Archives for June 2014

Children Appeared in Nineteeth Century Garden Advertising

There is something magical about a child in an advertisement. You feel more connected because a child is part of the scene.

Advertising as a modern science took off in the late nineteenth century. Businesses went to any measure to move a consumer, even including children in an ad.

The garden industry was no exception.

Pamela Walker Laird in her book Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing writes, “A trade card from Scourene portrayed a women in a lacy dress happily scrubbing pans, while lawn-mower advertisements frequently showed elegantly dressed children mowing lawns.”

Notice in the cover of the 1889 seed catalog from Peter Henderson [below] that the child is no ordinary child but a child from an upper class family that lived in a beautiful suburban home with an extensive lawn and hollyhocks that look like they were on steroids.

Laird said in her book: “Nineteenth century advertisers almost always portrayed their consumers as prosperous members of the upper-middle and upper class, or their servants.”

Notice this child on the cover of the Henderson seed catalog of 18XX

A child appeared on the cover of the Henderson seed catalog of 1889.

The garden catalogs, written for women,were the major form of advertising for the company. W. Atlee Burpee once said “The catalog is the salesman.”  It was probably quite important for the businessmen to include such an image of a child.

What strikes me about this Henderson catalog cover is that it was clearly intended for the woman of the house who bought the seeds and plants.

It must have worked because by the end of the nineteenth century the Peter Henderson Company in New York was one of the largest seed companies in the country.

The child in this ad certainly did not cut the lawn but simply represented the prosperous upper class, who lived in a large home, surrounded by a lawn and an ornamental garden.



Rows of Vegetables Replace Front Lawn

On Sunday the Boston Globe featured an article called “Urban Farming Takes Root” which tells the story of city dwellers who start farming to both improve blighted landscapes and provide food.

Growing vegetables continues to score high in surveys conducted with American gardeners everywhere, and now, even on the front lawn.

A week ago while on a garden tour in Portsmouth,NH I saw an example of a city dweller who made her own property into an urban farm which she calls Sidewalk Farms.  Vegetables now grow in rows in what was once the front lawn.

The vegetables on the front lawn area include  kale, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, beets, and herbs like garlic and basil.

It is a typical city plot of about one fifth of an acre that now produces enough vegetables and eggs to feed this family of four year-round.

In the back yard stand large colorful plastic containers, many of them also filled with vegetables like tomatoes.

House with no front lawn

Vegetables now grow in what was once the front lawn.

You do see some lawn in the back, and even an above-ground pool for the family.

Back there as well chickens in their pens let you know their presence.

A poly greenhouse in the back yard gives the owners a head start on their vegetables from seed.

It seems like every inch of the property is productive.

That a small house in an ordinary neighborhood now grows vegetables on the front lawn would have been unthinkable even ten years ago.  The lawn, inherited from the English romantic garden tradition, has been an integral part of our landscape tradition for over two hundred years.


Garden Catalogs Reflect the Times

Catalogs sell products, but also the company’s values for that period of time.

Seed and nursery catalogs might offer seeds, bulbs, vines, shrubs, trees, and even house plants.

They also incorporate the company’s ideas about their business at that particular time.

Cultural historian Thomas Schlereth once wrote, “All written literature–folk, or class–is simultaneously a commodity, a physical art object, a cultural window.”  In that group he placed mail-order catalogs of the nineteenth century.  He said the following about them: “Mail-order catalogs, whether analyzed individually, researched sequentially, or studied comparatively, afford scholars many approaches for an interdisciplinary study of the past.”

Ross catalog of 1910

Ross catalog of 1910

In the 1910 garden catalog [left] from Ross Brothers in Worcester, Massachusetts we see the catalog cover with a woman cutting the lawn. The company might have appeared modern – encouraging women to do what they want, even cutting the lawn, at a time when women wanted more freedom in both the home and in civic life.

Whether or not the company sold more lawn mowers because of this cover we don’t know but we can see the company recognized a new role for women in society.

That the freedom for women meant they, rather than men, cut the grass might seem trivial but that difference is how Ross chose to express it on the catalog cover.

Pamela Walker Laird in her book Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing writes, “Printed materials [including the catalog] held a special significance in nineteenth-century United States. Books, periodicals, and printed art represented both progress and the potential for future progress.”

So perhaps Ross simply reflected the changing role of women.


Across the Centuries Landscape Demonstrated Social Status

Long ago in the ancient Italian city of Pompeii, near Naples, a person of lesser status created a garden room with botanical frescoes.  That person could not exhibit a courtyard with plants because he/she did not have the wealth.

In landscape, as in all fashion, a family’s level of income dictates how much a person can invest.

Thus like  clothing and other cultural art forms, the home landscape also reflects social status.

James Duncan in an article in Geographical Review wrote: “Landscape tastes have been overlooked by students of social stratification. Yet, they are a critical part of presentation of self for middle-and upper- class Americans, whose social interaction takes place to a great extent in the home landscape.”

The style of landsacpe can be an invidccator of social stauts as in this home.

The style of landscape can be an indicator of social status.

That was true in the emerging middle class of the nineteenth century as well when the lawn indicated social class for so many American homeowners across the country.

The phrase in Duncan’s article, ‘presentation of self,’ comes from the work of sociologist Erving Goffman. Goffman taught that when we interact with another person, we present ourselves a certain way to make an impression on that person.

Certainly the home landscape can serve that purpose as well.

The James Vick Seed Company in 1894 wrote in its magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly: “What we do in the gardening way is done for the appearance, the respectability of the thing, done for the same reason that we have a coat of paint put on the house, or renew the wall-hangings.”


Early Twentieth Century Formal Garden in Maine

Though I have known about Historic New England properties in Maine for a long time, yesterday I decided  to visit one of the gardens.

I drove to South Berwick, Maine on Route 236 to spend the afternoon at the Hamilton House, built in 1785.  The house, surrounded by lawn on all four sides,  stands above  the Piscataqua River, creating that perfect restful feel for a summer day.  The extensive lawn that sweeps over the highs and lows of the property blends into the gardens and the woodland areas as well.

This property’s garden still stands today as an early twentieth century American garden of a more formal design.

Mrs. George Tyson and her stepdaughter Elizabeth purchased the Hamilton House in 1898 as a summer home.  They designed the garden in a formal design, adding a bit of Italian flair as well that followed a trip they took to Italy.

The formality comes across in the straight line from the front door of the house through the garden and the cutting garden as well which leads to the cozy artist’s cottage with shingle siding.

The spiraea, lilacs, and irises were in bloom. You could see the rows of peonies, anxious to pop open at any moment.

Hamilton House in South Berwick, Maine

The formal garden at Hamilton House in South Berwick, Maine

The garden included a fountain to the side.

It was the formal design that attracted me because at that time there was a resurgence of formal garden design on the east coast, including the gardens of Cornish, New Hampshire.

Colonial revivalism influenced American gardening at that time as well.

The drive to Hamilton House passed quickly, making my visit even more enjoyable.

Yankee magazine just named Hamilton House “Best Historic House and Garden”  for 2014.  Well deserved.




A Nineteenth Century English Garden Writer Recognized Two Landscape Styles

I was first introduced to William Paul, a nineteenth century English nurseryman, in Writing the Garden  by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers.

She recognized his talent in writing about such common garden topics as trees and soil in his book The Hand-Book of Villa Gardening which is really a collection of his letters.

In his book Paul also clearly distinguished two kinds of landscape style, geometric and irregular.

He wrote, “The style of gardening must of course be adapted to the house. The  geometric is a style much approved for small gardens, and numberless pleasing examples are floating on the memory while I write.  In some cases, however, the English, or irregular style is preferable”.

Details about each style were not there, but he clearly sets up the distinction between the two.  He calls the irregular style the “English” style, as if giving to the English the distinction of providing the inspiration for that style. He is writing this in 1855.


Stourhead, a landscape dating from the 18th century,  still stands as an example of the natural English garden style.

What he makes clear to the reader is that the formal or geometric style is the opposite of the irregular style, which was called various names from the early 1700s including natural, picturesque, and even gardenesque.

Stourhead [above] represents the irregular landscape designed in the mid 1700s.

By the end of the nineteenth century  a battle raged between the two camps, each embracing one style over the other, especially as expressed in the work of horticulturist William Robinson (1838-1935) and architect Reginald Bloomfield (1856-1942).

Today gardens often are a blend of both, and not really simply a reflection of one style over the other.

The fact that William Paul recognized so matter of factly the two styles tells us the English garden was at one time more closely aligned with the irregular.


Advertising for Patent Medicines Paved the Way for Garden Catalogs

Words can make something attractive and desirable, even though you may not want it. Language, or the right words, can move us to seek that which we would otherwise avoid or never even know existed.

That’s how modern advertising has worked since the nineteenth century.

An ad for the patent medicine, Lydia Pinkham

An ad for the patent medicine, Lydia Pinkham

Patent medicines became the first product that employed a series of national campaigns to reach consumers across the country. Lydia Pinkham’s Herb Medicine sold from coast to coast with its extensive advertising. [right]

As Pamela Walker Laird writes in her book Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing, “With each incremental increase in the networks, medicine sellers expanded the size of their campaigns until, in the transcontinental, national markets that existed by the 1870s, they became the largest group of advertisers.”

Consumers became accustomed to seeing advertising about patent medicines that circulated in cities and towns everywhere in America.

Rawson 1897It was also after 1870 that seed companies and nurseries, like Rawson [above],  increased the amount of money spent on advertising.

The Childs Seed Company from Floral Park, New York  mailed out 750 catalogs in 1875 but by 1895 that number increased to 1,500,000.

The company catalog served as the most important advertising tool for seed companies and nurseries. Just the right words, along with illustrations, inspired American gardeners across the country.





Nineteenth Century Philadelphia Nurseryman Recommended Book on the English Garden

Though America was producing garden magazines and garden books in the late nineteenth century, English garden writers also had a wide audience among American gardeners.

Seed and nursery catalogs often recommended books by English horticulturists.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in 1884 that William Robinson’s book The English Flower Garden “should have a wide sale in our country.”

Robinson’s  reputation as a both a horticulturist and  writer put him in a class all his own. His name became synonymous with the latest thinking about gardening style and fashion.

Robinson The English Flower GardenBy the 1870s, for example, he preferred perennials over annuals.

The tradition of carpet bedding or intricate designs of annuals on the lawn,  he considered a waste of resources, time, and energy.  That had been the Victorian fashion for decades, but he rejected it.

Meehan wrote in his magazine: “We can cordially commend it [Robinson’s book] to American readers, as perhaps the most profitable floriculture work that has appeared for many a long day.”

And so the American garden industry proposed, once again, an English garden writer as the inspiration for American gardeners.


English Garden Inspired Nineteenth Century Delaware Landscape

After several years in England nineteenth century Quaker banker Joseph Shipley (1795-1867) returned to his home town of Wilmington, Delware in 1851.

He loved the house that he had in England called Wyngote with its English garden. This painting from 1840 [below] illustrates the English landscape surrounding the house.

In Delaware Shipley built his new house which he called Rockwood in a style similar to Wyncote, employing even the same architect and landscape gardener. Shipley repeated at Rockwood the conservatory on the right side of the house.

'Wyncote', watercolor by John McGahey, 1840

‘Wyncote’, watercolor by John McGahey, 1840

But it is its gardenesque landscape, popular in England at the time, that captures the essence of Rockwood. The extensive lawn and collections of plants throughout the property were signature elements of the gardenesque style.

Today Rockwood is open as a public garden for visitors. Shipley first loved the English garden style at Wyncote. Rockwood still stands today as a testament to that sentiment.