Archives for September 2011

Hovey Sought English Plants for American Gardens

Since the English garden provided the model for nineteenth century American gardening, it is no surprise that American seedsmen and nuserymen looked to England for new plants.

C. M. Hovey,nurseryman and writer, from Cambridge, Mass. said the new coleus from England would eventually find a spot in American gardens.

C. M. Hovey's Magazine of Horticulture, one of the longest running 19th century garden publications

He wrote in his Magazine of Horticulture of 1868 about the new hybrid coleus: “Since the introduction of Coleus Vershaffeltii, with its rich deep colored foliage, it has formed a prominent object for bedding purposes, especially in England, where the style of ribbon borders has extensively prevailed.  The introduction of another kind, called C. Veitchii, increased the taste of rich foliaged plants, and by the skill of the hybridizer, a great number of new sorts have been raised between these two, which seem to have attracted unusual attention, amounting almost to a furor for these plants. The successful grower of these hybrids was M. Bause, of the Chiswick garden, who has raised twelve of these seedlings… All of these, or a portion of them, will no doubt find their way into American collections.”

Nurserymen like Hovey recommended and sold English plants to their customers because the flower or leaf color of the plant variety were important for the English garden.

The same plants, they thought, would perform as well in an American garden.


Public Parks Foster Mental Health

The British garden writer J. C. Loudon wrote in the early nineteenth century that public parks would provide an experience of nature for the busy city resident.

He encouraged an enjoyment of gardens and the landscape for all classes, not just the wealthy.

Loudon’s garden ideas influenced the American landscape designer A. J. Downing, who, in turn, became a mentor to Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of Central Park.

Charles Mason Hovey (1810-1887) from Gardener's Monthly, Vol. 28, 1886

Garden writer and nurseryman Charles Mason Hovey (1810-1887) from Cambridge, outside of Boston,  knew of the importance of public parks, probably from Loudon, whose magazine he  read.

In 1868 Hovey wrote in his publication, a long-running nineteenth century garden magazine, the Magazine of Horticulture : “We need not enlarge upon the importance of public parks, certainly, if they were more numerous they would prevent the useless expenditure of money for lunatic hospitals. What the busy people of the city need is pure air, the sight of green trees, the smell of the fresh turf – extensive grounds, where they can enjoy the pleasures of the country, and find relief from the busy hours engaged in the turmoil of trade.”

Though Hovey found in the English garden and landscape much to inspire American gardeners, he wrote in a way that respected the growing conditions of America.

Hovey played an important role in American gardening.  Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan hailed him as responsible for the growth  of horticulture in America.

The public parks in America that Hovey encouraged form part of that tradition.



Perennials Take Back Seat in Nineteenth Century Gardens

A gardener in the Victorian era, from 1850 til the end of the century, treasured annuals that provided color to the landscape.  The bolder and bigger, the better.  Coleus, petunias, cannas were just a few of the choices used in beds to decorate the lawn.

Unfortunately, perennials did not assume an important role til much later in the century.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in the 1873 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly: “The evil which accompanied [flowerbeds, ribbon beds, and carpet beds] was in nearly banishing from culturation the beautiful and interesting tribe known as hardy herbaceous plants. From early spring til late in the fall some of them were in bloom.”

A flowerbed in the pages of Vick's magazine, Illustrated Monthly in 1878.

Rochester seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) encouraged elaborate flowerbeds. He even offered engravings of that design in his catalog and magazine.  Vick fostered the Victorian style in word and image.  Landscape designer Jennifer Grace Hanna wrote in her thesis Ornamental Garden Design: “James Vick was extremely influential in the development of American landscape design during the later half of the nineteenth century.”

Thus Vick, like other seedsmen and nursery owners, fostered an English style of garden design, where in the Victorian period perennials often took second place.


Scott’s Book of 1870 Promoted the Lawn

Since the seventeenth century the English landscape style  encouraged the lawn.  The lawn  became part of the English garden aesthetic.

American landscape designer Frank Scott wrote The Art of Beautifying Home Grounds of Small Extent in 1870.  The lawn, he said, played an essential role in  landscaping the ‘home grounds’.

Scott mentioned in the book his mentor, A. J. Downing, who, in turn,  looked to the famous editor of England’s Garden Monthly J. C. Loudon as  his inspiration.  Each writer proposed the lawn.

The seventeenth century landscape at Chatsworth in England features this extensive lawn. Photo from my visit.

The Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan in the 1872 issue of his  magazine Gardener’s Monthly included  this review of Scott’s book: “Certainly we must speak for American gardening, and return thanks in its behalf.  It marks an era in our literature of which we may well be proud.”

Scott’s book would inspire much of American gardening, as Meehan predicted, til the end of the century.  The home landscape would of course include the English lawn.



Oldest Seed House in America Threatened with Closing

I just read several blog posts about the Landreth Seed Company, started in 1784, the oldest American seed business.  It’s quite possible the Company may fold if it does not straighten out some financial matters by September 30.

Hard to believe.

The company, under new ownership the last few years, sells heirloom seeds of vegetables and flowers.

The warehouse of the Landreth Seed Company in Philadelphia as it appeared in 1807.

Cambridge, Mass. nurseryman Charles Mason Hovey visited Landreth in Philadelphia in 1831.  It was the year before Hovey began his own seed and nursery business back home.  He came to learn form the experts.  By then David Landreth, the younger, had taken over the business from his father.

The Landreths came to America from Great Britain in the late eighteenth century and their work from the start was the seed business.

Hard to believe this bit of American garden history might be about to end.

You can help raise funds by buying a company catalog, which sells for $5.  Check out the company website at Landreth for more information.



Plant Collectors Still Travel to China

I just returned from the annual Garden Writers Associaton conference, which this year took place in Indianapolis.

At this event GWA recognized outstanding examples of garden writing, garden photography, as well as garden social media with either a Gold or  Silver Award. The award winners, about 30, had their material on display during the three days of the convention. The awards were presented at the banquet on the last night.

GWA presented a Silver Award for this issue of Arnoldia, Vol. 68, No2, 2010.

Boston’s Arnold Arboretum‘s publication Arnoldia won a Silver Award for Achievement for its Volume 68, Number 2, which focused on the 20th anniversary of the North American-Chinese Plant Exploration Consortium (NACPEC).

Over the last 20 years members of the Arnold Arboretum and several other botanical gardens, mostly in the US, have traveled to China for plants that would be adaptable to our growing conditions.  Since the founding of NACPEC  a dozen expeditions have provided over 1300 plant varieties, now in test gardens in nine universities and botanical gardens. A plant undergoes evaluation for ornamental merit, resistance to pests, medicinal uses, and possible invasiveness.

Our popular plant, the Canadian hemlock, has in recent years suffered from the woolly adelgid (HWA).  China grows a hemlock, Tsuga chinensis, currently under evaluation in this country, that does not succomb to the disease.  It is one plant that certainly would be a welcome addition to the landscape in the US.

The GWA recognized the importance of the work of NACPEC, covered in several articles in this issue of Arnoldia.

The long tradition of hunting for plants in Asia, which  the English fostered for centuries, still continues.  The focus now however,  as the articles of the Arnoldia issue confirm, is first, the scientific documentation of botantical diversity, and then, potential use as a landscape plant.



Nineteenth Century American Green Industry Encouraged a Lawn

When I started this blog a year ago, I said that I would publish posts that reflected what I was currently reading on the topic of American gardening and the English garden tradition.

Just finished the Master’s thesis of landscape designer Jennifer Grace Hanna who graduated from Cornell. Her thesis, Ornamental Garden Design, discussed mostly nineteenth century Rochester seedsman James Vick (1818-1882), but also covered much garden history from that period. I loved the book.

Hanna wrote that “Nursery owners [in nineteenth century America], the horticultural journal editors, did not accept the wilderness aesthetic completely for it was not good for business. Instead they merged this romantic wilderness appreciation with the aesthetic picturesque and developed a form of English landscape garden design that was reliant upon the communal landscape. In other words, the new transportation systems of the roads and rail lines and land division of the suburban tracts set up shared views.”

In the cover image to the left from Peter Henderson’s 1899 seed catalog notice how one property adjoins another with a lawn as their common bond. No fence separates the properties because the continuity of the lawn was an important landscape principle.

The nursery owners encouraged the lawn because it was part of the English landscape garden design aesthetic, but also because it was good for business. That landscape style sold lawn seed and lawn mowers.

And so it was no surprise, according to Hanna, that the English garden with its lawn became the model for the suburban, middle class American garden of the nineteenth century.


Waltham’s Lyman Estate Showcased Modern English Landscape

In nineteenth century Dorchester, Mass, which is now part of Boston, Marshall Wilder (1798-1886) cultivated an extensive pear orchard which at one time contained 2500 trees. He gave us the Anjou pear.

He also grew 300 varieties of camellias.

With such a list of credentials it is no surprise that from 1841-1848 he served  as president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, and was one of the founders of the American Pomological Society.

In his book, The Horticulture of Boston and Vicinity, published in 1881, Wilder commented on many gardens within the Boston area.

The Lyman Estate in Waltham, Mass.

He called the Lyman Estate in Waltham, built in 1793,  “the best example of modern landscape gardening in the country.”  Wilder used the English expression which had emerged from the eighteenth century called ‘modern’ to refer to the new version of landscape that was more naturalistic and less formal.  That, of couse, included an extensive lawn which you can still see at the Lyman Estate.

Phyllis Anderson, ASLA, a landscape historian and the former director of the Institute for Cultural Landscape Studies of the Arnold Arboretum, once wrote “The Boston area is unique in the depth of its resouces for study and research in the history of landscape design and horticulture.”

Lyman’s estate presented an early example of English garden design in the Boston area.  Decades later the popular Dorchester nurseryman Marshall Wilder recognized that design as important for American gardening.


Nineteenth Century Seedsman James Vick Recommends No More than Two Vases on the Lawn

Yesterday I returned from the Garden Writers Association Symposium in Indianapolis.  The annual event, which this year drew almost 600 in attendance, combines lectures, seminars, and garden tours. I enjoyed every moment of it, though I was a bit concerned about the impact of Hurricane Irene on the east coast.

Two vases border a pathway on the lawn at a GWA garden tour last week in Indianapolis.

The neighbors of a garden we visited featured two vases on the back lawn. Each bordered the walkway as if they were on guard.

That scene reminded me of what nineteenth century Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) once wrote about the use of vases on the lawn. Because many people at that time decorated the lawn with several vases and that could not be called a tasteful landscape, he recommended only two vases,each filled with annuals.

Vick wrote the following in his catalog called  Floral Guide of 1873: “Of all the adornments of the lawn, nothing is more effective than a well filled and well kept vase. All the ornamental-leaved plants are appropriate for the top or center of the vase, while a few drooping plants should be placed near the edges and allowed to hang or droop at least half way to the ground. For this purpose the verbena or the petunia will answer.

“We often see several small vases scattered over the lawn, but the effect is bad. It is best to have one or two that command attention by their size and beauty.”

Vick promoted the English style of  landscape in both his catalog and his magazine.  The vases he sold in his catalog were imported from England.  His advice helped the customer create a Victorian look to the garden which was popular in the US at that time.

The front landscape of a home in Greenland, NH includes two Victorian vases.

Just last week, nearby at a home in Greenland, NH, I saw two vases on a front lawn, near the front entrance. Old Vick came to mind.

Though the GWA meeting offered themes like sustainability and  native plants, a short visit to a tour garden couldn’t help but remind me of the nineteenth century American seed and nursery industries with their marketing of the English garden style.