Archives for January 2013

English Ribbon Style of Gardening also Became Popular in America

English garden style dominated the American garden in the nineteenth century because the seed and nursery catalogs used that style in marketing the garden.

Following the style of England and Scotland, ribbon gardens also became popular in America.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in May of 1862: “The Ribbon system, so general in Scotland, may be described thus: The flowers are all planted in rows in square beds and rings in ovals and circles; and one species or variety makes a whole row or ring.”

Ribbon beds predominate in this garden at XX, bulding in the 1850s.

Ribbon beds predominate in this garden at Roseland, dating from the 1850s.

Henry Bowen (1813-1896)  laid out his garden at Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut in the mid-nineteenth century.  Historic New England today maintains the property for visitors.

What you notice in the landscape around Bowen’s Gothic revival house is the predominance of ribbon style gardening.

Rows and rows of one kind of flower illustrate the ribbon style, so popular in nineteenth English gardening.

That style also influenced American gardeners like Bowen.


Clapp Pear Originated in Nineteenth Century Dorchester, Mass.

I remember my visit to Forest Hills Cemetery. The cemetery, which is in Jamaica Plain, part of Boston, was built in the nineteenth century in the new style of the park cemetery, where visitors could enjoy a picturesque setting with a manicured lawn, trees, shrubs, walkways, and even a lake.

In the Forest Hills Cemetery I found the tombstone of Dorchester fruit-grower Thaddeus Clapp (1811-1861).  Clapp  introduced the pear that bears his name.  Fruit growing had played an important role in agriculture  for the first half of the nineteenth century.

The Thaddeus Clapp headstone in Forest Hills Cemetery shows his famous pear.

The Thaddeus Clapp tombstone in Forest Hills Cemetery shows the famous pear that bears his name.

Dorchester, which became part of Boston in 1880,  enjoyed the reputation as the home of many orchards in the nineteenth century.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan gave a bit of the history of the Clapp pear in the 1886 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly.

Meehan wrote, “At  a recent meeting of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society Mr. Wilder said, in reference to the Clapp’s Favorite pear, that when it was introduced, the Massachusetts Agricultural Club desired to possess the control of the variety and give it his name, and authorized a committee to offer a thousand dollars for the stock; but Thaddeus Clapp, who raised it, preferred to have it dedicated as it was, and a figure of the pear is carved on his monument in Forest Hills Cemetery.”

The pear is still available for American gardeners at nurseries like Miller’s in New York.


The Late Nineteenth Century Launched the Age of Visual Media

Sunday I read a review of  Edward Ball’s new book The Inventor and the Tycoon called “The First Picture Show” in the Boston Globe.

The book discusses the birth of moving pictures.  Photographer Edward Muybridge’s images of horses in the 1880s become a major part of the book’s story which centers on San Francisco tycoon Leland Stanford.  Stanford University today bears his name.

The reviewer Dan Cryer wrote that Ball considered the 1880s ‘the age of visual media’.

Inventor and TycoonThat struck me as a neat way to describe the late nineteenth century in America.  By the 1860s the use of chromolithography took the commercial world by storm.  Then the photograph took its place.  Its natural successor would be the motion picture.

The way people relate to the world changed forever.  Mass images would now circulate among millions of people, especially the middle class.

Of course, the commercial world would also benefit from the use of media images.  Selling after 1880 would never be the same.  People would see images in advertising and marketing materials and demand that the product both resemble the image and, in one sense, become the image that they had already experienced.

American advertising is built on on that kind of stream of imagery.

Nineteenth century garden catalogs responded to the age of visual media both by including more images and becoming more colorful.

The Tillinghast Seed Company from Washington wrote in its 1890 catalog, “This is not a seed catalogue, but a magnificent volume of elegant colored plates, by far the most extensive, and handsomest collection of floral lithographs ever published in this or any other country.”



Pittsburgh Suburbs Followed the Dominant Landscape Design in the 1880s

in the second half of the  nineteenth century mass communication changes  like the power printing press and cheap paper along with rural mail delivery helped bring about the same garden style across the country.

That style, also promoted in the seed and nursery catalogs of that period, embodied the English garden with its lawn, trees, groups of shrubs, and carpet bedding.

The city of Pittsburgh provided an example.

This Wood and Sons Catalog shows the lawn and carpet beds were also popular in Richmond, VA.

This Wood and Sons Catalog shows the lawn and carpet beds were also popular in Richmond, VA.

In the 1881 issue of Gardener’s Monthly Edward L. Koethens, a regular contributor to the magazine, wrote an article entitled “Horticulture in Pittsburgh”.  He said, “As you leave the heart of the city and get out among the suburbs, you find a refined taste displayed in all the gardens surrounding the houses, both large and small, and much attention is paid to planting handsome trees and shrubs, though there is a sameness about it which nurserymen find it hard to break up. The lawns are kept neatly shorn and carpet bedding and other more desirable styles of gardening are quite universal; showing a steady increase in the taste of such things.”

The sameness of the landscape won Koethens’ approval.  He liked to see them because that showed American gardeners had taste.

Thus it is no surprise that the English garden became the standard by which magazines like Gardener’s Monthly  measured the value of a garden in nineteenth century America.


In Nineteenth Century America New Hybrids Proved Essential for any Garden Catalog

Do you ever wonder why it is that we like the latest plant variety?

I remember many January planning sessions where I sit down to figure out what I will plant in the summer garden.  Often I would turn to what was the latest in the catalog.

I had no idea that every year growers find new hybrids to entice customers to buy from their company.

It was no different in the nineteenth century.

Burpee catalog cover of 1896

Sweet peas were featured on this Burpee catalog cover of 1896

Garden historian Marina Moskowitz contributed an article to the book Time, Consumption and Everyday Life. She  wrote: “In developing the unique qualities of hybrids, whether the deepest color and largest blossom or flower or the earliest and most prolific bearer of fruit, seed companies were also ensuring that customers would return to them each year for a new supply of seeds.”

At the end of the nineteenth century the W. Atlee Burpee seed company excelled in its offerings of sweet pea varieties.

Burpee was recognized on an international scale for his delopment of sweet peas.

It was no surprise when each year the sweet pea became a major item in the Burpee catalog as in this catalog cover [above] of 1896.

In one sense the seed and plant industry today has changed little.  Each new catalog, whether in print or online, that you receive during these winter months often will feature the newest plant variety within the front section.


How Advertising Creates the Product

I have been reading a bit this week on how some people think advertising works since my interest is marketing the garden in nineteenth century America.

Michel Foucault in his book Birth of the Clinic discussed how the langauge about medical issues creates the way we deal with sickness and death.

The names we give things is what the things become.

An ad for the new gardena lawn mower.

Aa ad for the Gardena lawn mower. the world’s quietest lawn mower.

If we can name it, we can deal with it.

People began to treat medicine objectively because words define illnesses.

In advertising the word and illustration do not simply reflect a reality out there. What Foucault’s idea on language would say is that these symbols create the way we relate to that cultural reality.

In the nineteenth century when seed and nursery catalogs advertised the garden as English, with a lawn, groups of shrubs, a curved walkway, and  trees to line the property, that became the way people related to the garden and the landscape.

We saw the same garden from Maine to California because the catalogs included the same kind of home landscape in articles, ads, and illustrations.

Advertising is a powerful cultural force, not because it gets us to buy things, but because it gets us to see things in a certain way.  It becomes the way we deal with things.

The way a product is sold is the way we see it: the words and illustrations and now sounds create our view of the ‘thing’.

So today the garden is advertised in terms of sustainability, native plants, and water conservation.  Those are terms that enable us to relate to the garden in a new way. Notice the Gardena lawn mower ad [above] still shows grass but little of it.  Today the lawn continues its importance but does not play the same role it did in this 1886  Breck ad  for lawn seed [below].  Then the lawn was to be expansive, and flow down from the house.

Advertising forms the kind of garden the American gardener cultivates,  both in the nineteenth century and today as well.

This ad appeared in the Breck seed catalog of the 1880s.

This ad appeared in the Breck seed catalog of 1886.


First Nineteenth Century Seed Business to Feature Chromos

We love to recognize the first to do something.  When I was young, we had the first television on our block.  What a proud moment. I never knew I had so many friends.

In the seed and nursery business of the nineteenth century the question of who included the first chromolithograph in the company catalog is important. That person started a trend.

According to American historian and museum director Charles Van Ravenswaay,  James Vick in 1864 was the first to use a chromo in his catalog.

Zinnia, Pop Art Red and Yellow [Burpee collection]

Double Zinnia, Pop Art Red and Yellow [from Burpee’s newest seed catalog]

Van Ravenswaay wrote in his book A Nineteeth Century Garden, “In the late 1840s black-and-white illustrations had been added to seed catalogs: colored illustrations were the obvious  next step but action was delayed, probably because of the cost. The first to move may have been James Vick, that Rochester seedsman and innovator; his 1864 catalog appeared with a colored lithograph of double zinnias which had only been developed four years earlier.  Others soon followed suit.”

The image of the product  became important for a business.  To let a customer see the flower in color was never experienced before in the garden business.

Vick was truly a trailblazer.

To this day it is the image of the product that moves us to make a purchase, not the words that we read about the product.

Like Burpee’s new zinnia variety [above], the shape, color, and size of the flower draw us in when we see this photo.

I wonder how many American gardeners this summer plan to include this Burpee variety in a bed or border after setting eyes on this photo.


New Book Traces the Legacy of Highclere Castle

I just finished reading Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle.

The author is the current Countess of Carnarvon, Lady Fiona, who married the Earl of Carnarvon in 1999.  They took over Highclere eight years ago.

The book reads like a novel. It is nonfiction, and based largely on letters and diaries of the people who form the legacy of Highclere Castle

Lady Almina coverHighclere is the site of the fictionalized Downton Abbey where the Crawley family lives. Yesterday the show began its season number three on PBS.

Lady Almina enjoyed her role as Countess in the early 1900s, socializing with the elite, including the monarchy. But that is not what I remember most.  What struck in the book was Almina’s selflessness in helping others, especially those injured in World War I.

This book portrays  the battle in quite a bit of detail, but through it all shows the senselessness of war.  Young men killed, and those who are hurt and return home, only to spend their lives with war memories that haunt them.

Through it all Almina shines in her care as a nurse, first at her home at Highclere, and then in a hospital she built in London.

I came away from reading this book with a greater respect for the Carnarvon family.

The discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt also plays a key part in the story since it was Lord Carnarvon who embarked on that journey.  The details in the trips to Egypt to explore the tomb keep you turning the page to see what will happen.

I must, of course, say something about the landscape of Highclere since that is what drew me to the book initially.

Lady Carnarvon refers to the property as a park. She writes that the family would take a ‘stroll in the park’. That gives you some idea of the size of the estate.

Also she mentions the Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783) design for the property.  Brown, the most famous landscape gardener in the eighteenth century, provided the lawn that we see every week as Downton Abbey begins.  That was his signature look for the landscape.

Finally she remarks that the Castle owned the family, rather than the other way around.

You come away from the book with a level of respect for the rich and powerful Carnarvon family through Lady Almina’s service to others.



New Video Book Trailer Begins with Public TV’s Drama Downton Abbey

This Sunday, January 6, the Edwardian TV drama Downton Abbey returns to PBS for its third season.  Perhaps you are like so many other people who are anxious to learn what will happen to the Crawleys.

The location of Downton Abbey is really Highclere Castle, seventy-five miles southwest of London.

Mac Capen, a communication studies senior at Bridgewater State University, and I have produced a video trailer for my book America’s Romance with the English Garden. I am including it here [below] for you to enjoy. It lasts about two and a half minutes.

The video begins with reference to the opening shot of Downton Abbey, with its classic front lawn designed by Lancelot Capability Brown in the eighteenth century.

Here it is: “>video book trailer


Ohio University Press will publish the book in May.

I enjoyed putting the video book trailer together. The production experience was like a puzzle; we took it piece by piece.

You can also find this video book trailer on YouTube.

Feel free to share it with your friends.

Happy New Year.