Archives for September 2013

The Kitchen Garden Belongs Behind the House

Growing vegetables and herbs has been a part of instruction in gardening since the monks in England surrendered their monasteries to Henry the Eighth in the sixteenth century.  In doing so the monks made their methods of growing herbs and vegetables available to all.

When I visited President George Washington’s home Mount Vernon, outside of Washington, D.C., I noticed that the kitchen garden was over to the side of the front entrance.  Red brick walls surrounded the garden, but it was clearly hidden from view.

Washington, of course, built his landscape according to English garden principles, which meant the kitchen garden was far from the view of any visitor.

gardening with vegetables

Seedsman Peter Henderson illustrated growing vegetables away from the house in this 1899 catalog cover.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in the 1861 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly: “Upon small places, the kitchen garden should be as far from the house as the grounds will admit, and well fenced in.”

The kitchen garden, according to Meehan and the  English garden style he promoted in his magazine, was to be part of the landscape but not in view of a visitor to the house.

Perhaps that is why to this day we put the vegetable patch behind the house.

Also, today when people sometimes grow tomatoes on the front lawn, a bit of anxiety emerges among the neighbors who see that garden on a daily basis as they pass the house.  We expect the vegetable garden to be behind the house, hidden from view.

Where do you plant your vegetables and herbs for the kitchen?  Why there?


Loudon Supported Middle Class Gardening in England

One of the people I most admire in English garden history is writer, landscape gardener, and horticulturist John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843).

Loudon’s monthly journal Gardener’s Magazine sought to teach gardening as an art and to recognize the value of professional gardeners who chose gardening as a career.

But it was his opening the door to write and speak about gardening for the middle class which deserves special note.

In his book Victorian Gardens John Highstone writes: “John Claudius Loudon published Suburban Gardener in 1838. For many years it was the bible of the new and rapidly rising middle class. As a result the garden, no longer the exclusive domain of a privileged few, became the delight of the middle class.”

Highstone Victorian GardensLoudon wrote that growing plants and visiting gardens is a pleasure for all.

He found a ready audience for that message, the emerging middle class in England.

America’s middle class enjoyed gardening as well, especially after 1860 and the rise of the suburbs where the homeowner could have a lawn, flowers, and a kitchen garden out back.


19th Century Banker Joseph Shipley Built an English Country Landscape in Delaware

An example of the English romantic landscape in nineteenth century America has to be that of Joseph Shipley in Delaware.

Shipley, a banker who returned to America in 1851 afters 20 years in England, called his home Rockwood.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote about the property in the 1861 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly.  Meehan said, “The magnificent place constructed and occupied by Joseph Shipley, Esq., appropriately called Rockwood, situated about two miles north of Wilmington, deserves a more extended notice than we can give it at this time.

“The entire place is improved upon the plan of natural landscape – gardening so much employed in English country places, where the development of the natural resources of ground and trees, and the heightening of natural beauties by a very little art in clearing up, planting, opening vistas, etc., surpasses in real gratification the most elaborate and costly works of art.

“it is the most splendid specimen of the English park-like style of landscape work that we have ever seen.”

Rockwood, built between 1851 and 18954, with an English country esate lasdncape

An English country style landscape surrounds the Gothic house at Rockwood, built between 1851 and 1854.

Rockwood is still open as a public garden. You can also tour the house.

Today it still stands as an early example of the English garden style in nineteenth century American estates.  And Meehan recognized its importance.


California House Built in 1860 with its English Landscape Still Stands

Recently I visited the town called Grass Valley in northern California

The car ride over the mountains scarred me at times because I don’t handle heights well.  Let’s just say I was happy when we arrived.

To my surprise I found that Edward Coleman’s house was still standing, and  its English landscape still recognizable.  Coleman who owned the North Star and Idaho mines as well as the Mohawk Lumber Company  built this home in the 1860s.

I saw the lawn with shrubs and the pine trees that have grown quite tall,  two urns at the start of the front walk, and the fence.  You can also see these distinquishing elements in the black and white drawing of the house [below] from the nineteenth century.

Coleman house in 1880

This is the Coleman house in Grass Velley, California, built  in the 1860s.

The Coleman residence is an example of how far  English garden design traveled in this country in the nineteenth century.

It was the garden style from California to Maine, with no small thanks to the seed and nursery catalogs which often featured it on their covers.

The Coleman House today

The Coleman House as it looks today


Nineteenth Century Philadelphia Nurseryman Meehan Called a Garden a Work of Art

We work hard in the garden.  We enjoy what we do. We find a sense of satisfaction in the mysteries of nature that become evident as we travel the seasons with our work in the garden.

The garden is also a work of art.

At least that is what Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in 1861 in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly. He said: “To regard a garden otherwise than as a work of art, would tend to a radical perversion of its nature. A garden is for comfort and convenience, luxury and use, as well as for making a beautiful picture. It is to express civilization, and care, and design, and refinement. It is a blending of art with nature.”

The Peter Henderson seed catalog of 1886

The Peter Henderson seed catalog of 1886

Thus nineteenth century seed and nursery owners taught us that gardening is important because it expresses an art form.

Alfred Henderson, in the biography he wrote about his father New York seedsman Peter Henderson (1828-1891), referred to the elder Henderson as “horticultural instructor”, because in his catalogs and books Henderson, like other seedsmen and nurserymen of the time, taught America how to garden.

The seedsman and nurserymen taught American gardeners how to express themselves as artists in the garden.  The design style they often recommended in both essay and illustration was the romantic English garden design.

That was the case with both Meehan and Henderson, both trained gardeners from Great Britain.




An English Garden Grows in Reno

I just returned from a week in Reno where I gave talks about the book and had a couple of book signings.

Of course while there I had to search out the local pubic garden.  In Reno that would certainly have to be the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden.  As you walk the Arboretum you find a series of gardens, including a collection of native plants and a xeriscape demonstration garden.

As I turned a corner, I came upon an English garden called the Burke Garden.  It is a popular spot for wedding photos.

The English Garden at the May Arboretum in Reno.

The English Garden at the May Arboretum in Reno.

The area featured borders of perennials.  You could see that it was well maintained which provides for the seasonal blooming of the plants like phlox and coneflower.

The English garden seems to be well established in the city of Reno since when we flew out I could see many lawns throughout the city, with flowering shrubs and beds of annuals and perennials.

In nineteenth century America the English garden style appeared across the country including on properties in California and Reno.

Today Reno’s May Arboretum illustrates that tradition.  The English garden is alive and well in Reno.


Garden Pathways Curved in the English Garden

Recently I visited Filoli Gardens in Woodside, California.

The garden there represents an early twentieth century interpretation of an English estate garden.  Many gardens make up the landscape, which includes sections of extensive lawn throughout the property.

Pathways in the garden are often curved, which was the look of the picturesque English garden of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The walk or pathway in the English garden could be made of gravel.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in the March 1861 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly, “Next to the lawn, the walks are the most striking feature of a well kept garden.”

A pathway in Filoli Gardens, south of San Francisco.

A pathway in Filoli Gardens, south of San Francisco.

You can lay out the walkways as you design the landscape.

Curved walkways were preferred in the English style because it looked more informal, and closer to the more natural view that landscape gardeners recommended.

Thus it is no surprise that Meehan, an advocate for the English garden style,  placed such importance on the garden path or walkway.



Nineteenth Century American Gardeners Needed Instruction on Lawn Maintenance

I am still on the West coast. This morning I am in Reno where I can see the lawn in many home landscapes around the city.

The lawn, according to English garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935), is the “heart of the English garden.”

American gardeners have always needed instruction on how to maintain a lawn.

Nineteenth century owners of seed companies and nurseries often wrote on the topic of lawn care in their catalogs, magazines, and books .

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in the March 1861 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly, “As soon as the frost is thoroughly out of the ground, and while the surface is yet soft, lawns should have a thorough rolling, which will not only tend to level the surface, but also press into the earth the roots of any of the fine grasses that the frost may have drawn out.”

The lawn at Filoli Gardens. Notice the sign "Keep off the Grass".

The lawn at Filoli Gardens. Notice the sign “Keep off the Grass”.

At the Filoli Gardens in Woodside, California, where I recently visited,  the lawn plays a central role throughout the gardens. In most cases it is surrounded by shrubs and borders of flowers.

Here on the West coast the lawn seems still to be important in gardens.

That means, of course, that people still need instruction on maintaining a lawn.


Boxwood Edging Essential to the English Garden

The boxwood shrub, that tiny-leaved evergreen that you see planted in rows as a hedge, was an essential plant in the English garden.

Gardeners used it for edging areas of both lawn and flowers.

Recently I visited the Filoli Gardens in Woodside, California where I saw boxwood used as edging throughout the garden.  Filoli’s garden design represents the classic English garden estate style, popular in America by the end of the nineteenth century.

Boxwood edging at Filoli Gardens, Woodside, CA

Boxwood edging [right] I saw recently at Filoli Gardens in Woodside, California.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in the March 1861 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly: “This is the proper season to lay down box edgings. To make them properly, the soil along the line of the edge should be first dug, and then trod hard and firm, so that the soil may sink evenly together, or the line will present ugly looking undulations in time.”

Meehan of course wanted the edging to be even in height and width for that proper look to the garden. He saw box as essential to the garden, whose design had to be in the English tradition.

Filoli maintains its gardens of trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals with the utmost care of many volunteer gardeners.  They do a spectacular job.

The boxwood edging throughout the property would make Meehan truly proud.