Archives for April 2013

Nineteenth Century American Gardeners Admired the English Garden Style

A common theme in the marketing of the garden from the nineteenth century seed and nursery industries is that gardening in Europe, but particularly in England, surpassed  American gardening.

New York seedsman Peter Henderson (1822-1890) often wrote about that difference.

Henderson admitted that American garden ingenuity outpaced that of England in some areas. He once saw in England twenty men, each using a spade to form a market garden.  He admitted that in America the “plow and harrow will pulverize the soil better”, which is what any garden marketer on Long Island or New Jersey would have done.

This 1889 Henderson seed catalog cover featured the lawn.

This 1889 Henderson seed catalog cover featured the lawn.

But he also pointed out the backwardness  of American gardening.

In the 1880 issue of Thomas Meehan’s Gardener’s Monthly Henderson wrote : “It must be admitted that in some phases of horticultural progress, we are yet far behind Europe, particularly in the ornamentation of our public grounds. We have nothing to compare with the Battersea Park, London; the Jardin des Plantes, of Paris; or the Phoenix Park, Dublin; and when comparison is made of the grounds surrounding the villas in the suburbs of these European cities, with our suburbs here, the comparison is, if possible, more against us, for there it is rare to see a neat cottage without a well-kept lawn, and good taste shown in the planting of its flower beds, its well trimmed fruit trees and neat vegetable grounds. Here as yet, we have hundreds of expensive mansions, particularly in the suburbs of New York, where the so-called garden surroundings tell all too plainly of the mushroom wealth of its shoddy owner.”

So America needed to look to Europe to improve its gardening.

In that same issue of GM Henderson wrote about “coarse taste” in gardening.  He said, “We can excuse the wife of a day laborer planting her seeds of Morning Glorys or Lady’s Slipper in the potato or corn patch; but when the owner of a $10,000 cottage has the vulgarity to invade his flower beds with beets or tomatoes, he is carrying his utilitarian principles beyond the bounds of ordinary good taste.”

Sounds a bit like the homeowner recently who dug up his front lawn and planted vegetables. His neighbors were up in arms.

The standard to measure American gardening in most of the nineteenth century remained European, particularly English.



Since the Late Nineteenth Century, Advertising Surrounds Us.

In the 1890s advertising took off in a new direction.

No longer did the company simply provide information about a product or service in an ad.

Ads appeared everywhere, including the streetcar.

The goal of course was to persuade the viewer to buy a product or service.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia seedsman W. Atlee Burpee believed advertising was necessary for any business to succeed. In his 1897 catalog he wrote, “Advertising is as necessary an annual expenditure as the payment of taxes or rent …. Intelligent buyers realize that a good thing is worth advertising, and thus, making more sales, instead of increasing, advertising actually reduces the cost of goods.”

Companies were on the lookout for any new method of advertising in order to reach that customer.

Today those who have something to sell also pursue any avenue to reach an audience.

Here is a one-minute video  that illustrates the strategies of today’s advertisers: the future of advertising.

Historian Thomas Cochran in his book The Pabst Brewing Company about the origin of the largest brewery in late nineteenth century America gives some insight into how companies viewed advertising.  He wrote: “Advertising managers were in a hard spot in all companies in the latter nineties.  Advertising mediums and practices were growing at a rate that business executives could scarcely appreciate.  Campaigns that appeared daring from the standpoint of a few years earlier might, in truth, be small scale, and behind the times.”

In the 1890s most seed companies and nurseries sought to build their business by the new forms of advertising.

Gardeners across America became their market.  So it was no surprise that the same kind of garden appeared from California to Maine.




The Nineteenth Century Garden Industry Pioneered the Mail Order Catalog

Today we take the sales catalog for granted.

In our house several arrive in the mail each month, selling everything from flour to clothes.

In the nineteenth century the American seed and nursery industries pioneered the use of the mail order catalog to reach customers across the country.  It became their major form of advertising.

Truman A. DeWeese in his  1908 book The Principles of Practical Publicity wrote: “Mail order advertising is one of the marvelous developments of the modern art of Publicity. By means of this ‘salesmanship-on-paper’ many fortunes have been made and great mercantile establishments have been built up.”

This Everitt Company Catalog of 1892 illustrated the competition among seed merchants.

This Everitt Company Catalog of 1892 illustrated the competition among seed merchants.

Seed companies and nurseries took pride in presenting their yearly catalogs. Seedsman John Lewis Childs, in 1896, told his customers in his catalog, “One of the pleasures which the first of each year affords is the presentation of a copy of our new catalogue to each of our customers, and we do it believing that they find pleasure and profit in receiving it. It is no small task to supply half a million books like this, and it necessitates an enormous outlay of labor and money.”

There was great competition in the seed and nursery trade, each company attempting to appeal to customers in different ways [as illustrated in the image above].  Some included the biggest plant variety and another the best colorful plant illustration.  All in hopes of winning over a customer.

As the century moved along, the seed and nursery catalog proved successful enough that other companies like Sears and Roebuck built their success on the catalogs issued from seed companies and nurseries.


Loudon Viewed Gardening as an Art Form Open to Everyone

John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) has been called the Father of the English Garden.

I think that is because in his writing he promoted the art of gardening among all classes of people, not just the wealthy.

In the first issue of his Gardener’s Magazine in 1826, he wrote: “We shall endeavor to promote a taste for the art [of gardening] among country labourers, and to draw the attention of every cottager who has a garden, to the profit and enjoyment which he may derive from its improved cultivation.”

This book discusses Loudon's attempt to help the cottager profit from the garden.

The Cottage Garden by Lloyd and Bird discusses Loudon’s attempt to help the cottager profit from the garden.

Every gardener would benefit from reading the magazine and, hopefully, become an even better gardener.

That goal motivated Loudon as he wrote throughout his life.

Before that time, only the wealthy could enjoy gardening because they had the  resources to employ gardeners who made the English landscape garden a reality for them.

Loudon argues it doe not matter how much money you have, you can still enjoy gardening.

Seems so essential for us today, but then learning about gardening was not open to every class of society.

Loudon once said that writing about the garden teaches more  people  about gardening than any garden itself could.

That’s another reason I like him.


Nineteenth Century English Landscape Gardener Promoted Bedding Out Garden Style

One of the research activities I enjoy is scouring library archives for their treasures.

Recently I spent an afternoon in the Special Collections at Harvard’s Loeb Design School.  There I came across the book The Gardens of England (1857) by artist E. Adveno Brooke.

The book was filled with page-length drawings of prominent English gardens from the first half of the nineteenth century.

The name William A. Nesfield (1793-1881) appeared as the landscape gardener for more than one of these gardens.  He  has been called “Victorian England’s most famous landscape gardener.”

The cover of the 1886 seed catalog of New York's Peter Henderson Company

The cover of the 1886 seed catalog of New York’s Peter Henderson Company

Nesfied’s signature design element became carpet beds of flowers and colored foliage plants.  He could weave such plants in a design as intricate as any carpet maker.  Brooke displayed the colors of each property’s carpet bed  in careful detail in the book’s drawings.

Carpet bedding became popular in America as well. Such beds often appeared on the cover of seed catalogs like Peter Henderson’s of 1886 [above].

Edward Hyams, however, in his book The English Garden had little tolerance for carpet beds.

Hyams wrote “The detail of Nesfield’s work was, in short, repulsive, and he was one of those responsible for that disagreeable kind of gardening known as ‘bedding out’.”

Nesfield’s style of carpet bedding, however, lasted much of the nineteenth century, and appeared in landscapes both in England and in America.




The California Poppy Blooms Now – A Fabulous Native Plant

How we welcome the flowers of spring after that hard winter we suffered.

The California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, is a species of flowering plant in the family Papaveraceae, native to the United States and Mexico, and the official state flower of California.

It’s now blooming in California.

On December 12, 1890, the California State Floral Society voted to select a State Flower. The three nominees were Eschscholzia californica, the California poppy, Romneya coulteri, called giant poppy at the time, but now usually referred to as Matilija poppy, and Calochortus (no species indicated), the mariposa lily. The California poppy won by a landslide.

Last week these poppies  in this Califronai garden.

Last week these poppies appeared quite at home in this California garden.

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) included the California poppy in his seed catalog of 1873.  The packet of seeds cost only 5 cents.  Vick wrote, “A very showy class of hardy annuals, of different shades of yellow and creamy white.”

He listed the California poppy under ‘Annuals’.  He wrote: “For our best and gayest flowers we are dependent mainly upon his Department, and to it we are especially indebted for a brilliant and constant show late in the season.”

That’s evidence that nineteenth century American seed merchants did sell native plants.

Here is a picture [above] from the yard of my sister-in-law’s house in California.

The California poppy shines as a native plant that still, after all these decades, brings out that feeling of freshness and new beginnings when you see its orange/yellow flower in the spring garden.


Garden Advertising Became an Icon Maker

Advertising in nineteenth century America moved from simply product information to creating icons for the culture.

At least that’s want Mary Cross writes in her book A Century of American Icons.

Products became recognizable as brands, linked to a visual symbol that eventually became an American icon.

For example, the Quaker Oats figure sold oatmeal, but the figure became an American icon as well.  A consumer did not just buy oatmeal, but Quaker Oats.


Ilustration from a tree pedler's book, circa 1880.

The garden before and after patronizing the tree dealers. Ilustration from a tree pedler’s book by D. M. Dewy in Rochester,NY, circa 1880.

Advertising makes icons out of things it sells.  The same happened in nineteenth century garden advertising.

The icon makes the product more desirable.

The garden catalogs sold a garden icon, a symbol of what the ideal garden would look like. People could visualize it with its lawn, shrubs, and flowerbeds because they had already seen it in garden advertising.[above]

That garden took on the look of the English garden.

By the end of the nineteenth century garden mass-produced catalogs, garden books, and garden magazines in unison wrote about and illustrated that same garden.

Thus Cross’ idea of advertising creating an icon might well apply as well to the garden.

What are the garden icons today?  Where do they come from?




In 1893 Munsey Changed Forever the Way Magazines Made Money

I write at times about advertising and its relationship to the culture.

Today is one of those days.

Advertising changed at the end of the nineteenth century into something more than simply information about a product.

Frank Munsey (1854-1925)  sold his Munsey’s Magazine subscribers to advertisers.

In  September of 1893 he wrote: ” Beginning with the opening number of Volume X [the October issue] the price of Munsey’s Magazine will be reduced from twenty-five to ten cents per copy and from three dollars to one dollar for annual subscriptions.”

Munsey Magazine, January, 1894. Notice the price change at the top.

Munsey Magazine, January, 1894. Notice the price change at the top.

He thus increased his readership by expanding the importance of  advertising from supplemental revenue to a fundamental role in the business model.

Circulation of the magazine, i.e. the number of subscribers, became his business asset.

How many exposures to the ad generated his revenue. The larger readership his magazine showed, the more he could charge for advertising.

Advertisers of course looked for the biggest audience for their ads.

Munsey’s Magazine was the first national magazine to see its readers as an asset.

Before then magazines had something to say, since Munsey they have something to sell: the readers.

Today in television, the number of viewers becomes the asset for the network.



Nineteenth Century English Nurseries Supported Plant Collecting

Gardening resembles clothing as a cultural symbol.  It represents what is in fashion at the moment.

In nineteenth century England plant collecting made varieties of plants from Africa, Asia, and the Americas available to gardeners who had never seen them before.

People gardened to show off their collections.

The garden moved from the eighteenth century picturesque view to a garden with plants to display.

Edward Hyams in his book The English Garden wrote: “High gardening was a product of money, scientific and technical advances, the rise of the great and profitable nursery firms, and plant collecting.”

B. K. Bliss catalog cover of 1879

B. K. Bliss catalog cover of 1879

Soon people had to have the latest in garden fashion, the newest plants. The nurseries, sponsoring plant collectors to hunt the world’s forests and pastures, obliged and became rich in the process.

The same thing happened in America.

The New York seed merchant Benjamin K. Bliss [above] wrote in his catalog of 1860, “We would respectfully invite the attention of all lovers of flowers the following list of plants, containing, in addition to all the leading varieties of former years, many that are new and rare, now offered for the first time in this country.”

Thus marketing the garden became selling the latest fad to the gardener.

In one sense not much has changed.

American gardeners today show that same interest.

It ought be no surprise that those who market seeds and plants fill that need by advertising the “newest” flower or vegetable.