Archives for September 2016

Nineteenth Century Targeted Garden Advertising

Nineteenth century targeted garden advertising.

Public relations and advertising professionals often need an index of available promotional sources. Such an index would include information like the circulation numbers of a media outlet.

They need to know, for example, how many people receive a particular magazine.

Since the late 19th century, advertising companies have put out directories of media available for a business considering placing an ad.

Such directories gave advertising more precision in reaching its audience.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) researched such directories for his own garden advertising.

Thus he showed an awareness of the latest in advertising as a science, as they called it then.

Vick wrote in his garden magazine of 1881 Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “There are over ten thousand different publications in America, and with all those we have more or less correspondence during the year. In this  work we are much aided by the excellent publications of the leading advertising agents, such as Geo. P. Rowell & Co., of New York, and N. W. Ayer & Son, of Philadelphia [the first US advertising firm].”

Vick continues, ” These books not only give the names, location, and character of the newspapers, magazines, etc., but, in most cases, the circulation.”

This magazine ad [below] appeared in American Agriculturist, a popular journal whose audience was middle to upper class homeowners who would buy a mower for that perfect lawn.

An ad in the magazine American Agriculruist May 1888

An ad in the magazine American Agriculturist May 1888

So nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries needed to know what publications their consumers read.

Then through a particular publication they could target its audience.

Ever since moden advertising, born in the nineteenth century, has used what we now call media directories like Cision to appeal to their consumers.






















Victorian England Imported Popular Rosa Rugosa

Victorian England imported popular rosa rugosa.

New Englanders have made rosa rugosa a favorite seaside shrub.

As you drive along the beach road, you see these shrubs everywhere.

The rosa rugosa however is native to Asia.

David Stuart wrote in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “In 1849 Robert Fortune found the now immensely popular Rosa rugosa in Shanghai.”

The plants Fortune (1812-1880) sent back to England from his journeys made him a major influence on the Victorian garden in the nineteenth century.

A plant hunter like Fortune traveled to parts of the world from where rich English horticulturists like the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth as well as nurseries and even Kew wanted to have the newest plant to display in their gardens.

Fortune played a major role in bringing plants from China back to the West.

He sometimes used the Wardian case, a recent invention, to transport the plants across the sea. The case sealed the plant and at the same time provided it moisture, thus preventing the demise of a delicate specimen.

Julia Brittain writes in her book The Plant Lover’s Companion: Plants, People and Places  the Horticultural Society’s garden at Chiswick in London asked Fortune to find plants in China.

She says, “His annual pay was to be 100 pounds – poor recompense for three years of danger and discomfort.”

In his search for plants Fortune came across rosa rugosa.

Rosa rugosa would of course make its way to American gardens as well in the nineteenth century. [below]

Rosa rugosa, courtesy of TripAdviser

Rosa rugosa grows along this fence near the ocean. [Courtesy of TripAdviser]

Today we enjoy this rose.  We seem to accept it as if it were almost native because we have grown it for so many decades.

We owe Fortune a note of thanks for this plant and many others like the hosta and the weigela that he introduced to our gardens.

















Lawn Became Essential Landscape Feature

Lawn Became Essential Landscape Feature

Beginning in 1859, and for the next twenty-nine years,  Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan published a magazine called Gardener’s Monthly

In the first pages of each issue he provided advice on taking care of the lawn, thus reinforcing its importance in the home landscape for the reader.

He considered the lawn an essential feature for the home landscape, no matter what size.

Built in 1904 the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, Massachusetts now forms part of the house and garden list of the Trustees of Reservations

Lawn surrounds the red brick house, giving the landscape that English garden look from the end of the nineteenth century.  [below]


The back garden at the Bradley Estate in Canton, Mass.

Meehan wrote in the magazine’s 1860 issue: “The rarest flowers-the choicest fruits-the nicest arrangement of all things on the most scientific principles, are lost to us, if they are not crowned by a perfect lawn.  To the lawn we bow; and as a subject of horticulture, offer to the lawn our strongest allegiance.”

In February 1869 Meehan wrote in his magazine that the lawn meant more to Americans than to the English: “Much as the lawn plays a part in English gardening, it is of much more account with us. Our heats render the grass particularly refreshing.”

It is little wonder that the pursuit of the perfect lawn, the signature feature of the English garden, has a long history for the American homeowner.

Nineteenth century nurserymen like Meehan considered the lawn essential in the landscape.

Tree and Lawn at the Bradley Estate

Tree and Lawn at the front of the Bradley Estate


Garden Advertising Sometimes Exaggerates

Garden Advertising Sometimes Exaggerates

Advertising in America as an industry began with the N. W. Ayer & Son Company in Philadelphia in 1867.

From that point on advertisers through the media of the day sought to persuade a consumer to buy a particular brand of a product.

Lydia Pinkham was among the first to use such advertising to market her patent medicine, a remedy for female complaints. She combined vegetable compound laced with nineteen per cent alcohol to make up her medicinal beverage.

The garden industry of course through the seed companies and nurseries did not shy away from ads to promote their wares as well.

You would think that today, one hundred fifty years later, we are smart enough to reject false claims in advertising.

Not true.

Sometimes, even today, garden advertising exaggerates what the company promises.

A ‘garden in a box’ seems to imply you simply plant something like the company’s seed strips and wallah, you have a garden.

Mike Lizotte from American Meadows said, “We’ve all seen the ‘meadow in a can’ seed products at our

Wildflower mix from Aerican Meadows

Wildflower mix from American Meadows

favorite big box store. Don’t be fooled by the nice packaging.”

There is always something left out in advertising in order that the ad can make its point.

In the ‘garden in a box’ that something happens to be the work it takes to maintain a garden, and see it through to its flowering.

Also, the product may be inferior. There may be fewer seeds than promised.

Garden advertising is really like any advertising. The buyer has to be aware of the kind of promises made by the seller.

Adrian Higgins, garden writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote an article entitled “Growing wild – by design.”

He said, “A few years ago, there was the notion that meadows were so eager to sprout that

American Meadows

American Meadows

you could buy a can full of wildflower seed, sprinkle the contents on a piece of cleared land and you would have a floriferous meadow in perpetuity. But there is no meadow genie in the can.”

Though we need to proceed cautiously with ads, advertising for the garden at the same time it tries to sell something also informs the consumer about new products.

Nineteenth century New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) recognized that part of advertising.

Vick wrote in 1880 in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly “Those desiring reliable information upon horticultural subjects will find much that is valuable in these [advertising] pages.”


Reno’s English Garden Still Shines

Reno’s English Garden Still Shines

This summer I once again toured the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden on my family visit to Reno, Nevada. It is a beautiful public garden with many smaller garden areas. [below]

The entrance to the May Arboretum and Botanaicla Garden.

The entrance to the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Reno

The May Arboretum is a showcase of plants in the transition zone between the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin Desert.

Here with an array of various gardens, including one devoted to High Sierra native plants, you will also find an English garden called the Burke Garden.

This garden includes a lawn and borders of perennials, as well as a few roses.

It is a beautiful garden and often the site of weddings.

You would think that an area like Reno which has dry weather, and also water problems, would not encourage an English garden because of its maintenance and demand for regular watering. In fact, the day I visited the temperature was quite high, and I needed to keep out of the sun.

But the Burke Garden forms part of the Arboretum.

To me it provides an opportunity for visitors to see what an English garden looks like.

That is, after all, one of the reasons we visit public gardens.

We want to learn about gardening.



Exhibit Showcases Celia Thaxter’s Salon

Exhibit Showcases Celia Thaxter’s Salon

This must be the summer of all things Celia Thaxter (1835-1894).

Earlier this summer I posted here about her biography that I had just read.

Then I wrote about the wonderful Childe Hassan (1859-1935) exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. Recently I saw another exhibit about Celia in the same city.

The Salem Athenaeum is hosting a free exhibit called “Celia’s Salon: America’s First Artists’ and Writers‘ Colony.”  The exhibit runs through September 23.

This is a  beautiful collection of materials that illustrate the richness of Celia’s salon at her family’s hotel on Appledore Island, off the coast of Rye, New Hampshire.

She invited hotel guests who also happened to be artists, musicians, and writers to spend either the morning or the evening in her salon. Some would bring their art work, musicians would play, and Celia would read at times.

Childe Hassan was the leader of the American Impressionists and the most prolific and successful artist working in that style. Celia became his friend from the start of his yearly visits. Illustrations of his work also form part of this exhibit.

In the collection there is a photograph of Celia, sitting in her salon. The extremely cluttered room is filled with tables covered in doilies, pictures, drawings, china artwork, even a music stand.  There seems to be no room for anything else.

This painting at Appledore, used in the promotion of this exhibit, highlights the sea and the flowers that Celia grew in her famous garden. [below]


Scene of Appledore Island used in promotion of the Exhibit at the Salem Athenaeum.

The artist William Morris Hunt gave Celia lessons. She had taken up painting of pieces of china like cups, saucers, and flower vases, some of which appear here in a glass case.  At that time when literati and artists filled Celia’s salon, people were also writing her, requesting her china artwork.

This exhibit offers a glimpse into the life of this famous American poet and gardener from the late nineteenth century.


Victorian Seedsman Encouraged Advertising

Victorian seedsman encouraged advertising.

New York seedsman Peter Henderson (1822-1890) wrote several popular garden books in the late nineteenth century.

He also believed in the power of advertising for his company.

In 1884 Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan included in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly a speech that Henderson had given that year at the Chicago Convention of Nurserymen.  He quotes Henderson as saying, “Advertising is rapidly becoming a fine art, and the more it advances as a fine art, the more advertising will be done and the more profit will result from it.”

As a business, the seed industry had its share of competition.  The amount of advertising sometimes distinguished one company from another.

Henderson catalog 1885

For example, this chromolithograph cover [above] from Henderson’s seed catalog of 1885 promoted the company as modern and progressive, but still classic. The company promised to fill every need a gardener may have.

Meehan wrote the following in another issue of his magazine from that same year, “Perhaps in no other country is the press so liberally patronized by seedsmen, florists, and nurserymen as in the United States. In their advertising seasons, which cover most of the months of the year, we can rarely pick up a periodical that does not contain some of their advertisements.”

Henderson was not alone among his Brothers of the Spade, fellow garden merchants.  He believed in advertising for any modern business to succeed, including the garden industry.


English Coveted American Plants

English coveted American plants.

Recently I read about a restored garden called Painshill near Cobham, Surrey, England.

What caught my attention was that its restoration includes a garden of American plants.

Painshill dates to the eighteenth century, the time of the birth of England’s landscape garden, which distinguished itself as more natural rather than symmetrical and formal in design. The Honourable Charles Hamilton (1704-1786) created this garden between 1738 and 1773.

He included all of the elements of the landscape garden of that time: lawn, vistas, a grotto, a lake, classic structures, and, of course, collections of the latest plants like American plant varieties.

Painshill image from Garden-Guide

Painshill [from Garden-Guide]

When Hamilton established the garden, there was a keen interest in cultivating American plants.

In the eighteenth century John Bartram (1699-1777) sent seeds of American plants from Philadelphia to his English admirers, coveting American plant varieties.

Hamilton was among that group.

In May 2006 Painshill was awarded full collection status for its John Bartram Heritage Collection, by the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens.

Today Painshill comprises 158 acres of the original more than 200 acres.

What I find so interesting in this story is the idea that the eighteenth century English aristocracy wanted American plants.

That in itself makes the Painshill restoration so important to me.

Usually it is the other way around: we Americans want everything English in the garden.


Warner House Features English Garden

Warner House features English garden.

Portsmouth, NH’s  Warner House, built in 1716, is celebrating its 300th Anniversary. Merchant Archibald MacPhaedris built the house in the style of a London townhouse.

The Warner House at 150 Daniel Street is Portsmouth’s earliest Georgian mansion. The house stands today as a testament to the refinements and tastes of merchant shipowners during Portsmouth’s Colonial Period.

The large red brick house sits on a corner city lot. [below]

Behind the house you find the garden. On my recent visit I wondered how the garden took its current form.

Warner House Portsmouth

The Warner House in Portsmouth,NH at the corner of Daniel and Chapel Streets

No record exists of what the garden looked like with earlier owners.

According to Jeff Hopper, the Warner House manager, the landscape area in the back of the house was probably just a yard, an enclosed grassed area. An early owner, like MacPhaedris, probably had a pleasure garden on his land across the street where he and his guests could enjoy a walk through a lawn, shrubs, flowers, and vines in full bloom.

That is somewhat of a conjecture. No plan or illustration exists to illustrate what a garden across the road, in front, or behind the house looked like.

In the early 1930s the Warner House Association bought the property from the heirs rather than have the property demolished to make room for a gas station.

At that time Edith Wendell, the guiding light behind the Association, contacted the prominent landscape architect Fletcher Steele (1885-1971) to suggest improvements to the landscape.

Steele had just finished the design and planting in the Colonial Revival style of the Mission House in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

In 1936 Fletcher Steele proposed a plan to Mrs. Wendell. The plan was discovered in 1995 at the Hamilton House in Berwick, Maine, owned by the non-profit group called SPNEA which now goes by the name Historic New England.

Here is Steele’s plan:

Fletcher Steele plan for the Warner House 1936

Fletcher Steele’s plan for the Warner House 1936 [from the book The Warner House: A Rich and Colorful History, 2006]

That plan never was realized in the landscape as Steele envisioned it.

For several years working as volunteers, members of the Portsmouth Garden Club have planted and maintained the current Warner House garden.

Caroline Fesquet, the head gardener and member of the Portsmouth Garden Club, has continued the perennial borders along the entire perimeter of the property.  She has included many plant varieties but no hybrids or plant introductions after the 1930s.  She regularly amends the soil but with only organic material.

The perennials include daylilies, hosta, phlox, and an edging of lamb’s ears. She says, “I’m putting an English garden look on this garden which is appropriate.”

Caroline has provided a design with inspiration and skill. She wants to complement the period of the house.

When she began four years ago, there was a perennial border along part of the back fence. She extended it to the front.

Today the garden reflects a bit of the Colonial revival Steele design. His proposed borders are there but planted now in perennials rather than lilacs.  You will also see his walkway to Chapel Street. He also suggested a wooden well house, which guided the design of a beautiful shed, built in 2001, used to store garden tools.

The challenge in restoring a period garden demands a sense of what the garden looked like at a particular time.

The history of this house, as a home for the MacPhraidris, Warner, Wentworth, Sherburne, and Penhallow families, stretches from the Colonial Period to the 1930s.  Thus, trying to create a period landscape may require that a garden historian/designer focus on one time period.

Caroline has chosen mainly the English garden design principles from the late nineteenth century, expressed in her beautiful perennial borders.  That was the time when Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson, both influential English gardeners, encouraged such planting of colorful perennials rather than carpet beds or bedding out of annuals.