Archives for October 2011

Branding Illustrated in 19th Century Seed Companies

The seed and nursery businesses in late nineteenth century America used the latest marketing and advertising to promote their products.

In 1915 a writer for the trade magazine Printer’s Ink: A Journal of Advertising  interviewed  W. Atlee Burpee (1858-1915) just before Burpee died.  Burpee became a subject for the article because he adopted so well what we call today ‘ branding’.

1895 Burpee's seed catalog cover with winning phrase: "Burpee's Seeds Grow"

The article said, “Any advertising man is interested in the psychology of trade-names can find plenty of material for studying the seed trade.”

In 1890 Burpee ran a contest with the readers of Printer’s Ink to come up with a phrase that would capture Burpee’s value in the seed market.

The winning phrase, which actually won second prize,  was “Burpee’s Seeds Grow”.  The words have appeared in Burpee promotional material ever since.

The first prize winner has long been forgotten.

Burpee’s interview appeared in Printer’s Ink because Burpee saw branding, though he didn’t call it that,  as necessary for a successful business.


Gender Defined Gardening Duties at the End of the 19th Century

In this 1890s Breck's Seed Company ad notice the man cutting the grass and women tending the flowers.

Did you ever wonder how mowing the lawn became man’s work?

Here is one answer.

Cultural historian Thomas Schlereth’s book Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life , 1876-1915 gives us some insightHe wrote that in Victorian times “with the advent of the manicured lawn (assumed to be a masculine responsiblity), the ornamental flower garden (like the domestic residential interior) became a largely feminine preserve.”

How much has changed today?  In the new ad below the John Deere Company features a man mowing the lawn

Advertising both reflects and creates cultural values.

Garden businesses sell garden products with values, hopes, and dreams for the consumer.  We see in the product’s ad how we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act.

Who cuts the grass in your house?  Why?


The man's job is still to cut the grass, as depicted in this recent John Deere ad.


Nineteenth Century Boston Nurseryman Recommends English Garden Style

In the nineteenth century it was not uncommon for seed companies and nurseries to promote the English garden and landscape.

Catalogs from the companies often included essays and images of the English style garden.

The owners of nurseries and seed houses often wrote books on horticulture.  New York nurseryman Andrew Jackson Downing’s book Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Design is the most famous nineteenth century example of endorsing English landscape design for an Ameican audience.

The Durant-Kenrick house still stands in Newton, Mass. on land that once was the Kenrick Nursery. Photo, courtesy of Historic Newton.

In Newton, Mass, outside of Boston, William Kenrick (1795-1872) owned a nursery, mostly of fruit trees and ornamental plants.

He published his most famous book The American Orchardist  in 1833.  He received an award for the book from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society two years later.

In the book he wrote a section on landscape design.  He recommended the ‘modern’ design rather than the regular geometric form.  The modern, or natural, style originated with eighteenth century English  artists, philosophers and writers, many of whom were also gardeners.

Kenrick wrote: “The modern style of gardening, in the place of the regular geometric forms, and the right angles, and right lines, has substituted all that is more consistent with nature, and with beauty. Celebrated English writers have ascribed this important change in the style of gardening in England.”

And so the English style of modern landscape design became a recommendation from a nurseryman in his words about how to adorn the home grounds.


The Future King of England Visited Richmond’s Rural Cemetery in 1860

In 1831 Mount Auburn in Cambridge, MA was the first American rural cemetery, built to provide a place of burial, but also a park that would attract visitors on the weekend to enjoy a bit of nature.  Trees, shrubs, winding pathways, and a lawn were included in the design.

Other American cities soon built their own rural cemetery.

The English garden writer John Claudius Loudon had first proposed  the rural cemetery in the early 1800s.

Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia

Landscape designer John Notman (1810-1865), who followed the principles of Loudon as well as English landscape gardener Humphry Repton, designed Hollywood Cemetery, the first  in Richmond, Virginia in 1848.

Garden historian Keith Morgan in his thesis wrote that Notman’s previous experience in cemetery design and the natural beauty of the site combined to make Hollywood Cemetery  perhaps his most successful landscape commission.

Check out more history and photos on Hollywood Cemetery at the blog called  Charles Luck Perspectives.

The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII of England, visited Hollywood Cemetery in 1860 when  he came to Richmond. His visit thus emphasized the importance of rural cemeteries for America, reflecting the English rural cemetery.

American garden designers, like the Committee from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society commissioned to build Mount Auburn, took inspiration from the century-old English landscape garden tradition.

Like Mount Auburn other rural cemeteries in America provided a park-like space to bury the dead and celebrate nature at the same time.


Nineteenth Century Green Industry Sold Us the English Garden

As I have written before on this blog, I like to use what I am currently reading for a new post .

Just picked up the book Grounds for Pleasure: Four Centuries of the American Garden by Denise Otis.  The book is the size of a coffee table volume, but full of fascinating history on the American garden.

Otis makes a point about the important role that nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries played in the development of horticulture in this country, as well as in the encouragment of certain landscape design principles.

She writes: “Early nineteenth century American seedsmen and nurserymen, recent immigrants and native-born alike, didn’t just sell trees and plants. They explained growing techniques and offered hints on design in their catalogues. They wrote books and magazine articles, and some started their own magazines. They were often leaders in forming the agricultural and horticultural societies dedicated to the improvement of farming and gardening that proliferated in the new republic. ”

The model for gardening and landscape design from the companies proved to be the English garden, with its signature lawn, and in the Victorian period, beds of flowers on that lawn.


Missouri Botantical Garden Modeled after England’s Chatsworth

The Missouri Botanical Garden began in the mid-nineteenth century as the garden of businessman Henry Shaw (1800-1889).  He later gave his garden to the city of St. Louis so that visitors could learn about plants and horticulture.

It was no ordinary garden.  Shaw designed it in the English landscape style.

Before he drew up his plan for the garden, Henry Shaw traveled to England to visit famous gardens.

According to Carol Grove’s book Henry Shaw’s Victorian Landscapes his stop at Chatsworth, Derbyshire in 1851 turned out to become a turning point for him.  Shaw wanted to build a garden back home much like Chatsworth, with its many gardens, rockery, shrubs, water features, and extensive lawn.

A garden scene in Chatsworth, the family estate of the Duke of Devonshire, England

Head gardener Joseph Paxton rose to national fame as a glasshouse designer, landscaper, and writer after his work at Chatsworth.

To this day in the history of English gardens Chatsworth, with its three hundred year old history, remains the Mecca for landscape design

Shaw’s plan included English garden writer John Claudius Loudon’s suggestion for the landscape, which meant flower gardens, an arboretum, or collection of trees, and a frucitetum, or orchard. The ideas in Shaw’s landscape originated in the English gardenesque view, prominent in  nineteenth century Victorian England.

NY nurseryman Andrew Jackson Downing, the premier nineteenth century American landsape designer, borrowed heavily from Loudon’s work in his own books and articles.

Today the Missouri Botanical Garden remains a place to learn about plants and a source of inspiration for gardeners at any level of experience.


Trumpet Vine Comes Home to America

At the August Garden Writers Associaton annual meeting, held this year in Indianapolis,  I took a short walk around the hotel.

On that excursion I noticed in a courtyard the trumpet vine, hanging off a trellis a half-city block long.

The trumpet vine, or Campsis radicans, once draped the walls of the greenhouse of English plant collector Peter Collinson in the eighteenth-century.

The Trumpet Vine hangs near a downtown hotel in Indianopolis

English gardener and explorer John Tradescant, the younger, had introduced this vine, with its bright, cone-shaped orange flowers, in 1656.  Andrea Wulf in her book The Brother Gardeners wrote “In the next century it became one of the most popular plants for the English garden”.

The trumpet vine illustrates how the English, who had become serious plant collectors, coveted American plants.

Though English explorers returned with plants from America as early as the late 1500s, it was not until well into the nineteenth century that American gardeners themselves considered native species as important ornamental plants.

Many of the plants the English used they referred to as “exotics,” a name to indicate a plant that was suitable for the garden but came from another part of the world, often America.

And so it was with the trumpet vine.

Joel Fry, the Bartram garden historian, wrote that John Bartram listed the Campsis radicans in his catalog of 1783,  an American plant that eventually came back to American gardens but only after the English had cultivated it for over a century in their own gardens.

And so you might say that the simple trumpet vine serves as an early example of both the battle of native vs exotic and the American desire to reflect the English garden.



Nineteenth Century Landscaper Featured Star-shaped Flowerbeds

The Victorian period in the nineteenth century included carpet beds and ribbon beds, made up of colorful annuals,  which often appeared on the lawn in various shapes.

William Webster was a popular Rochester,New York  landscape gardener or designer.  In the 1875 issue of Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan’s Gardener’s Monthly, these words appear about Webster: “He has already achieved considerable eminence in his profession, and is known in connection with some of the famous gardens of our country.”

Five point star-shaped flower beds appeared on the lawn in this plan of 1875.

In the same issue of GM appeared a landscape plan by Webster for a property in Skeneaies, New York. Notice the star shaped flower beds in the plan in the upper right section.

Of course annuals, many from  tropical climates, made up many of the plant choices in the beds.

Denise Otis too in Grounds for Pleasure writes about the star design on the lawn: “By the 1880s circles or stars packed with precise rows of brightly colored blossoms for foliage–coleus and alternanthera were great favorites–decorated the front yards of farmhouses and city bungalows and erupted from the lawns of the private estates and public parks.”

American readers, who followed the recommendations of nurseryman Meehan and landscape designer Webster, would garden in  the popular English style of Victorian design which lasted almost til the end of the century.



Native Plant Comes Back to America from England

English gardeners began collecting American plants as early as the fifteenth century, according to  Eleanour Sinclair Rohde’s book The Old English Herbals.

Sometimes a native American plant would come back home and find a place in our gardens only after the English had cultivated it  for decades.

The following story by F. Parkman from Boston about a  tall plant with yellow flowers appeared in Philadelphia seedsman Thomas Meehan’s journal Gardener’s Monthly of 1875: “As I write, a mass of golden yellow, 6 to 8 feet in width, and as many feet above the ground, rises in the herbaceous garden against the green wall and trees beyond.

“Two years ago, I imported from England an insignificant looking plant in a four-inch pot, a native, I believe, of this

Yellow coneflower, rudbeckia nitida

country, emigrating to the old world, where his merits found a recognition, which they had never found at home. Having thus reclaimed him, I planted him in a good soil at the back of a wide bed of perennials, where, this year, he made the display described above. Rudbeckia nitida is the name of the plant; and where a grand blaze of yellow is wanted on the lawn, or at the edge of the shrubbery, it would be hard to find its equal”.

The tall mass of yellow flowers turned out to be our popular Rudbeckia.

The argument for the use of native plants in the landscape has a long history in America, dating back to the period when English plant collectors came for our seeds and plants and sent them across the ocean for the English garden.

In the nineteenth century a native plant had value only after English gardeners sang its praise.  Only then would the plant appear in American seed and nursery catalogs.

Today we treasure the Rudbeckia nitida, which has now returned home to our gardens.

Do you have it in your garden?