Archives for March 2016

Victorian Women Required Gravel Walks

Victorian women required gravel walks.

Gravel walkways have long been a tradition for the English garden. Some argue that the English perfected the gravel pathway which included designing, installing, and maintaining it throughout the year.

Gravel walkways in the Victorian garden were necessary because women would not walk on the grass.

In her book The Victorian Flower Garden Jennifer Davis wrote, “Gravel walks were thought necessary in Victorian days for [as one manual of the era points out] tender and delicate ladies ‘who will not set the sole of their feet upon grass.’ “

This gravel way, thank to The Gallician blog

A gravel walk in a garden [thanks to My Galician Garden blog]

Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon wrote in his early garden book American Gardener (1806) “Roll the walks once a week regularly after either turned or new laid; such will render them firm and neat, and also greatly prevent the growth of weeds.”

McMahon borrowed most of the content of his book from English garden writers so his advice follows the English tradition of gravel walks.

He ends his discussion of walks with these words, “It is a general rule among neat gardeners, who are allowed sufficient help, to roll and sweep the gravel walks every Saturday.”

According to nineteenth century Rochester,New York seedsman James Vick, the English used arsenic to keep down the weeds on a gravel walk.

That also helped of course to prevent Victorian women from tripping on any weeds as they walked the gravel path.


Growing Flowers Once Linked to Social Status

Growing flowers once linked to social status.

How I remember my visit to England’s Rousham, a grand old house with a landscape by William Kent, dating back to the eighteenth century.

A massive lawn fills much of the property and stretches to the walls of the house.

I enjoyed walking the gravel pathways of the walled garden of shrubs and flowers.

The walled garden held both vegetables and cut flowers in keeping with the tradition of the eighteenth and nineteenth century English garden for the wealthy.

Scourse writes in her book The Victorians and their Flowers, “Flowers like the pink were only to be found in humble gardens during the eighteenth century, for those of the rich were fashionable landscapes where flowers had no place, except hidden behind kitchen-garden walls.”

The high red brick walls became home to the many gardeners who worked at the estates of the wealthy during the summer months. They provided food for the table and flowers for decorating in the house.

Rousahm Walled Garden

Rousham’s walled garden with the house in the background

Scourse suggests that the kind of flowers that the wealthy cultivated were not the same as the cottager or the mechanic grew in their own garden.

She writes, “In accordance with the snobbery of the period, flowers as well as gardeners thus had a tradition of class. Thus, the old ‘florists’ flowers’ were refered to as ‘mechanics’ flowers’ while there were others more fit for the rich man’s parterre.”

Laborers grew pinks, carnations, auriculas, anemones and hyacinths.

Who would have thought that growing a particular kind of flower expressed social status?

Eventually there came more exchange between the classes on gardening. Scourse writes, “Interest in flowers as well as the hobby of growing them was potentially a great leveler.”  Florist clubs and plant societies helped to bridge the gap.



Loudon Encouraged the Flower Garden

Loudon encouraged the flower garden.

English landscape gardener and writer John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843), who followed Humphrey Repton, encouraged a landscape design with a picturesque look.

He also added the flower garden.

In 1836 he drew this plan [below] for N. M. Rothchild in which he included a serpentine or winding road into the property and trees spotted throughout the lawn to hide the public road. 

The plan reflected elements of the picturesque garden style that Loudon inherited from earlier landscape gardeners (designers) including William Kent and Capability Brown.

The plan also included a flower garden.

Flower gardens were not generally considered a part of the picturesque or naturalistic tradition, originating in the early 18th century. The sweeping lawn dominated the view.

Laird FlowringMark Laird, however, in his book The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds 1720-1800 makes the point that flowers were indeed part of that picturesque tradition.

Throughout his designs, beginning at Scone in Scotland, Loudon advocated  for flowerbeds in the landscape.

He maintained a prominent role as an English garden designer who also inspired American landscapes though the work of Andrew Jackson Downing, who considered Loudon his mentor.

It was thus no surprise that Downing also  included the flower garden in his design for the home landscape.


Victorian Seedsman Taught Love of Flowers

Victorian seedsman taught love of flowers.

His magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly provided the nineteenth century seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) a chance to instruct and encourage his customers.

He often published letters from his customers both in the catalog and in his monthly magazine. A reader wrote, “Mr. Vick. I am so full of the love of flowers that I never get a number of the dear little Magazine without wanting to talk to you a bit.”

Vick was in the business of selling love of flowers.

He created a community of flower-lovers, people who would treasure a sense of floriculture. An Illinois newspaper of 1867 wrote, “All who spend a few dollars in beautifying their grounds with flowers, will find a rich reward in the enjoyment of the beauty thus added to their home.”

Chromolithograph from Vick's Illustrated Monthly, February 1878

Chromolithograph from Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, February 1878

Vick sought to instill this love of flowers for even the owner of the smallest of properties. He wrote in his magazine, “What we wish to teach the people is how to make a fair show of flowers at a comparatively small cost of labor and money…Our people have their modest homes, in the country, and in the suburbs of our cities and villages, surrounded with little patches of garden ground, which they can adorn with the choicest floral treasures.”

Another customer wrote from Ohio, “Last evening I received your beautiful Monthly Magazine. It was indeed magnificent. I thought I would write and tell you of my wonderful success with flowers.”

A gardener from Minnesota said, “Mr. Vick. I feel greatly indebted to you for teaching me how to raise flowers successfully.”

An older New York gardener wrote, “Permit an old woman, nearly seventy-five years of age, to give, at this late day, her mite of thanks for your beautiful blossoms.”

Vick also had an influence in gardeners around the world. A gardener from China wrote, “I read your books with delight. You are scattering beauty around the world and brightening homes in all lands.”

Vick himself loved growing flowers and he shared that love with his customers in his catalog and in his magazine.



19th Century Garden Catalog Was Advertising

19th Century Garden Catalog Was Advertising

The seed and nursery catalog covers from the nineteenth century appealed to so many people because they offered a sense of color, design, and feel for that period.  Even today we love their look.

They are also ads.

The nineteenth century American style of landscape followed the English model not only in newspapers but in magazines, and, of course, the garden catalog, as New York seedsman Peter Henderson did on this 1897 seed catalog cover. [below]

Anthropologist Grant McCracken in an article about advertising in the Journal of Consumer Research says, “Cultures segment the flora, fauna, and landscape of natural and supernatural worlds into categories.”

Advertising in a culture defines class, gender, and fashion, including gardening.

So in the nineteenth century American seed and nursery businesses said the English garden style, sometimes picturesque, sometimes naturalistic, sometimes gardenesque. was the preferable form for the gardener.

McCracken says, “Advertising works as a potential method of meaning transfer by bringing the consumer good [like a plant or seed] and representation of the culturally constituted world together within the frame of a particular advertisement.”

Since the catalog from the seed and nursery industries was often called an advertisement, we can certainly refer to the cover as such, since the colorful illustrations were so carefully chosen by the company owner to give a particular message.

In this Henderson catalog it is the English garden style that he represented, especially in the lawn.

Think how advertising works.  We never just buy a product, like a plant or seed, we buy the dream in the image connected with the product. How the flower might look, how the garden might turn out. 

In Henderson’s cover home owners could envision a lush and green lawn like the one illustrated on the cover.

The cover sold the English garden with its lawn.


Victorians Went Wild for Orchids

Victorians went wild for orchids

Nineteenth century England enjoyed plants coming from around the world.

The garden would never be the same.

English garden writer and landscape gardener John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) coined the term ‘gardenesque’ to define the new kind of landscape where collections of plants took center stage.

Collecting plants, including orchids, motivated many gardeners, but mainly those with plenty of money.

Head gardener at Chatsworth Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) in 1837 built the Great Conservatory for the Duke’s orchid collection. [below] The Duke began to collect exotic species and Chatsworth became the world’s largest collection of orchids at the time.

Other gardeners soon followed Paxton’s example in building similar structures for their plant collections, especially plants from a sub-tropical setting.


Great Conservatory at Chatsworth, built in 1837, demolished c. 1920

Nicolette Scourse writes in her book The Victorians and their Flowers “In the Victorian era, it was not unusual for a fanatical collector to have 18,000 orchids, and the varying requirements of the plants as well as their sheer numbers and size often demanded more than six greenhouses.”

It must have been hard for a Victorian gardener to compete with that amount of orchids in one collection.

In America the Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) consoled middle class gardeners, his customers, whose income might not have allowed even a few orchids.

Vick wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1879, “We may not, dear readers, be able to indulge in Camelias, and costly Ferns and Orchids, yet we can have flowers just as beautiful, almost for nothing.”

A nineteenth century middle class American gardener could enjoy beautiful flowers, just not orchids.

Scourse summed up the extravagant collecting of orchids in these words, “The wealthy were now seized by a craze for orchid flowers.”




RI Flower Show Included Tropical Garden

RI Flower Show included tropical garden.

A couple of weeks ago I spent an enjoyable afternoon at the Rhode Island Flower Show in Providence.

Two landscape designs caught my attention.

The URI College of Pharmacy designed the exhibit called “Spring in the Scottish Highlands.” Its design created a beautiful flow of green, with a single red hat perched on a fence pole to offer a bit of contrast. [below] No surprise that the exhibit won an award for second place.


Scottish Exhibit by the URI College of Pharmacy, Kingston, RI

The exhibit called “A party at the tiki bar” reminded me of the nineteenth century summer Victorian garden of tropical plants like palms, banana, dracaena, and bromeliad.

Cityscapes from downtown Boston designed the exhibit. [below]

Tropicals xxx

Tropical exhibit by Cityscapes, Boston

The author of The Victorian Flower Garden Jennifer Davis said that England had its very own tropical movement in the second half of the nineteenth century. She writes, “Tropical plants were removed in early summer from the confines of the glasshouse and planted out into open ground.  They occupied beds or were placed singly with the pot plunged into turf.”

In this exhibit I saw a collection of tropical plants that formed a glorious garden for a New England summer.

This tropical movement in Victorian England became a reaction against the bedding-out of annuals with the strong, but flat and monotonous use of color, mostly on the lawn.

In 1878 New York seedsman James Vick wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “This class of plants is becoming very popular, and are used in what is known as sub-tropical gardening, that is, gardens furnished with plants of a tropical, or sub-tropical, origin such as Century Plant, Agaves, Cannas, Caladiums, Ricinus, Yucca, etc.”

Once again we see an example of fashion in gardening. Perhaps this summer we’ll see more tropical gardens in New England.


The English Garden Inspired America’s Downing

The English garden inspired America’s Downing.

America’s early landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852) drew heavily

Andrew Jackson Dowing

Andrew Jackson Dowing

on the writing of English landscape gardeners in his own work.

He also recognized that a professional gardener was not to be found on American soil.

Downing lamented that Americans knew little about designing and caring for a garden in the classic English meaning of the term.

He wrote, “We never remember an instance of an American offering himself as a professional gardener.”

Americans knew how to farm, but next to nothing about the ‘refined’ operation of the garden.

So where did Americans learn how to garden? From the English, of course.

He wrote, “We may, therefore, thank foreigners for nearly all the gardening skill that we have in the country, and  we are by no means inclined to underrate the value of their labors.”

He wrote these words in his article “American versus British Horticulture” in his magazine The Horticulturist in June of 1852. [below]

June 1, 1852

June 1, 1852

He wrote, “No two languages can be more different than the gardening tongues of England and America.”

Downing had been a fruit grower in New York. He sold his part of the business to his brother so he could devote his time to pursuing his goal of making American home landscapes reflect a sense of artful rural taste.

He wrote for the wealthy whose property spread over acres as well for the middle class gardener who had only an acre. His books like A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening and his magazine made him famous.

Downing’s primary guide was John Claudius Loudon, England’s most important garden writer and landscape gardener in the first half of the nineteenth century.




Pope Francis’ Encyclical Speaks to Gardeners

I just finished reading the latest encyclical of Pope Francis called Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality: On Care for Our Common Home.

He addresses our common responsibility to care for the environment.

The encyclical makes the point, over and over again, that we humans are part of nature, not above it.

Though the book is quite dense in its ideas and sources, Pope Francis makes a convincing argument that the environment demands our immediate attention. Never, he repeats over and over, let the marketplace make decisions for what happens to the land, animals, and plants.

He says, “All of us are linked by an unseen bond and together form a kind of universal family.”

When he talks about the limited resources of the world, as a gardener I was struck by the idea that the landscape we tend needs to mesh with that idea.

Only through dialog with communities around the world can we address the plight that we are in at the moment. Weather extremes and water shortage are only a couple of examples.

Pope Francis book cover2Pope Francis says, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”

In the garden that means that we tend to the needs of the earth, the plants, the insects, the animals, and, of course, the water. He writes, “The world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.”

Your garden is part of my world, as is my garden part of your world. We garden together.

The challenge before us gardeners is to choose ways of gardening that illustrate how what we do in the garden reflects that sense of oneness.

We need to make decisions about plants, land preservation, and water that reflect that oneness.  He says, “Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other.”

This book opened my eyes to see the need to think about what kind of world we are leaving to future generations.

I want to thank Pope Francis for giving us this timely book.