Archives for August 2013

A Landscape Designer Needs to Know Plants

Theory provides an understanding of what we do.  When a person speaks or writes with the explanation or idea behind something, that idea is the ‘theory’.  Freud thought that all human behavior could be explained in what he called the ‘pleasure principle’. That was his theory.

In landscape design you want someone who is both theoretical and practical.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan said that in the January 1861 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly:  “The true landscape-gardener must be a gardener, practically and theoretically.”  The term ‘landscape gardener’ was an early English expression for landscape designer.

My backyard garden with wrought iron table at the center on the lawn

My backyard garden with wrought iron table at the center on the lawn

This, of course, is an area of debate in many fields, where one questions an explanation from someone who has ‘no experience’ in the issue under consideration.  He is simply an ‘armchair gardener’, or ‘gentleman farmer’, which referred to someone who had gardeners take care of the work of gardening, even though that person might lay out the garden.

Let me give an example closer to home.

Your garden’s overall design displays a certain inspiration, idea, style, or fashion.  You express that design in your choice of plants and arrangement of other materials.  You can discuss or explain that design to someone visiting your garden.  Thus you could be a landscape gardener both practically and theoretically.

Finally, if you hire a garden designer, you want someone who knows about plants and the art of garden design.

Perhaps that is why when I visit a garden on a tour, I prefer to have the gardener there who can answer questions and explain issues of garden design.


Nineteenth Century English Garden Writer William Robinson Encouraged Naturalizing of Plants

One of my favorite places to visit is the public garden Blithewold in Bristol, Rhode Island.

The property dates to the early twentieth century both in the architecture of the house and the extensive gardens.

Every spring the area under the trees  fills with daffodils that have now naturalized in that spot over the years.

The spring bulbs naturalize in the bosquet section of Blithewold.

The spring bulbs naturalize in the bosquet section of Blithewold.

The English horticulturist and writer William Robinson (1838-1935) proposed the idea of naturalizing for the gardener.  Alicia Amherst in her book A History of Gardening in England wrote in 1895: “The idea of naturalizing plants in shrubberies, grassy banks and wild places, is also a new departure of the late nineteenth century. Mr. W. Robinson, by his works, The Wild Garden and The English Flower Garden, has done more than any one to bring in this taste.”

Now that fall is approaching, and gardeners often think of planting spring bulbs, thoughts might also turn to creating an area where bulbs like daffodils can naturalize. You can have flowers return year after year, and expand in their spread as they reappear.

Today Robinson’s idea of naturalizing provides a truly beautiful display at Blithewold each spring.


Garden as Design versus Garden as Collection of Plants

Recently I attended an auction of the New England Hosta Society where the hosta called  ‘Lachman’s Legacy’ sold for $650.   Clearly the buyer really wanted that hosta.

The price, however,  seemed like a lot of money to pay for one plant.

That is when it hit me: there is a difference between a garden design and a garden as a collection of plants.

In the eighteenth and  nineteenth centuries it was common for English gardeners to have an “American garden” on their property.  Such a garden was a collection of plants from America, often our native plants like rhododendron.

This blue hosta surrounded by Solomon Seal is Hosta 'Blue Cadet'. plated over 20 years ago, in my garden

This blue hosta surrounded by Solomon Seal is Hosta ‘Blue Cadet’, planted over 20 years ago in my garden, and only one in my own collection of hostas.

It is quite common for gardeners to collect plants, but difficult sometimes to fit them into the home landscape.  Such gardeners appear more interested in showcasing the latest plant.

On the other hand, landscape designers choose plants that fit into their artistic expression for the landscape.  A plant finds a home here because it makes sense in the property’s overall design.

Plant collectors sometimes show a cluttered landscape when they seem to run out of room to place a new plant.

We have  landscape gardeners, people whose concern is the design of the landscape, and we also have plant collectors.

Can a garden express both views of plants? I think that is difficult.

What do you think?


Heritage Museums and Gardens Showcase a Shrubbery

On a recent trip to Heritage Museums and Gardens on Cape Cod in the town of Sandwich, Massachusetts I noticed in the garden a row of heavily pruned evergreens.

What came to my mind was the idea of a shrubbery, in this case,  referred to as a collection of well-clipped shrubs.

In the book Keywords in American Landscape Design we read “By the 1840s, shrubbery had developed as a distinct garden feature defined by graduated, intermixed vegetation; placement along walks, roads, flower gardens, and lawns.”

This example of shrubbery on the lawn fits that definition.

Heveily pruned hedges at Hertiage Museums and Gadens

Closely pruned shrubs at Hertitage Museums and Gardens

These shrubs at Heritage offer a display on the lawn.

The lawn certainly is highlighted, but the evergreens stand out as well in their well clipped style as a year-round effect.

In the English garden shrubbery is distinguished from the flower garden and the pleasure ground.

When we group shrubs together in a pleasing design like this at Heritage, we create such a shrubbery.


Current Attempts in Branding Reflect Late Nineteenth Century Garden Industry

Last week I read about banks that want to rebrand themselves and appear more human.

In The Boston Globe article “With flame of humanity, banks try to melt their icy image” the writer Deirdre Fernandes discussed how banks are now attempting to clean up their image since many people blame them for the financial crisis that hit a few years back.

The new advertising  for the banks stresses their relationship with customers. They say their banks offer people a human connection.  They want to remind customers that it is the people behind the business that really matter when you deal with a bank.

Banks today seek a new kind of branding, one that includes a more human connection.

Banks today seek a new kind of branding, one that emphasizes a more human connection with customers.

Such branding, the banks hope, will become a way for people to relate to them as an organization and, at the same time, choose more of their banking services.

The banks are attempting a new branding.

At the end of the nineteenth century the seed and nursery companies also sought to establish their brand.

They did a good job.

By 1900, because the seed and nursery catalog covers illustrated the romantic English garden on the cover and inside the catalog as well, it’s that kind of garden that people wanted.

The ‘brand’ for American gardening appeared on the covers of the major seed and nursery catalogs.  People wanted that kind of garden and so it appeared from California to Maine.


An Heirloom Dahlia Finally Blooms in My Garden

Three years ago I purchased the dahlia called ‘Kaiser Wilhem’ from an online dahlia catalog.

Among the hundreds of dahlias that were introduced in the nineteenth century, this is one that is still available. It was first introduced in 1892.

My ‘Kaiser Wilhelm’  bloomed for the first time this summer. I grow several dahlias, so I know that I have to dig them up in the fall and store them for the winter.  And so I did with this dahlia as well.

The 3-inch flower is unusual, unlike any other dahlia I have grown,

Dahlia 'Kaiser Wilhelm'

Unusual 3 inch flower of the Dahlia called ‘Kaiser Wilhelm’

According to Flowers: A Guide for Your Garden by Ippolito Pizzetti and Henry Cocker  the first dahlias are mentioned in Italy in the year 1810 in a garden catalogue.  In 1817 the Boboli Gardens in Florence grew several varieties of dahlias.

The great dahlia craze in Europe began at the same time. By 1826 sixty-two types were cultivated in England.

From England the interest in dahlias spread to America as well.

American garden companies encouraged the cultivation of dahlias.  Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in the January 1882 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly: “Blooms of this new species, Dahlia Jaurezi, were exhibited by [New York seedsman] Peter Henderson at the November meeting of the New York Horticultural Society.”

Old Vintage Gardens, a collection of many  heirloom plants and much more,  once proclaimed ‘Kaiser Wilhem’ the Spring-Planted Bulb of the Year.

In my garden I was just happy finally to see the flower on this old-fashioned dahlia.


Decorating is the New Word for Gardening

Last week I attended an open house and lecture at Pleasant View Gardens in Loudon, New Hampshire.

Pleasant View is the home of the plant brand called Proven Winners, whose annuals and shrubs are available in garden centers around the country. Every year Pleasant View grows thousands of plants for the market.

Proven Winners carries out extensive research on its customers.  From that research Proven Winners has learned that today people do not like the word ‘gardening’ because it implies work, sweat, and toil in the garden.  Nobody wants to work in the garden today, but people do want to enjoy the benefit of a garden.

the color brightens up this walkway

At Pleasan View Gardens in Loudon, NH the yellow color of these annuals brightens up this walkway.

Today customers prefer the word ‘decorating’.

Decorating of course implies the use of form, texture, and color to make a statement or to express a feeling or certain look.

So today when people use plants, it is to make a statement.

The color and size of the plant become important to fit in a certain location in order to create that look.

At Pleasant View I saw a border of low yellow plants. The three varieties were ‘Gold Dust’ Mecardonia which grows 5 inches tall. Next was Sundaze ‘Golden Beauty’  Bracteantha which stands 10 inches in height. Finally, the Marguerite Daisy called Butterfly Argyranthemum which can grow to 18 inches.  Together they formed a carpet of yellow that flowed along with the walkway.

To me that could well be an example of gardening as decorating.

Here the gardener chose the color yellow in different forms and textures.

Three yello annuals make a statement on this border

The blooms of these flowers together form a  carpet of yellow.

Plant choice becomes the most important decision when you consider gardening as decorating.

That raises some questions, however. You need to know whether the spot is sunny or shady. You need to know the water needs of the plant. Finally, you need to know what height and width the plant will become.

And so, though maintenance might not be an issue with gardening defined as decorating, a person still has to know what the growth habits of a particular plant are.

People certainly want color, form, and texture in the garden.  So perhaps decorating is not such an awful term

What do you think?


The Shakers Pioneered the Sale of Garden Seeds

Last week I visited  Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire.

My intention was to explore the Shaker connection with the seed industry in the early nineteenth century.

Though I knew that the Shakers had invented the popular seed packet as a handy method to sell their seeds, on my visit to Canterbuy I learned about another marketing strategy from the Shakers.

Tall 'Queen of the Meadow' plants on the left frame buildings at the Shaker Village in Canterbury, NH

Tall ‘Queen of the Meadow’ plants on the left frame buildings at the Shaker Village in Canterbury, NH

In the museum I saw a nineteenth century wooden box which was about 2 1/2 feet tall by 18 inches wide that had small seed-packet sized compartments, each listing an available flower, herb, or vegetable seed for that season. The customer would write down the type of seed and number of seed packers needed and leave that order in that seed’s compartment on the wooden rack.

Later after he had picked up the orders, the Shaker seedsman would return to the store and leave the required number of seed packets for each customer.

I thought the box was another clever idea that the Shakers came up with for their seed business.

Later in the century large commercial businesses like Landreth and Comstock would also leave seed packets in a similar rack in the hardware store or grocery store as a marketing strategy.

Perhaps such companies borrowed that marketing strategy from the Shakers who had earlier developed both the wooden rack as well as the popular seed packet.


The Two Garden Styles, Natural and Formal, Appeared in Eighteenth Century England

The English landscape gardeners of the eighteenth century introduced the natural approach to the landscape, which included  such elements as extensive lawn areas, curved walkways, and even an element of surprise as one walked the landscape.

This design was a rejection of the formal design which had swept Europe in the seventeenth century, with Andre Le Notre’s design of the garden of Versailles as its finest example, where symmetry guided the choices in the landscape design.

British landscape gardener Charles McIntosh (1794-1864) wrote in his The Book of the Garden, published in 1853:  “Le Notre’s style rapidly spread in all improving countries. It was, as will be seen hereafter, adopted very extensively in Britain; and, strange to say, continued in great repute in this country fully half a century after the introduction of the English or natural style had been fully established.”

Scotland's Dalkeith Palace, best example of the work of landscape gardener Charles McIntosh (1794--)

Scotland’s Dalkeith Palace, best example of the work of landscape gardener Charles McIntosh, from F. O. Morris’ book County Seats (1880)

The proponents of both styles of landscape would continue to debate the value of each kind of garden design.

Popular English horticulturist and garden writer William Robinson at the end of the nineteenth century claimed the superiority of the role of the landscape gardener who knew plants as superior to the landscape architect  whose experience was limited to formal landscape plans.

The debate continued into the twentieth century and  gardens appeared in both versions, and sometimes in a combination of the two.

Even today both kinds of landscapes express two different kinds of design.