Archives for October 2013

Nineteenth Century American Garden Magazine Editor Deserved Recognition

In the nineteenth century magazines became a popular media form to reach a specific audience.  Garden magazines appeared to reach the emerging middle class, first in England and then in America.

In 1826 England’s garden writer and landscape designer John Claudius Loudon began his publication Gardener’s Magazine, the first periodical devoted solely to horticulture.  A few years later  in 1835 the Boston horticulturist Charles Mason Hovey launched his garden magazine called Magazine of Horticulture which he edited until 1868.  Hovey designed both the content and the layout to resemble that of Loudon’s in England.

Another early magazine editor Thomas Meehan in Phildelphia rcognized his own role as a nurseryman  in American garden magazine history.

Meehan's magazine that he edited from 1859 to 1888.

Meehan’s magazine that he edited from 1859 to 1888.

Meehan edited his garden periodical called Gardener’s Monthly from 1859 to 1888.  Perhaps unable to leave the editor’s desk, he began Meehan’s Monthly in 1891.

Meehan wrote in Volume III of his magazine in 1861, “With the exception, perhaps, of the London Gardener’s Chronicle, we believe we have a circulation greater than any purely horticultural journal in the world.”

There certainly were no methods to tabulate circulation at that time, so Meehan’s boast may or may not have rung true.

But the fact that he edited a garden publication for so long ought not go unnoticed.  His monthly managing of a garden publication proved no easy task. He, like Loudon and Hovey, depended on correspondents who regularly contributed articles and notes to each issue.

But his persistence in seeing the magazine through  for almost thirty years surely deserves recognition.

Like fellow nurseryman Hovey, Meehan ought to be recognized as a pioneer in the American garden magazine industry.


Standardized Products Became the Norm in the late 1890s

We gardeners like to think we are original in planning a garden space.

In a media environment that is not possible because we become surrounded by media messages in advertising and editorial content in so many outlets.

Since the 1890s the media influence our ideas about gardening.

Quaker OatsAt the end of the nineteenth century people wanted standardized products that came from the nation’s factories, whether clothing, shoes, or food.  Even seed company and nursery owners illustrated their large operations in a chromolithograph included in the pages of the catalog.  A customer could then see the trial fields, the building which made boxes for the company’s many orders, and, of course, the multi-storied structure that served as the seed company or nursery  headquarters.

People didn’t want just any oat meal.  They wanted Quaker Oats.

And they got that, and lots of other standardized products.

People also wanted a garden like the one illustrated in the garden catalog, which spread across the country in the millions from the many seed companies and nurseries, operating as the modern business they had become.

The Philadelphia seedsman Robert Buist might have felt a glimpse of the power of the media when he wrote in 1857: “Nurserymen have to cater for the wants of their customers, and they wish everything that receives a newspaper puff, however indifferent in quality–so that we go on increasing in all sorts of varieties.”


The Late Nineteenth Century Garden Industry Linked to a Consumer Culture

The consumer culture began in this country about 1880, when products became standardized, emerging from factories in mass numbers.  Bartering no longer worked for services and goods because the exchange of money provided whatever people needed.

The garden industry also grew during the last two decades of the century.  Large and colorful catalogs appeared. The mail order business became bigger than ever.

The seed companies and nurseries sold a style of garden that appeared in catalog after catalog, the English garden design.

The Currie Company catalog

This Currie Company seed catalog referred to itself as a “Horticultural Guide”.

In the Currie Brothers seed catalog of 1894, we read: “A careful perusal of the pages of our ‘Guide’ will reveal the fact that it is not simply an ordinary Catalogue of Seeds, Flowers, Plants, etc. but a valuable book of reference, designed as an assistant to the gardener and the farmer. All the best and most useful Vegetables, Flowers, Plants, Grains, and Grasses adapted to our climate are fully described and instructions for their culture given.”

The catalog provided more than just products. It sold the dream and hope of a particular landscape and garden.

Advertising in mass circulated magazines, catalogs, and newspapers followed the same pattern.  No longer just information about a product was presented, but how the product would make you look better or make your house and property  look better.  They sold dreams and hopes.

By the late nineteenth century a growing consumer culture meant what things and products you owned determined your worth.

Home landscape included anything that would show off the property, including a lawn, a water feature, flowerbeds on the lawn, and trees to line the property with the kitchen garden and fruit trees behind the house.

The garden industry in an effort to become part of the culture and succeed in its business now across the country provided a standardized view of the garden to middle class America. And the same garden appeared from California to Maine.

All the customer had to do was send in money  for those seeds or plants.



The Annual Vine Mina Lobata Blooms in My Garden

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The Native Virginia Creeper Still Popular in American Gardens

In my photos from the California trip I made a few weeks ago, I found an image of the vine called Virginia creeper, climbing up the wall near a window at Francis Ford Coppola’s Inglenook Winery in Rutherford.  The leaves were turning a bit crimson at one spot on the wall, a sign of autumn in the air.

For a long time I thought this native plant was invasive and ought to be avoided.  Now I even see new varieties appearing on the market at the local nursery.

Virginia creeper, or Parthenocissus quinquefolia, an easy to grow vine, has a long history in this country.

The James Vick Seed Company offered it in the company catalog of 1890 under the name Ampelopsis quinquefolia.  The seeds he offered cost only ten cents.  Another name for the plant was ‘American Ivy’ since it was often compared to Boston ivy, which is not a native plant but from Asia.

Today the grower Proven Winners offers  a new variety of Virginia creeper called ‘Red Wall’ which I planted last summer. It, of course, has bright red color in the fall, with blue fruit.  This summer I saw a little growth but I am not worried since I know it takes a while for this vine to reach its potential.  The Boston Ivy I planted took several years to cover a wall.

Virginia Creeper climing the wall here at Francis Ford Copola's Ingkenook Winnery.

The Virginia creeper vine climbs  the wall here at Francis Ford Coppola’s Inglenook Winnery in Rutherford, California.

Even though it is a native plant, American garden writers have long praised the Virginia creeper. In 1903 Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer wrote in her book Art Out-of-Doors: Hints on Good Taste in Gardening, “The Virginia-creeper adapts itself in the most versatile way to supports as it may find, now twining around a fence or lattice and throwing out long free streamers, and now spreading a flat yet gracefully flowing mantle over wide, plain walls.”

Virginia creeper is native to the eastern United States.  Donald Wyman wrote in the 1949 edition of his book Shrubs and Vines for American Gardens: “All turn a vivid scarlet in the fall and are about the first of the wood plants to show fall color. Because of its wide distribution and its general usefulness, it should not be omitted from any list of vines.”

Caution, however, ought guide any gardener thinking of planting this vine. Many gardeners recommend you avoid planting it on a building, but let it grow freely on an outside wall or fence, at a distance from the house. Virginia creeper may harm the clapboards of a house once it becomes established.

I planted the ‘Red Wall’ variety on a stone wall along the road so there is no need to worry about damaging the walls of the house.

This vine resembles poison ivy, but poison ivy has three leaflets that make up the leave, and Virginia creeper has five. The Latin word ‘quinquefolia’ means five.

In my garden I often see Virginia creeper growing wild and spreading along the ledge that covers a great deal of my property.  You can be sure I count the leaves.




The Public Garden Blithewold Features Exotic Plants

Yesterday I visited Blithewold, a public garden in Bristol, Rhode Island. Don’t remember ever  driving there in the fall so I was surprised to find so much color in the landscape as I walked around the garden.

One plant that got my attention was the Harlequin Glorybower [what a name] or Clerodendrum trichotomum.

It is a small tree, probably eight feet high, planted along the wall at the corner of the North garden, right near the house.  It’s a great choice for fall color since it forms brilliant blue berries surrounded by red calyxes by this time of the year.

Harlequin Glorybower at Blithewold in Bristol, RI

Harlequin Glorybower at Blithewold in Bristol, RI

I mention this tree because it is native to China and Japan, but it grows well at Blithewold, which boasts of many exotic plants.

In nineteenth-century America the search for newer plant varieties often supported an inclination to explore areas outside rather than within the United States, including China and Japan. Through most of the nineteenth century, the seed and nursery catalogs considered native plants to be less desirable for the home landscape or garden than exotic or imported plants. Garden historian Denise Wiles Adams in her book Restoring American Gardens examined American seed and nursery catalogs from 1750 well into the early twentieth century and found that there were one hundred and three plants listed continually in the catalogs. Although there were a number of native plants on the list, the majority were exotic.

Today the argument about the need to grow native plants is important, but American gardeners can still enjoy exotic plants in the garden as we always have.

Blithewold proves an example of a public garden that cultivates both native and exotic plants.


This Moon Gate at Blithewold features perennial beds on each side.  Moon Gates were a feature of Chinese gardens the English introduced in the late nineteenth century to their gardens.

This Moon Gate at Blithewold features perennial beds on each side. Moon Gates were a feature of Chinese gardens the English introduced in the late nineteenth century to their gardens.  Soon after that American gardeners included this Chinese feature in their gardens as well.


Flowerbeds Demand Maintenance

The flowerbeds I saw at Chanticleer, near Phildelphia.

Fine gravel helps maintain this flowerbed I saw at Chanticleer, a public garden near Philadelphia.

Whether you have a bed of annuals or perennials, or a mix of the two, you cannot avoid maintenance.

That means, of course, first weeding, and then thinning out, or even pruning and deadheading.

That has always been the case with flowerbeds.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in 1861 in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly: “After the walks and lawn, the flower-beds should be a constant source of attention.”

He minced no words. He let the gardener know that deciding to include a flowerbed in the landscape also meant a willingness to maintain that flowerbed.

As I walk around my garden and look closely at the flowerbeds that I have planted, I see what plant needs pruning or thinning out when they seem to be crowding out one another.

That kind of work is part of the maintenance of the flowerbed.

I don’t mind that work because I like the look of a flowerbed, with its bloom, leaf color, and structure.


By the late 19th Century the Home Landscape Became Standardized

The home landscape became quite similar from California to Maine in the nineteenth century, largely due to the seed and nursery catalogs that sold the romantic English garden in word and images.

Recently I came across the book The American Family Home 1800-1960 by Clifford  Edward Clark, Jr.

Clark’s cover illustrates that standardized home landscape quite well. [below]

A late Victorian suburban home in Shoppell's The Builder's Portfolio

A late Victorian suburban home in Robert W. Shoppell’s Builders’ Portfolio [also the cover on Clark’s book].

For the book’s cover he borrowed this illustration from Robert W. Shoppell’s book Builders’ Portfolio.

The illustration depicts a Victorian home with the lawn which is surrounded by a wrought iron fence.

That became the look of the home landscape  across the country at that time.

Clark writes: “The suburban landscape was itself redesigned to reinforce a feeling of protectiveness by using trees, lawns, and parks to create a pastoral-like setting. With its green lawns, special plantings, flowering shrubs, and shade trees, nature itself was tamed and controlled in the suburbs.”

To own a home in the suburbs meant a landscape of lawn with trees to line the property.


Store Dahlias in the Winter, according to 1861 Garden Magazine

My favorite flower has to be the dahlia.

For many years I have grown about fifty dahlia tubers each summer.  I plant them in the spring and tie them as needed to the support pole. The blooms appear from the end of July until Thanksgiving.

But it is the digging up and storing for the winter that takes the most time.

Some gardeners I know  do not want to bother with all the work involved in growing dahlias.


Dahlias in the Filoli Gardens, south of San Francisco

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan in the November 1861 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly gave instructions on what to do with the dahlias after the first frost. He wrote: “As soon as the first white frost has blackened dahlia leaves, the stems should be cut back to a few inches off the ground, the label securely fastened, and the root placed away in a cool place secure from frost til next March, when it should be ‘sprouted’, divided and again set out.”

For some reason I do not mind the task of digging up, cleaning, labeling, and storing the tubers for the winter.

It feels like a step in the wrapping up the garden for the winter.

Do you store dahlia tubers?  What method do you use?