Archives for December 2014

Design Your Garden with Ease with Garden Designer for the iPad

Designing a garden is never an easy task, and sometimes, you have all these ideas but can’t quite put them together in your head.

Creating a garden plan can be quite difficult, especially if you haven’t got an artistic bone in your body and can’t draw a plan to save your life.

Luckily, the developers at Artifact Interactive have come up with a great solution: an app called Garden Designer, which lets you create garden plans right on your iPad.

The app comes as an adaptation of the top-selling desktop app Garden Planner.

Recognizing that the industry is now gearing towards mobile more than anything else, with Gaming Realms, creators of Spin Genie, saying that global smartphone and tablet installed bases were set to exceed PC installed bases by this year, developers Artifact Interactive adapted their successful desktop app to work perfectly on mobile devices. It has the same functionalities: over 600 unique objects that you can use to design your garden, from shrubs to fences and patios, along with the ease of customization that users of Garden Planner have come to love.

Garden Designer is a great go-to app for beginners in garden planning and design, but those who are looking for a more comprehensive tool will want to try something else. 

For an app that doesn’t quite help you make plans but shows you how your plans will play out in your existing garden, check out Prelimb, an app that uses augmented reality to show how your plans will look.


What features are you looking for in an app for garden design? Do you use any other apps to help you create initial plans for the garden, or do you just go ahead and implement them to see what works?


Poinsettias Deck the Grand Hall in Newport, RI Mansion

Everyone knows that Newport, Rhode Island is home to the grand mansions of America’s Gilded Age. Right now three of the mansions have taken on a festive holiday look.

Until January 4 you can visit these three Newport mansions, The Breakers, Elms, and Marble House, decked out in lights and the holiday colors of red, green, and gold. The Preservation Society of Newport County, the group that oversees eleven historical properties in Newport, has made this holiday display at the mansions available to visitors for more than twenty-five years.

Twenty-four decorated Christmas trees are sprinkled among the rooms of the mansions. The trees sometimes surprise you when you turn a corner and see a tall evergreen decked in gold and red as in the Gothic Room of Marble House.

The dining room tables are set with period silver and china, and individual white candles illuminate the windows. Christmas wreaths and evergreens decorate walls.

Three thousand poinsettias add color to the rooms of the three houses. The plants, grown in the Preservation Society’s own greenhouse,

Pointsettias in the Greenhouse at The Breakers

Pointsettias in the Greenhouse at The Breakers

are removed and replaced several times during the six-week holiday season to ensure the displays remain fresh.

The poinsettias at The Breakers really stole the show for me.

Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed The Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, built in 1895, for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, President and Chairman of the New York Central Railroad. Its interior includes rich marbles and gilded rooms, mosaic tile floors and ceilings, and open-air terraces with magnificent ocean views.

In the Grand Hall of The Breakers stands a 15-foot tree made of red poinsettias. The room with its walls of yellow stone and a 50-foot high ceiling that seems to go up forever shines with the red color of the poinsettia.

The Grand Hall at The Breakers with its fifteen foot Christmas Tree to the left

The Grand Hall at The Breakers with its fifteen foot Christmas tree, made of poinsettias, to the left

When The Breakers was built, the poinsettia, originally from Mexico, had become popular throughout the country. Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Robert Buist, who introduced the poinsettia to the garden industry, once said that it was “truly the most magnificent of all the tropical plants we have ever seen.”

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan included an article about the poinsettia in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in May of 1876. He said, this plant “has been of late years an almost indispensable adjunct of Christmas decorations, be they of church or hall–the brilliant Poinsettia pulcherrima, the bright scarlet bracts of which give the head of blossoms a flower-like appearance, and serve admirably to lighten up the somewhat somber masses of evergreen.”

And that is truly what you will find at The Breakers. The blossoms of the poinsettias brighten up the mansion in a holiday spirit.


After 100 Years This Lawn Remains the Same

Recently I came across a catalog from Boston’s W. W. Rawson Seed Company for 1901.

An ad in the catalog listed Rawson’s Arlington Grass Seed as one of the items for  sale. The ad included a photo of a lawn in Wollaston, Massachusetts. [below]

Since the house in Wollaston on Grand View Avenue was not far away, I drove over and discovered the lawn had not changed in over a hundred years.

Here is the image from the seed catalog:

The lawn photo in the 1901 Rawson catalog

The lawn photo in the 1901 Rawson catalog

Here is the way the lawn looks today from the photo I took:

The same lawn today.

The same lawn today.

Not much different, is it?

Now you can see how long the lawn has been part of our landscape experience.  In 1901 homeowners needed a lawn because the Rawson Seed Company catalog illustrated its importance for a home landscape.


A Diary Reveals the History of the Nineteenth Century American Garden

In restoring a garden from an earlier time period any documents about the history of the garden certainly may help to understand what it looked like at a particular time.

A southern Louisiana garden called Rosedown Plantation has been restored to its nineteenth century charm, thanks to a detailed diary that the owner Martha Turnbull kept.

Turnbull book cover LSUpressMartha’s diary, along with excellent commentary, has recently been made available in the new book The Garden Diary of Martha Turnbull Mistress of Rosedown Plantation (Louisiana State University Press).

I loved the book because it traces how we gardened here in America before and after the Civil War.

Martha writes in detail about what she planted on her 28 acres, though many more acres made up the plantation.  The reader comes away with a sense of how horticulture changed in the nineteenth century.

In the earlier years her gardening focused on vegetables and fruit, especially strawberries, but later her concern  turned to ornamental gardening with roses, dahlias, and chrysanthemums.

Slaves left the plantation after the Civil War, but some stayed at Rosedown to help with the gardening. Martha provided housing and wages in exchange for their help.

Martha gives us a window on the nineteenth century American garden since she lived until 1896, the day before her 85th birthday, and began the diary in 1836 when she put in the garden.

Since I am interested in nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries, I was happy to see how much she depended on garden companies, especially in the northeast.  She purchased seeds and plants from the Robent Buist Company in Philadelphia and Prince Nurseries on Long Island in New York.


Rosedown Plantation

Landscape architect Suzanne Turner who did a superb job of editing the book, says “The predominant  theory or aesthetic that Martha Turnbull would have encountered in [John Claudius] Loudon and [Andrew Jackson] Downing was that of the romantic picturesque landscapes, or the ‘modern’ style, as opposed to the old or ‘formal’ style.” Thus the garden design of Rosedown was based on the popular English romantic style.

Turner provides a wonderful commentary on Martha’s work in the garden, often quoting horticultural books and articles of that period.

This is a more than a book about a Louisiana gardener. For me it is the history of American gardening in the nineteenth century.


Boston’s 19th Century Rawson Seed Company Supplied the Latest Varieties of Plants

The east coast in the United States was home to  several seed companies and nurseries in the late nineteenth century.

It was a combination of the rail service, ease of mail delivery, and an express package system that crossed the country that together made such businesses flourish.

W. W. Rawson [Images courtesy of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society]

One such east coast company was the W. W. Rawson Company in Boston where the company sold to the farmer and to the gardener.

Owned by Mr. William Rawson, the company was in business for several decades and published its catalog regularly.  Rawson brought twenty-eight years in horticultural experience to his seed business.

The seed store was located at 34 Market Street in the Fanuiel Hall area of downtown Boston [below].

The first floor of the Rawson Company offered customers seeds and tubers that could be purchased for home gardening [below]

One of the plants Rawson offered in his catalog of 1897 was the ‘Madame Crozy’ canna.  In 1892 the Madame Crozy canna was described as the “grandest canna of them all.” In 1893 at the World’s Fair in Chicago it was awarded a Bronze Medal.

The Rawson Seed Comapny was a modern business, selling to American farmers and gardeners the latest in seeds and plants.

Rawson Seed Company in downtown Boston – 1897

The first floor of the Rawson Company featured this store with framed chromos of flowers on the walls.


The Perfect Lawn Appeared in 19th Century Seed Catalogs

Since by the late nineteenth century the lawn had become an integral part of the home landscape, it was a common practice to sell grass seed in seed catalogs.

To persuade the buyer the catalog sometimes included an illustration of a lawn as it should look.

The W. W. Rawson  Company from Boston offered its own grass seed called ‘Arlington’ which was named after the town outside of Boston where Mr. Rawson lived.  His store and warehouse were located at 34 South Market Street in the Faneuil Hall Square area in downtown Boston.

Here is an illustration from the Rawson company catalog of 1896 [below].  Notice the prominence of the lawn.

1896 Rawson Catalog

Illustration from the 1896 Rawson Seed Catalog [Courtesy of Massachusetts Horticultural Society]

The name of the article below the illustration was simply “The Preparation of Lawns and their Management.”

Rawson then described how to prepare the soil for a lawn, and, how much seed a homeowner would need.

He wrote: “For forming new lawns, four bushels  are required per acre, or about one quart to each square rod of land, which should be regularly and evenly distributed.  Sixteen pounds to the bushel.”

Thus the seed company provided not only the seeds but instructions on how to install the lawn with the necessary steps of rolling and leveling the area.

Rawson’s seed was called ‘Rawson’s Velvet Lawn Grass Mixture’.

No surprise that  the consumer wanted that perfect lawn the catalog included in this kind of illustration.  By the 1890s Images in advertising had become an important vehicle to sell any product.


The Historic Landscape of Downton Abbey Inspired Book Trailer

Season five of Downton Abbey will return to American television on Sunday, January 4.

This period drama has captured the imagination of viewers across the country. The characters, the clothes, the time period, the setting and, of course, the story all contribute to make this British drama attractive to fans everywhere.

Let us not forget however the importance the landscape plays for an American gardener audience.

The lawn and gardens of Downton Abbey [really Highclere Castle] we owe to Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783), the landscape gardener to the King.  Thus the opening shot of the lawn which extends all the way to the walls of the castle contains a bit of history. The five acre kitchen garden and cutting garden behind the house which often become part of a story line on the show are also part of that history, the handiwork of Capabiity Brown in the eighteenth century.

Brown’s romantic style of landscape has appealed to Americans since the beginning of the country. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson chose that garden style for their own properties.

In the nineteenth century American seed companies and nurseries sold their seeds and plants with a promise that the gardener could have a landscape like the one on the cover of the catalog, which was often an illustration with the elements of the English garden, especially the lawn.

Since the theme of my book America’s Romance with the English Garden  hinges on the marketing of the English garden in seed and nursery catalogs of the nineteenth century, we prepared a video book trailer which links the book to the television program Downton Abbey.

Here is the book trailer which I made with the help of Mac Capen, a talented media student at Bridgewater State University.  I hope you enjoy it.



1904 Fall Garden Catalog Sold More than Spring Bulbs

The words and image in any ad work together to promote a product.

Owners of the seed companies and nurseries of the late nineteenth century referred to the garden catalog as an advertisement. Thus, like Mr. Burpee, they carefully crafted each word for both the Introduction and any information linked to  a particular plant or seed.

The W. W. Rawson Company in Boston included an illustration of tulips within the pages of its fall catalog of 1904. [below]

The image also includes a house and a lawn in the background.

An illustration that appeared in the W. W. Rawson Seed Catalog of 1904

An illustration that appeared in the W. W. Rawson Seed Catalog of 1904

It was not by accident that the lawn appears, but was chosen probably because it provided such an ideal setting for planting the bulbs near-by.

Of course, everyone knew how important the lawn had become for the home landscape. Here Mr. Rawson confirms the importance of the lawn.

At a time when the field of advertising for any business was assuming an essential role, to include the lawn in the image for tulips was, of course, also selling the lawn.



New Book Traces Origin of Current Local Food Movement

New Book Traces Origin of Current Local Food Movement

The victory garden continues as a culture icon. When Michelle Obama planted vegetables at the White House, people called it a victory garden.

Learning about the origin of the victory garden could shed light on the importance of growing food locally today. That hope inspired a new book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I ” (McFarland).

Hayden-Smith_978-0-7864-7020-4Historian and gardener Rose Hayden-Smith, the author, traces the ‘grow your own vegetables’ movement from the United States Government in both World War I and again in World War II.   During both wars Victory gardens became a way to support our troops. If Americans could grow their own food at home, more food supplies from farms could be sent to American troops across the sea.

Hayden-Rose, an advocate for local food for the local table, writes that from the beginnings of the victory garden movement in WWI children were introduced to gardening in schools as a way to put them in touch with nature. Home gardens became a way that women could show their support for the war movement.

Organizations we meet along the way as she tells her story include the National War Garden Commission and the United States School Garden Army. Both illustrate the intensity in which the United States sought to encourage gardening, especially growing vegetables. The Government incorporated a public relations committee called the Creel Commission to spread the word to every American that growing food for the family table was a serious issue.  The many wartime posters with a gardening theme included in the book present the visual message that spread across America.

The book traces the important role that women have played in agriculture through the victory garden movement. During WWI 20,000 largely middle-class urban and suburban women worked on American farms as wage laborers. Thus farming was not only providing food but also a way to incorporate women in the workforce.

Hayden-Smith discuses the problems in the Victory Garden campaign including the lack of knowledge about the source of the food for the table, especially among urban children. That is certainly something we face today as well.

She says, “Gardens can help reshape social and spatial life in our communities.” Your garden is not just a garden but also a way to build community and grow as a responsible citizen.

Hayden-Smith lays out her goal in writing the book. She says, “My greatest hope for this book is that it may be used as a lens through which to view our current situation.” Today people around the country participate in urban farming, community gardens, locally growing produce, and even the food to table movement called Slow Food. Such activities belong to the current food systems movement but more people need to join for it to have an impact on the way we garden.

The fact that the author is a passionate gardener who has traveled the country to witness how people are getting in touch with the land and growing their own food makes her words that much stronger. At the end of the book Hayden-Smith makes the claim, “I am a Victory Grower.” By that point you can’t help but believe her.