Archives for March 2014

Harvard Business School Sponsors Exhibit on Nineteenth Century Advertising

Thursday we had a warm sunny day here in New England.

That morning I drove over to the Harvard Business School in Cambridge to see the Baker Library exhibit called “The Art of American Advertising 1865-1910.”

The exhibit, which runs until this Friday, April 4, is filled with examples of ads for the many mass-produced and mass-distributed goods that appeared on the market after the Civil War.

The ads, most of them in beautiful chromolithograph colors, illustrate the extension to which companies went in order to familiarize the consumer with their products.  What amazed me were the many different kinds of ads including trade cards, slogans, pop-ups, posters, and trade catalogs.

19th century ads from the Harvard exhibit at the Baker Library, Cambridge, Mass.

Nineteenth century ads that appear in the current exhibit at Harvard’s Baker Library, Cambridge, Mass.

Noted copywriter and author Nathaniel C. Fowler wrote in 1899, “Advertising is a distinct art, as much as the art of coal mining or of engine building.”

The admen of the day were serious about advertising, and even began to call it a modern science.

Though there were no seed company or nursery examples in the Harvard exhibit, the garden industry also took part in this colorful advertising, especially in the catalogs that appeared in the 1890s.

One of the earliest chromolithographs in a seed catalog appeared in the autumn 1867 catalog of B. K. Bliss. The illustration showed popular garden bulbs, like the hyacinth, the tulip, and the lily. At the same time Henry Dreer also included a chromo of bulbs in his 1867-68 catalog.

The garden industry was one of the many businesses that early on used chromos in  advertising.

In the process American gardeners could enjoy the chromolithograph catalogs and illustrations that the companies sent them through the mail.

Hats off to the Baker Library at Harvard for a fascinating look at the history of the art of American advertising.



English Garden Writer William Robinson Disliked Formal Gardens

The design of the landscape falls into two broad categories, natural and formal.

The natural style allows for a landscape that looks like it was always there.  Its signature features include such elements as native plants, perennial borders, woodland planting of bulbs and, of course, a lawn.Whereas the formal look, which includes symmetry and straight lines, clearly shows the handiwork of the architect or designer with its rows and intricate patterns of plants, used more for their color, shape, and size than for any other reason.

William Robinson, author of The English Flower Garden (1883), disliked the formal garden.


Robinson’s popular book that appeared in several editions

Richard Bisgrove in his book William Robinson: The Wild Gardener wrote, “Formal gardening is not merely a matter of bad taste; it is an evil to be vanquished, and William Robinson is the chivalrous young knight who will vanquish it.”

At the end of the nineteenth century, when there was a renewed interest in the formal garden,  Robinson took up a battle of words with Sir Reginald  Bloomfield, the architect who wrote The Formal Garden in England (1892).

In his book Bisgrove describes the battle that Robinson undertook against formal garden design. Bisgrove said, “Throughout its fifteen editions, as it expanded and evolved to make his case ever more forcefully, The English Flower Garden served as one of Robinson’s most important weapons in his battle against formal bedding and architect’s gardens.”

Robinson wanted a plant lover to oversee the garden design, not an architect. He once wrote, “We want the spade of the forester and the eye of the artist.”




The Government Encouraged the Lawn

In nineteenth century America homeowners expected a lawn as part of the home landscape.

Encouragement came from seed companies and nurseries, of course, but also from the Government.

In 1897 the USDA published the Yearbook of Agriculture which included a chapter on the lawn.  The report said: “A perfect lawn consists of the growth of a single variety of grass with a smooth, even surface, uniform color, and an elastic turf which has become, through constant care, so fine and so close in texture as to exclude weeds,’ which, appearing, should be at once removed. Briefly, such a lawn may be secured by thorough preparation of the soil and the application of suitable fertilizers; by seeding with pure seed of the highest quality; by proper attention to irrigation and the maintenance of fertility; by the prompt removal of weeds, and, finally, by the frequent and intelligent use of the roller and lawn mower.”

In nineteenth century America the lawn appeared from coast to coast.

In nineteenth century America the lawn appeared from coast to coast.

With such support, and detailed instructions, it was no surprise that the perfect lawn became the goal of every home owner across the country.

The lawn took on the role of symbol for social status as people moved to the suburbs where real estate agents promised  there would be enough space for a lawn in front of the house.

The USDA report included an example of where one could have seen an example of a ‘perfect lawn’.  It said, “Among the finest lawns in this country are some of those at Newport, R.I.”

The estate gardens of the Gilded Age, as at Newport,  showcased the kind of lawn that was also ideal for any American homeowner.


The Hosta, Native to Asia, Traveled from Europe to America

Over the years I have found the hosta a superb plant for the shade. Today I grow over one hundred varieties in my garden.

Since in a couple of weeks I am talking about my book to the New England Hosta Society, a group which I joined in 1989, I decided to research the history of this plant.

In the nineteenth century the name for the plant was funkia, plantain lily, Japan lily, and even day lily.Vick’s seed catalog of 1889, called Vick’s Floral Guide, wrote this about the hosta: “The Funkia, called the Day Lily, is a very superb autumn flower, very desirable for planting on the side of a lawn or at the edge of shrubbery. It will increase in size and beauty every year. The plant has very showy foliage, prettily veined.”

According to plant historian Denise Wiles Adams the hosta first came to England in 1784.  In her book Restoring American Gardens she writes that the first American reference to hosta plantaginea appears in  the Landreth Seed Company catalog in 1828 in Philadelphia.

The plants are native to China and Japan.  Sometimes they traveled, with the help of plant collectors,  to England and then to America, but also directly to America, notably with the New York nurseryman Thomas Hogg (1819-1892)  in the 1880s.

According to  W. George Schmid’s book The Genus Hosta Hogg, whose father had once held the position of head gardener to English landscape gardener William Kent, imported hostas from his travels to Japan.  But Schmid claims, with the exception of the Hogg plants, all of the hostas in the United States around 1900 originated from European stock.

English garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935) wrote about the hosta in his book The Wild Garden.  He said: “The Plantain Lilies [or Hosta] are plants for the wild garden.”

An illustration from The Wild Garden, 1870

Groups of Siebold’s Plantain Lily, an illustration from The Wild Garden, 1870 [reissued by Timber Press]

The Missouri Botanical Garden plant directory gives the origin of the name ‘Hosta’  It says, “Genus name of Hosta, in honor of Austrian botanist Nicholas Thomas Host (1761-1834), was first established in 1812. The genus was subsequently renamed in 1817 as Funkia in honor of botanist Heinrich Christian Funk under the belief at that time that Hosta was an invalid name. Hosta was finally reinstated as the genus name in 1905 by the International Botanical Congress.”

Today hundreds of cultivars, or varieties of hosta, are available.  Many of them in fact resemble one another.

Though certainly not a native plant, the hosta continues to play a role in American gardens.


Last Week’s Boston Flower Show Featured a Garden Train

The toy train traveled through a miniature landscape, arriving at Rosecliff, the 21-acre summer home in Newport, Rhode Island, completed in 1902 for $2.5 million.

The Rosecliff mansion, modeled after the Grand Trianon at Versailles, also just happens to be the site of the June 27 to 29 Newport Flower Show.

With the train leading to its front door the Rosecliff exhibit [below] became an award winner at last week’s Boston Flower and Garden Show.

The train stops at Rosecliff in Newport in this year's Boston Flower and Garden Show.

The train stops at Rosecliff in Newport in this year’s Boston Flower and Garden Show.

The exhibit won three important awards. It received the Landscape Design Council of Massachusetts award for excellence in landscape design; Boston Flower and Garden Show Premium Award for use of outstanding forced plant material hardy in New England; and the Boston Flower and Garden Show award for garden ornaments.

The exhibit featured working replicas of New York Central Railroad trains and a model of Rosecliff made entirely of botanical material.

A silver heiress from Virginia City, Nevada by the name of Theresa Fair Oelrichs built Rosecliff. Her father made his money in the mines of Nevada, just outside Reno.  When she married, he presented his daughter with a gift of a million dollars.

This past summer I traveled to the hills of Reno to visit Virginia City. The town stands just as it did in the late 1880s with its restaurants, shops, saloons, and now a few museums.  All I could feel as I walked the board sidewalks is that life there was not easy.

The money the mine workers made paid for Rosecliff, on the other end of the country.  People with money built such mansions during the Gilded Age, a time when no one paid personal income tax and so could afford the luxury of such grand summer homes.

Rosecliff’s landscape design represents a combination of formal gardens with an extensive lawn which stretches down behind the house just enough to capture a view of the ocean.  This design was popular with summer estates of that period.

Congratulations to the Newport Flower Show that sponsored this exhibit about Rosecliff.


England Inspired America’s First Garden Magazine

Charles Mason Hovey (1810-1887), a nurseryman, writer, and editor from Cambridge, Mass. published an early American garden journal called Magazine of Horticulture.

In launching the monthly magazine in 1835 he used as his model John Claudius Loudon’s English monthly Gardener’s Magazine, first published in 1826.  The type of articles, illustrations, and general layout came straight out of Loudon’s publication.

Hovey wrote in his magazine that he would search the Continent, especially Great Britain, so his subscribers could read the latest news in horticulture.[see below]

This magazine, which became the longest-running  nineteenth century garden magazine in America, was an early example of our dependence on England for garden inspiration.

America’s premier garden magazine, the first magazine devoted purely to horticulture,  was written and designed in the same style and content as the leading English garden journal of that same time period.

Hovey's magazine of 1844

Hovey’s Vol. 10 of his Magazine of Horticulture, dated 1844

According to the botton note in this page from the magazine of 1844, to receive the magazine one had only to contact the principal seedsmen in the country for a subscription.  So like Hovey, America’s seed company and nursery owners encouraged continual learning about horticulture, especially the newest ideas from English gardeners of the day.


The Lawn Became Essential for the English Garden

You know that the lawn demands maintenance from spring to fall.

You may wonder why is the lawn such as essential part of the home landscape.

If the American garden owes much of its history in form and structure to the English garden, we need look no further than the late nineteenth century English garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935) for the lawn’s importance.

For Robinson there was no question that the lawn was essential for the English garden.

In 19th cent Robinson encouraged flowering shrubs rather than annuals

Portrait of  Robinson from the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland

He  wrote in his book The English Flower Garden, first published in 1883: “The lawn is the heart of the true English garden.”

He included a lawn, of course, in his own property Gravetye Manor which today is a hotel and restaurant [below].

Robinson said in the same book: “A simple lawn is the happiest thing in a garden. For many years past there has been so much cutting up, geometry, and stonework that it is extremely rare to find a good lawn left.”

He also wrote about the wild garden and naturalizing plants like bulbs for spring color, which Alicia Amherst in her book A History of Gardening in England (1895) considered  a new way of gardening in the late nineteenth century.

Gravetye Manor [Courtesy photo of the Manor]

Robinson’s home called Gravetye Manor is now a hotel.  [Courtesy photo.]

Through his long career as a writer and landscape gardener, Robinson earned the title “father of the English flower garden.”  His preference, however, for “lawns of velvety texture”, as he once wrote, links him to the greensward outside the front door and to the landscape that he came to define at the end of the nineteenth century.



19th Century English Garden Writer Robinson Encouraged Flowering Shrubs

In the nineteenth century carpet bedding schemes prevailed in American gardens well into the 1890s.

Carpet bedding meant using annuals like flowers and colorful leaved plants such as alternanthera or coleus to form a design on the lawn.  The design often reminded one of the intricate patterns of a carpet, and thus the name for this gardening practice, imported from England.

The English garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935) discouraged carpet bedding, and instead urged gardeners to cultivate flowering shrubs.

In his book The English Flower Garden, first published in 1883, he wrote: “If one-tenth the trouble wasted on ‘carpet-bedding’ plants and other fleeting and costly rubbish had been spent on flowering shrubs, our gardens would be all the better for it. There are no plants so much neglected as flowering shrubs.”

Robinson would be quite contented today because many varieties of flowering shrubs have made their appearance in our gardens over the last few years.

For me, one of my favorites still remains the old fashioned Weigela florida [below].

This Weigela grows right outsdie my front door. [photo by Ralph Morang]

This Weigela florida grows right outside my front door. [photo by Ralph Morang]

The Weigela came from China to England in the early 1850s.  Soon thereafter it came to America where it has been a staple in American gardens ever since.

Even though there are new varieties of this shrub, this old fashioned Weigela still puts on a show in my garden.

Robinson engaged in an ongoing debate with  landscape architects, who he was convinced were somehow invested in the bedding system. Richard Bisgrove in his book William Robinson: The Wild Gardener wrote: “The mission of the Garden [Robinson’s garden magazine] remained clear. It was there to vanquish the evil of the bedding system, and increasingly to remove that bad man, the architect, who was to blame for the geometrical bedding and much other garden nonsense, from meddling with the beauties of the garden.”

Through his extensive writing Robinson enjoyed a platform to expound on English garden style.  He was, after all, referred to as “the father of the English flower garden.’



How The Lawn Became Essential for the Home Landscape

You might wonder where your need for a lawn originated.

In nineteenth century America, especially in the suburbs, the lawn became an integral part of the home landscape, no small thanks to the catalogs of the seed and nursery industries.

The Vick Seed Company from Rochester, New York sold seed at the back of its catalog of 1889.

The catalog said, “Nothing is pleasanter than a good lawn, and nothing is more easily made and kept in order by a little well directed care.”

Thus Vick discussed the importance of the lawn, and pointed out how easy it was to install a lawn.

Notice this illustration that appeared on that same catalog page [below] where the Company offered its grass seed for sale. A child appears at the front of this lawn with several people playing tennis or badminton on the lawn behind her.

Vick Lawn 1889

Vick’s Floral Guide 1889

Thus both in word and image this catalog established how essential the lawn was to the landscape.

The instructions in the catalog were quite clear: “Four bushels of Grass Seed for an acre are required to make a good lawn in a short time.”

The catalog then recommended a practice we have continued to this very day: “The best time to sow the lawn is in September rather than in spring or summer.”

It was simply a matter of no dispute that the lawn would be part of any home landscape for the American gardener.