Archives for August 2015

Repton’s Red Books Became an Art Form

The English garden tradition of the late eighteenth century owes much to landscape gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818).

Repton presented his clients who sought his advice on designing a landscape with what he called his ‘Red Book’, a collection of several pages of both text and drawings that were intended to guide any improvements on the property. The book included drawings of the house and landscape before and after his proposed design.

According to Andre Rogger, in his book Landscapes of Taste: The Art of Humphry Repton’s Red Books, the Red Book became Repton’s most important contribution to the garden.

Roger Repton 2Rogger writes, “It was through the Red Books, rather than his gardens, that Repton achieved recognition and secured his place in English garden history.”

The Red Books he left his clients remain Repton’s legacy to this day. Over twenty-five years Repton worked on four hundred estates. Yet when you mention his name, the topic of his Red Books immediately comes into the discussion.

Beautiful in both text and drawings, many by Repton himself, the books have taken on a life for themselves.

Repton continued the tradition of Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783) with a focus on the picturesque landscape, with its emphasis on the English lawn, but added a bit of formality to the landscape as well, especially in his formal terraces and balustrades as well as beautiful flower gardens, like the rosary or rose garden. He illustrated much of that new look of the garden in his drawings in the Red Books.

Thanks to the GardenHistoryGirl blog, I learned that Repton summarized his landscape design approach in his book called Sketches and hints on landscape gardening, published in 1794. The University of Wisconsin digitized the book in full color, making it a real treasure for the garden historian in all of us. Be sure to check it out.

Repton’s Red Books became an art form.


Visit to a NH Public Garden Provides a Surprise

Every year in late August I make an effort to visit Prescott Park in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The gardens are filled with annuals that look terrific by this time of the year, the end of summer.

When I took this photo at 7 am last week [below], I had no idea how it would turn out since I was just snapping as I walked around the garden, which is the way I often take pictures. When I saw the photo later, I was surprised beyond words.  The photo captures the color and majesty of the garden in a kind of mystical way. It was an overcast morning and that provided a misty moment, perfect for the photo.

The garden and foundtain at Prescott Park, with the waterfront in the back

The garden at Prescott Park with waterfront in the back

You can see the dozens of coleus plants, with fuchsia as well, that surround the fountain. The red bricks on the path reflect the rain of the night before. A bit of mist appears on each side, and in the distance benches in front of the Portsmouth waterfront.

You find so many annuals throughout the garden, planted usually in a formal design, yet when you see them in full bloom at the end of the summer, they look like they have always been there, creating so much of Prescott Park’s splendor. This early morning photo captures a glimpse of that feeling.

Now you see why I make the annual trip to Prescott Park.

I am sure you probably have a garden, whether public or private, that you enjoy every summer as well.


Novelist Edith Wharton Found Inner Strength in Gardening

Gardening inspires us in many ways. That’s why we love it.

Novelist Edith Wharton (1862-1937) not only gardened but designed her own landscape at her house called The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts in the Berkshires. You can still see the garden, designed in the formal Italian design popular in the early twentieth century, since over the last few years it has been beautifully restored.

Wharton found a sense of well-being in gardening.

The Mount sponsored a seminar on Wharton and her gardening in mid-May 2006. The lectures were later combined into a book called Edith Wharton and the American Garden. On my visit to The Mount earlier this summer I bought a copy from the gift shop.

The book includes an essay called “Edith Wharton’s Literary Garden” by landscape designer Betsy Anderson, one of the speakers at the conference. She writes  “In her literature Wharton never associates stability with another person: stability must always be found within oneself, and interaction with nature through gardening is a means of cultivating inner strength as well as outer beauty.”

XXX in the lobby at The Mount

A poster at the entrance to the lower level at The Mount

The poster [above] from the lobby on the lower level of the Mount mentions that Wharton’s ten years at The Mount “was a period of tremendous change, self-discovery, and personal turmoil.”

She threw herself into gardening and saw it as her opportunity for personal growth and well-being, as Anderson suggests.

What do you get out of gardening? What does the garden do for you?



Late Nineteenth Century America Witnessed Content Marketing from Seed Companies

Recently I came across an article by Callum Borchers in the Boston Globe called “Consider the Source: Content Marketing is blurring the line between advertising and news, and Boston’s no different.”

Today you see the term ‘content marketing’ everywhere. No longer simply advertising but now content marketing has become the way to motivate consumers to purchase.

Content marketing is not really a new concept. It has been an integral part of public relations for decades. Borchers writes, “Companies have long produced informational reports and surveys that they believe people will want, not ignore like so many advertisements.”

Take for example the American garden industry in the late nineteenth century when cheap printing along with inexpensive mail delivery made it possible to send out seed and nursery catalogs in the millions.

Printed catalogs however were not the company’s only link, or content, sent to gardeners during that time.

The John Lewis Childs Seed Company in Floral Park, New York sent out a magazine called The Mayflower to its customers. The company owner Mr. Childs (1856-1921) filled it with garden articles that would be of interest to his customers.

Thus he provided an early example of content marketing.

The front cover of his magazine from 1892 illustrates the time and money Childs invested in this publication. [below]

Child's Mayflower Magazine 1892

Child’s Mayflower Magazine 1892

Childs printed 200,000 copies of each issue of this monthly.  Articles in a typical issue included titles like “Rocky Mountain Flowers,” “Narcissus and Daffodil,” and “Blue Hydrangeas” – all articles that would appeal to a gardener.  Childs enlisted prominent horticulturists to write the articles.

Thus his monthly publication provided content that would keep his customers interested in his company’s product, seeds.  When the biannual seed catalog arrived, the customer remembered that Childs had already shown interest in him or her by sending out his regular magazine.

Borchers writes, “Content cannot look like an advertisement or a press release. Many corporate-produced articles do not mention a product or even the name of the company that commissioned them.”

Although content marketing will continue to play a key role for companies, it has a long history.




Charles Platt Led the Formal English Garden Movement in Cornish, NH

I had wanted to visit Cornish, NH for several years. Quite happy that I made the trip just a couple of weeks ago when I took these photos at the home of the late nineteenth century sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Stepping into the garden was like visiting a museum made of his house, his landscape, and his art work scattered around the property.

Another resident, the early twentieth century architect Charles Platt (1861-1933) played an important role in the Cornish Colony. He designed both his own landscape as well as that of others.

Landscape historian Judith Tankard wrote in her book, co-authored with Alma M. Gilbert, A Place of Beauty: The Artists and Gardens of the Cornish Colony, “No one did more to mold the Cornish style of gardening than Charles Platt, the etcher-turned-architect.”

Platt’s style embodied the formal English garden in which there was renewed interest both in England and America at that time.  I saw that style represented in the Saint-Gaudens garden. Behind his house you can still see the extended lawn with its straight borders of perennials. [below]

Augustus Saint-Stephens garden in Cornish

Augustus Saint-Stephens garden in Cornish

As you walk the Saint-Gaudens property you also find his art work in areas that are cast in a formal garden design. Walls of clipped evergreens surround his bust of Lincoln and create a carefully manicured outdoor setting for the statue.  [below]

Statue of Lincoln at Saint-Gaudens House in Cornish

Statue of Lincoln at Saint-Gaudens House in Cornish

It was Charles Platt who encouraged that formal English garden fashion. Tankard concluded, “Few architects have surpassed Platt in his ability to so fully integrate house, garden and landscape into one harmonious whole.”



NH’s Cornish Art Colony Encouraged the English Formal Garden

Last week I visited the Cornish, NH home and garden of the late nineteenth century sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907).

His fame rests on his sculptures, some of them on exhibit right in the garden. He was also the magnet that drew other artists of that time to live in the Cornish area.  Thus a community of artists, writers, and garden designers created their summer homes, many becoming year-round.

They also took great pride in the gardens they designed. The formal English garden of the early twentieth century provided the inspiration.

Judith Tankard writes in her book, A Place of Beauty: The Artists and Gardens of the Cornish Colony, co-authored with Alma M. Gilbert, “Cornish gardeners became champions of the formal school of garden design based on their assiduous study of books that were being published in England at the time. John Sedding’s Garden Craft Old and New (1891) and Reginald Bloomfield’s The Formal Garden (1892) advocated an axial garden layout, with linear paths and architectural embellishments, as opposed to the more naturalistic, horticulturally inclined school promoted by William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll.”

So it was that Saint-Gaudens included this border of perennials in the formal garden he cultivated at his home he called Aspet. [below]

Cornish Formal Garden at the Home Saint Gauden

The formal garden at the home of Albertus Saint-Gaudens

The Cornish Colony considered the garden an art form. The long, vertical lines of an alley of birch trees also is something you can see at Saint-Gaudens home. [Below] That scene reminded me of Fletcher Steele’s work at Naumkeag in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.

Alley of birch trees at the garden of Saint Gaudens

An alley of birch trees in the Saint-Gaudens garden in Cornish

Saint-Gaudens home and the entire landscape surrounding the home represent his art, but it is the garden that you can still experience today that hints at what a collection of outstanding gardens must this Colony have created.

Tankard sums up their work in the garden in these words, “Despite the undeniable genius of the artistic creations produced by Cornish Colony’s residents, it was the artists’ gardens rather than their inspired works of art that earned Cornish its national reputation.”


The Lawn Distinguished the Modern English Garden in the Eighteenth Century

The pioneers of the modern English garden introduced in the eighteenth century were William Kent, Batty Langley, Lancelot Brown, and Humphry Repton, according to Richardson Wright in his book The Story of Gardening: From the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the Hanging Gardens of New York.

Each encouraged, Brown perhaps more than the others, the lawn as an integral part of the landscape.

Wright says in his book, “The English lawn [from the early eighteenth century] may have been one of the factors that induced the tide to turn against the formalism of the Dutch garden and the geometric exactness of the French, for this revolt broke down the walls and hedges that enclosed gardens so that their lawns could encroach on the surrounding meadows and country-side.”

The Duke of Derbyshire’s estate called Chatsworth, a three-hour drive north of London, still glories in its landscape design, representing both the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries.

At Chatsworth its lawn is something I will not soon forget. Here in this photo I took you can see how central a role the lawn plays in the garden. [below]


Chatsworth, in northern England

The lawn, of course, would remain the symbol of the English garden well into the nineteenth century. With the first writing at the beginning and the other at the end of the nineteenth century, English horticulturists John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) and William Robinson (1838-1935) wrote about the lawn’s central role in the landscape.

It is no surprise that since the American gardener still treasures the English garden, the lawn continues as part of the home landscape.


Victorian Landscapes Included Amusement Parks and Resorts

Nineteenth century America saw extensive interest in home landscape design with the growth of the suburbs after 1860.

By the end of the century designed landscapes appeared in public parks, resorts, and even amusement parks.

Philip Pregill and Nancy Volman write in their book Landscapes in History: Design and Planning in the Eastern and Western Traditions, “There were two specialized recreational landscapes that developed during the Victorian period. These were vacation resorts and amusement parks.”

Pabst, the largest brewery in the world by the 1890s, built a resort a bit outside Milwaukee in a village called Whitefish Bay. Built during the high Victorian period in America, the resort was called Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort. According to the Whitefish Bay Historical Society, “the resort consisted of a hotel (the “Bellevue”), a restaurant, band-shell and other amusements, and enough beer to satisfy the thirsts of all excursionists.”

Here is an image of the Pabst Resort which people could reach by either rail or boat. [below]

The Pabst Beer Garden in Whitefish Bay, near Milwaukee, appeared in 1890s. [Courtesy XXX]

The Pabst Beer Garden in Whitefish Bay, near Milwaukee, appeared in 1890s. [Courtesy Carl Swanson]

Notice the lawn sweeps down toward the water, Lake Michigan.  Trees in containers dot the grass to give some shade. Benches provide an opportunity for visitors to relax and enjoy the view.

In the background you can see the Ferris wheel which George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

People could enjoy the outside design space for a bit of summer relaxation. After all, that’s certainly what the landscape often intends to do.

Victorian landscapes whether surrounding a home or a resort were also outdoor spaces to showcase a lawn and other plants.


Garden Advertising as well as Garden Writing Reflect Social Class

Gardening, like food and fashion, is tied into what is important to a particular time and place.

Today we read articles and books and also see ads promoting the use of native plants in the landscape and decreasing the size of the lawn with native grasses.

Garden ads as well as garden books and articles tell us what role gardening plays in social class. When you see any garden advertising, even the cover of a garden catalog, it is quite common to situate the garden product with some kind of social class.

In his book The Story of Gardening: From the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the Hanging Gardens of New York, Richardson Wright discusses the beginnings of the English natural style of landscape gardening [design] in the early eighteenth century.  This style distinguished itself by claiming it’s informal, natural look, rather than a symmetrical and formal approach.

Mainly the aristocracy however accepted this new form of landscape design, not the laborer or the middle class. Wright says, “By no means did these naturalists have things all their own way, nor did they influence all classes. The titled and upper gentry, as in all ages, took up the new fashion; the ordinary folk clung to their little formal gardens.”

So it was that for most of the eighteenth century, the garden of the laborer and the middle class had little written about it because their gardens were not designed in the modern, or new style. The upper class considered the gardens of the lower classes old-fashioned and not in touch with modern design.

Writing about the garden at that time implied the modern or natural garden. Garden books and articles extolled the modern garden as the important design.

It would however not be long before that kind of garden would also become important to the middle class, especially through the writing of English horticulturist John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) at the start of the nineteenth century. His landscape design style, called the gardenesque, borrowed much from the naturalistic view of the landscape.

Novelist Edith Wharton (1862-1937) designed her home and garden in Lenox, Massachusetts where she lived for ten years. In a book compiled from the talks at a conference about her in 2006 called Edith Wharton and the American Garden,  architect Hugh Hardy wrote in his article, “It is not surprising that the horticultural accomplishments of the wealthy continue to exert a powerful influence on suburban garden design. Since the sixteenth century, well-heeled patrons have funded garden designs that now appear in reduced form in suburban backyards.”

Peter Henderson in his seed catalog of 1892 included an image of a middle class woman on the cover. She seems to be clipping daffodils for the table. [below]  Her dress and the setting of the house portray a middle class woman.

Henderson catalog cover of 1899

Peter Henderson seed catalog cover of 1892

Since gardening is tied into fashion and style, it is no surprise that an appeal to or reference to social class often accompanies the words and images in garden writing and advertising.