Archives for September 2012

Nineteenth Century Rochester Nurseryman George Ellwanger Traveled to England for Plants

Mount Hope Nurseries opened in Rochester, New York during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Begun by immigrants George Ellwanger from Germany and Patrick Barry from Ireland, the nursery issued its first catalog in 1843.

In his article ” Ellwanger and Barry: Builders of American Horticulture” in The Garden Journal Bernard Harkness writes about Ellwanger’s travels to England for ornamental plants to sell at the nursery.  His trips began in 1844.

Harkness wrote: “A Liverpool nurseryman told him that if it were not for the American trade, he might just as well give up.”

1894 the Mount Hope Nurseries Office in Rochester, NY

Mount Hope Nurseries not only sold plants but offered a display garden as well to demonstrate how a landscape with ornamental plants might look like.

One of the visitors to Mount Hope in the nineteenth century was the Buffalo landscape designer  Elias Long.

Long mentioned his visits to Rochester in the book he wrote in 1884 called Ornamental Gardening for Americans: A Treatise on Beautifying Homes, Rural Districts, Towns and Cemeteries.

Ellwanger and Barry provided plants and landscape ideas for American gardens, often with plants from English nurseries.



Nineteenth Century New Englander Began Nursery in California

California enjoyed a thriving nursery buinsess in the nineteenth century, especially after the gold rush of the 1840s.

Garden historian Judith Taylor in her book Tangible Memories: Californians and their Gardens 1800-1950  often discusses the California nursery trade.  In the book she frequently quotes from the research of California garden historian Harry M. Butterfield who died in 1970.

She writes that Colonel James Lafayette Warren came to California in 1849 from Brighton, Massachusetts where he ran a nursery called  Nonantum Vale Gardens at the corner of Lake and Washington Streets from 1830 to 1845.

After arriving in California, Warren  started his nursery business in Sacramento and  issued his first catalog in 1853.

Taylor says “It is not surprising to find a list of hardy ornamental plants common in the eastern states in the 1853 catalog.”

Colonel J. L. Warren (1805-1896). Photo courtesy of U of Cal.,, Berkeley

The plants that would grow in New England were thus proposed also for the California garden.

Though California nursery catalogs featured plants that would be more suited to California growing conditions, it was not uncommon to include also plants that demanded the cold winters that the Northeast provided.

If the same plants were sold at the local nursery from coast to coast, it was not uncommon to see the same garden style from Maine to California.


A Hanging Plant on the Shed Wall Suprised Me

Right now I am reading an original edition of the 1901 book Old Time Gardens by Alice Morse Earle.  She writes about the joys of gardening,especially traditional forms of the garden, beginning in the colonial period.

A line she wrote really hit me : “In the garden’s story, there are ever a few pictures which stand out with startling distinctness.”

Below is such a picture.  Though the quality of the photo might be better,  its content speaks to the story of gardening.

This past spring I once again went on my annual hunt for a blue hanging plant that for the summer could take the shady area on my shed’s wall.

I chose a winner.

This past week I still found it blooming.

The plant is a Torenia, Summer Wave, with its large violet flowers.

It is one of Proven Winners varieties that’s true to its name: a winner.

Torenia blooming on the planter attached to the garden shed wall

The flowers took a while to start.

Once they started I had non-stop blooms.

What’s strange about this is that the spot on the shed is quite shady, but nonetheless this plant came through for me.

This is one happy gardener.



French Landscape Designer Le Notre Showed a Humble Side

In the early eighteenth century the English proposed a new way of looking at the landscape.

Instead of the older, formal design, the new, modern view, as they called it. was more natural, more in tune with the contours of the space.  The garden was to be designed to make it look less formal.

There continues to be this difference, the formal versus the more natural look, even to this day.

The French garden designer Andre Le Notre (1613-1700) gave the world one of the best expressions of  the formal garden in the gardens of Versailles.

I just finished reading Helen M. Fox’s biography of Le Notre called Andre Le Notre: Garden Architect to Kings.

The gardens at Versailles, designed by Andre Le Notre. [Photo courety of]

 At the end of his life, Le Notre dispels any idea that he is filled with his own greatness.

Fox said that in 1693 at he age of 80, Le Notre wrote a letter in which he “ends the letter in words revealing his charm; he says that, though proud of his work, he regards it almost as if it were something apart from himself, and he describes himself as a humble gardener.”

Le Notre accepts his work as important, but secondary to his state of being as a person.

I love that line from Fox’s book.

Accomplishments are secondary.

As the Spanish mystic John of the Cross once wrote, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”


The Lawn Continues to Hold Center Stage for the Homeowner

Our attachment to the lawn continues to this day.

Denise Otis in her book Grounds for Pleasure: Four Centuries of the American Garden wrote: “For a nation that claims to venerate rugged individualism we are curiously convention-bound in the way we usually organize the land around our houses.  East to West, North to South, in cities and suburbs, on isolated farms and ranches we sash our houses with shrubs and lay down rugs of green grass before them.”

Right now I am working on an area on my own lawn that needs a new start.  The Ajuga is gone, and recently I reseeded the area.

It has rained a bit in the past couple of weeks and the nights are cool. Most days are sunny.

All that is ideal weather for renewing a lawn.


The lawn still plays an important role in the home landscape. Photo courtesy of PureLawns

So I guess I am as attached as anyone to that turf outside my house.

Otis wrote: “The authors of American gardening books from McMahon [whose book The American Gardener’s Calendar appeared in 1806] to the present almost invariably begin any discussion of garden design with the lawn.”

How attached are you to your lawn?


First Garden Club of America Chapter Planted an English Garden

The Colonial Revival movement in this country began in the 1870s and lasted well into the twentieth century.

Its idea was to replicate or represent the style and fashion of the colonial period especially in home design, landscape, and furniture.

William Butler wrote a chapter discussing Litchfield, Connecticut in the book The Colonial Revival in America.  He said that in that town the first Garden Club of America chapter “idealized the past and planted ‘old-fashioned, English flower gardens’ rather than the more authentic herb and vegetable gardens.”

The First Congregational Church in Litchfield, Conn. Photo courtesy of The White Room.

In Litchfield the English garden thus provided the design style for a desired aesthetic experience.

From 1913 Litchfield became a model for the Colonial Revival movement in America.

The Civil War had shattered the American spirit, according to Butler, and faced also with a growing number of immigrants, people wanted an idealized New England village where both the resident and a visitor would be reminded of a simpler time and place.

What strikes me as important was the expression ‘old-fashioned, English flower garden’. Was the ‘old-fashioned’ quality from the garden of the  eighteenth century or the nineteenth century?  The English garden evolved over that time, and, though flower gardens were always important, they took center stage after English writer and horticulturist J. C. Loudon encouraged gardening for the middle class in the first third of the nineteenth century.

During the colonial period herbs, vegetables, and a kitchen garden with a few flowers was the way Americans gardened, a style inherited from the English.

In the Victorian period, 1840 til the end of the nineteenth century, English garden fashion featured flowerbeds, often planted with exotics from Africa and South America.

That style came to America at that time as well.

Perhaps those who designed the gardens at Litchfield remembered that later period more vividly than the earlier colonial time.


Nineteenth Century Garden Catalogs Featured Must Have Vines

It seems that vines have always been an important ornamental plant for the home landscape.

Denise Otis in her book Grounds for Pleasure attributes that to the selling skill of nineteenth century garden magazines and catalogs.

She writes: “All through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the horticultural press poured forth plans for the front yard, designs for urns and flowerbeds to ornament it, and suggestions for vines to train up porch pillars.”

Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1879 featured a vine growing up the corner of a house.

Rochester seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) published yearly catalogs and a magazine called Vick’s illustrated Monthly.  He often encouraged his readers to use two urns on the lawn, and include a vine in the home landscape.

Gardeners of the nineteenth century followed the recommendations of the media when it came to gardening.

Really nothing has changed.  We still follow garden fashion. Don’t we?


Dahlia Show Held Last Week in Hartford, CT

Last week I drove to Elizabeth Park in Hartford  for the 54th Annual Dahlia Show which the Connecticut Dahlia Society sponsored .

I was amazed at the size and color of the dahlia blooms.

Annual Dahlia Show last week at Elizabeth Park  in Hartford, Conn.

There were so many people at this show that it was sometimes difficult to navigate the aisles between the rows of dahlias, each standing tall  in its own green pot.

The dahlia can boast of a long history as a garden plant, beginning in the sixteenth century when Spanish soldiers first saw it in Mexico.  Only in the early nineteenth century did it  become a favorite for the ordinary gardener.

Paul D. Sorenson wrote an excellent article on the early history of the dahlia in the Arnold Arboretum’s journal Arnoldia.  He said: “The first authenticated introduction of living dahlia materials into England occurred in 1803–and on this date many authors agree.”

Later, of course, it would come to America, only to be promoted by the surge of plant societies that embraced a particular plant variety.

The result is that today we have groups like the Connecticut Dahlia Society, together over fifty years, simply because the members enjoy gardening with this particular plant.

Each  September people flock to the group’s dahlia show.

Dahlia ‘Pinwheel’, one of the winners at the Show