way to create a market for a product or service.

The seed and nursery industries followed the new emerging kind of advertising, creating desires and hopes through identifying seeds and plants with a garden and landscape style that appealed to values important to middle class America like family, home, and children.

The seed and nursery catalogs included more pages and illustrations so that the catalog could convince the customer that a certain kind  of garden, lawn, and landscape would assure middle class status.  Images of the ideal home garden and landscape appeared in the pages of the catalog.

Henderson illustrated flowers, but also the lawn in this 1892 catalog cover.

The illustration on this Peter Henderson cover of 1892 depicted the kind of home landscape  every middle class gardener needed: an extensive lawn, trees, shrubs, a cold frame for the all important annuals, and flower beds.

The popular carpet beds on the lawn expressed the gardenesque style, first introduced in the early part of the century by English writer and horticulturalist J. C. Loudon.  Victorian England, as well as America, followed the gardenesque style of landscape.

With the latest in printing and illustrations the seed and nursery catalogs continued throughout the nineteenth century to promote the English garden style to American gardeners.

Advertising such as a seed catalog both reflected and created cultural values, like what kind of garden and  landscape a middle class homeowner needed.


Vick’s 1873 Seed Catalog

Eventually seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) incorporated chromolithography  in his catalog.

Rochester, New York  where he lived provided home to several lithograph companies like D. M. Dewey  that created artwork for the local seed and nursery industry.  Back then companies like Dewey  helped to earn Rochester the name “the Flower City”.

In 1873 Vick featured one of the earliest detailed chromo  illustrations on his catalog cover.  The drawing provides an artist’s detailed rendering of flowers that Vick sold in the catalog.

Vick’s desire to keep current in business practices enabled his company to become one of the biggest in nineteenth century America.

Marjorie  R. Norcross in her history of American gardening wrote, “Although Henderson, Park, Burpee, and Harris were important seedsmen in the nineteenth century, James Vick of Rochester, New York was the most successful horticultural seedsman-writer-merchandiser of that period.”

Vick  enlisted the artistic help of lithograph firms like Dewey to create colorful covers for the yearly catalog, which Vick printed and mailed in the thousands.

Whenever in the catalog he instructed his customers on the principles of home landscape, Vick often included essays and illustrations of the picturesque or modern view of landscape gardening, borrowed from the English.


Vick’s 1866 Seed Catalog

Since the seed companies and nurseries of the nineteenth century were first and foremost a business, it was important to them to have the newest in taking care of their customers’ orders.  That included the most current form of catalog.

The catalog represented the major sales tool for the companies.

Before 1870 the style of the cover was simple, usually just what this catalog offered, company name, and location.

Seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) sent out several yearly catalogs and a magazine from his business in Rochester, New York.

Vick’s first catalogs reflect the period of minimal art work on the cover.  His 1866 cover, six years after he started the company, simply gave his name and the title of the catalog.

He was in step with how other major seed companies mailed the catalog, so this style of cover was common.

Within a few years, again to keep current, the look and size of the catalog, including the cover, would change .

Check out the  Business History blog on the importance of nineteenth century seed and nursery catalogs to understand the development of marketing in America.


Bernard McMahon’s Early Garden Book Encouraged English Landscape

In early nineteenth century Philadelphia Bernard McMahon (1775-1816) owned a seed store that attracted an array of important customers, including Thomas Jefferson.

Bernard McMahon's book, published in 1806

His wife took over the business after McMahon died.

But it is McMahon’s famous book of 1806 called American Gardener that brings him to this blog.  His book proved an important contribution to American gardeners for decades to follow.

In the book McMahon proposed the modern style of landscape, or the natural, picturesque view, that had developed  in eighteenth century England.

Within the book McMahon offered advice no matter what the fortune of the home owner happened to be  ” from even a quarter or half an acre to thirty, forty, or more.”

He presented the details of the natural landscape view in these words: “In laying out pleasure-ground, the designer ought to take particular care that the whole extent be not taken in at one view; only exhibiting at first a large open lawn or other spacious compartment, or grand walk, etc., terminated on each side with plantations of curious trees, shrubs, and flowers.”

The idea that the visitor to the garden not see everything all at once formed an integral part of the picturesque design.  The visitor was to experience the garden gradually  by walking along the  paths, around the shrubs, over the hill, and behind the trees.


Nineteenth Century Seedsman James Vick Proposed the English Landscape Style

James Vick (1818-1882)

James Vick , nineteenth century seedsman from Rochester, New York,  ran a successful seed company that listed customers across the country. His yearly catalogs and monthly magazine testifed to both his writing and business skills.

In his catalog and magazine he advocated for the English style of home landscape.  He promoted a lawn,  ribbon and carpet beds, rock gardens, groups of shrubs, and  trees that bordered the property.

Vick loved the English garden style and so, like other seed and nursery businesses of that period, persuaded his customers that was the kind of landscape for America’s middle class as well.

Vick's Illustrated Monthly magazine of 1878 featured the English landscape.


Ribbon Beds at Roseland Cottage

The type of flower beds that Sarah Goodwin (1805-1896)  liked were called ribbon beds.  She loved gardening, and today her garden has been restored at Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth, NH.

The ribbon beds in the landscape at Roseland Cottage, first designed in 1850.

The English style of planting called ribbon beds also became important at Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut.   Henry Bowen designed the garden in 1850, following the garden design of the period, based on the English gardenesque style.

On my visit there last summer the condition of the Roseland landscape amazed me.  You can enjoy the ribbon beds, preserved as a style important in 19th century America.

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in his 1873 catalog an article about ribbon beds. He said: “This is a very pretty style of planting, and very popular in Europe. We very seldom see any attempt at anything of the kind in America, and the directions in most of the books are so elaborate they are really discouraging. I will try to give a few simple directions that I hope will induce some of my readers to try this very pretty method.”  He then proposed plants that have the same height and bloom time, like Phlox Drummondii, Portulaca, Stocks, and Asters.

The nineteenth century seed and nursery catalogs promoted English style ribbon beds.  No wonder they were so popular in America.






Goodwin Visits Hunnewell Pinetum

In 18th century England gardeners sometimes established a pinetum on their property, which was collection of evergreens, some from America.

The Hunnewell Pinetum in Wellesley, Massachusetts

Horatio Hunnewell (1810-1902)  developed a pinetum as part of his landscape  in  Wellesley,Mass.  It became an early American example of such a garden.

In her book Sarah- Her Story Margaret Whyte Kelly writes that Sarah Goodwin (1805-1896) from Portsmouth, NH, wife of the NH Governor,  visited the famous Hunnewell property. Kelly quotes Sarah in these words, “Nature had done everything to make this place beautiful and to this Mr. Hunnewell had added all the attractions of art.”

Landscape gardening in England found an American expression in this famous 19th century Massachusetts garden.