Archives for November 2016

Portland Celebrates Victorian Christmas

Portland Celebrates Victorian Christmas

The Victorians knew how to celebrate the Christmas Holidays.

The Victorian period in America from 1840 to 1900 gave us the Christmas we have today, which includes candles, ribbons, flowers, and of course, the evergreen tree.  Decorating the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine at this time of year only continues that tradition.

Located in a hilly residential area near downtown, Victoria Mansion now captures the spirit of a Victorian Holiday with its extensive interior decorations.

The Victoria Mansion hosts its special Christmas celebration for the thirty-third year. The special six-week exhibit called  “Christmas at Victoria Mansion” runs until January 8.

Black Hat Tree

The parlor’s black hat tree, designed by Harmon’s and Barton’s, a local florist.

The Victoria Mansion, a brownstone built in 1860 in the Italian villa style, is preserved today as a Victorian home for visitors to enjoy a bit of nineteenth century Victorian fashion and style.

Designers

Holiday lights, flowers, greens, and ribbons fill the house during the Christmas season. Eight volunteer designers include florists, gift shop owners, and interior decorators who donate their time and also the materials to fashion each room.

This year they created each room’s decor with the theme “A Currier and Ives Christmas.”  Designers took their inspiration from the winter holiday images produced by the nineteenth century’s most popular printmaking firm.

Harmon’s and Barton’s, a Portland florist, used a black hat theme to decorate  the parlor. [above]

Mantel in Victoria Mansion

Mantel in Victoria Mansion’s red bedroom by Dan Gifford.

Dan Gifford of Portland decorated the mantel piece in the red bedroom with an array of Holiday colors, including the traditional red berries. [above]

Interior designer Karen Cole, here for her first time at the Mansion, chose a white, red, and green theme for the green bedroom.

Cole chose to create a bodice Christmas tree that stands in the bedroom. [below]

Christmas Tree in the Main Bedroom

Christmas Tree Bodice in the Master Bedroom by Karen Cole

The Mansion has become a special Holiday destination for many. Associate Director Tim Brosnihan says, “Part of the appeal of our Christmas celebration is that it has become a tradition for families.”  Each year many visitors return to see what this year’s designers have come up with for the rooms of the mansion.  He says, “It’s different every year.”

Last year almost ten thousand people walked through the front door of the Mansion to see the decorations.

The Victoria Mansion’s special Holiday decorations only make the house that much more inviting.

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Flower Beds Revolutionized English Garden

Flower beds revolutionized English garden.

We take flower beds for granted, but at one time they became revolutionary, making a statement against the current garden fashion.

The story began in early nineteenth century England when gardeners needed room for the unusual plants coming into the country from Asia, Africa, and America.

Plant collectors risked dangers and even death to provide the unusual and unknown flora from around the world.  English gardeners could not get enough of such plants.

The question became ‘Where do I plant them?’ for many gardeners.  After decades of stately lawns in front of and behind the house, there seemed little space to showcase these latest garden novelties.

stuart-plants-and-gardens-2David Stuart in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens writes, “When Lady Grenville, in exasperation [about where she would plant the new flowers coming into England from around the world], cut some large circles of the lawn in front of her drawing-room windows, and filled them with scarlet bergamots, blue salvias or yellow cosmos, she broke a century’s taboo, and started a colossal new movement.”

That was 1825. The garden has not been its old eighteenth century version since.

Here a simple act by Lady Grenville, or rather by her gardener, changed gardening.

Late eighteenth century landscape gardener Humpry Repton (1752-1818) had encouraged flowers in the landscape, even suggesting a rosarium for a rose collection. Flowers were not new. What was new was where they were planted in the landscape.

Flower beds on the lawn then became common practice both in England and America.

By 1880 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  took flower beds for granted. The beds on the lawn, he advised, needed to include annuals that bloom for the entire season. 

He wrote, “A few flower beds may be made, and usually near the borders, or opposite windows, and they should be of simple, graceful forms, and look well the whole summer, and every day and all day.”

Lady Grenville’s example illustrates how sometimes what we take for granted in gardening has a history.

Why we garden in a particular way and with certain plants expresses the culture of a particular time and place.

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Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Artwork

Atlanta Botanical Garden’s artwork.

Recently while in Atlanta I had a chance to visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

The artist Dale Chihuly still had his sculptors in blown glass there on display.

What impressed me was how art like this fits in so well with the garden. It was as if the two were meant to be together in one burst of nature and color.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote about art and the garden in 1861 in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly.  He said: “To regard a garden otherwise than as a work of art, would tend to a radical perversion of its nature. A garden is for comfort and convenience, luxury and use, as well as for making a beautiful picture. It is to express civilization, and care, and design, and refinement. It is a blending of art with nature.”

Garden and Art

Certainly the many sculptures by Chihuly contributed to that blend of art with nature. [below]

Atlanta Botanical Garden art

Dale Chihuly’s artwork called ‘Fern Dell Paintbrushes’ at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

What I sometimes find difficult is how much art to include in the landscape as well as where to place it.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden spread Chihuly’s twenty works throughout the garden in such a way you could enjoy the garden as well as his artwork.

The Chihuly exhibit has now gone to Denver after its three months at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

I was happy to see this artwork contribute to a special Garden which by itself is a work of a art.

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Lawn – Still Essential Landscape Feature

Lawn – Still Essential Landscape Feature

In his garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1881 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick wrote, “What can be prettier than a well-kept emerald lawn illuminated by a few beds of bright flowers, or elegantly colored foliage, kept right and in perfect order from June to October.”

The lawn has long played a central role in the home landscape.

The lawn is still important to homeowners. Matt Nichols, owner of M. J. Nichols Landscaping in Quincy, Mass. says, “People still very much want a lawn.”

Nichols considers the lawn the easiest planting to maintain, once installed, especially for new homeowners.

According to a survey conducted by researcher Bruce Butterfield at GardenResearch.com, last year consumers spent $10.9 billion on do it yourself lawn care, spending on such items as power equipment, seed, sod, fertilizer, and even irrigation. Lawn care sales have increased at a compound annual growth rate of seven per cent from 2010 to 2015. He says, “People continue to spend on the lawn.”

The lawn has been an important part of the home landscape since the beginning of the country. The English landscape of the eighteenth century called ‘modern’ included a lawn. Even our founding fathers, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, wanted that modern landscape with its lawn.

It was no surprise that in the early nineteenth century homeowners who lived in wealthy suburban areas around Boston like Brookline and Milton included a lawn in their landscape.

Title: Catalogue of Seeds. Source: Front Cover, Nursery catalogue, Richard Smith & Co. 1898 Description: Front cover of the nursery catalogue of Richard Smith and Co of Worcester, depicting a posy of cut flowers and a garden scene. Date: 1898.

 Front Cover, Nursery catalog, Richard Smith & Co. 1898

Later in the century when middle-class suburban homes began to appear, the lot for a new house often included an area in the front for a lawn.

A lawn thus demonstrated a bit of social status.

This 1898 catalog cover from the Smith Seed Company in Worcester, Mass. illustrated the classic lawn for the home landscape. [left]

The lawn also presents an attractive environment for simply situating the house. Nichols says, “Grass helps with curb appeal.”

Butterfield expresses a similar sentiment. He says, “People are only interested in keeping up the lawn for appearance.”

In the 1880s the Vick Seed Company wrote: “What we do in the gardening way is done for the appearance, the respectability of the thing, done for the same reason that we have a coat of paint put on the house, or renew the wall-hangings.”

Homeowners still want a green lawn. The recent drought was merely a bump along the way to that dream of a sea of green.

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Atlanta Garden Includes English Greenhouse

Atlanta garden includes English greenhouse.

I attended the Association for Garden Communicators annual meeting in Atlanta a few weeks ago.

We visited several gardens as part of the busy schedule we kept.

One garden featured a greenhouse, designed and installed by the English firm Hartley Botanic, purveyor of greenhouses, and approved by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. [below]

Greenhouse, Atlanta garden tour

English greenhouse in an Atlanta garden

What struck me immediately was how association with the word ‘English’ in this case makes this greenhouse somehow special.

The choice of an English greenhouse certainly highlights the English workmanship of a greenhouse, but also the history of gardening in England which included a greenhouse tradition.

Wealthy English plant collectors in the eighteenth century built conservatories or what we call greenhouses to protect their tropical plants.

By mid nineteenth century when glass became cheaper, greenhouses also appealed to the English middle class gardener.

Ninteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs listed plants that could overwinter in such a greenhouse.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in July 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 pursued at all seasons of the year – regardless of winter’s blasts and storms and summer’s fiercer rays and droughts.”

This Atlanta garden represents the English garden style still relevant, important, and in some sense, the model for American greenhouse gardening.

We continue to look to the English to teach us about gardening.

In 1884 Buffalo, New York landscape designer Elias Long wrote in his book Ornamental Gardening for Americans, “The English possess a much greater love for, and knowledge of, everything pertaining to gardening than do Americans.”

 

 

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Ireland Trip Illustrates Similar Plant Palette

Ireland trip illustrates similar plant palette.

My recent trip to Ireland taught me a lesson about marketing the garden.

While near Dublin, I visited the classic Victorian garden and estate called Powerscourt in the town of Enniskerry, County Wicklow.

There at the gift shop and greenhouse, near the visitor’s parking lot, I saw trays of pansies for sale. [below]

pansies-at-powerscourt

Pansies for sale outside the greenhouse at Powerscourt

The pansy has long been a gardener’s favorite. Since the nineteenth century pansies have played a central role in providing color for garden beds here in America.

When I saw the Powerscourt pansies, it was as if I was at home. We sell the same pansies here in the States.

What that means to me is that the power of marketing communication today makes a plant variety easily recognizable, perhaps even around the world, and that becomes the plant that people want to grow.

Mass marketing of the garden only began in the later part of the nineteenth century when communication innovations like the typewriter and increased speed in printing along with increased advertising became common.

A customer from Iowa wrote a letter to Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) about pansies.  Vick included these words from the letter in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878, “We never had such flowers before; you ought to have seen our Pansies. We have every color you can think of, and lots of them that you cannot think of. We have one or two roots of them that have not had anything but double Pansies, and they were very beautiful.”

Vick, of course, encouraged the growing of pansies.  That advice has continued to this day.

So in one sense it is no surprise to see the same annuals for sale in Ireland even though the growers may be local.

Since the late nineteenth century American gardening has been intimately connected with the mass marketing of plants and garden products.

The effect is that our palette of plants has become quite similar from region to region around the country, and even from country to country.

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Nineteenth Century America’s Swept Yard

Nineteenth century America’s swept yard

As I walked around the extensive Atlanta History Center grounds a few weeks ago, I came across a farm-house from the mid 1800s.  Barns for various animals surrounded the structure.

The house had a wooden fence along part of its perimeter, probably to keep the animals from roaming too close to the house.

The house was called the Tallie Smith House, a rural home preserved from the mid-nineteenth century. A variety of activities such as spinning, weaving, and preparing food would have taken place on its large front porch. [below]

The Tallie Smith House on the propraty of the Atlanta History Center.

The Tallie Smith House at the Atlanta History Center

Then I noticed that there was no front lawn, but rather a swept area of soil outside the front door, along the front, and on each side of the house as well.

Information on a near-by post said, “No garden form is more strongly tied to the South in the 1800s than the rural, grass-free swept yard.”  The swept yard was, it said, probably African in origin. [below]

Swept yard at the Tallie Smith Hosue

Swept yard at the Tallie Smith House at the Atlanta History Center

The fact that no lawn surrounded the house caught my attention. This landscape represented a certain time period in American garden history.

The word ‘yard’ has had a series of meanings for the landscape over the centuries. Here it includes the area that surrounds the front of a nineteenth century rural house.

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Garden Learning Never Stops

Garden learning never stops.

Sometimes newer gardeners appear to be unfamiliar with the most common of plants.

Perhaps it is because there seems to be so much to learn about gardening.

That problem is not new.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick  (1818-1882) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in August of 1881: “A correspondent of one of the London journals declares that some of the best of our annuals, those common in our gardens, and familiar to all gardeners twenty years ago, are now unknown to young gardeners, and that one would be puzzled to pick a lady a bouquet of flowers from positively good gardens, that was not mainly composed of Pelargoniums, Verbenas, and other plants commonly used for bedding.”

He recognized that gardeners needed to keep up with the newest in garden fashion but also not to forget the older plants.

Vick continued, “This is true, and much more true of English gardeners and gardens than of American.” Thus he seemed to put a bit of blame on English gardeners, but praised Americans who were eager to learn about gardening.

His conclusion could have been based on his experience with his seed business. He received hundreds of letters every year from his customers, asking questions about plants and gardening.

Vick was happy to respond to such questions in both his catalogue and magazine.

Today there are dozens of new plants that come on the market every year. Who can keep track of all of them?

One solution might be to continue to learn about gardening through garden visits, garden books, and garden social media like blogs.

Recently I came upon an old fashioned flower, unknown to me for many years.

While in Ireland a couple of weeks ago, I toured the site of the Battle of the Boyne, which took place in 1690 on the River Boyne near the town of Drogheda.

A beautiful Victorian garden is now included in the back of the site’s visitor center.

There I saw one of my favorite flowers, which I learned about only a year or two ago.

A bunch of calendula flowers appeared in this container along the wall near the greenhouse. [below]

Calendula at the Garden at the Battle of Boyne site in Ireland

Calendula in the garden of the Battle of the Boyne site in Ireland

 

 

 

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