Archives for October 2018

Opium Enriched Nineteenth Century Boston Merchant

Opium enriched nineteenth century Boston merchant –

Nineteenth century Boston merchant Thomas H. Perkins (1764-1854) cultivated a landscape at his country estate in Brookline, Massachusetts in the English landscape style.

This portrait of Perkins by Thomas Sully today hangs in the large first floor meeting room  of the downtown Boston Athenaeum. [below]

Boston Athenaeum’s portrait of Thomas Handasayd Perkins

Perkins became one of America’s first millionaires.

To increase his sale of goods to China Perkins found himself in the opium trade.

In 1815 he opened an office in Afghanistan in order to buy opium there to sell to China.

Stephen Harris wrote a great book called Planting Paradise: Cultivating the Garden 1500-1900, which covers the history of gardening.

Harris writes, “Ultimately, tea transformed English society, was a driver of the Industrial Revolution in the early nineteenth century, maintained the opium trade with China and became a new crop for colonial India.”

He draws a link between the sale of tea and the sale of opium in the nineteenth century. Both made certain people quite wealthy.

Perkins’ Fortune

Perkins built his fortune by selling opium more than any other product.

At the same time he offered substantial financial assistance to local institutions like the Boston Athenaeum and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Today these institutions as well as Perkins School for the Blind, another of his charities,  have had to respond to this part of their history. People inquire how they could have accepted money made from selling opium.

In their book Merchant Prince of Boston: Colonel T. H. Perkins, 1764-1854 Carol Seaburg and Stanley Peterson write, “They cheerfully rationalized that the opium habit was not nearly so debilitating as the habit of drink.”

I don’t know what the word ‘cheerfully’ means here. I would say they saw opium as a business. It was, after all, legal in America at that time.

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Nineteenth Century Boston Merchant’s Country Estate

Nineteenth century Boston merchant’s country estate

Recently I attended a short talk at the Boston Athenaeum where a staff member discussed three Athenaeum portraits.

My intention in taking the train to participate in this session was to hear about the Athenaeum’s portrait of Thomas Handasyd Perkins (1764-1854).

Thomas Handasyd Perkins

Sending his ships primarily to China, Perkins became a wealthy merchant in nineteenth century Boston.

The speaker’s remarks at the Athenaeum centered on what a philanthropist Perkins had been for the city.

He founded the Perkins School for the Blind, which today is located in Watertown.

Perkins owned a downtown home, first on Pearl Street and later on Temple Place, but also escaped the summer heat to his country home in Brookline, a few miles from Boston.

Brookline Estate

Perkins purchased the land for his Brookline estate in 1799.

The Boston Athenaeum archives include a landscape plan for the Perkins’ Brookline property.

The plan illustrates the modern form of landscape gardening, begun in England in the eighteenth century.  This style, because it was the fashion, attracted wealthy Americans throughout the nineteenth century.

The landscape in his estate reflected the English style of rolling lawns, trees, and shrubs.

The extensive lawn, dotted with several greenhouses, takes up most of the space in the plan.  The plan shows a kitchen garden and orchards as well.

According to their book Merchant Prince of Boston, Carol Seaburg and Stanley Peterson write that the Perkins’ Brookline property, on the corner of Heath and Warren, became “one of the show places around Boston.”

There Perkins cultivated plants from around the world, including a grape-vine from England’s Sir Joseph Paxton, the head gardener at Chatsworth. Paxton became one  of the most important gardeners in England.  He also designed the Crystal Palace for the London Exhibition of 1851.

Like other prominent men of his time who owned such country estates, Perkins chose to design in the modern English landscape style.

Seaburg and Paterson note that at the Perkins’ garden, “Encouragement was given to ornamental gardening, with an eye to the art of landscaping.”

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Crockett’s Compost Bin Works Well

Crockett’s compost bin works well –

A few days ago the Boston Globe featured an editorial called “Time to embrace composting. No, really.

The message struck me in a somewhat personal way since I just had my compost bin rebuilt.

The final words in the title made me see the importance the writer attempted to give this message.

The world is full of too much garbage. Where possible, we need to recycle it as compost.

I have had a compost bin in the backyard, behind the shed, for almost twenty years.

The old one was decaying, and the wood no longer held together.

Three compartments make up the bin. One is full of the newest material that I add right now; the second is material from last year decaying so I can use it next year; and the third is the ready compost which I can use right now for any need in the garden. Next summer I just rotate each of them.

In having it built I followed the design of the drawings and photos from the original design that appeared in Crockett’s Victory Garden published in 1977.

That is where I first saw this version of a compost bin. Some have called it “the Cadillac of compost bins.’

It is easy to use and offers plenty of space.

This photo of my old compost bin illustrates how I desperately needed a new one. This is the bin just a few days ago:

My old compost bin has certainly seen better days.

Here is a photo of the new version which I just had built this week:

My new bin ready for making that ‘black gold’ called compost.

Gardeners and Compost

Gardeners have long seen the value of compost, even for a lawn.

Rochester, NY seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) saw the value of compost in putting in a lawn.

He wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1879 how a new lawn, installed in the spring, needs a bit of compost. He said: “Compost should be spread evenly over the surface and raked in.”

 

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Victorian Annuals Still Popular

Victorian annuals still popular –

I have visited the downtown Georgian Mansion called the Moffatt-Ladd House in Portsmouth, NH many times.

What I like about it is that the garden skeleton basically dates back to the Victorian period. Today the gardeners, mostly volunteers, have sought to use garden drawings and written material as a guide for how the garden should look.

Luckily in 1990 Joseph Copley, curator of the Portsmouth Historical Society, found the garden journal of the late nineteenth century owner Alexander H. Ladd (1815-1900).

Ladd took possesion of the mansion in 1862. Over the years he lived there he became passionate about his garden, located behind the house.

In his journal Ladd writes about several annuals he regularly planted that are still popular today.

He mentions these annuals that he grew in his garden: pansy, petunia, sweet pea, verbena, and zinnia.

To make room for his spring narcissus, Ladd planted narcissus bulbs in an area where he had earlier planted verbena.

He wrote on November 7, 1889, “I planted Verbena bed with my largest selected Poets Narcissus – of which 608 (illegible) put in this bed.”

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) also wrote about the verbena in his seed catalog under the section called ‘Annuals.’

Vick wrote in 1873, “Well-known and universally popular bedding plants; may be treated as half-hardy annuals.”

Here is a colorful illustration from Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1880. [Below]

Verbenas, Vick’s Illustrated Monthly [Courtesy of the New York Public Library]

The tradition of planting Victorian annuals like verbena continues.

Little did Ladd suspect that his favorite annuals would remain popular with gardeners over a century later.

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Time to Plant Tulips

Time to plant tulips –

It is October 1 and a gardener’s thoughts turn to spring bulbs like tulips.

For generations gardeners dug up tulip bulbs only to replant them in the Fall.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) recalled that practice in his garden magazine.

A suburban gardener wrote to Vick in 1878, “I don’t know of any flowers that afford me more pleasure than my Tulips, because they are so sure and so little trouble.

“I take up the bulbs, dry them a little, and store them away until October, when they are planted again.”

Then she laid out her method of planting the tulips.

“To occupy the Tulip ground, secure a few Petunia plants, or Portulacas, and sometimes Verbena.

“In October these have done flowering, or nearly so, and the Tulip bed is made again.

“In this way I get two seasons of flowers on the same bed in one season.”

Thus in the late nineteenth century she demonstrated the common practice of planting the same bed with both spring tulips and summer annuals.

Boston Seed Company

Like many other late nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries, the Rawson Company, with its main office in Boston’s Fanuel Hall, offered tulips to its customers.

Rawson included this black and white tulip illustration in its seed catalog of 1904. [below]

An illustration that appeared in the W. W. Rawson Seed Catalog of 1904

In the 1880s Alexander H. Ladd in Portsmouth, NH planted hundreds of  tulips each year in his downtown garden.

He too would dig them up and store them for the summer only to plant them later in October.

Unfortunately, one year his baskets were so heavy on the storage shelves he had created that the whole structure collapsed. Hundreds of bulbs fell to the floor. As you can imagine, the next spring saw a mixture of colors and sizes in Ladd’s fields of tulips.

In 1889 he wrote, “I estimate by loss of Bulbs, to have been at least 60,000 – by the rain and want of attention last summer.”

 Year of the Tulip

This is the Year of the Tulip according to the National Garden Bureau which provided this stunning show of modern tulip color. [Below]

The Parade of Pink collection. It is a mix of fragrant doubles that includes white, pink, peach and purple. [Courtesy of the National Garden Bureau]

Today it is more common to leave tulips in the ground so they can continue to grow in the same spot year after year.

Breck’s Bulbs says on its website, “Most bulbs prefer not to be disturbed and can be left in the ground for many years.”

Whether you dig them up after they bloom, or leave them in the ground, October begins the time to plant tulips for spring color.

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