Archives for February 2016

A Fernery Sometimes Appeared in Victorian Gardens

A fernery sometimes appeared in Victorian gardens.

There was something special about collecting ferns in the nineteenth century.

According to Walter Punch’s wonderful book Keeping Eden, the English surgeon Nathaniel Ward, who gave us the Wardian case in 1833, the miniature greenhouse, hunted for ferns in the woodlands around London.

His case was a prelude to the conservatories and greenhouses that were to follow. The Chatsworth Head Gardener and architect Joseph Paxton gave the world the Crystal Palace. And, of course, Kew in London had its famous glass structure for plants called the Palm House.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in his magazine Vick’s illustrated Monthly in  July of 1879, “With the increase of wealth comes a demand for glass structures of some kind, in which the operations of gardening, in its lighter and ornamental branches, can be prosecuted at all seasons of the year – regardless of winter’s blasts and storms and summer’s fiercer rays and droughts.”

The English landscape gardener Henry Ernest Milner (1845-1906) wrote in 1890 in his book The Art and Practice of Landscape Gardening, “Two descriptions of glass-houses are commonly used; one being for the display of plants, the other for their growth. The usual name for the first is the conservatory, while those in the second category are denoted by names signifying the particular use for which each house is designated.”

Thus, the fernery was born. It became a glass house for a collection of ferns.

In Philadelphia at the Morris Arboretum the orignal owners of the garden John and Lydia Morris, brother and sister, built a fernery for their collection of ferns in 1899. [below]

Morris Arboretum Fernery 1899

Morris Arboretum Fernery, built in 1899

In Victorian nineteenth century when gardeners everywhere collected plants, especially from exotic areas around the world, ferns also became a collector’s item.

Just as in England, nineteenth century American gardeners too treasured their ferns, sometimes in glass houses.



Differing Views of Nineteenth Century Garden

Differing Views of  Nineteenth Century Garden

The way to plant a flower garden changed during the nineteenth century.

Two American seedsmen wrote differently about how to install a flower garden.

Boston seedsman Joseph Breck (1794-1873) wrote The Flower Garden in 1851.

In the book he recommended the placement of the garden as a border before a window with southern or southeastern exposure.

He carefully laid out for the reader the design of the flowerbed.

Breck wrote, “This outward border will be the most appropriate place for flowering shrubs, and tall herbaceous biennial and perennial plants”.

When he discussed what flowers to plant, Breck listed several annuals, plus Dahlias and Gladiolus and Roses, with a few choice perennials. He recommended native plants like Lobelia Cardinalis, Aquilegia Canadensis, Aster Novae Anglae and Solidago.

Breck wanted a flower garden in bloom during each season. Choosing the right plant would have provided that color. His borders were to be filled with annuals, perennials, and native plants.

Carpet bedding croppedNew York seedsman Peter Henderson (1822-1890) wrote his book Gardening for Pleasure in 1875. In it he also discussed laying out the flower garden.

He admitted at the start that old-fashioned mixed borders with hardy herbaceous plants were “now but little seen”. He wrote, “The mixed system still has its advocates, who deprecate the modern plan of massing in color as being too formal, and too unnatural a way to dispose of flowers.”

The fashion he discussed called ‘massing of color’ referred to the use of many annuals of the same variety to create a display of one color. The plants were to be placed in a pattern or ribbon line like in the Sunset Seed and Plant Company catalog of 1897. [above]

The words “They Grow” in the catalog cover here might have been planted with Alyssum, which of course needed to be trimmed regularly.  Mass beds needed many plants of the same variety but also much maintenance to keep them short.

Henderson wrote, “A single misplaced color may spoil the effect of the whole.”

Thus these two nineteenth century seedsmen offered two different forms of the flowergarden.

In 1851 Breck advocated for a border of annuals, perennials, and native plants. In 1875 Henderson promoted the modern carpet bed, a design of mass planting with annuals.

I am ending with this  photo of the beautiful perennial borders from the Scottish garden Carolside in Earlson. [below] Just received this on Twitter from Great British Gardens.

Carolside Garden, Earlson, Scotland

Carolside Garden, Earlson, Scotland [Thanks to @BritishGardens]




William Robinson Encouraged Perennial Borders

It is nothing new that gardening is subject to fashion, just like food and clothing.

The nineteenth century English garden went back and forth between borders of perennials and mass planting of annuals, especially in beds on the lawn.

The English garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935), author of the The English Robinson The English Flower GardenFlower Garden,  at first supported mass planting of annuals, but then saw the error in his thinking.

Perennials come back every year, and, by the way, cottage gardens have succeeded on that very principle.

Thus, he along with artist and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll encouraged the herbaceous border.

Nicolette Scourse writes in her book The Victorians and their Flowers, “It was unplanned simplicity [in gardening] which in the 1870s inspired rustic styles which were real and lasting: the woodland garden with naturalized bulbs and herbacous borders.”

Then she mentions the two gardeners who inspired the movement. She writes, “The steering forces were William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll, both of whom were captivated by the wild countryside and cottage gardens as they really were.”

Of course there was a bit of interpretation on their part as to what kind of garden people needed, now based on the cottage garden, but the herbacous border became a trend.

Scourse sums up this new fashion in these words, “The charm of the cottage garden was its lack of contrived design and this was the springboard of Robinson’s garden-making.”

And so it was that Mr. Robinson spread the word about the cottage garden, which had succeeded for generations with its wonderful herbaceous border.



Victorians Thought Weeds a Result of Adam’s Fall

Victorians Thought Weeds a Result of Adam’s Fall

You know weeds are a problem for every gardener.

The nineteenth century Victorians who considered cultivating flowers a reflection of the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis had their own view of weeds.

Nicolette Scourse writes in her book The Victorians and their Flowers, “The presence of weeds and other difficulties of cultivation were directly attributable to Man’s disobedience rather than any natural cause favoring weed dispersal.”

That view seems in line with the way Victorians thought about flowers. They were signs of God’s presence among us.  Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote, “Flowers are the symbols of all that are pure and true in this life, and they teach us to hope for Life to come.”

To cultivate a flower garden therefore meant a closeness to God.

This Schegel catalog cover of 1895

This Schegel catalog cover of 1895

Vick once received a letter from one of his customers. The letter said, “Mr. Vick, you say ‘The culture of flowers teaches industry, patience, and faith and hope.’ I think you may add courage and persistency…I do feel ‘better prepared for the duties and responsibilities of life – more fitted to conquer its evils and enjoy its pleasures.”

All of that from growing a few flowers.

That is precisely the point here.

In nineteenth century Victorian times you were not just growing flowers, you were showing a sense of morality and religious sentiment.

The Boston horticulturist Marshall Wilder (1798-1886) once wrote to Vick the following, “Flowers are the very embodiment of beauty; flowers are like angel spirits, ministering to the finest sensibilities of our nature, often inspiring us with thoughts, which like the unexpressed prayer, lie too deep for utterance.”

So it was no surprise that weeds would be considered a result of rejecting God’s love.

The Victorians sought to frame gardening in such a religious context, even calling the rose ‘the curse of Adam’ since, according to Scourse, they were ‘the thornbearers.’

The nineteenth century too inherited the sentiment of an earlier Romantic period in which nature reflected the Divine within its soil, water, stone, and plant.

The idea of using religious langauge to motivate the gardener reminded me of the words of Pope Francis in his recent Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality. He writes, “The ethical principles capable of being apprehended by reason can always appear in different guise and find expression in a variety of languages, including religious langauge.”





New Book on Preserving America’s Historic Gardens

Here’s a new book on preserving America’s historic gardens:  Rescuing Eden: Preserving America’s Historic Gardens.

We need public gardens to renew our spirit. Caroline Seebohm, the writer, and Curtice Taylor, the photographer, chose beautiful public gardens across America to make that point in this book.

They take you on a journey to twenty-eight gardens from California to Maine, all now open to the public. Some are well known, while others are smaller, less familiar gardens. Whoever chose this group had a difficult time because there are many other public gardens with a parallel story of survival.

What makes the gardens in Rescuing Eden special is that at one time when there was a question about their future, someone came forward to preserve them as a page in our cultural history. These gardens now serve as a source of beauty and contemplation for historians, botanists, horticulturalists, and garden lovers from all over the world.

The book celebrates these gardens as survivors, with gratitude to the organizations and volunteers who have preserved in these gardens a bit of America’s heritage.

The illustrations of each garden take center stage in the layout of the book. Taylor provides fine detail in his photographs of plants, garden accessories, stone, water, and pathways at each particular site.


Rescuring Eden Book Cover small

Seebohm in turn gives context to the book’s many images. She writes simply and clearly about the history and current status of each garden. Some, as she explains, were saved from demolition at what seemed like the last minute.

I must say, especially from the few of these gardens that I have visited, they are gardens worth seeing because they represent different garden styles and periods in American history. Middleton Place, the oldest surviving landscaped garden in North America, stands out with its extensive lawn. The Madoo Conservancy, Robert Dash’s garden on Long Island, provides a modern designer’s experience.

Dash once said, “Making a garden means knowing who you are.” What fun it is to learn about the person behind each garden. You feel like you are meeting an old friend.

Taylor ends with what motivated him in publishing the book. He says, “We are now paying attention to these horticultural landscapes.”  I might add, thanks also to your new book.



Exhibits Awarded at Tropical Plant Show in Florida

Exhibits awarded at Tropical Plant Show in Florida

Recently through the kindness of the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association, I attended the Foliage Plant Industry Exhibition in Fort Lauderdale.

Exhibitions offer people like nursery owners and growers, and also garden writers, a chance to see what is new from the green industry, and take in the exhibits at the Show.

Plant Exhibitions have long been a tradition in the garden industry.

At the 50th anniversary of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society on September 12, 1879 Boston horticulturist Marshall Wilder (1798-1886) said, “Hothouse orchids were hardly known here half a century ago; yet at almost every exhibition now they surprise and delight us by some new and wonderful form, or gorgeous color.”

Wilder credited the Exhibitions with their ability to showcase new plants.

At the FPIE in Florida two exhibits received awards worth mentioning here.

For its exhibit centered on the theme of the board game Monopoly the United Nursery  won the top award. Dozens of hibiscus plants lined the edge of the game. [below] Hibiscus continues as the major seller for this and many other Florida growers. 

Monopoly set the theme for this exhibit of Hibiscus plants

Monopoly set the theme for the United Nursery Exhibit of Hibiscus plants

Another grower the J. Berry Nursery from Texas won an award for its city view. When you stand in front of the Exhibit, you are looking at the view of skyscrapers from a rooftop garden.

Again a row of hibiscus, here in gray planters, set the stage for the scene. [below]


Skyscrapers form the background for this exhibit

Skyscrapers form the background for this J. Berry Nursery Exhibit

It was fun to see what growers are offering, but also I enjoyed the chance to take in some award-winning design ideas by some of the growers.



Miami’s Kampong Still Home to Many Tropicals

Miami’s Kampong Still Home to Many Tropicals

I first heard about the historic garden called The Kampong in the new book Rescuing Eden: Preserving America’s Historic Gardens.

Thanks to the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association, I recently had a chance to visit The Kampong, on Biscayne Bay in the Coconut Grove section of Miami. Though it was late in the day and the light was not the best, I still was amazed at the array of tropicals, many of them quite old.

Tropicals have long been an important part of the garden, even for those of us here in the Northeast.

Nineteenth century Boston horticulturalist and politician Marshall Wilder gave a speech on September 12, 1879 at the 50th anniversary of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. He said, “The introduction of [subtropical plants like palms, agaves, musas, dracaenas, caladiums and similar plants] and the multitude of ornamental-foliage plants, both hardy and tender, which now enrich our gardens, is the most characteristic feature of the present era in horticulture.”

Kampong sign at the entrance to the garden

The Kampong’s sign at the entrance to the garden

The garden at The Kampong, which means “village” in Malay, was the inspiration of the plant explorer Dr. David Fairchild (1869-1954). The U.S. Department of Agriculture hired him to travel the world and find important plants, including many fruits. He began the garden in 1898, eventually collecting 30,000 plants for his garden.

From the beginning his unusual garden attracted visitors who wanted to see the tropical plants he had collected.

When Fairchild died, his wife Marian managed The Kampong until her death in 1962.

Edward and Catherine Sweeney, wealthy collectors, explorers and world travelers,  took over the garden to preserve the collection of tropical plants. They were able to have the garden listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, The Kampong has become a major center for the study of tropical plants. The garden is linked to the National Tropical Botanic Garden, which has four other sites in the country.

The sign outside the entrance reads “Admittance by Appointment.” When I asked, I was told the garden is both private and public. Thus the garden’s staff requires a visitor to seek permission to enter the garden.

Once you are inside, as you walk the pathway, you see the tropical wonders in the trees, shrubs, vines, flowers, and fruit that Dr. Fairchild loved and collected so long ago.


Miami Villa Garden Designed in Italian Style

Vizkaya is the grand Miami villa garden designed in Italian style.

When I travel, I like to search out older gardens, especially from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

I found such a special garden on my recent trip to southern Florida.

It’s the Italian villa and garden called Vizkaya in the heart of Miami.


The main house right on the water

The main house right on the water

Designed for the Chicago industrialist James Deering (1859-1925), Vizkaya has evolved over the decades. More gardens and garden features have been added. This year it celebrates its centenary as a house and garden.

The design is basically Italian, which means fountains, containers, lines of evergreen, and turf, based on designs of gardens in Florence, as well as Villa D’Este in Tivoli. Much of the artwork, including the ironwork, Deering brought from Italy.

Here you can see the main garden. [below] Look at all the detail in line and symmetry, and plants like grass, shrubs, tropicals, and perennials. The property at one time measured 180 acres.

The main garden at Vizkaya

The main garden at Vizkaya

Much of the native forest was almost entirely razed for development. The forest is now home to many endangered species. Some plants found here exist in only one or two other places in the world.

The team of gardeners numbers nine at the present time. It takes a lot of work to keep this landscape in top form.  What I saw was quite impressive.

The front of the house, facing the water, is currently undergoing some remodeling, so it was not the best view of the house from that side.

I did enjoy the small structure called Sicilian Casbah at the corner in front of the house, along the water. [below] It too shines in that Italian look, like something you would see on the Amalfi coast. Love the colors in the little bridge.


structure on the water called 'Sicilian Casba' at Vizkaya

Italian structure on the water called ‘Sicilian Casbah’, outside the front of Vizkaya

For a house and garden that is steeped in Italian garden tradition, Miami’s Vizkaya has it all.

Our tour guide, Florida landscape designer Debra DeMarco from DDM Horticulture Services said “This garden is probably the most authentic Italian garden in Florida.”


Orchids Grow on Trees

Orchids grow on trees.

In the mid 1700s orchids arrived from tropical areas around the world to find a new home in England and France. Thus began the European gardener’s fascination with cultivating this exotic flower. It would not be long before the orchid also arrived in America.

A few days ago I attended the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a trade show for the green industry. The show included over 400 growers, many from southern Florida, with about 16,000 attendees who were mainly garden center owners in search of plants.

Chris Beyter, from Ball Horticultural in Illinois, said, “Tropicals are popular today, especially orchids and succulents.”

It was thus no surprise that I saw many orchid varieties, including Jay Marrero’s, from Florida orchid grower Silver Vase. He told me, ”We are creating a demand for orchids.”

If cared for correctly, the orchid flowers will bloom for three to five months.

The day before the Show a garden tour bus took us to a Miami garden where I saw an orchid growing on a tree in the front yard of a home. [below] I couldn’t believe it. It was a beautiful sight.


In this Florida front yard you can see orchids on this tree

In this Florida front yard an orchid grows on this tree.

Orchids do not grow in soil but prefer a growing medium like Leca, a clay material in the shape of small brown colored balls that look almost like marbles.

Unfortunately, many people over water an orchid, the major problem in growing the plant.

In the wild you find the orchid growing between rocks and on tree trunks – vertically.

Victoria Zemlan in her article “By Hook by Crook: The Plunder of Orchids for the New World” says “Now, we can buy inexpensive orchids in almost any nursery, home improvement center, or grocery store, but 19th century orchids were an extravagance reserved for the nobility.”

This flower provided many hours of pleasure to gardeners in nineteenth century America who could afford both the greenhouse and a garden staff to tend to them.

But now any gardener can grow them. Zemlan says, “Orchids haven’t lost their allure — Americans now spend more on orchids each year than on any other houseplant.”