Archives for October 2014

Island Beds Became Popular in Victorian Gardens

The Victorian garden took many forms during the nineteenth century, but one thing for sure was that if a particular garden style happened in England, it was sure to appear on American shores as well.

Carpet bedding and the wild garden were two garden fashions in the Victorian garden of that period.  American received both with enthusiasm and energy.

Another garden fashion became the island garden in the landscape.

Anne Jennings in her book Victorian Gardens presents both a history of the island garden and then includes  instructions so the gardener today might incorporate such a design.

She writes about the island garden in these words: “Choose tall, substantial plants for the back of borders or in the centre of island beds. These will also provide a structural element to the planting scheme…For flowering plants try canna, rheum, or datura, and for foliage use banana, castor oil plant, thus or Chusan palm.’

After I read those words I realized that in my own garden this summer I had planted an island bed with a banana in the  center. [below]

The plants round the banana included Sedum ‘Matrona’, hosta, and annuals like red petunia and white verbena.

Banana plant in island bed

This summer’s island bed in my garden included a Banana plant at the center.

This bed appears on the front lawn, as you can see.

A bit of Victorian garden design still proves worth incorporating today as well.



Royal Gardener to Charles II Encouraged the Formal Garden Style of Versailles

During the late seventeenth century in England a period of years is simply referred to as the Restoration.

The Restoration began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II (1630-85) after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms of England, Ireland, and Scotland.

Garden design during the Restoration took on the formal, symmetrical look of Versailles.

Grace Tabor writes in her classic garden history book Old-Fashioned Gardening, first published in 1913, “A celebrated English gardener, considered indeed the best of his time in a practical way, one John Rose, was sent to study at Versailles, and became Royal Gardener to Charles upon his return. So the French ideas were thoroughly in evidence in the new fashions of the Restoration; but because of their magnificence they were not adapted to any but the estates of the nobility.”

According to the blog Robyn Fields, by the 17th century, the pineapple which came from South America had made it’s way to England. It was very difficult, and expensive, to cultivate, so found a place only at the table of the most wealthy. In 1675, King Charles II of England posed for a portrait receiving a pineapple from his gardener, John Rose. It was believed to be the first pineapple ever grown in England.

You can see here the painting by Hendrik Danckherts that depicts John Rose presenting the pineapple to Charles II [below].

Notice also the symmetry in the background landscape style.

Charles II is presented with the first pineapple in England by his gardener John Rose. (Painting by Hendrik Danckherts, 1675).

Charles II is presented with the first pineapple in England by his gardener John Rose. (Painting by Hendrik Danckherts, 1675).

It was that symmetry in a formal garden style that marked the late seventeenth century.

That would change in the eighteenth century when there was a developement in England of the ‘modern’ style of landscape which was more natural or picturesque.

Both styles appeared in America as well.

In his magazine garden English writer and landscape gardener John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) mentioned the Lyman estate, located outside of Boston and designed in the late 1770s, as a fine example of  ‘modern’ landscape gardening on American soil.

The modern landscape was more natural, and quite distinct from the earlier formal, symmetrical look, once encouraged by John Rose, gardener to the King.





No Garden without Shade

You have probably visited many shade gardens over the years, sometimes with a group and other times alone.  Perhaps you cultivate your own shade garden as well.

The special feature in the shade garden is that the gardener has chosen plants that will tolerate shade to a greater or lesser degree.

We know what plants will survive in that environment and if we don’t, we soon learn. That is part of the experience of gardening.

Recently I came across early English landscape gardener Batty Langley’s book New Principles of Gardening (1728). Langley (1696-1751)  rose to become an advocate for landscape gardening in the early eighteenth century.  His practical garden writing inspired both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson here in the United States.

In the book Langley wrote, “There is nothing more agreeable in a Garden than good Shade, and without it a Garden is nothing.”

It may seem he is going overboard in his love for shade, but stop and think. There is something soothing about plants in shade. Cool, green, refreshing are words that come to mind.

This photo [below] from my garden illustrates the variety of plants you can incorporate in a shady area.

A red Japanese maple stands at the center of a shady area in my garden.

A red Japanese maple stands at the center of my shade garden.

This garden includes a red Japanese maple as the center, surrounded by spireas, hostas, hydrangeas, and daylilies.

Even tiny red roses blossom in the area on the lower right where a bit of sun appears now and then.

There is something so peaceful about a shade garden.



Late Nineteenth Century Garden Advertising Targeted Women

Today we sometimes hear the expression, “Women Shop”, which probably means something like shopping is identified more with women than men.

Companies that have products and services to sell recognize that and since the 1890s have targeted much advertising toward women.

Richard Ohmann too in his book Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century discusses the words and illustrations in advertising in the 1890s as characterized by that focus on persuading women to buy products.  He writes, “Most ads for branded products targeted women, in McClure’s and Munsey’s [two national magazines] almost as much as in the Ladies Home Journal.”  LHJ became the most successful national magazine in the country.

In 1897 the advertiser Nathaniel Fowler wrote in his book Fowler’s Publicity: An Encyclopedia of Advertising and Printing,  “The woman can buy better articles, from spool cotton to ulster overcoats, for less money than the average man can buy with more money.”

The seed and nursery catalogs from the 1890s portrayed the woman as the ideal customer for both seeds and plants.  Catalog covers often included a woman that looked a particular way.  She was middle or upper middle class, thin, and always wore a white or light colored dress.

The Peter Henderson Company included such an image of a woman on its fall catalog cover of 1892 [below].

Henderson catalog cover of 1899

Henderson’s catalog cover of 1892

Notice that the woman clearly represents a middle class look both from her dress and her home and its landscape.

Thus the companies sold status and social class as well as daffodil bulbs.

Customers wanted to be identified with a certain class and purchasing goods connected with that class became a way to enter that class.

So as in all advertising to this very day, ads sell image, identity, and sense of self more than simply a product or service.

All of that took off in the 1890s and impacted every business, including the selling of the garden to the American gardener.



By 1900 Every Business, including Seed Companies and Nurseries, Advertised

In the nineteenth century ads for patent medicines in newspapers and magazines had given advertising a bad name.

Historian Richard Ohmann writes in his book Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century: “The mendacious ad copy of the makers of patent medicines with which they filled newspapers and magazine columns through the middle decades of the nineteenth century put advertising out-of-bounds for many respectable producers.”

Ohmann Book on AdvertisingBut that changed in the 1890s.

Advertisers Ernest Elmo Calkins and Ralph Holden wrote in 1912: “Men not very old have witnessed the entire development of modern advertising from being an untrustworthy instrument of quacks and charlatans to its place as an engine in the conduct and expansion of business.”

The seed and nursery industries certainly employed advertising to an extensive degree  by 1900. The Philadelphia seedsman W. Atlee Burpee stands out as an example of someone who was able to create a lucrative business with the help of extensive advertising.

In 1915 the advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink included an  article about Burpee called “The Personality that is behind the Burpee Business”. The article said, “During the season of 1915, more than a million [Burpee] catalogues were sent out to customers of record and in response to inquiries received from advertising.”

It was no coincidence that Burpee once said, “No business can succeed without advertising.”


Garden Furniture Became a Must in the Victorian Garden

Today we take it for granted that somewhere in the garden we will include a bench, a chair, or a table.

The practice of including such pieces of outdoor furniture became an important feature of the Victorian garden, especially for the emerging middle class who had the money and leisure to pursue gardening.

English garden writer Caroline Ikin in her book The Victorian Garden writes: “Gardens were also extensively accessorized by the Victorians to add character and display taste. Rustic buildings and garden furniture were popular additions, as were Japanese tea-houses and Oriental bridges.”

Nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs included garden accessories like the lawn tent.  Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  in his seed catalog of 1873 offered “Vick’s Portable Lawn Tent.” He wrote in the ad: “For Lawn and Croquet ground is unequaled…In Europe, a tent somewhat like

Vick's Lawn Tent 1873 ad

Vick’s Lawn Tent ad in his seed catalog of 1873

this is seen on almost every respectable lawn…It is quite ornamental, and deserves a place on the Lawn for this alone.”

The second example of a lawn tent  in the ad also included a garden bench, or seat as Vick called it.

Thus American gardeners who were anxious to follow the Victorian garden style included all sorts of garden furniture in the landscape.

[below] I am including here  an image from my garden. Notice the wrought iron table and chairs, and, of course, a new variety of petunia called ‘Pretty Much Picasso,’ one of my favorite new annuals.


My backyard garden includes this wrought iron table and two chairs.


My Book Nominated for Literature Award

Good news to share with you.

The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries nominated my book America’s Romance with the English Garden (Ohio University Press) for its Annual Literature Award.

I was delighted to hear the news this summer.

Logo Horticultural associationThe Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries is an international organization of individuals, organizations and institutions concerned with the development, maintenance and use of libraries of botanical and horticultural literature. Many University libraries and Botanical Gardens make up its membership.

Created in 2000, the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Annual Literature Award is given by CBHL to both the author and publisher of a work that makes a significant contribution to the literature of botany or horticulture.

I am grateful to the CBHL Nominating Committee for including my book among this year’s nominees.

Ohio Univesity Press, 2013

Ohio University Press, 2013



The Gardenesque Style Appeared in Victorian Gardens

In the early nineteenth century English landscape gardener and author John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) first wrote about the gardenesque style as a landscape style quite different from the prevailing picturesque view. Its signature feature included a collection of plants, isolated in the garden in groups or singly by themselves and planted so they did not touch other plants.   Thus visitors could view them as in an arboretum or public garden.

That style also became an expression of the Victorian garden.  That was a time when plant collecting forced gardeners to rethink the prevailing picturesque or natural landscape view.  Gardeners coveted plants coming from Africa, Asia, and America.  They also wanted to show off these plants in the garden.

Caroline Ikin writes in her book The Victorian Garden: “The gardenesque style was embraced by Victorian botanic gardens and arboreta where collections of plants and trees were displayed to encourage individual study and appreciation.”

In 1866  near Boston in the town of Wellesley Horatio Hollis Hunnewell opened his garden and called it a Pinetum, where he could show off his collection of evergreens. [below] One might call his garden style ‘gardnesque’ therefore.

Hunnewell purchased hundreds of trees, many from England, and assembled them in this Pinetum.

He labeled the trees as well.

Hunnewell pinetum in Wellesley, Mass. built in 1843

Hunnewell Pinetum in Wellesley, Mass., built in 1866

English garden writer William Robinson visited the Pinetum in 1870 and heaped praise on its collection of trees and shrubs.[from the book So Fine a Prospect: Historic New England Gardens.]

At a time when the two defining styles of gardening, the formal and picturesque, had dominated, Loudon introduced a new way to use plants in the landscape and called it gardnesque.  Gardeners both in England and America embraced this fashion.



The Victorian Garden Included an Italianate Style

I have enjoyed reading The Victorian Garden by Caroline Ikin.  The book has in fact inspired me to read more about the Victorian garden both in England and America.

Ikin contends that the Italianate garden became one form of  the Victorian garden during the nineteenth century.

The word ‘Italianate’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘Italian’ but refers to an Italian influence in garden design.

The parterre, laid out in the formal terraces, became one expression of that form of the Victorian garden.

English landscape gardener William Nesfield (1793-1881) provided the Italianate parterre in gardens he designed.

Nesfield garden

Restored Nesfield garden at Witley Court [Patient Gardener blog]

Ikin writes in her book, “It was Nesfield, the landscape architect, who was largely responsible for incorporating the parterre into the Italianate garden, and by 1840 he had a thriving business designing parterres for country houses.”

This image of a Nesfield garden [above] comes courtesy of the  blog Patient Gardener. The garden is part of the restored gardens at Witley Court.

The Victorian garden took several forms during the nineteenth century.  The formal parterre look of the Italianate design became one of them.