Archives for May 2014

Vintage Lawn Mower Ad Shows Mother and Daughter Admiring the Perfect Lawn

As I read nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs in research for my book America’s Romance with the English Garden, I often saw an advertisement for a lawn mower included in the catalog.

The person who was using the lawn mower in the illustration was usually a man.

This week on Pinterest I found a nineteenth century trade card that depicts a mother and daughter in a lawnmower ad for the Buckeye Mower [below].

In looking at this imagery it is clear that these two upper middle-class women are not mowing the lawn, but simply admiring how beautiful the lawn looks. It was probably cut by a gardener. The Buckeye Company from Worcester, Mass. wanted the consumer to be proud of the well-trimmed lawn that its mower would make possible.

Buckeye Lawnmower ad [Pinterest]

Buckeye Lawnmower Tradecard [Pinterest]

I doubt that the young girl who seems to be pushing the lawn mower here is actually cutting the grass, especially dressed as she is in her Sunday finest. She is probably admiring the mower for it’s ease of use.

The mother on the other hand might be saying “Look at the new mower that keeps our lawn trimmed so perfectly.”   Her family considered itself quite progressive because of the latest technology used to keep the lawn cut at the desirable height.

Pamela Walker Laird wrote in her book Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing: “When [late nineteenth century] manufacturers created their own advertisements, they boasted of their roles in progress through advertisng messages that glorified industry and technology as the means to new abundance and cultural advancement.”

The ad also affirmed the role of the lawn, essential for the home landscape of the middle class.


The Dandelion is both Herb and Weed

I just returned from Milwaukee.

The golf course across from my hotel there showed the most beautiful green hilly contours of a well-kept lawn, but no dandelions.

Whenever I drove around the city neighborhoods, however, I saw dandelions on many home lawns. Even at the local horticultural gem Boerner Botantical Gardens I saw green fields with spotted dandelions.

Dandelions were once considered valuable plants but today are weeds.

Dandelions in the green fields of Borner Botanical

Dandelions shine in these green fields at Boerner Botanical Gardens.

While in Milwaukee I read an article in the Journal Sentinel  by Jill Riggenback called “Weed among garden’s nutrition sources.” Riggenbach writes”Gardeners who are worried about the current plight of bees and other pollinators have another reason for valuing dandelion flowers: They’re a rich source of early-season nectar and pollen.”

The Enclopedia of Organic Gardening says “While the dandelion is frequently rated a nuisance, it is actually quite valuable because of the medicinal and vitamin value of its roots.”

The website Oils and Plants agrees. It says: “Many people think of the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a weed, but herbalists consider it a valuable herb with many culinary and medicinal uses. The dandelion is a rich source of vitamin A, B complex, vitamin C, and vitamin D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Its leaves are often used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots can be found in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make certain wines.”

The little yellow dandelion that traveled from England to America has now naturalized in all temperate climates.

Peterson’s Field Guide to Wildflowers still calls it a weed.


The Lawn Featured in Classic Nineteenth Century Garden Reference Book

In 1904 Liberty Hyde Bailey served as a dean of the newly-formed New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell.

Bailey who received his early training in botany had also worked with Professor Asa Gray from Harvard.

In the classic three-volume reference book that Bailey edited called The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, he included an article about the lawn, written by New York nurseryman and landscape gardener Samuel Parsons (1819-1899).

Parsons believed in the importance of the lawn for the home landscape. He wrote, “So important does the writer consider the essential and peculiar beauty of the lawn as distinguished from that of any other part of the home domain, that he always feels inclined to term it the true focus of the picture, the central point of interest in any landscape gardening design.”

Thus in the late nineteenth century Parsons, and Bailey of course, reinforce the importance of the lawn in the home landscape. That both these noted horticulturists deem the lawn as essential follows the landscape tradition from the beginning of the country, with the early landscapes of both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as examples.

The lawn plays an important here in the formal garden of Versailles, designed in XXXX.

The lawn also played an important role in this formal garden of Versailles, designed in 1661.

Parsons concluded his article on the lawn with these words: “It behoves us always literally to leave no stone unturned or clod of earth untilled and unfertilized in order to secure a satisfactory open lawn.”


English Garden Writer John Claudius Loudon First Encouraged the Park Cemetery

Nineteenth century landscape architect Adolph Strauch, trained in Vienna, designed the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati according to the new park cemetery style.

After  Strauch died in 1883, the Boston nurseryman Charles Mason Hovey made it clear the English garden writer John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) first encouraged the park cemetery.

Hovey wrote an article that appeared in the 1883 issue of the popular American journal Gardener’s Monthly.  He said, “I was much surprised to read in the report of the cemetery committee, upon his decease, that ‘Mr. Strauch originated the landscape plan system for cemeteries.’ ”

Then Hovey made it clear that it was Loudon who was the master mind behind the park cemetery concept.

The cypress tree frames this water view in Cincinatti's Spring Grove Cemetery.

The cypress trees frame this water view in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery.

He wrote, “I scarcely need refer to the late J. C. Louden (sic), who died long before the Spring Grove Cemetery was established, and more than ten years before Mr. Strauch took charge of the grounds. Two years before his death, in 1842, he described the ‘Principles of Landscape Gardening and of Landscape Architecture, applied to the laying out of public cemeteries.’ ”

Thus Hovey wanted to let American gardeners know that the idea for the park cemetery, as seen also today in cemeteries like Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Mass. and Forest Hills in Boston,  originated in England with Loudon.

Hovey, though recognizing the brilliance in Strauch’s design for the Cemetery, wrote, “Strauch was no originator of the system, but had the good judgment to accept of what had already been done.”


By Mid Nineteenth Century with Time for Leisure Gardening Became a Hobby

At the beginning of our country, people gardened for survival, growling fruits and vegetables for the table.

Landscape architect and historian Rudi Favretti wrote that the garden until 1850 remained basically the same form as that in colonial America.

But then everything changed with industrialization when the use of the machine to manufacture everything from cloth to furniture gave the middle class leisure time for such hobbies as ornamental gardening.

In 1999 the Harvard Business School sponsored an exhibit at the Baker Library called “Marketing in the Modern Era: Trade Catalogs and the Rise of 19th Century American Advertising.”  In a brochure to accompany the exhibit the following appeared, “By mid-century, workers’ lives were becoming more routine and relief from monotony was sought through new types of activities.  In addition, leisure was no longer exclusively identified with a leisured class but was beginning to relate to a more widespread segment of the population.”

Notice the two women enjoying their leisure in this Ippincott catalog cover of 1896.

Notice the two women enjoying their leisure in this Lippincott catalog cover of 1896.

That was when gardening became important as a hobby for the middle class.

The brochure continued in these words, “A sporting goods industry emerged in response to crazes for sports like lawn tennis, archery, gymnastics, and bicycling, while hobbies such as gardening and photography flourished.”

So it was no surprise that seed and nursery catalogs appeared at homes across the country, selling the latest for the gardener.

The illustration of a home landscape that appeared on the garden catalog cover encouraged a style of gardening that would flourish from coast to coast: the romantic English garden style.


Gardeners Have Long Anticipated the Garden Catalog

Though most of the garden catalogs now appear online, there was a time not too long ago when the mail carrier brought the material publication, the garden catalog, right to your house.

Since gardeners are ever in search of the new and latest, they waited for that catalog.

The feeling of anticipating something new and beautiful for the garden seems to give a certain zest to the daily routines that life offers.

For a gardener the spring garden catalogs inspire that feeling of adventure.

This John Salzer catalog cover of 1899 included an image of the company's main office. [Courtesy of Pinterest]

John Salzer’s catalog cover of 1899 included this illustration of new gourds. [Courtesy of Sabine Gerossier on Pinterest]

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan also shared that fondness for the spring garden catalog. In 1883 he wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly: “”I admire catalogues, and always read them, from preface to finis. They have a fascination about them before which the most entrancing novel ‘pales its ineffectual fires.’ Their charm, like the wonderful world of creation, is new every spring.”

Now that spring is here, and  you have seen the latest in online garden catalogs, the next step is to decide what among the new plants you want to grow.

Notice [above] that the John Salzer Company promoted on its 1899 catalog cover ‘Oddly Odd Gourds’. How enticing?



The Spring Garden at James Vick’s Home in 19th Century Rochester Amazed Visitors

I have visited East Avenue in Rochester, New York several times.  My purpose was to see where the home of the seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) once stood.

I found the spot though the house of course is long gone.

It was on East Avenue in his gardens that he grew hundreds of tulips in the spring. What a spring-time joy that must have been for a visitor to see after a long hard winter such as we have had here in New England.

The Horticulturist magazine wrote in 1867, when Vick’s seed business was still young: “He now occupies, on the southeast part of the city, twenty-three acres of ground for growing seeds, chiefly flower seeds, and employs six horses and about twenty-five men

Vick's Home on the South Side of East Avenue. 1877

Vick’s Home on the South Side of East Avenue in Rochester, NY. 1877

and women. The collection of bulbs on these grounds is large – over a hundred thousand tulips flowered the past season.”

Vick of course wanted his customers to know what they were buying when they bought his seeds and bulbs.

His display garden of tulips in spring must have dazzled his customers. The Horticulturist magazine put it this way: “During the blooming season the display of these and other flowers presented a brilliant and magnificent appearance.”


Two Hundred Dahlias Offered in Vick’s 19th Century Seed Catalog

This is the time to plant dahlia tubers here in New England.

This week I plan to open up the boxes of dahlia tubers that I stored in my basement and begin planting them.

Rochester seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  wrote about dahlias in his Fall catalog of 1873. He said, “My collection of Dahlias this season is much larger and finer than ever before, as I added to my stock all the new prize sorts of Europe, this spring, and I hardly think it excelled by any collection in the world.”

Chromolithograph from Vick's Illustrated Monthly, February 1878

Chromolithograph from Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, February 1878

He had five acres of dahlias in full bloom that fall in his display garden plus thousands of flowers scattered in other beds as well. That must have been quite a sight with all that flower color in blossom.

He sold two hundred varieties of Dahlias, and in the fall he sometimes traveled to exhibit his Dahlias at State Fairs in about half  the country.

Vick certainly loved Dahlias.

The illustration [above] appeared in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878. It features various sizes of the Dahlia flower.  He wrote “While we would like to encourage the growth of Dahlias from seed, and admit that in the work there is pleasurable excitement, those who wish flowers can obtain them at a far less cost of labor, by purchasing a dozen or two of bulbs in the spring.”

I think he was right, and that’s why I plant tubers [though he called them bulbs].

Are you planting dahlias this spring?



Nineteenth Century American Industrialists Built their Estates, and just like the English, with a Grand Landscape

In nineteenth century England the wealthy could afford a country house.

In America a similar growth in the number of estates built by wealthy industrialists took place in a period late in the century that was referred to as the “Gilded Age.”

Kenneth T. Jackson writes in his book Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States: “In England some five hundred country homes were built or remodeled between 1835 and 1889. In the United States the brewing, shipping, railroad, iron, and banking millionaires followed this British tradition of the country gentleman.”

At that time in Milwaukee Captain Fred Pabst, owner of the largest brewery in the world, built his neo-Renaissance style mansion on Milwaukee’s main street called Grand, today renamed Wisconsin. The year was 1892. Pabst, through hard work and persistance, had earned the title of  ‘brewery baron’.

The Fred Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee

The Fred Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee

The Pabst Mansion was only one of over sixty residences on Grand Avenue, housing Milwaukee’s elite.

Not far away the banker Alexander Mitchell  had built his home in that grand style as well. His landscape included a lawn, trees, and shrubs, all enclosed in a wrought iron fence. A large conservatory stood to one side of the house as well.  Mitchell loved gardening.

Today his home is the Milwaukee Club.

I remember visiting the Pabst mansion  a couple of summers ago. It still stands as a sign of that period when the rich could afford elaborate homes and a landscape to complement it.

The landscape, of course, included a lawn, the ultimate symbol of status and respectability.