Archives for April 2018

Flower Gardens Followed Farming

Flower gardens followed farming.

It is spring and my thoughts turn to working in the garden.

My garden includes beds of perennials, colorful shrubs, many trees, vines, and soon several annuals that I simply must have.

It may seem that flower gardens have always been important.  That is not the case. What has always been important is survival.

In most cultures gardens filled with flowers only appeared after a long stretch of time devoted to farming that made available the food needed for the family table.

Stephen Buchmann writes in his fabulous book The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives, “No cultures with agriculture develop pleasure gardens unless the collective belly is full.”

If you think about the beginning of our own country, a similar situation occurred.

Thomas Jefferson thought the whole country was to be built on the role of the farmer who worked the soil to provide for a family.

Throughout the late eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century, there was little time for pleasure gardens, or gardens of flowers.

Most people were simply trying to survive.

Thus any working with the soil centered on agriculture.

Most early American garden magazines emphasized the progress of farming.

Certainly we know during this time gardeners grew some flowers, but that was not the focus for a home garden.

It was not until after 1850 that we saw the growth of flower gardens with the emergence of seed companies who had flower seeds to sell. Thus their customers could add a touch of beauty to the home landscape.

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in 1878, “To any who can look back a quarter of a century, the increase of a love of flowers and their cultivation within that time seems almost marvelous.

“Twenty-five years ago a ‘laylock’ or two, a red ‘piney’ on either side of the front door, a few straggling, untrimmed rose bushes, and, perhaps, half-a-dozen bunches of the old-fashioned yellow Day Lily, constituted the floral adornments of even the most pretentious country homes.

“But, now, a day’s ride through almost any of our rural districts will reveal a succession of bright pictures upon which memory loves to linger.”

In the nineteenth century Rochester developed a thriving garden industry and the city became known as the ‘Flower City.’

Vick congratulated the seed industry for its help in bringing flowers into the home garden. He wrote, “There is no question that those same packages which, in the beginning of the year 1852, went out from ‘the flower city’ of the Empire State on their beneficent mission to all parts of the land, have had no small share in producing this happy change.”

 

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Exploring Early Dahlia History

Exploring early dahlia history

Since I am interested in how we came to garden with dahlias, I set on a journey to study dahlia history.

Dahlias came from Mexico’s Aztec nation.

According to Martin Kral’s article “Of Dahlia Myths and Aztec Mythology: The Dahlia in History there is much confusion on the plant’s origin.

There is no evidence, he argues, that the dahlia was Montezuma’s favorite flower, as some have proposed, but it was part of Aztec gardens.

Kral says, “When the first dahlias were grown in Spain in 1789, the stock most likely came from [those] historic Aztec gardens.”

Thus I discovered a link to the Spanish invasion of Mexico by Hernan Cortes in the sixteenth century.

The new book I then had to read for more background was When Montezuma Met Cortes: The True Story of the Meeting That Changed History by historian Mathew Restall.

As I was reading the book, I remembered that  the name ‘dahlia’ was given to the flower after it appeared in Europe in the late 1700s. Thus I probably would not find much about dahlias in this book.

I was right.

What I did find was how difficult it was to understand the purpose of  the meeting in 1519 between Montezuma and Cortes.

Did Montezuma simply surrender to the Spanish?

That is what some history books over the centuries have claimed.

What Restall points out is that it is not as clear as history books have claimed.

He writes, “Preserving and perpetuating the Meeting as Surrender became increasingly important not just to the Mexican case, but to the entire enterprise of Spanish conquest in the Americas. It was the paramount parable of justification.”

Though I saw no reference to the dahlia, I did learn how authors have interpreted the meeting between Montezuma and Cortes from the very beginning.

Cortes did find elaborately landscaped gardens. The Aztecs cultivated island gardens for food that they grew.

An early history of the conquest does mention gardens among the Aztecs.

In 1568 Bernal Diaz del Castillo wrote a biography of Cortes called The History of the Conquest of New Spain.

Diaz referred to the royal Aztec nursery at Huaxtepec as “the best I have ever seen in all my life.”

It was not, however, until two hundred years later that the dahlia appeared in Europe, first in Spain then in the early 1800s in Germany, France, and England.

By the 1830s the east coast of the United States saw a robust nursery trade in dahlias.

Kral concludes, “The dahlia arrived [in Spain] as part of the 18th century expeditionary plant collection.”

 

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Late Nineteenth Century Increased Marketing Images

Late nineteenth century increased marketing images.

Today we think nothing of the images for products and services that come before our eyes daily.

Most of the time they appear uninvited as advertising or emails selling something.

To think of a time when illustrations for products and services first began to appear is not an easy thing to imagine, but they had to start some time.

In the late nineteenth century newer technologies in printing appeared along with a decrease in the price of paper.

In that kind of situation the country also witnessed an increase in colored marketing illustrations.

Such images sold everything from needles to buggies.

Thomas Schelereth writes in his book Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life 1876-1915, “In 1884 Charles Congdon, writing in the North American Review, called his age one of ‘over-illustrations,’ so filled was it with visual stimuli.”

By then chromolithographs appeared in advertising. The art form provided a lithograph “printed in colors using two or more lithograph printing stones” as Schelereth describes the process.

At the same time dahlias were experiencing an upsurge of interest among gardeners, as Ms. Lippencourt recognized in her seed company catalog in 1902. She said, “Within the past two years interest has been revived in these beautiful flowers. We offer a small selection of the very best out of a collection of 600 sorts, embracing all sorts in commerce.”

Perhaps the interest in dahlias was revived because of the stunning illustrations of dahlias that appeared on the covers of the catalog that came from seed companies and nurseries of that time.

Here is the cover on the 1894 catalog from the Maule Seed Company in Philadelphia. The pink and white of these dahlias said it all. [below]. Product illustrations in color could sell anything.

 

Here are two other catalog covers of that same time period, another from Maule and the other from Dreer who also sold dahlias with stunning illustrations. [below]

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Nineteenth Century Introduced Standardization in the Garden

Nineteenth century introduced standardization in the garden.

By the end of the nineteenth century ordinary household products became standardized.

Aunt Jemima introduced her pancakes.

Juicy Fruit gum came on the market.

Ivory Soap became the choice of many families.

Thomas Schelereth writes in his book Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life 1876-1915, “Department stores, mail-order firms, and other retailers contributed to the standardization of American dress.”

Not only clothing, produced in large mills that employed hundreds, but also the garden became part of the big business to offer customers the same items for sale.

Seed companies and nurseries by then, with their catalogs in the millions, were selling the same seeds and plants.  The garden went through a certain standardization. The same kind of garden with the same plants appeared from California to Maine.

Scheler writes, “More people (middle class and working class) had more money and more time to purchase more goods, mass-produced more cheaply and advertised more widely.”

In 1878 a customer asked Rochester New York seed company owner James Vick what his favorite annuals were.

Vick responded: “We hardly know what to recommend for six Annuals. Phlox, Striped Petunia, Double Portulaca, Pansy, Aster.  Now we have only one more to select: Verbena, Mignonette, Dianthus, Morning Glory, Stock.

“Our readers had better select the last one for themselves, for we can’t find it in our heart to exclude so many good things from our list of six, and perhaps make hard feeling among our favorite flowers. We speak of all that bloom the first season as annuals.”

1888 Rawson Seeed Company catalog

The choices Vick made continue as ‘standards’ in the garden to this day.

Proven Winners named the company’s ‘Bourdeaux’ petunia  their annual of the year. 

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Victorians Flocked to Summer Resorts

Victorians flocked to summer resorts.

In the late nineteenth century hotels along the water or in the mountains became a popular escape in the summer.

Thomas Schlereth writes in his book Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life 1876-1915,  “Victorian resort hotels featured grand verandas, places for viewing, and being viewed”

The resorts became famous sometimes for their gardens and landscape as well.

The Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort near Milwaukee, Wisconsin was one such resort.

Captain Fred Pabst, owner of the world’s largest brewery at that time, built the resort in 1889 on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The pavilion was a wooden structure “built in the resort mode of the day.” The Resort became “famous for its planked whitefish dinners and fine music.”

Words from the dedication of the new resort with its park-like atmosphere claimed that “the north shore area of Milwaukee is indeed the original garden of Eden.”

Whitefish Bay Resort [Thanks to David Zach, Milwaukee]

Harry H. Anderson and Frederick I. Olson wrote in Milwaukee: At the Gathering of the Waters that “Whitefish Bay was incorporated as a village in 1892.

“Its growth was enormously benefited by Captain Fred Pabst’s Whitefish Bay resort, which flourished from 1889 to 1914 by attracting Milwaukeeans escaping from the bustling city.”

The landscape of the Pabst resort which overlooked the bay of Lake Michigan included lawns, special flower beds, trees, and shrubs to make the atmosphere comfortable for a visitor.

Spacious grounds provided the visitors who flocked to the resort especially on Sunday ample room for a stroll along the lake shore.

There were ample seating areas spread throughout the property.

The resort featured both a hotel, a large pavilion, and many tables for eating and drinking outside.

Parks and resorts owned by breweries certainly also helped the business.

The Milwaukee Sentinel wrote in 1887, “The advantage of owning parks is considerable to a brewing company, as then no other beer but its own is brought to tap on the premises.”

While enjoying a Pabst beer, the Victorians who visited the Pabst Whitefish Bay resort, could also relish a wonderful landscape.

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Flower Shows Share Long Tradition

Flower Shows share long tradition

Recently I attended the Boston Flower and Garden Show.

Though it was a cold day and remnants of a recent storm of wind, rain, and snow lingered on, it was a wonderful morning.

Such shows teach gardeners about new plants and provide ideas for this summer’s garden.

I had the opportunity to see many excellent landscape designs spread throughout Boston’s World Trade Center where the show took place.

The awarding winning exhibit by Miskovsky Landscape deserved the acclaim it received. It proved the top winner with seven awards, including Best of Show. [below]

The award-winning Miskovsky exhibit at the recent Boston Flower and Garden Show

Flower Shows have been an important part of American gardening from at least the early nineteenth century.

Philadelphia seed company owner Robert Buist introduced dahlias at the Pennsvylvania Horticultural Society flower show in the mid 1830s.

Of course the Massachusetts Horticultural Society sponsored its own flower shows in what was then called Horticultural Hall on Massachusetts Avenue, right across from Symphony Hall.

Though Mass Hort has now relocated to the suburbs. the words over the building’s entry “Horticultural Hall” make it clear that this red brick structure was once home to fabulous flower shows.

The English of course have a long tradition of such shows with the annual Chelsea Flower Show in May now the grand dame of them all.

Rochester seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) once received a letter from a reader who was traveling in England,

Vick included the letter in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in November 1878.

His reader wrote, “I went to a Flower Show the other week, at a place called Quarndon, a beautiful little village, situated on a hill, overlooking a magnificent country. The show was held in a tent in a field, and was largely attended.

“The center tables were filled with plants, loaned by several ‘Lords’ and ‘Squires,’ and were of a high order – I mean the plants.

“The side tables held the articles for competition. Dracaenas. Caladiums, and some luxurious tropical plants, were interspersed with Coleus, Ferns of all descriptions, Fuchsias, Abutilons, Balsams, Cockscombs, etc.”

He described several of these plants in great detail.

It was obvious that this flower show gave him a great deal of pleasure. He simply wanted to share that with Mr. Vick.

That’s another reason we go to a Flower Show.  It should provide a bit of pleasure for a gardener.

That only seems right especially because spring has arrived.

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