Archives for August 2017

Victorian Container Gardening

Victorian Container Gardening

Gardener Lucy M. Clark writes the following guest post on how the Victorian influence in gardening still lives on. 

 

Victorian estates paid a lot of importance to landscaping and container planting.

The Victorian Period was a time of vanity, culture, and high regard to social class. Back then it mattered that you were rich and had an estate with beautiful landscaping. Gardening was among the most well-loved leisure activities, including container planting.

If you want to venture into Victorian container planting, here are some tips.

Parlor plants were common decorative materials in the Victorian era.

A Brief History

For this topic, it’s important to note that plant life had become so much more diverse in that era. People would plant these delicate florals and rare species of plants in beautiful vases, jars, and pots. This type of gardening is known today as Victorian container planting. This practice turned gardening into an art form. They were using expensive brass jars, cement pots, and other unique containers for both indoor and outdoor plants.

Brass jars and carved vases were commonly used as planters.

Some of the more lavish Victorian homes would have greenhouses and solariums where their plants could thrive. However, since Victorians loved to decorate with rich, dark colors, and heavy embellishments, the indoor plants had to be tough to be able to survive the harsh conditions of a typical Victorian home. These included heliotropes, palms, jasmine, and ferns among many others. Victorian indoor plants were considered not just decorative materials but also a mark of one’s social class.

Parlor Plants

Parlor plants have a way of brightening up the room and making it feel more luxurious. As in Victorian homes, parlor plants go well with heavy home embellishments. You can choose from a wide array of parlor plants if you wish to incorporate one into your own home. Thankfully, we now have modern solutions to improving plant growing conditions indoors. Here are some parlor plants that were common in the Victorian era. Maybe you want to consider getting these too!

Sword Fern

Back in those times, ferns were used as decorative material in various containers. These included metal, wood, pottery, paper, and even gravestones. Because of pteridomania, the craze among gardeners for ferns, people had their own parlor plant ferns in lavish vases and pots.

Sword ferns can grow 3-4 foot fronds, which were truly a sight to see in that era. The now popular Boston fern was later discovered in 1984 by a Massachusetts florist.

 Sword ferns are a common parlor plant in the Victorian era.

Aspidistra

Hailed as a “cast iron” plant, the Aspidistra was favored by many Victorians because it didn’t require much maintenance. In fact, this plant can survive low light and neglect. Just give it some good soil to thrive. Occasionally the Aspidistra produces brown and purple flowers near its base and grows with large, glossy leaves with clumpy and corn-like features.

Palm

Another Victorian favorite was the Kentia parlor palm, which was pretty much a constant in Victorian photographs. The Kentia palm can grow up to 5-12 feet indoors and has lush, arching leaves. This structure makes it quite the visual in Victorian homes. The less light this type of palm receives, the more foliage it produces.

 The Kentia palm is a favorite parlor plant among Victorians.

Jerusalem Cherry

The Jerusalem Cherry parlor plant was given its name because of its popularity around Victorian holidays. It is a native to Peru and grows as a shrubby and bushy houseplant with white flowers that turn to red-orange berries. Unlike the three other parlor plants, the Jerusalem Cherry is much more high-maintenance. The plant requires high indoor humidity, as well as bright lights to support both structure and flowering. While its berries add a lot of color to a Victorian room, these are somewhat poisonous. Today’s florists and garden centers would replace these parlor plants with ornamental pepper.

Choosing Containers

Because it wouldn’t be Victorian container planting without beautiful containers, you may want to choose vintage ones that blend perfectly with luxurious, dark-colored Victorian rooms. Considering that you want these parlor plants to mimic the classic Victorian style, you can’t say no to vintage articles of furniture and decorative materials.

This specialty shop offers antique vase and brass jar copies that can be used for Victorian container planting.

Luckily for the classics-at-heart, you can get copies of Victorian vases and planters in specialty shops and garden stores. You can choose from a variety of classic designs and materials for the perfect containers that will match your room. You can also make good use of wooden planks or pallets to make your own vintage jardinieres. These are great for both indoor parlor plants and outdoor florals and shrubs.

Of course, nothing can match the charm and history of authentic Victorian plant containers. For the Victorian era lovers, you may want to check out your local antique store for some of these pieces.

Conclusion

It’s a comfort to know that a lot of people are still committed to preserving the Victorian culture, whether it be in fashion design, arts, or, in this case, gardening. With its expansive influence on modern society, the nineteenth century is truly a gift.

 

Hi there! I’m Lucy – founder of GardenAmbition.com and I’m a self-confessed garden fanatic. Gardening has always been a passion of mine and will always be my favorite pastime. Now that I am married and have one adorable son, I have the time to write and share my personal experiences with other garden enthusiasts.

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Early 1900s Advertising for White House Lawn Seed

Early 1900s Advertising for White House lawn seed

Since the White House landscape took on the design of the modern English Garden from its begining, it was no surprise that the lawn played an important part in the long history of the White House garden.

According to Marta McDowell’s book All the Presidents’ Gardens, during the Taft administration, the Oval Office was added to the West Wing, nudging Teddy Roosevelt’s tennis court farther out on the South Lawn.

The Michell Seed Company from Philadelphia supplied the lawn seed.

The fact that the White House used its grass seed became a message in Michell’s advertising.

In 1912, as McDowell notes, Michell’s promoted its grass seed with these words “On the White House Grounds in Washington, at all recent National and International Expositions…in the best known public parks, and finest estates.”

Michell’s often included a lawn on its catalog  cover. [below]

A 1904 ad for Michell’s Seed Company [thanks to Pinterest] 

Thus in both word and image the lawn took on an importance from the White House to the average American home to the country estate.

Like the English, early White House gardeners used sheep to control the height of the lawn.

Later a horse drawn mowing machine cut the grass.

Eventually fuel-powered lawn movers became the choice of the White House gardeners.

In 1935 the Frederick Law Olmsted firm from Boston prepared a landscape management plan at the request of the White House.

As Marta notes, in the plan the lawn continued its essential role in the design of the area both north and south of the White House.

 

 

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Plant Hunters Still Search for Exotics

Plant hunters still search for exotics.

Traveling around the world in search of plants for the home garden may seem like a dream job.

The plant however sometimes turns out to be more than just a plant.

Sarah Rose’s book For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History tells the story of English plant hunter Robert Fortune (1812-1880).

She traces the  mid-nineteenth century journey of Fortune into China to bring back tea plants. Fortune hoped they would grow in India and thus compete with the Chinese tea market.

Kew Garden

Fortune visited Kew Garden in London, the center of botanical research for the “entire world” as she puts it. Rose writes: “Fortune steps up to a great greenhouse, the Palm House, gloriously situated on a hill.”

That reminded me that when visiting London a couple of years ago it was important that I see the Palm House at Kew. Here is my first view of it that sunny day. [below]

The Palm House, built from 1844-48, at Kew Garden in London to house plants collected abroad.

The size of this shiny structure overpowers you as you approach.  How impressive it must have been in the nineteenth century when greenhouses and conservatories were only available to the wealthy until eventually the price of glass fell.

Plant hunters, like Fortune, represented horticultural institutions such as Kew and the Royal Horticultural Society in their quest for the newest plant varieties for the English garden.

At Kew the plants would find a home in the new Palm House.

In many cases plants like the weigela which Fortune brought back from China in the 1840s eventually became part of the English garden palette.

Nineteenth century American seed companies and nurseries later listed the plant as a garden favorite, and so American gardeners would plant weigela as well.

Rose writes: “Fortune popularised a remarkable variety of flora in the wake of his Chinese travels.” His “discoveries” included the bleeding heart, the white wisteria, twelve species of rhododendron, and the chrysanthemum.

We now know that  when plants from other habitats become part of a new environment, there may be no natural predators.  The result is that such plants can overrun the local landscape.

The interior of the Palm House at Kew.

Rose writes, “Today there is only guarded enthusiasm for the mass globalization of indigenous plant life.”

Nonetheless, plant hunters like Fortune still search the world for exotic plants that will grow in the American garden.

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America’s Most Beautiful Lawns 

America’s most beautiful lawns

[I often write about the lawn. I am grateful to Australian lawn care professional Mark Richmond who contributed the following post about some beautiful lawns here in the US. Most of them are open to the public.]

The United States is the land of the free and the home of the… beautiful lawn? Across the country, there are endless swaths of lush and healthy lawns. The pristine green landscapes are the proud features of many college universities, residential homes, and historical buildings. While there are certainly some stunning landscapes to be celebrated in each of the fifty states, here are a few of the most beautiful lawns that the United States has to offer.

Bloedel Reserve

Bloedel lawn, Washington State

 This Washington-state public garden is a breathtaking example of horticultural excellence. The flowing lawns have been maintained without herbicides and are bordered by the commanding presence of tall pines. One popular area of the reserve features a Checkerboard lawn — concrete squares placed intricately amongst the healthy grass.

The South Lawn at the White House

 The striking contrast between the white of the presidential home along with the rich green color of the healthy lawn has made for a beautiful backdrop for millions of annual photos. The lawn has held many famous historical events, and currently provides an area for many political and social functions. With its design dating back several decades, the beautiful lawn has, and most likely will continue to be, one of the most well-known horticultural masterpieces.

Central Park Sheep Meadow and Great Lawn

 Central Park — the colloquial American lawn and one of the most famous green spaces in the entire world. The great lawn covers 55 acres and is comprised of a healthy mix of high-quality fescue and bluegrass. The smaller 15 acre Sheep Meadow preserve is a popular area for picnickers, sunbathers, kite flyers, and anyone else who wants to revel in the sights of the fine green grass surrounded by the New York City skyline.

Manchester Farm

 The rolling green landscape of this Kentucky farm could be considered the epitome of beautiful American lawns. The rich and healthy Kentucky bluegrass covers over 120 acres of the farm’s property and could easily be incorporated into a picture-perfect postcard.

The Lawn at the University of Virginia

This famous green space was designed by the founder of the University Thomas Jefferson and reflects his interest in Neoclassical and Palladian architecture. The well looked after grassy expanse is considered to be a U.S. National Historic Landmark District and the symbolic center of the University.

Biltmore Estate

 The perfect lush lawn is typically where the eye falls upon when viewing the Biltmore House. This North Carolina estate features a front lawn with what could easily be considered the greenest grass in the country — a mix of tall fescue and bluegrass. The perfectly symmetrical stripes of the lawn makes for a luxurious focal point in a view of the grand mansion itself.

Chanticleer Garden

 Located just outside of Philadelphia in the town of Wayne, this 48 acre botanical garden is a picturesque place for walking and picnics. Not only are there many gardens to explore, but there are also several formal areas of lush lawn. The sleek appearance of the bluegrass and fescue mix is due in part to the always changing mowing patterns that keep the soil healthy and loose. The famous Serpentine area of the pleasure garden features a variety of aesthetically-pleasing crops — as well as comfy chairs to take in the breathtaking sights.

Longwood Gardens Cow Lot

 As the name suggests, the former pasture land is a breathtaking aspect of this Pennsylvanian public garden. The sprawling grassy area is peaceful and serene — a perfect place for a walk or just to gaze at the lush vegetation.

Filoli Lawn

 Just south of San Francisco, this Californian country house boasts over 16 acres of gorgeously stunning gardens and lawns. Considered a historical landmark, the well-maintained lawns accompany reflecting pools and rose gardens and perfectly exemplify the blending of the Anglo-American gardening style.

Middleton Place

 An aerial view of this South Carolina plantation is the best way to see its magnificent lawn. As one of America’s oldest and most famous landscapes, it still boasts the turf terraces that were initially carved in 1741. The rich mixture of Charleston and centipede grass makes for beautiful shades of green that aren’t found elsewhere.

Kykuit

Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller built this spectacular Hudson River Valley, New York property in the early 1900’s. It has retained its splendor ever since. The gardens and lawns are considered to be some of the best in the world, bringing great fame to their designer. The front lawn is manicured to perfection and is one of the many highlights of the National Trust estate.

When one thinks of traditional American landscapes, a lush and well maintained lawn is usually part of the scene. As you can see, there are many such examples across the country that show what the lawn can do for the landscape.

For more articles about the lawn and garden from Mark, check out the Company’s blog.

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