Archives for January 2015

Nineteeth Century English Architect Advocated Blend of Formal and Natural Landscape

I just finished reading the English architect John F. Sedding’s book Garden Craft Old and New.  His family published the book in 1891 after his death.

John Sedding (XXX_XXX) [Image courtesy of julia&keld]

John Sedding (1838-1891) [Image courtesy of julia&keld]

The point he developed in the book is that the formal garden design can be reconciled with the more natural look in the garden, the style that  William Kent and Lancelot Brown supported in the eighteenth century.

I loved the image [below] that was featured in the beginning of the book. It was simply called “A Garden Enclosed” and spoke of the formal look that art can provide in the garden, including the introduction of peacocks.

A Garden Enclosed , a drawing from Sedding's bookSedding spent a great deal of time detailing the tension between garden as art and garden as nature.

By the end of the book, calling on Wordsworth to resolve the issue, he maintained that each side may coexist with the other for a fuller experience of the garden.

Sedding wrote this in the last chapter: “It is worth something, I say, to win clear hold of the fact that Nature in a garden and Nature in the wild are at unity;  they have each their place in the economy of human life, and that each should have its share in man’s affections. The true gardener is in touch with both.”

He even added the testimony of Wordsworth “who had not that superficial knowledge of gardening which no gentleman’s head should be without” to resolve the issue and demonstrate that each style of gardening may coexist with the other for a more fulfilling human condition.



Dutch and French Gardening Influenced the Early English Garden until 1700

While on Christmas break I read the book The English Garden by Edward Hyams. The book is now out of print.  I found this copy at a local church book sale.

Hyams’ story-telling style kept my interest from the beginning to the end. Many a story did he tell.

Hyams The English GardenThere are several illustrations in the book, some in black and white but many in color.  The size of the book is large so it probably fits the category of coffee table book. But by no means is it just a collection of pretty pictures.

The history of the English garden is there throughout.  In fact, the book begins with the early influences on the garden.  For me that early section set the narrative on its course.

Hyams writes, “The dominant influence in English gardening during the Restoration and until the arrival of Dutch gardening with a Dutch king, was that of the French garden architect LeNotre…In the seventeenth century the English discovered their own, subsequently incomparable, genius and taste for gardening.”

He adds this quote from seventeenth century writer Sir Henry Wotton.  “Wotton, having admitted that other lands had the benefit of more sun than we could boast of, went on: ‘…yet I have seen in our own a delicate and diligent curiosity without parallel in other nations.’ “

Hymans concludes, “That is still true: Wotton seems to have been the first garden-lover since Roman times to insist a garden should not be regular; or that if it was, then its regularity should be ‘wild’. This was and is the English spirit.”


19th Century NY Seedsman Peter Henderson Criticized American Landscape

Peter Henderson managed a thriving seed business in New York during the late nineteenth century. This is a cover from his company’s seed caatlog of 1901. Notice the English lawn and curved pathways in the landscape. [below]

From Pinterest

Henderson catalog cover 1901 [From Pinterest]

Henderson seed store

Mr. Henderson was quite direct in his writing.

He considered American landscape far behind that of Europe.

He  wrote the following in the magazine Gardener’s Monthly of 1880, “It must be admitted that in some phases of horticultural progress, we are yet far behind Europe, particularly in the ornamentation of our public grounds. We have nothing to compare with the Battersea Park, London; the Jardin des Plantes, of Paris; or the Phoenix Park, Dublin; and when comparison is made the grounds surrounding the villas in the suburbs of these European cities, with our suburbs here, the comparison is, if possible, more against us, for there it is rare to see a neat cottage without a well-kept lawn, and good taste shown in the planting of its flower beds, its well-trimmed fruit trees and neat vegetable grounds.”

But that is not all.

He criticized rich Americans who built mansions but showed no taste in the landscape for the property.

He wrote, “Here as yet, we have hundreds of expensive mansions, particularly in the suburbs of New York, where the so-called garden surroundings tell all too plainly of the mushroom wealth of its shoddy owner.”

Mr. Henderson preferred the English style of landscape, illustrated on the cover of his catalog from 1901. [above]


The Verbena Came to America from England

I include Verbenas in my summer garden and love them because they are so easy to grow, but also for their various shades of white, pink, and blue as a trailing plant.

The annual Verbena, or Verbena x hybrida, has a long history in this country. The plant is originally from South America but made it’s way to England in the early nineteenth century. Denise Wiles Adams in her book Restoring American Gardens says, “Verbena x hybrida was the result of extensive hybridization beginning ca. 1840 between four species of Verbena.”

According to the December issue of the Southern Cultivator in 1855, Philadelphia seedsman Robert Buist (1805-1880) introduced the Verbena to the United States.  The date seems to be around 1839.

David Stuart wrote in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “The Verbena had been in England since 1826.”  It was only shortly after he left England to enter the seed trade in this country  that Buist introduced this plant to American gardeners.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meechan praised Buist for his contributions to the garden. Meehan dedicated several paragraphs to Buist in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in September 1880, shortly after Buist died.

Meehan wrote, “Few men have exercised such an influence on the floriculture of our country as Mr. R. Buist. He has not only raised and distributed plants throughout the land, but better still, he has educated and raised men of his profession who have been ornaments of society and leaders in the horticulture of our own land.”

The simple Verbena has come a long way.

Today we can grow the Proven Winners hybrid variety of the Verbena called ‘Dark Blue Superbena.’ [below]

But the Verbena found a listing in the American seed catalog only after England had grown it first.


Proven winners dark blue superbena vareity of verbena, a hybrid.

The Proven Winners newest hybrid of the Verbena called ‘Dark Blue Superbena.’


Nineteenth Century English Architect Opposed the Lawn Extended to the Walls of the House

The lawn encouraged by the eighteenth century landscape gardener Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783) swept all the way up to the walls of the house. You can see that in the landscape featured on the TV drama  ‘Downton Abbey’ or Highclere Castle [below] which Brown designed.

'Downton Abbey' [Highclere Castle]  with its lawn that stretches to the walls of the house.

‘Downton Abbey’ [Highclere Castle] with its lawn that stretches to the walls of the house.

In the nineteenth century there was another view of what the area right outside the house should look like. For example, landscape gardener Humphry Repton, who died in 1818,  had recommended the area around the house could provide a designed outdoor living space, as we now call it.  He wrote, “I have discovered that utility must often take the lead of beauty, and convenience be preferred to picturesque effect, in the neighborhood of man’s habitation.”

The English architect John Sedding shared that same view as well as his displeasure with Brown’s view of the lawn in his book Garden-Craft Old and New (1890).

Sedding wrote, “To pitch your house down upon the grass with no architectural accessories about it, to link it to the soil, is to vulgarize it, to rob it of importance, to give it the look of a pastoral farm, green to the door-stop.”

During the nineteenth century there was a battle between the landscape gardener and the architect. English garden writer William Robinson wrote that nature ought to dominate the landscape design and not the so-called art of the architect.

Sedding put it this way in his book: “To bring Nature up to the windows of the house, with a scorn of art-sweetness, is not only to betray your own deadness to form, but to cause a sense of unexpected blankness in the visitor’s mind on leaving the well-appointed interior of an English home.”

John Sedding's book Garden Craft Old and New (1890)

John Sedding’s book Garden Craft Old and New (1890)

The battle continued in articles and books on that difference in garden design: nature versus geometry.

Perhaps the argument will never be settled, but the battle waged on in England for decades.

Sedding summed up his side of the argument in these words: “As the house is an Art-production, so is the garden that surrounds it, and there is no code of ease that I know of which would prove that Art is more reprehensible in the garden than in the house.”

What side of the argument do you take?


By Late 19th Century Women Recognized as Gardeners

When the first garden books appeared in England before the seventeenth century, men wrote them. Up to the eighteenth century the scene had not changed. It was only in the later part of the nineteenth century that women were recognized for their gardening skill.

 It was from that point their role in horticulture both in England and America became more visible.

Garden writer and artist David Stuart in his book Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy discussed how men and women related to gardening in the Victorian era. He writes: “By the end of the Victorian period, gardening in all its branches was almost a female preserve, from journalism to the highest reaches of garden design, and it is still today very much their province; few men will admit to be interested in more than the lawn and vegetables.”

Several women contributed to gardening in the late nineteenth century in a significant way like garden writers Jane Loudon and Gertrude Jekyll, who was also a garden designer, and here in the US the garden designer Beatrix Farrand, one of the founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects.  They are the kind of women that Stuart had in mind.

Beatrix Farrand (XX-XX)

Landscape designer Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959) [Courtesy of the Beatrix Farrand Society]

 Below is a garden that Farrand designed in Connecticut early in the twentieth century that is now called Harkness Memorial State Park, originally the home of philanthropist Edward Harkness.

Harkness Memoiral State Park

Harkness Memorial State Park

Though women had gardened for decades, it was only from the late nineteenth century that the mass media through books, catalogs, newspapers, and magazines wrote about it.





New Orleans Gardeners Still Prefer the English Garden

A while back I attended the annual meeting of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers in New York. We saw many gardens that impressed us and heard lectures that inspired us.

In one lecture the speaker made this comment: “People in New Orleans wanted an English style garden.” I do not remember much of the context but it was in a contemporary setting where homeowners wanted that kind of landscape.

I came across this quote from that meeting recently and what struck me was that New Orleans gardeners preferred the same kind of garden in the nineteenth century.

Here is the cover of the 1899 catalog from  the Steckler Seed Company which was located in New Orleans on Gravier Street. [below]

[Photo courtesy of Smithsoian Seed Catalog Images]

[Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Seed Catalog Images]

Notice the cover garden design includes a  lawn, a curved pathway to the house, a circular flowerbed on the lawn, and trees to line the properly.  By the end of the nineteenth century these elements made up the classic English garden design.

So even though the Steckler Company owner Ms. Frotscher knew French garden design and probably Spanish, Dutch and Italian as well, she preferred to encourage the English garden style on her catalog cover.

Today there still remains this preference in New Orleans for the English garden.


Plant Collecting Doomed the Classic English Garden

Plant collecting is something that most gardeners enjoy.  Some gardeners even refer to their garden as a ‘collection.’

We gardeners are sometimes haunted by the question whether a collection of plants can really be an example of landscape as an art form.

Garden writer and artist David Stuart in his book Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy discussed the same issue.

Stuart, David Garden TriumphantHe takes as his starting point the history of the classic English garden of the eighteenth century, or the picturesque garden as it was called.

Beginning in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but reaching its peak in the nineteenth century. the English coveted plants from Africa, Asia, and the Americas.  That habit of collecting plants, however, was to have a devastating effect on the classic English garden design.

Stuart writes: “Throughout the eighteenth century, new plants began to flood the country [England] from all the Americas and most of Asia. By the end of the century they were flooding in even faster, yet there was nowhere to put them, no way to integrate them into the garden…They [gardeners] hankered after a mode of gardening that would allow them to show their wonderful plants to the world.”

In that decision to show them off, the garden took on a new look, that of a collection.

He concludes, “Consequently, by the end of the eighteenth century, the landscape garden was quite clearly doomed.”

The classic landscape garden featured the lawn, the curved pathway, minimal or no flowers at all, and shrubs.  It was the garden as designed by eighteenth century gardener to the King Lancelot Brown.

Since gardeners wanted to display new plants, they had to make room for them. The garden became a collection of plants.

Today the same question seems to face every gardener. 

How do you respond?


Nineteenth Century Lousiana Gardener Depended on Nursery Catalogs

Nineteenth century gardeners looked to garden catalogs not only for seeds and plants, but also as a source to learn about how to garden and take care of plants.

Southern Louisiana gardener Martha Turnbull kept a dairy of her garden at Rosedown Plantation for most of the nineteenth century.

Her diary, along with excellent commentary by landscape architect Suzanne Turner, has recently been made available in the new book The Garden Diary of Martha Turnbull Mistress of Rosedown Plantation (Lousiana State University Press).

Turner writes: “Despite the relative isolation of Martha’s gardening pursuits at Rosedown, through journals and nursery catalogs she was able to stay in touch with the mainstream of American horticulture and floriculture.”

Turnbull book cover LSUpressThus Martha not only gardened but kept up to date through what she read in the catalogs and garden magazines.

One of her seed catalogs came from the Robert Buist Seed Company in Philadelphia.

The Buist Company contributed to horticulture in the nineteenth century in many ways, but especially by introducing the verbena and the poinsettia to the American gardener.

Here is a Buist catalog from 1844, perhaps one that Martha read as well. [below]

Garden catalogs have long been a source of learning about gardening as well as a sales tool for the seed company or nursery.

What is your favorite catalog?



Buist 1844 catalog [Courtesy of Mass Hort]

Buist 1844-5 catalog [Courtesy of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.]