Archives for May 2013

Hampton Court Represents Formal English Garden Design

On my visit to England I had to experience the gardens of Hampton Court.

The property abuts the River Thames.  I walked down to the water and could imagine centuries ago summer visitors arriving by boat.

Formality still in Hampton Court today.

Formality still in Hampton Court today.

Recently I read the book Furor Hortensis: Essays on the History of the English Garden, edited by Peter Willis. There I read these words: “Hampton Court is the best surviving large scale example in England of Le Notre’s style.”

Andre Le Notre (1613-1700) was the French landscape gardener, famous for the gardens of Versailles.  His approach often took a formal, symmetrical look to the garden

In Hampton Court we see a sixteenth century English version of Le Notre’s style.

In th next century, the seventeeenth, England would change its garden style and launch a movement called the picturesque, then the gardenesque, and later in the nineteenth century the Romantic.  Each of these styles began as an attempt to design in a different style from the formal, symmetrical look, while sometimes incorporating a bit of symmetry.

Hampton Court stands as an early version of the English landscape garden when the landscape design took a more formal look.



Learning about Gardening Never Stops

Gardeners experience new things all the time when in the garden.

A shrub that I planted twenty years ago called Kerria Japonica ‘Picta” has appeared faithfully every spring.  This year it  did not survive the winter. I was so surprised.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly of  1881: Gardener's Monthly cover 1883“Gardening does not merely consist in having a piece of ground with some grass, some trees, and some flowers; but it means a study of these things so as to get the most pleasure from the materials at command. The study of gardening should be like the study of any other art.”

Recently I have become part of a community of online gardeners. I am learning there as well.

I wrote there online that this spring I saw more hosta seedlings than I have seen for a long time.

We gardeners continue to learn both in the garden and in reading.


Book Give-Away Begins the First Week in June

I would like to offer a free copy of my book America’s Romance with the English Garden to the person whose name is drawn as part of a book give-away.

This is how the give-away will work.

Published by Ohio University Press, April, 2013

Published by Ohio University Press, April, 2013

On Monday, June 3 at 8 :00 a.m. [EST] I will post here on this blog a short excerpt from the book with an illustration.

If you comment on the post any time that week up until Friday, June 7 5:00 p.m. [EST], I will enter your name in a drawing for a free copy of the book.

I will draw a name of those who commented and I will contact the winner Monday, June 10 for the correct mailing address.

You have a chance to win a free copy of the book.  Hope you will comment.

Sorry this give-away is open only to US residents.



Nineteenth Century American Seed Companies Endorsed English Garden Writer William Robinson

It was no surprise that since garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935) was so important in England that he would also assume a role in the development of the American garden.

The Pittsburgh seed company owner Benjamin A. Elliott, who began his company in 1840, gave a considerable amount of space in his catalog to instruction for the homeowner about landscape.

This illustration of a Japanese anemone in Robinson's The Wild Garden appeared later in American seed catalogs.

This illustration of a Japanese anemone in Robinson’s The Wild Garden appeared later in American seed catalogs.

Elliott’s 1888 catalog, like Robinson’s book The Wild Garden, encouraged the use of perennials rather than annuals. Elliott thus portrayed an emerging English garden style as the model for the American gardener. He wrote, “We are indebted to this great champion of hardy flowers [Robinson] for some of the ideas advanced here, culled from his numerous works on gardening, which have done much to make English gardens what they are—the most beautiful in the world.”

Elliott recognized how much Robinson had contributed to the English garden.

American gardening would only be the better if Robinson’s ideas were put into practice.


William Robinson Played Key Role in Spreading the English Garden Style

William Robinson (1838-1935)  became an important influence in English garden history during the second half of the nineteenth century.

He preferred the English naturalistic style, and fought with those who encouraged a formal and symmetrical look to the landscape.

His intolerance for the ‘landscape architect’ guided much of his writing.  He thought plantsmen and horticulturists should advise on landscape gardening and not the architect who knew nothing of plants.

In his book The English Garden Edward Hyams says of Robinson: “The first great gardener after Loudon [John Claudius] to recombine art and science, to make use of the whole past to open the way into the future of English gardening was William Robinson, the creator of Gravetye and the part-creator of the English garden as it is now.”

Like Loudon, Robinson edited a magazine and wrote several books.

WILD GARDEN COVER #2Timber Press came out with a new edition of his book The Wild Garden in which he encourages the use of native plants, woodland areas, as well perennials in the garden.

Some of Robinson’s ideas are worth exploring now as we set out to ready the garden for the coming summer.


Today Is the Official Pub Date for the Book

After six years, my book America’s Romance with the English Garden (Ohio University Press) is now officially published.

Mickeycover7lowresoToday is what the book industry calls the ‘pub date’.

My friend, publicist Lissa Warren in her book The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity says, “The pub date is the date your book makes its entry into the world.  Think of it as its bar mitzvah, or debutante ball.”

She presents colorful imagery in the comparisons.

I must say that I am just happy that the book is out and available.

Thank you for supporting me during these years of researching and writing the book, a topic which I often covered in posts on this blog.

I intend to spend the next couple of days working in my garden. It’s a way of rewarding myself.


Exotics Were Important in the Nineteenth Century English Garden

Today plant hunters still travel the world looking for plants that will find a home in American gardens.

The American grower Proven Winners tests plants from sixty breeders around the world.  The company trials them and if they are worthwhile, the new plants become part of the palate for the American gardener.

The company introduces fifty new plants out of thousands that it tests every year.

Exotics were important to the nineteenth century English garden as much as they are to American gardens today.

English garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935) encouraged gardeners to cultivate exotics in the garden.

Euphorbia 'diamond frost' from Proven Winners is a popular plant for containers.In his book The English Garden Edward Hyams wrote: “It was always implicit in the ideas of William Robinson that exotics would not only be introduced into the English landscape garden and woodland garden, but that they should become altogether at home there, even to the extent of naturalizing.”

Today as we garden, exotics can continue to play a role in the garden.  Plants from outside the US have always found a home in our gardens.

In Germany Gary Grueber bred the popular Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ [above], first introduced in 2004. The flowers resemble ‘Baby’s Breath’.  Proven Winners soon after sold it to American gardeners.  Since then it has won over twenty-three awards.

Exotics, or plants from outside the US, continue to be important today.

American gardening reflects Robinson’s words of advice.



Alternanthera Became a Popular Victorian Plant for Bedding

The alternanthera is grown for its leaves.

It was a popular plant in beds during the nineteenth century both in England and in America.

In the 1880 issue of Philadelphia seedsman Thomas Meehan’s Gardener’s Monthly M. Digram wrote an article called “The Alternanthera as a Lawn Plant.”  He said, “A carpet-like effect may be producted with the Alternanthera on a smooth lawn in the following manner: cut strips  or figures out of the turf of any shape determined on, from three to four inches deep, and in width of the ordinary mowing machine.”

alternanthera 'Purple Knight'

Alternanthera ‘Purple Knight’

Today the alternanthera comes in many varieties. It is a genus of approximately eighty herbaceous plant species in the Amaranth family.

Alternanthera ficoidia, or in its common name Joseph’s Coat, is native to Mexico and Brazil and is related to celosia and gomphrena. It thrives in full sun with fertile, loamy, well-drained soil. You grow the plant for its colorful leaves, not its flower. The plant lasts in the garden till frost.

Hybridizers cross plants to get a stronger, more desirable variety.  That has happened with the Alternanthera.

Researchers at the Athens Select Trial Gardens in Georgia have evaluated hundreds of plants it receives every year from breeders around the world.  Two of them are now the alternanthera varieties called ‘Red Threads’ and ‘Summer Flame’.

Allan Armitage, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia where the Trial Gardens are located, says, “Only the plants that prove to be outstanding performers under the South’s oppressively hot and humid conditions are selected.  These alternanthera met and surpassed our quality standards.”

The 5-inch ‘Red Threads’ features beautiful, deep burgundy-colored foliage that’s almost grass-like with its narrow leaves.  It forms a dense mound.  ‘Summer Flame’ is also low growing, only 6 inches, buts its foliage appears broader and is multi-colored in pink, white and green tones.

American seed catalogs of the nineteenth century often listed the alternanthera.  In the home landscape the plant appeared in beds, but also in containers.

What people like about this plant is that you can trim it to stay a height that you would like.  The plant takes the cutting and still grows quite well.  The new foliage looks great after shearing.

The alternanthera continues to be a popular plant in the garden.