Archives for April 2015

Writing about the Cottage Garden Appeared in 17th Century England

As garden trendsetters in late nineteenth century England, landscape designer Gertrude Jekyll and garden writer William Robinson opened the door for middle class gardeners to take greater interest in the garden of the cottager.  They recognized the skill it took to garden in a small space.  Both thought gardeners could learn from the cottage gardener.

Before that time there was little written about the cottage garden since from the early eighteenth century the only garden of interest to major writers was that of the aristrocrat who owned acres of land and employed a team of gardeners.

There had however always been an interest in learning about the cottage garden.

An English garden magazine called Cottage Gardener: Pratical Guide in every department of Hoticulture and rural and domestic economy appeared by the mid nineteenth century.  The magazine offered the cottager articles like “Our Village Walks.”

Earlier yet we see that one seventeenth century garden writer did not exclude the cottage garden in his work.

cottage garden

This cottage garden in Delaware shows a small space planted with annuals, perennials, shrubs, and vines.

In his book The Story of Gardening Richardson Wright said, “By 1677 [the English agriculturalist] John Worlidge could write, ‘There is scarce a cottage in most of the southern parts of England but has its proportionable garden, so great a delight do most of men take in it.’ And ever since the cottage garden has been one of the delights of England.”

The joy of the cottage garden was the owner’s ability to garden in a small space. Often the house was close to road, offering a limited area for cultivating plants.

To this day we love the cottage garden perhaps because many of us continue to garden in a limited area and we hunger for inspiration.


Rosa Rugosa Came from China to England then to America

Along the seacoast here in the northeast you will find Rosa Rugosa, that shrub rose with the bright red flowers and round fruit.  It has in fact over many decades found its way along much of the ocean roadside.

British plant explorer Robert Fortune brought it to England from China in 1845.

Soon this rose became popular for American gardeners as well.

Newton, Mass. nurseryman William Kenrick in his 1832 catalog for his nursery plants does not list Rosa Rugosa among the dozens of roses he offered for sale.  Surely Kenrick, whose nursery some referred to at the time as the ‘largest in New England,’ would have offered Rosa Rogosa if by then it had made its way to America.

Rosa rugosa, courtesy of TripAdviser

Rosa rugosa on Cape Cod [courtesy of TripAdvisor]

In the 1885 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly Phildelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan included a letter from Rose Terry Cooke. She wrote, “What is there about Rosa rugosa to make it desirable? I paid a dollar for one, on the recommendation of catalogues, and I think any of our wild roses more beautiful than this bristling, single blossomed, coarse-leaved bud.”

By then garden catalogs were selling Rosa Rugosa and gardeners, or at least some, wanted this new rose.

American Gardening magazine wrote in 1897, “And what garden is complete without a Rosa Rugosa? None. A rose garden without a representative is the play of ‘Hamlet’ without the moody Dane.”

That line says it all, don’t you think?  Every garden needed a Rosa Rugosa.


America Introduced Foundation Plantings in Front of the House

The traditional English garden does not include the foundation plantings you see around the front of the house.

That part of the landscape was an American invention in the early twentieth century.

Allison Kyle Leopold writes in her book The Victorian Garden, “Foundation shrubbery did not come into widespread practice until after the turn of the century.”

Real estate agents and nurserymen thought shrubs provided the best way to cover up the high foundation on which the house stood.  Thus, everybody used shrubs in the front of the house without any question.


The Olmsted firm designed this Oldfields landscape in  Indianapolis

In the early twentieth century the Olmsted firm designed this landscape [above] at Oldfields, located in a small corner of Indianapolis that was a highly exclusive enclave of wealthy estates in the early 1900s. The estate is one of the best surviving examples of a Country Place Era estate in the United States.

You can see the foundation plantings along the wall of the house, which eventually became the home of the Lilly family that owned the international Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company.

What early landscape designers never imagined, of course, was that homeowners would allow foundation plantings to grow without pruning and sometimes even spread up to the second floor of the house.




Nineteenth Century New England Nurseryman Sold the English Garden

Over the weekend I spoke about my book America’s Romance with the English Garden at the Durant-Kenrick House in Newton, just outside of Boston. The historic 1734 farmhouse stands today as a museum, restored and renovated in 2013 with the addition of a large, modern educational center where I spoke.

When the  nineteenth century nurseryman William Kenrick (1789-1872) owned the property, orchards covered its many acres.  He introduced important varieties of peaches and pears, some still available today.

Kenrick, who owned what was then New England’s largest nursery,  also recommended the English style of landscape which included the lawn.

In 1833 he wrote in his popular book The New American Orchardist, “The modern style of gardening, in the place of the regular geometric forms, and the right angles, and right lines, has substituted all that is more consistent with nature, and with beauty. Celebrated English writers have ascribed this important change in the style of gardening in England.”

Thus this important early New England nurseryman recommended the  modern English garden where the homeowner could display both a lawn and the trees that Kenrick sold.

The Durant-Kenrick House, Newton, Mass. is now a museum, dedicated to the famous families that lived there since 1740.

The Durant-Kenrick House, Newton, Mass. is now a museum, dedicated to the families that have lived there since 1734.



How Many Garden Tools Do You Really Need?

After my talk at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show last month, I received a swag, or a bag of goodies to take home and enjoy, as a gift from the Show planners.

To my surprise I found in the bag a new hand garden trowel with a metal end and wooden handle. It looked like a wonderful addition to my collection of garden tools.

Do you have the garden tools you need to do the work? Or are you like me, in possession of many tools you no longer use?

Allison Kyle Leopold writes in her book The Victorian Garden about the effort of nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries to sell garden tools to the Victorian gardener. She says, “While gardeners of the early nineteenth century could get by with just Leopold, Allison VicGara simple spade, a rake, a fork, a hoe, shears, a watering pot, and a wheel barrel, the average gardener of the 1870s was advised to invest in more than 30 different tools – pruning knives and budding knives, seed servers and hand-weeders, wooden rakes for the lawn and steel ones for the beds.”

By the mid nineteenth century mass production made garden tools available cheaply. Machines in large factories produced the tools instead of the local metal worker or carpenter.

Advertising and marketing of garden tools took off after 1860 when colorful chromolithographs caught the attention of the consumer. The back pages of seed and nursey catalogs carried the ads.

No wonder the Victorian gardener had to have so many tools.

How many garden tools do you really need?



Late Nineteenth Century Saw Renewed Interest in Perennial Borders

In the seacoast city Portsmouth, New Hampshire there are several historic gardens in the downtown area. With its long tradition as an important early city in America you can see Colonial, Georgian, and Victorian styles of architecture and landscape.

In 1912 the National Society of the Colonial Dames acquired the Moffatt-Ladd House, with its garden, which in its present form dates to the 1840s.

Alexander Hamilton Ladd (1815-1900) kept a journal of what he planted in the garden. He included borders of perennials, which had become a popular form of gardening, replacing the use of annuals. Both English writer William Robinson and landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll had encouraged perennial borders in  the 1870s.

In Rochester, New York nurseryman George Ellwanger (1816-1906) wrote a book called The Garden’s Story (1889) in which he argued against both the stiff formal garden and carpet, or ribbon, beds. He noted that “the objectionable forms of gardening are being superseded by a more natural style–a revival of the old-fashioned hardy flower borders, masses of stately perennials.”

Today you can see that style in the garden at the the Moffatt-Ladd House in Portsmouth planted with borders of stately persennials instead of the dreaded carpet beds and ribbon beds of annuals. [below]

The perennial border at the Moffat-Ladd, as it looks today.

The perennial bordesr at the Moffatt-Ladd, as it looks today.


Today the English Lawn in California Faces a Water Crisis

Scott-gardeners_monthly_1886-extraextrasmallWe all know that the lawn has long been a part of the home landscape here in the US.

The lawn, in fact, dates back to the beginning of our country, but really took off in the mid-nineteenth century when suburbs developed around large cities.

At that time the homes of California too just like homes across the country began to showcase landscapes that included a lawn.

California now faces a crisis of drought which puts the coveted lawn in jeopardy.

A Boston Globe article this past Sunday, April 5, called “Drought may reshape image of California” calls for some drastic measures to preserve water in California.  Of course, elliminating the lawn is near the top of the list.

Governor Jerry Brown says, “You just can’t live the way you always have.”

It is hard to give up the lawn since it has been part of America’s relationship with nature for so long.  That green space out front is part of American history.

It is the English that taught us how to landscape with the lawn.  In the nineteenth century America followed the Romantic English style of gardening, which, of course, included the lawn. In 1841 The Gardener’s Chronicle, an English garden magazine edited by horticulturist John Lindley, said, “Gardening is admitted to be better understood in Great Britain than in any other country, and the number of works on the subject prove the patronage it receives.”

A bit later English writer and landscape gardener William Robinson, referred to as the father of the English flower garden, wrote in 1870, “The lawn is the heart of the true English Garden.”

Scott gardener's_monthly_1886 extraextrasmallScott gardener's_monthly_1886 extrasmallScott gardener's_monthly_1886 extrasmallScott-gardeners_monthly_1886-extraextrasmall


The cover of Clifford Clark’s book Home illustrates the lawn as integral in the nineteenth century home landscape.

At the same time the American landscape designer Frank J. Scott published his famous book The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds. By the end of the century the book went through several printings and by then had become essential reading for the middle class homeowner. Scott wrote, “A smooth, closely shaven surface of grass is by far the most essential element of beauty in the grounds of the suburban home.”

More recently historian Margaret Marsh said in her book Suburban Lives, “Frank Scott did not want suburbanites to turn their grounds into miniature farms. Rather, he wanted to teach them to create communities that were also large parks, where passersby as well as residents could enjoy the beauty of each lawn and garden. Suburbanites, Scott insisted, have a public as well as a private duty to create a beautiful lawn and garden.”

Scott seemed to imply that the lawn was a way of building a sense of community with your neighbor.

Perhaps it is that view of the lawn that has motivated homeowners for so long in keeping that neatly trimmed lawn.

The Globe article ended by reporting that recently Palm Springs ordered a 50 per cent cut in water use by city agencies.  Thus, the city plans to use native plants for the summer months to replace the lawns and annual flowers that surround city buildings.


Chicago Gave America the Prairie Style of Landscape

The English lawn came to Chicago in the 1850s.

The home landscape in the Victorian decades that followed resembled the home landscape design of the east coast at the same time.

By the end of the century the University of Illinois landscape instructor Wilhem Miller proposed that native plants, like grasses, be used in the landscape. He called it the ‘prairie style’ of landscape. He eventually wrote a book about it entitled The Prairie Spirit in Landscape Gardening, published in 1914. [below]

Miller loved the English garden with its natural style.  He considered the use of native plants perfectly suited in that kind of design.

Thus from the American midwest began this movement to use native plants in the landscape. By the early 1900s landscape architect and plantsman Jens Jenson (1860-1951) had already begun to design home landscapes in that kind of design, preferring native plants, in the more natural rather than geometric look.

Miller rightly recognized Jenson’s early contribution.  Miller called Jensen “probably the first designer who consciously took the prairie as a leading motive.”

On my recent trip to Chicago I stayed in Naperville, about an hour drive southwest of Chicago.

While driving around the streets of Naperville, I noticed along Book Road an area the size of a couple of city blocks, that  looked like prairie fields, where a pathway provided a walker a view of nothing but fields of native plants in various sizes. It was a beautiful sight.

Today Naperville continues that tradition of using prairie plants in the landacape, in this case, through its public park-like areas.

Miller 3In her book Chicago Gardens: The Early History Cathy Jean Maloney writes, “Chicago’s prairie-style landscape architects designed properties across the nation, but have been rediscovered only in the past few decades.”

That recognition of the prairie style reinforces the importance of native plants in the landscape.





By the late 19th Century Garden Catalogs also Sold Social Class

Today you accept advertising as a fact of life.

In the late nineteenth century advertising as we know it today appeared and spread across the country.

The ad sold a product but also with that product a feeling, a hope, or a dream.  The advertiser connected the product with an image that would make the consumer feel the purchase was worthwhile.

The seed and nursery industries of that period sold garden products in the same way.

The garden industry, epecially in its catalogs which were considered advertising,  also sold an image of a person, a home, a landscape that were each important to the culture. They helped to shape the culture in that way.

Stephen Fox in his book The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising and its Creators wrote about late nineteenth century advertising in America. He said, “Ads necessarily reflected the times, and as an independent force that helped shape the times.”

Notice this catalog cover  from the Crosman Brothers Seed Company in Rochester, New York [below].

Catalog cover of the Crosman Brothers Seed Catalog of 1894 [thanks to New York Botanical Garden]

Catalog cover of the Crosman Brothers Seed Catalog of 1894 [thanks to New York Botanical Garden Library] 

 A child from an upper class family appears on the cover. We know her social status from her clothes, which include both a fancy hat and a pair of dark gloves.

She just might  be reading a Crosman catalog. If you look closely, you can see the front cover.

As Fox would say, Crosman also sold social class.

Thus by the late 1800s gardening for the middle class meant Crosman seeds.

Its cover image sold seeds but seeds for a particular class of customer. Or, if you bought the company’s seeds, you could feel like a member of this class.

What do you think about this catalog cover?