Archives for February 2013

National Advertising of a Brand Invented in the late 19th Century

The question of advertising the garden continues to haunt me.

How is it that we covet the plants and garden products that become heavily advertised?

In some way advertising gives legitimacy to a product.

If it’s advertised, it must be good.

But more than that. The more advertising is connected to the product, the better it becomes.

Making of Modern AdvertisingDaniel Pope in his book The Making of Modern Advertising writes: “National advertising of manufactured, branded products was a nineteenth-century creation.”

We could, for the first time, promote a product around the country because people could buy national products at local stores but also at the new department store.

Products like oat meal and hand soap became brands like Quaker Oats and Ivory.  People asked for the brand version of the product.

In 1906 Truman A. DeWeese wrote The Principles of Practical Publicity, an early volume on the success of advertising. He said, “”The manufacturer now creates a demand for the goods through advertising.”

Garden products, like seeds and plants. were no different.  They were produced in mass quantities in greenhouses and nurseries around the country.

By the end of the nineteenth century  the garden, illustrated in seed and nursery catalogs,  had taken on the ‘brand’ of the English garden with its style of lawn, carpet beds, shrubs, and trees to line the property.

It was no surprise that suburban gardens  from Maine to California took on that look.

Advertising sells products but also values, ideas, images, hopes, and dreams, both then, and still today.


Flower Shows Raise Hopes and Dreams

This is the time of year that people flock to Flower Shows.  It seems like each large city sponsors such an event.

Here in New England, Providence, Hartford, and, of course, Boston host Flower Shows that attract hundreds of visitors.

Last week I spent an afternoon at the Rhode Island Flower Show in Providence.   Had a great time.

What is the attraction?

Gardeners like inspiration that such a Show might give.

Gnomes stand guard at this garden display at the Rhode Island Flower Show last week.

Gnomes stand guard at this garden display at the Rhode Island Flower Show last week.

Once at the New England Flower Show an attendee said he wanted to buy the garden that was on display for his own property. But the exhibit, I thought when I heard this story, is not a garden, but a staged event, produced for the show, often as a marketing tool.

People have an image of what their garden should look like.

We seem to always be on the search for more for that garden of our dreams.

We want something different and something better.

And, of course, advertising and marketing, like Flower Shows, fill that need.

The modern garden industry, like any business, creates a desire for its products.

The rose company George  Thompson and Sons from Louisville, Kentucky wrote in its 1889 catalog:  “Our collection of plants is very large and complete, but we are continually adding new and rare plants, and by so doing we hope to please the most fastidious.”

Spring Flower Shows, symbolized in the awards and ribbons displayed, also exhibit the best, the latest, and the newest for the gardener.


The Lawn Became the Essence of the English Garden

I have often written on this blog about the lawn.

To this day the lawn embodies the classic English garden.  That idea struck me in a book I am currently reading.

English garden writer Edward Hyams wrote in his book The English Garden: “Lawn surrounded by borders of flowering shrubs, surrounded in their turn by completely enclosing trees, is a very characteristic feature of the English garden.”

4a. spring05Today Americans still want a lawn.

Perhaps we need to devote less space to one, however.

Even perhaps replace part of the lawn with groundcover or herbs.

It is amazing that the green grass continues in importance.

The James Vick Seed Company from Rochester, New York wrote in its magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly  in 1884: “The lawn-mower and the massing of showy plants in beds gave a remarkable impetus to gardening in this country, and they have transformed the village and suburban grounds from plots of high-grown, tangled grass and weeds to carpets of emerald, studded with bright jewels.”

It seems the role of the lawn for the American gardener has always been important.


Chromos Proved Essential in Nineteenth Century Garden Advertising

Any business owes its success to a multitude of causes.

One of them has to be integrating the latest communication technology. Today that might mean social media.

In nineteenth century America that meant chomolithography to illustrate the company’s products.  The seed and nursery industries were at the forefront of employing chromolithography for their advertising.

Henderson illustrated flwoers, but also the lawn in this catalog cover.

The Peter Henderson Company illustrated tulips in its catalog cover of 1892.

Lithograph companies spread around the country after 1850.  The garden industry used their services as, for example, was the case in Rochester, New York, home to the famous Dewey lithography firm and several others.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in 1880: “We believe the money spent in printer’s ink for the two pages a colored plate occupies, would not be half as telling as the colored illustrations of the thing itself.  We have no doubt this style of advertising will grow.”

And grow it did.

Most seed and nursery catalogs employed chromolithograph artwork to sell seeds and plants.  Some, like the Rochester seedsman James Vick, also sent chromo illustrations of flowers as a premium to his customers for buying his seeds.

In the process of employing this newest form of advertising, the garden industry has given the world illustrations that have become heirloom treasures of color, illustrations people still appreciate to this day.

Today when people think about nineteenth century seed and nusery catalogs, the color illustrations in the catalogs often come to mind.

Does that happen to you?


Nothing New that the Residential Landscape Business Is Slowly Returning

Last week at Boston’s New England Grows trade show,  I talked to several people in the landscape business.  I asked them if their clients are spending more or less on the landscape as compared with a couple of years ago.  Most agreed people are spending money, but only in specific areas.

Since people stay home more now, they want the lawn to look good.  They demand less pesticides for the lawn because of their children and also pets, but still want that green lawn.

Current market research also says that homeowners spend more money on gardening, but only for growing vegetables and maintaining the lawn.

Storrs and Harrison catalog cover of 1898 shows the lawn as the center.

Storrs and Harrison catalog cover of 1898 shows the lawn as the center of the home landscape.

The fact that the lawn continues to be a focus for the homeowner struck me as significant.  The lawn is still important to the American gardener.

The landscape industry people I talked to agreed with that.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote about the renewed interest in landscape gardening in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in 1880.  He said “There are indications that the love of art in landscape gardening is meeting with fresh revival.  There have been several periods within the time of living men, when there was much enthusiasm for this kind of art, notably in the time of A. J. Downing [America’s premier landscape gardener in the mid-nineteenth century]. The business depressions of late years have kept people more to the bread and butter side of life. Art is now reviving, and garden art, with other kinds.”

The current opinion that people spend more  money on the home landscape reflects Meehan’s sentiment so well.


Last Week’s New England Grows Introduced Me to a New Coleus

Every year I look forward to the nursery trade show in the Northeast called New England Grows.

The show attracts thousands.  It was held last week, only Wednesday and Thursday, cut short a day because of the snow storm.

What I like about New England Grows besides the lectures which always bring me new ideas, is the trade show component. Dozens of vendors line the rows of the Boston Exhibition hall.  It takes hours to move through them all.

Several nurseries display their new plants.

In the nineteenth century novelty plants played a key role in each seed and nursery catalog.

Coleus 'Neptune's Net' which I saw last week at New England Grows in Boston.

Coleus ‘Neptune’s Net’ which I saw last week at New England Grows in Boston.

For example the Childs Seed Company catalog said in 1890, “Customers will look every year for a lot of sterling novelties, which you must provide, and each must prove as worthy as you recommend.”

The company had to provide novelties because the gardener expected it.

At New England Grows several nurseries showcased many newer varieites of their plants.

A Proven Winners variety of coleus called ‘Neptune’s Net’ caught my attention on entering the  Pleasant View Garden exhibit. I knew immediately I wanted to grow this plant in my summer garden.

Like the gardeners of the nineteenth century, today we too search out newer varieties.

Why do you think we like the newest?

And, of course, we know that the seed and plant companies provide the latest variety that could be from any place in the world to plant in our gardens.


Rock Gardening in 19th Century America Followed the English Garden Tradition

English garden writer Edward Hyams in his book The English Garden discusses rock gardening, something that I love in my own garden, where I have a substantial amount of ledge.

He claims that the English garden gave the world the ‘rock garden’.  Perhaps a bit of exaggeration, but let’s look at what he said.

Hyams writes: “A relatively modern development in English gardening, imitated all over the world, is that of rock gardening.  It is derived from the work of collectors sending back plants and seeds from flora of  mountain systems all over the world, the flora which are to be found between the upper limit of the tree line, and the lower limit of perpetual snow.”

Vick's Illustrated MonthlyThe Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  also wrote about rock gardens in his catalog and monthly magazine. Thus American gardeners too became fans of the English rock garden.

This black and white drawing [left] appeared in Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1879. Notice the detail of the various plants including ferns and hosta.

Are you a fan of rock gardens?


Nineteenth Century Seedsman James Vick Offered Chromos to his Customers

In late nineteenth century America it was not uncommon for companies to offer a chromolithograph to its customers.  An artist would first paint the scene, flowers for example, and then other artists would reproduce that painting through the process of chromolithography.

The customer would then frame the chromo, as it was called,  and hang it up on the living room or dining room wall. It thus was a way that middle class families were able to display art.

A chromo from the James Vick Seed Company. [Courtesy of AAS]

A chromo offered by the James Vick Seed Company. [Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society]

This [above] is an example of a chromo that James Vick (1818-1882) offered. Vick ran a successful seed business in Rochester, Nee York.

In his 1874 catalog Vick wrote: “We have already sold over one hundred thousand of these Chromos without a penny of profit, nor do we desire one. They have performed their mission–increased the love of flowers, made more pleasant the homes of our customers, and we are more than satisfied.”

This chromo, courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society,  called ‘Chromo A’, measured  16 by 20 inches. Vick offered it in the same catalog.

In the late 1880s the Pabst Brewing Company in Milwaukee also offered ‘pictures’ that were a bit largner in size, 22 by 28 inches.  The company’s ad said: “They are without lettering and especially designed for framing. We make this really exceptional offer that our friends may obtain a pleasing memento.”

Vick’s chromos, all of flowers, cost a customer one dollar, which covered the postage. The Chromo was  “on strong paper, sized and varnished, and sent by mail, postage paid.”

He proclaimed its value in these words: “In this style the Chromo is equal to an oil painting.”

If a customer wanted the chormo framed, that was also available. Vick wrote: “We offer Chromos Framed in Black Walnut and Gilt at $3.00 each.”

American gardening thus became associated with oil painting where the company’s flowers became the subject of the art work.