Archives for March 2013

William Robinson Encouraged Naturalizing Bulbs in the English Garden

In the spring time one of my favorite public gardens to visit is Blithewold in Bristol, Rhode Island.

In the bosquet area, near the house,  thousands of spring bulbs will bloom for the next several weeks.

American gardeners owe the encouragement of  such naturalizing of spring bulbs to the popular Irish plantsman and writer William Robinson (1838-1935).  He supported that type of planting in the English garden so a gardener would not have to suffer the high maintenance of annuals which demanded fresh planting every year.

The spring bulbs naturalize in the bosquet section of Blithewold.

The spring bulbs naturalize in the bosquet section of Blithewold.

In his book The English Garden Edward Hyams wrote “The Robinson technique of naturalizing bulb plants under trees and shrubs came into its own [at the end of the nineteenth century.”

Daffodils and other spring bulbs lend themselves to such naturalizing because they multiply, and come up faithfully every year.

The area for the bulbs at Blithewold is somewhat shady, but they put on their show faithfully every spring.

Blithewold’s 2013 season opens on Tuesday, April 2.  Daffodil Days begin on Saturday, April 6.

In 2010 Yankee Magazine named  Blithewold one of the Best Five Public Gardens in New England.  I understand that award completely.

American gardening owes a great deal to the writing of the nineteenth century British plantsman William Robinson, author of The Wild Garden.


Loudon Featured a Masschusetts Landscape in the First Year of His Magazine

When John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) began his garden publication Gardener’s Magazine in England of 1826, his goal was to educate gardeners but especially cottagers, the working class, or peasant population, to learn more about gardening.

He made that goal clear in the first issue of the magazine.

Early on in the magazine he also wrote that many people did not understand landscape gardening, and he had seen a decline in the art of landscape gardening in the years leading up to the debut of the magazine .

Theodore Lyman Property, Waltham, Mass. [Gardener's Magazine, 1826]

Theodore Lyman Property, Waltham, Mass. [Gardener’s Magazine, 1826]

A North American property he did admire was the Lyman Estate in Waltham, Massachusetts.  He included an illustration of it in his magazine.[above]  The property reflected the English origin of its design. A lawn and deer park were the central features Loudon mentioned.

Loudon’s magazine said, “This residence is situated in a very flourishing country, about nine miles from Boston. The grounds round the house consist of a lawn of a mile in length in front, upon which there are many fine oaks, English and American elms, Linden and other valuable forest trees, A deep and clear stream of water, varying in breadth, runs the whole length of the lawn, and afterwards falls into Charles river.”

It was important that through his magazine he let the world know that the English garden had reached a height from which Britain could teach the world the essentials of gardening, whether in Europe or North America.

The fact that he singled out Theodore Lyman’s property says a great deal both about the property and also that the American garden sought the English standard from which to measure its own value as a garden.


England’s Stourhead Remains an Example of the Eighteenth Century Picturesque Garden

A couple of summers ago we visited England’s Stourhead where the garden illustrates the eighteenth century view of the landscape.

I arrived at 9 a. m. and found that I was the only visitor on the property for at least an hour. I enjoyed that aloneness.

I first made a stop at the Information Center for a map of the property, whose size measures several acres.

Here at England's Stourhead garden you see the lake through the grotto, a classic feature here in the landscape.

Here at England’s Stourhead garden you see the lake through the grotto, a classic feature in the landscape.

What I liked most was that I could walk the property at my own pace.

In the eighteenth century the property belonged to Henry Hoare, son of Henry Hoare I. Henry, the son, gave us this garden at Stourhead.

Edward Hyams writes in his book The English Garden: “Henry Hoare [the son] was, in fact, the forerunner of the landscape school of the gardener-poet Shenstone and Capability Brown and it is certainly arguable that he was not only the forerunner but the supreme master.”

The layout of the garden at Stourhead amazed me as I walked the grounds.

The lawn, the lake, the Pantheon, the Grotto, the Palladium Bridge stand out in my memory.

The landscape represents the ‘picturesque’ view of landscape gardening, emerging at that time in England, with Henry Hoare’s landscape as an example.

The  picturesque means that a visitor has a painting-like experience from the landscape.  Wherever you walk,  you stand before a scene created from elements of lawn, plants, water, stone, buildings, and land contours.  The setting seems to resemble a painting, whose medium comes from nature: soil, stone, water, and plants.

As the English garden evolved in the nineteenth century, Stourhead changed  too.  I remember the large rhododendrons in bloom when I was there that June.  Rhododendrons were not part of the design that Hoare created.

Nonetheless, the experience of Stourhead provides a view of the beginnings of England’s landscape gardening movement from the eighteenth century.


Loudon’s Work Defined the Nineteenth Century English Garden

The meaning of the expression ‘English garden’ depends on what time period in English garden history one chooses.

Here its meaning comes from the nineteenth century.

John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) has been called the father of the English garden.  He made the middle class feel that gardening was worthwhile, and not simply for the aristocracy.  He opened gardening to everyone.

English horticulturist and writer John Claudius Loudon

English horticulturist and writer John Claudius Loudon

Edward Hyams in his book The English Garden wrote of Loudon: “The man of genius, and of incredible industry, who linked the Pope-Brown-Repton era to the era of high gardening, who linked art and science, who linked aesthetics and technics, was John Claudius Loudon.”

Because he was both  a practical gardener and a writer, Loudon spread his message about the garden across the country and to America as well.  New York nurseryman and landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing looked on Loudon as his mentor.

Hyams wrote: “Loudon was the first garden writer to state, unequivacally, and in so many words, what was meant by the term ‘English garden’, which by that time had a definite meaning for foreigners.”

In his books and his periodical Gardener’s Magazine Loudon wrote of the English garden in detail.

Loudon defined the garden as a display of the beauty of trees and shrubs, as if in nature, with a lawn and gravel walkways.

Thus it was mainly a natural landscape more than a formal or symmetrical style that Loudon defined as the English garden.


Marketing Sells a Dream

I remember the high doors of the old men’s clothier Louis of Boston on Berkeley Street, at the corner of Boylston, an exclusive store in a building dating to 1863.

Now the building has become the new home for RH, the current name of Restoration Hardware.  RH used to have a home on Newbury Street.  I visited that store a few times.

The Boston Globe ran a story this week about the new RH.  The title of the story was “Fantasy in Furniture.”  The subtitle read: “In its opulent new Back Bay setting, RH sells dreams along with doorknobs.”

RH logoThe article describes the new design of the three floors, including a 24-foot illuminated steel Eiffel Tower replica.

The title on the next page for the conclusion of the article read: “RH sells fantasy along with furniture.”

Here is a new store selling home furnishings but also hopes and dreams.

That is how marketing works.

The product opens a world of  dreams for the consumer.

Late nineteenth century garden marketers also sold American gardeners a dream.

They could have a garden like the one on the cover of the seed catalog.

We’ve been believers ever since, in search of that dream garden.


Like the English, Nineteenth Century American Gardeners Formed Horticultural Societies

This week the Boston Flower and Garden Show opens in the exhibition center along Boston’s harbor called Seaport World Trade Center.

Though it has a smaller role in this Show, for years the Massachusetts Horticultural Society sponsored the New England Flower Show that drew thousands of visitors during its week-long run in the spring.

The Massachusetts Horticultural Society had its beginning in 1829 with the leadership of local plantsmen like Joseph Breck (1794-1883).

Along with the Pennslyvania Horticultural Society (1827) and the New York Horticultural Society (1855),  the Massachusetts Horticultural Society modeled itself after a similar group in England.

In 1804, English plant enthusiasts began the Horticultural Society of London, later to become the Royal Horticultural Society. The organization focused on plant science and exploration, and the members encouraged gardens using the newest plants, whether imported from the Americas or Asia. Members were primarily wealthy businessmen and aristocrats who had an interest in building greenhouses and cultivating exotic plants in the landscape.


Breck Nurseries in 1850, located in Brighton, Mass.

Breck Nurseries in 1850, located in Brighton [courtesy of the Brighton Allston Historical Society]

Breck, also editor of New England Farmer, managed  his seed business, which he began in 1818, in Brighton. He served as the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s president from 1859 to 1862.

Boston seedsmen and nurserymen played an important role in the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s early decades.

They were able to educate people about gardening trends and fashion, like the latest fruits and flowers for the garden.

Like the English Society, which was made up of the British landed gentry, at the start wealthy American merchants who were also avid gentleman farmers often formed the membership of local horticultural societies.



Newspapers and Magazines Enabled the Success of this Nineteenth Century Strawberry

For the first time mass media became an important form of advertising products in the late nineteenth century, especially through magazines and newspapers.

The fruit grower J. T. Lovett from Little Silver, New Jersey introduced the ‘Manchester’ strawberry  in 1881.  It proved to be a popular variety in the media.

Garden magazines and articles in newspapers spread the word around the country and abroad.


This Lovett catalog cover of 1887 mentions the ‘Manchester’ though by then its reputation had begun to fade.

In its 1882 catalog  the Lovett Company wrote: “In this age of progress it is questionable if advances are being made more rapidly in anything more than Fruit Culture, both in new and improved methods of cultivation and varieties; and this is perhaps owing more than anything else to the Horticultural Journals of the day; which in their methods of collecting and diffusing knowledge are to me as truly objects of wonder as admiration.  Think of it! Formerly it took a quarter of a century to introduce a fruit, while now, the Manchester Strawberry, which I first offered to the public but a year ago, is now growing in almost every country on the face of the earth, even on the opposite side of the globe in New Zealand, where it is fruiting successfully”.

For several years the ‘Manchester’ remained a staple of the seed and nursery catalogs.

As is the case with many plants, by the end of the 1880s  better varieties appeared on the market.

The Frank Ford and Son’s  seed catalog in 1886  lamented, “Manchester oh Manchester! A year ago we said thou wert one of our very best, but thy behavior the past season has wrought a great change. Good bye, oh Manchester good bye.”



The Grand English Gardens Inspired the Small Gardens of Today

The English garden tradition helps us to appreciate today’s English garden.

English garden writer Edward Hyams said in his book The English Garden: “It was in the great gardens that the national horticultural style was formed; that the immense wealth of our plant material was collected; that the technology of English horticulture was developed; and, even, that the small-garden style itself, having been borrowed by such great gardeners as Gertrude Jekyll, was refined, dignified with aesthetic standing by recognition, and had its rules abstracted and stated.”

The palladium bridge at Stourhead in England, a classic English garden.

The palladium bridge at Stourhead in England, a classic English garden.

The classic English garden had certain elements in it that gardens today reflect.

Certainly a lawn is paramount as well as flowering shrubs. Trees delineate the property’s boudary.

Flowers are not out of the question because they played an important role in the nineteenth century English garden.

Then we might also include the need for native plants which came later in the same century.

Though the English garden as reflected in the 1857 volume of the same name by artist Adveno Brooke might have almost 3,000 acres, today’s garden of a much smaller scale still reflects the classic English garden.

The definition of ‘English garden’ is thus time-bound.  Its meaning comes from a particular time in England.  Here we focus on the nineteenth century.

Only in the nineteenth century did gardening first become important to the  middle class.

We can agree with Hyams’ idea that today’s small English garden reflects an English garden tradition, first begun in the estates of wealthy Englishmen in the eighteenth century like Henry Hoare who designed his garden at Stourhead. [above]