Archives for July 2012

In the Nineteenth Century Native American Plants Were More Accepted in the English Garden

During the nineteenth centry seed companies and nurseries failed to promote native plants.  The English however grew them with pride.

Buffalo landscape designer Elias Long wrote a book in 1884 called  Ornamental Gardening for Americans: A Treatise on Beautifying Homes, Rural Districts, Towns and Cemeteries.

He said in the book: “They [the English] also explain why many of our own native trees, shrubs, and flowers are better known and appreciated abroad than at home.”

The rhododendron, a native American plant that won the hearts of the English from the eighteenth century. This scene is from my back yard.

Though a few seed companies and nurseries would promote native plants, it would not be until into the twentieth century that the green industry recognized native American plants.

At the beginning of the twentieth century midwest landscape gardeners brought a new focus on native plants, or what they called ‘prairie plants’.  That movement reminded people that we had worthwhile native plants for the garden.

American gardening evolved so that today we see more value in our own native plants, and encourage them for the landscape.

That certainly was not always the case.


Italian Garden Looked Like an American Garden

I am continuing the theme of gardens looking the same. Only this time I am not talking about America, but about Italy.

When I visited the Amalfi coast in late May, I went to Ravello to visit the Villa Rufolo.  There I saw beds of flowers, arranged like carpet bedding in the nineteenth century Victorian style, also popular in America.  Because of the volume of tourist traffic on the property, gravel was used here rather than the usual lawn in which you plant the beds.

Villa Rufolo on the Amalfi coast.

The varieties of the flowers looked like what is available to us here in America like marigolds, petunias, and geraniums.

Perhaps we could say it is a case of great marketing, selling the same plants in Italy that we can buy here in America.

I would rather say that the garden has a style or fashion, in this case English Victorian, that people try to replicate, no matter where they live.

In the case of the Villa, its history does show that in fact the English garden design became  a choice by the owner for his garden.

Gardening is both fashion and style and often crosses cultural bounds.


Gardens Appeared the Same Coast to Coast

Advertising to a mass audience creates similar tastes.  Everybody wants the same product that appears over and over again in ads.

Such is the power of modern advertising.

At the end of the nineteenth century which was the birth of modern advertising selling the garden was no different.

The seed and nursery catalogs sold the same plants and seeds, often in illustrations that were quite similar.

Garden fashion often came across in the catalog as well, which the consumer took to mean what was needed in order to show off a modern garden: a lawn, a bed of annuals on the lawn, a group of shrubs, vine on the porch,  or certain trees.

Denise Otis in her book Grounds for Pleasure writes: “As you travel across the country, you will find many more similarities than differences among gardens on both coasts and everywhere in between. Had your travels taken place a hundred and fifty years ago, you might have made the same observations.”

Maureen Gilmer’s book Redwoods and Roses  repeated the same idea.  She included in her book the  illustration of California home landscapes of the 1880s. [below #1] I added the second landscape illustration of the same period, also  in California.

1.1880 Nevada City, California. The Coleman property.

Both images show the gardens of California in the late nineteenth century. Notice the lawn,fence, urns, and evergreens.

When you see these gardens, you think you are seeing gardens on the east coast in that period.

This is an example of the power of modern advertising.  We have to model what we do from what we see as the current fashion.



2. The Watt landscape. Nevada City, Ca. in 1880




From the Late 1880s Ads Included More than Just Information

After 1880 advertising in newspapers and magazines meant more than simply information about a product for sale.  From that time advertising, through its illustrations, sought to motivate the buyer to make a purchase, and even to create a need for the product.

That of course was the case of garden advertising as well.  Notice what the garden-related firms sold in these ads [below]  on a back page in Harper’s Magazine of 1887:

1887 Harper’s Magazine


The Peter Henderson Company ad included here showed a middle class woman dressed in the latest style, a suburban home, a garden fence, a weather vane, and,  of course, the hollyhocks that were an integral part of American gardening.

This ad sold status, style, fashion, and, in the process, seeds.

Thus modern advertising began to seduce us with its images that created needs we never  knew we had.





Americans Imitated Japanese Gardens after 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago

The search for the latest in garden fashion is nothing new.

The nineteenth century Exhibitions in major European and American cities  gave people a chance to see how other cultures gardened.

In the Agricultural Building at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 the Japanese exhibit included a garden.

Denise Otis wrote in her book Grounds for Pleasure: “After Americans saw the Japanese garden at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and subsequent ones in 1893 and 1894, Japanese gardens too became prized features on the estates of those who collected gardens in different styles.”

The Japanese garden at the Botanical Gardens at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California reopened  this past spring. The garden dates to 1911.  It is an example of Otis’ reference to

Japanese Garden at the Huntington Garden in California [Courtesy photo from the Huntington]

estate owners, in this case Henry Huntington, who installed the Japanese style of garden as part of the landscape.

Since gardening is a type of fashion, it is no surprise that as gardeners we are all in search of the latest and newest.


In the 19th Century England’s Garden Magazines Outnumbered America’s

You can judge the interest of a culture by what the media cover.

In the late nineteenth century newspapers and magazines were the major forms of mass media.

More garden magazines became available because the communication technology of that time made printing them in the thousands possible, but also because there was an audience for them  and for the products promoted within their pages.

Buffalo landscape designer Elias Long wrote a book in 1884 called  Ornamental Gardening for Americans: A Treatise on Beautifying Homes, Rural Districts, Towns and Cemeteries.

He said in the book: “A comparison of our garden literature with that of England, for example, indicates a general lack of interest in the subject.  We support but one periodical monthly, devoted to general ornamental and useful gardening. In London alone, there are published no less than five periodicals devoted to the subject, and these are weeklies, of large size”

The American magazine Long refers to was Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan’s 30-year publication called Gardener’s Monthly.

Here [left] is an American garden magazine from the early 1890s, simply called American Gardening. The image comes courtesy of  AG was one of several garden magazines introduced in the 1890s.

For most of the nineteenth century America may not have had as many garden magazines as England, but America enjoyed a robust interest in gardening magazines later in the nineteenth century.

This was another instance in which Long promoted the English garden as the model for gardening in America.



Nineteenth Century American Writer Considered English Garden Superior

I continue to highlight material that I come across in reading.  Now that summer is definitely here, reading often provides both leisure and research for me.

Buffalo landscape designer Elias Long wrote a book in 1884 called  Ornamental Gardening for Americans: A Treatise on Beautifying Homes, Rural Districts, Towns and Cemeteries.

He wrote: “The English possess a much greater love for, and knowledge of, everything

An English garden on a recent garden tour in Newburyport, Mass. illustrates how we still love the English garden.

pertaining to gardening than do Americans.”

I am amazed at how long ago he wrote those words and how much American gardeners today still seem to agree with him.

Recently I took part in a garden tour in Newburyport, Mass. sponsored by the Historical Society of Old Newbury.  I enjoyed the tour, held on a gorgeous Saturday summer afternoon.

The photo [above] of a garden the owner called her  ‘English garden’ came from the tour.

She also had on display for visitors the English garden books that inspired her garden.


‘New Dawn’ Rose Blossomed on Recent Garden Tour

Last month’s  Newburyport, Mass. garden tour continues to take center stage.

The tour, sponsored by the Historical Society of Old Newbury, featured several fine gardens. I loved many of the plants.

A  climbing rose, bursting in  flowers, called ‘New Dawn’, caught my attention. I also grow this rose.

Rose ‘New Dawn’ on recent Newburyport, Mass.  Garden Tour

Our property is lined at the front by a three-foot high stone wall that has a slope of ten feet down to the road. Over the years I have filled in the area in front of the wall with perennials and shrubs. At one spot at the base of the wall I planted  ‘New Dawn.’  I have trained it to climb up the wall, and its pink flowers now cover a small area of the wall.

The history of the  ‘New Dawn’ rose makes some interesting connections to my work on the seed and nursery catalogs of the nineteenth century.

One of my favorite public gardens Blithewold Mansion and Gardens,  in Bristol, Rhode Island, dates to the turn of the twentieth century.  The garden features a rose called ‘Dr. Van Fleet,’ that in June covers an arbor in the rose garden. In 1910 the Peter Henderson Seed Company, begun by its founder Scotsman Peter Henderson in the nineteenth century, introduced this rose and named it after Dr. Walter Van Fleet (1857-1922). Van Fleet, one of the world’s most important hybridizers of climbing roses, worked for the United States Agriculture Department in Maryland. Today the ‘Dr. Van Fleet’ rose at Blithewold puts on a glorious display of pink flowers in June.

‘New Dawn’ is a sport of the ‘Dr. Van Fleet’ rose. It shows a similar pink flower, with one difference: it blooms throughout the summer season. It received the first plant patent in the United States in 1930.

What I like about  ‘New Dawn’ is that it is an old rose that still performs well, and besides you can also link it to the American seed and nursery trade of the nineteenth century.



Advertising Influences How We Garden

Learning happens when the words you just read or the idea you just heard seems to click inside.

That happened to me last week in Connecticut at a Garden Writers Association regional  meeting I attended.  Though it was a hot summer day, it was truly beautiful driving through the Connecticut country hills and small towns.  About twenty people gathered for the event which included a speaker and garden tours.

We met at the Bellamy-Ferriday House and Garden [below] in Bethlehem, a colonial style home with a garden first designed according to the pattern of a carpet in the house.

‘New Dawn’ roses and several other varieties were in flower.

Organic land care expert Bill Duesing, the speaker, gave the opening talk in the morning.  His talk focused on the need for bio-diversity in the landscape.  He encouraged us to grow food, and incorporate native plants in the garden.

He said, “So much of our landscape comes from people who want to sell us something.”

The Bellamy-Ferriday  House in Bethlehem, Conn. where the GWA meeting was held last week.

That made a great deal of sense to me.

Selling the garden began on a large mass marketing stage at the end of the nineteenth century with the rise of advertising and mass production.

American gardening changed forever.