Archives for November 2014

Estates in Early America Followed English Landscape Style

The east coast here in the United States is home to early examples of the modern landscape garden style from England’s eighteenth century.

Julie S. Higginbotham wrote an article about the history of the US nursery industry called “Four Centuries of Planting and Progress.”  She presents an excellent chronology, listing the Prince nursery of 1737 as the first commerical nursery, located in Flushing , New York.

She writes, “By 1800, the East was dotted with landscaped estates, including properties on the Hudson River, the Long Island Sound, the shores of Connecticut, and the environs of Philadelphia, Boston, and New York.”

A property near Boston that I have often visited is the Lyman estate in Waltham, about nine miles from the city.  Mr. Lyman’s estate went by the name “The Vale”.

The Vale is one of the finest examples in the United States of a country estate laid out following the principles of eighteenth-century English naturalistic design. For more than 150 years, it was the country home to four generations of Boston’s prominent Lyman family. [below]

The  lawn that sweeps up to the walls of the house is, of course, the predominate symbol of the English garden style called naturalistic, referred to also as modern landscape gardening in the eighteenth century.

Lyman Estate in Waltham, Mass. [Courtesy of the Waltham Tourism Council]

Lyman Estate in Waltham, Mass. [Courtesy of the Waltham Tourism Council]


The English Taught America How to Garden

The English garden has long served as a model for the American garden.

Often American garden writers make sure that we recognize our debt to the English for teaching us about gardening.

One such author was Wilhelm Miller, a Chicago landscape architect in the early 1900s. He wrote books and articles, and many entries in L. H. Bailey’s The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, first published in 1901.

What England Can Teach Us About Gardening2In 1909 Miller wrote a popular book called What England Can Teach Us About Gardening. [left] Notice the romantic English garden scene at the top of the book’s cover.

He also wrote an article with the title “English Effects with Hardy Plants” which appeared in The Garden Magazine, September 1909.

In the article Miller said, “The English have a deeper passion than we for ‘collecting.’ Everywhere you find someone who grows fifty or more varieties of his favorite flower, e.g. German or Japanese iris, or peony, or the florists’ penstemon. One English catalogue contains 346 varieties of phlox, 224 of border carnations, 180 chrysanthemums, etc. – fully three times as many as you can get in America.”

American gardeners continue to look to England for garden ideas. The gardens and retail center for the mail order nursery Whte Flower Farm sit in a beautiful country setting among the fields of northeast Connecticut.  It features  an English perennial border near the garden center. [below] The border measures 280 feet in length and 20 feet in width.

Dozens of varieties of perennials and annuals make up this collection along the walk. It is truly a beautiful border.  The number of plants of one variety contribute to that grand view.

I am sure Mr. Miller would love this English garden.

White Flower Farm

White Flower Farm


Does a Collection of Plants a Garden Make?

Sometimes I think that I have no more room in my garden for any more plants.

Then a friend gives me a plant and everything changes.

I have found myself often at that spot.

I think that a garden can be both a collection of plants and a work of art at the same time.

writing the garden 4In Elizabeth Barlow Rogers’  book Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation across Two Centuries I came across the English garden writer E. A. Bowles (1865-1954).

Bowles wrote, “It is in the making and remaking that a garden remains alive; without the gardener’s passion to incorporate new plant varieties and to redesign the garden in pursuit of a never quite-acheived dream of perfection, it will become merely an exercise in routine maintenance or else suffer the all-too-common fate of neglect and oblivion.”

It is alright to collect plants and simply enjoy them as your garden.

I remember a Rhode Island garden on tour a couple of years ago during the American Hosta Society’s annual meeting.  The garden featured over 1000 hostas. That award-winning garden certainly was a collection of plants but beautifully displayed. (below].

A garden on tour in the annual meeting of the American Hosta Society.

An award-winning garden on tour in the annual meeting of the American Hosta Society.


That proved to me that a garden can certainly be a collection of plants, as Mr. Bowles suggested.


Advertising in Color Became the Standard for the Late Nineteenth Century American Garden Industry

I just finished reading Rose Hayden-Smith’s new book Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I.

Hayden-Smith_978-0-7864-7020-4The book discusses the campaigns of World War I and then World War II to encourage people to grow vegetables and thus help the War effort.  The Victory Garden became the enduring symbol of the advertising campaign from the United States Government.

Hayden-Smith discusses the changes in advertising at the beginning of the twentieth century and  how such new advertising enabled the Government’s gardening movement to sweep the country to help the War effort.

She writes, “Advertising was greatly influenced by the use of color…Skillfully rendered lithographs and advertisements influenced and changed consumer behavior…Visual information and advertising thus entered a new era between 1880 and 1915.”

The seed and nursery industries of that time employed colorful lithographs on their covers, especially after 1880.

When seedsman John Lewis Childs from Floral Park, New York sent out his catalog in 1875, he distributed 7,500 copies to his customers.  In 1895, with a colorful lithograph cover, he mailed out 1,500,000. That time was the height of the colorful advertising that Hayden-Smith discusses. Here are two of the Childs Company catalogs from the 1890s [below].

Childs seed Co. 1890 catalogThus the change in the use of color in advertising, along with the invention of modern advertising, swept along the garden industry as it did other businesses and organizations of that time period.

Marketing, advertising, and public relations changed the way people received information about products and services.  No longer would simple information be enough. The new mass media demanded color that became an integral part of  a persuasive message to impact an audience .

Childs catalog 1898 rose


Chrysanthemums Appeared in Fall Flower Shows by the early 1880s

This is fall and time to enjoy the glorious flower called Chrysanthemum or simply ‘mum’.

Recently I received some photos from a California garden where Chrysanthemums took center stage. Here is one of the photos:


California mums

Mums in red, yellow and white fill this Caifornia garden. [Courtesy of Cathy Glynn-Milley]

After I received the digital photos, I put my researcher cap on to explore when the Chrysanthemum became such a popular flower for the American gardener.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) listed five Chrysanthemum varieties in his seed catalog of 1873 under the heading ‘Miscellaneous Flowers’ which he described in these words: “The following list embraces a class of flowers not very popular, but occasionally called for of which we keep a small stock.”

Since the Chrysanthemum was not popular at that time, it is easy to understand why he offered so few varieties   Things would change however in just a few years.

In the mid 1880s the Massachusetts Horticultural Society sponsored exhibits for this flower at its annual Flower Show and offered premiums for the best displays.  In February 1885 Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly, “The meeting [of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society] on December 14th [1884], though including the usual range of exhibits, was emphatically the Chrysanthemum Show”.

In the same article  he wrote that at that Show, “Colonel [Marshall P.] Wilder ‘s collection numbered fifty-four”.  Marshall Wilder [1798-1886] emerged as a key figure in American pomology during the mid-nineteenth century and a major supporter of agricultural education.  He once served as President of the Massachusettts Horticultural Society. Wilder grew apples and pears in his Dorchester, Massachusetts orchard but evidently many Chrysanthemums as well.

Another article from 1885 in that same issue of Meehan’s magazine said, “I wish I could describe to you, so you could realize how charming the flowers (Chrysanthemums) are, the newspaper reports are so cold and meagre.”

Then Meehan concludes that  “Chrysanthemums are now indispensable for autumn decoration of the flower garden.”

Vick’s sons included an article on Chrysanthemums in the 1887 edition of the company magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.  The article said, “So much has been written or said about Chrysanthemums and their culture that there is but little new left to say. All love them and many cultivate them in profusion. One lady of our acquaintance has in her collection some thirty kinds.”

Thus by the mid 1880s leading horticulturalists as well the seed and nursery trade in America encouraged growing the popular Chrysanthemum.

Today you can find this plant in dozens of pots at nurseries and garden centers as well as at box stores  around the country.

Below  is another recent image from that same California garden with a variety of Chrysanthemums.


California mums

Mums brighten up this California garden. [Courtesy of Cathy Glynn-Milley]


The English Style of Kitchen Garden Out Back Appeared in America as Well

When I visited the eighteenth century house and garden at Rousham in England, I noted the large walled garden to the side of the house. There I saw rows and rows of  shrubs, vines,  and flowers.

That was considered an important element in the modern garden design style of the eighteenth century when the Rousham garden [below] was installed.

Rousahm Walled Garden

Rousham Walled Garden

Even George Washington  installed his own walled kitchen garden at Mount Vernon.

In his garden I also saw rows and rows of plants, but this time they were vegetables, beautifully arranged for the gardener to find easily any herb or vegetables [below].

A kitchen garden out back was the style of the modern England landscape of the eighteenth century.

Landscape gardener Humphry Repton wrote  at the end of that century that the kitchen garden “should be out of view of visitors but close to the stables”.

Indeed that is what happened.

When the nineteenth century American seedsman Peter Henderson provided advice about the placement of the kitchen garden in his book Gardening for Pleasure, his landscape drawings in the book indicated the garden ought to be behind the house.

The Rochester, NY  seedsman James Vick offered a similar recommendation in his catalog.

The Kitchen Garden at George Washington's home in Mount Vernon [Pinterest]

The Kitchen Garden at George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon [Pinterest – Benke  Nursery Blog]

The nineteenth century American seed industry proposed the site of the kitchen garden in the same format as the modern English garden of the eighteenth century, behind the house and out of view of visitors.



Thomas Jefferson Admired the English Garden

The new form of landscape gardening called ‘modern’ evolved in England during the eighteenth century. It was also called the natural or the picturesque view.

On American soil we also found that same style of landscape.

English garden historian Edward Hyams in his book Capability Brown and Humphry Repton mentions a connection between that style of landscape and  Thomas Jefferson who had visited Blenheim and Stowe, both important examples of modern landscape gardening in England.

Hyams writes, “It was as a result of what he saw in these places that in 1806 Jefferson decided to landscape Monticello in the style of English parks.”

Jefferson also admired Chatsworth north of London and Woodlands, the property of William Hamilton in Phildelphia. Both showed a landscape of the style of Lancelot Capability Brown with an extensive lawn.

Monticello in the Fall [Courtesy of the Monticello Foundaiton]

Monticello in the Fall [Courtesy of the Monticello Foundation]

This fall photo of Monticello [above] shows off the lawn which stretches to the front wall of the house.

Capability Brown, the eighteenth century landscape gardener to the King, provided the look of the lawn on many properties in England including Chatsworth and Highclere Castle, the setting for the television series ‘Downton Abbey’.

Hyams writes in his book,”Brown was making pictures, not imitating nature.”

It was Brown who gave the English garden its look in the mid eighteenth  century.  That was the look that Jefferson sought as well.

Hyams writes, “Brown’s style and methods were very widely copied, first of all by imitators in Britain who degraded a great and simple style into a fussy manner; then by the American landowning gentry to whom Thomas Jefferson set the example.”


Victorian Restaurant in the Heart of New York

While in New York last week to give a talk about my book America’s Romance with the English Garden at the NY Public Library, I found a Victorian restaurant called Lillie’s.

Since I have been reading a great deal about the Victorian garden of late, I thought a bit of a diversion into a new Victorian  restaurant might be in order, though that might seem at first an odd combination of descriptors for the latest in a carefully designed dining space.

You will find Lillie’s in the heart of the Broadway theater district on West 49th Street.

Lillie's Restaurant  on West 49th Street [Courtesy Photo]

Lillie’s Restaurant on West 49th Street [Courtesy Photo]

Many things I liked about the place, even the exterior, which was so inviting. [left]

The inside offered much of interest as well, like the dozens of pictures, vases, candles, and overstuffed chairs.

The mahogany bar takes your breath away when you enter because it seems to measure almost a city block in length. It appears to go on forever.

We ate at the bar and later I walked around the restaurant for a close-up view of the Victoriana with which the owners have filled Lillie’s from ceiling to floor, from wall to wall.

The furniture in mahogany, the pictures, the wallpaper, the drapes, the countless mirrors –  all speak of the way the Victorians decorated: lots of stuff to remind the world that they had indeed arrived.

I must also mention the ceiling, which appeared to be covered in tin, went up three floors of the building. That too was quite impressive.

One thing we can say about the late Victorian period of the 1890s is there was no fear of cluttering up a space, of course in the best of style and taste for that era.

Lillie's interior. [Photo courtesy of The 9 Muses Blog]

Lillie’s interior. [Photo courtesy of The 9 Muses Blog]