Archives for November 2020

Marigolds Remain the Same after Decades

We like to plant new varieties of old favorites.

Some old favorites however remain pretty much the same year after year.

In her book Popular Annuals of Eastern North America 1865-1914 garden historian Peggy Cornett Newcomb writes that after a long time as a garden favorite the look of the marigold has not changed.

She says, “Comparison of descriptions and photographs of marigolds at the turn of the century and now shows that their appearance then was virtually indistinquisable from today.”

What’s in a name?

The features of the ‘marigold’ are its orange/yellow color and daisy-like appearance.

The Encyclopedia of Gardening says that the name marigold is applied to several different kinds of plants.

It includes the genus called calendula or pot marigold as well as the genus called Tagetes which we know by the names African or French marigold.

The popular annual calendula is a beautiful flower for the summer garden. [below]

Calendula [courtesy Burpee Seeds]

Victorian Gardens

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  in his seed catalog of 1880 wrote this about the calendula: “The Calendula is the fine old and well known Marigold family, which every one knows, but may not recognize by this name.”

Vick made reference also to the same flower. He said “The old Pot Marigold [or Calendula] much favored for boiled mutton, is C. officinalis.”

On the herbal site called Sunkist Herbal, we read its role in Victorian society: “The calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a hardy annual with single or double daisy-like blooms of yellow or orange.

“The 3- to 4-inch flowers open with the sun and close at night, leading the Victorians to believe they could set a clock by the flower.

“The name ‘calendula’ is from the same Latin word as ‘calendar,’ presumably because the flower was in bloom almost every month of the year.”

In 1880 Vick wrote in the October issue of his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “Every one knows the old yellow Marigold, for it is common as the Sunflower, and has been as long as we can remember. It is called in the books Calendula, but that makes no difference, for it is the same old Marigold that many of us have grown for half a century. That name was given because it was thought some species were in flower every month of the calendar.”

He concluded, “The Calendula will probably never take rank with the best annuals, but we are glad to see it make a bold start for the front after so long a stay in the rear. If its improvement should continue, there is no telling the future of this good old flower.”

Vick sold seeds for calendula and other marigolds like African and French marigolds as well.

New Seed Catalog

Yesterday I received the enormous annual seed catalog from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.

The catalog has its name on the front cover: The Whole Seed Catalog 2021.

It measures 9″ by 11″ with its total pages numbering almost 500. Yes, it is quite large.

In the ‘Flower’ division there is a section for the marigold.

The catalog says, “Marigolds [Tagetes]. Cheerful flowers native to Central and South America, marigolds are strikingly beautiful and amazingly easy to grow.”

So though the marigold may go by different names, its look has remained the same for a long time. And we continue to grow it.

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The Dahlia – in and out of Fashion

You might think that a flower as beautiful as the dahlia has been a garden treasure since explorers first brought it from its home in Mexico to Europe and later to the U.S.

Not true.

The dahlia has had a long history of being in and out of fashion.

When first introduced into England in the early nineteenth century, there was an uproar over this plant.

John Claudius Loudon, Editor of The Gardener’s Magazine, recognized it as a current fashion in the garden.

He wrote, “At almost every nursery several hundred sorts may be procured; but as new sorts are continually coming into fashion, and the old sorts becoming neglected, it would be of little use presenting a list of varieties.”  

Loudon was amazed at the variety in the dahlia’s form and color.

There was even a period of dahlia mania before 1850 both in England and in America.

Then dahlias receeded in popularity.

The dahlia almost became the new hollyhock: perhaps pretty but not in my garden.

Recent Article on the Dahlia

Last week Alan Titchmarsh wrote an online article in Country Life about the dahlia.

The title of the article says it all: “How the dahlia shrugged off its ‘too common to plant’ tag – and thank goodness it did.”

He says, ” It was Country Life’s regular contributor Christopher Lloyd who was instrumental in restoring their respectability, although he would have scoffed at the use of such a word, as snobbery was as alien to Christo as silence and circumspection are to the current President of the US.”

In his own gardening and subsequent writing Lloyd put the dahlia back in the garden.

He particularly liked the wonderful dahlia called ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ which just happens to be my favorite.

Here it is in all its glory:

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ [Courtesy of White Flower Farm]

Who would have thought that the beautiful dahlia would have had such a rocky road in garden fashion?

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Public relations and the late nineteenth century garden industry

In the late nineteenth century the practice of public relations emerged though it was not called by that name.

AT&T created a monopoly for its telephone.

The one company owned all the other phone companies scattered around the country.

In its public relations effort AT&T convinced the government that the best way to serve the public was with a monoply.

It worked. For decades that is how AT&T operated.

Karen Russell tells the story in her new book Promoting Monopoly: AT&T and the Politics of Public Relations, 1876-1941.

She writes, “Many people were working to develop communication strategies and tactics long before there was a formal vocation of publicity or public relations.”

The words ‘publicity’ and ‘public opinion’ became important for AT&T.

Taking the pulse of public opinion became essential for the company.

Even the use of advertising, buying space in a paper or magazine, to tell the company’s story, became a form of public relations by AT&T.

By the end of the nineteenth century words like publicity, public opinion and communication strategies were used in AT&T’s company documents and press releases.

The goal was to maintain public support.

Garden Industry

Certainly by the end of the nineteenth century the garden industry too had to confront the same tasks in its dealing with the public.

The consumer was simply not going to accept a seed packet, a plant, fertilizer, or a garden tool without seeing evidence of how well they performed.

The company needed to be trusted for a gardener to make a purchase

No longer could a company spokesperson say or write anything to sell a product.

This truly was the begnning of public relations as a company’s responsibility.

Russell mentions how the American Newspaper Publishers Association in the late 1880s sought to change certain practices of newspapers. It was then that some editors wrote glowingly about a company because that same company bought advertising space in their papers.

We were beginning to see the rise of a serious look at how a garden-related company goes about promoting its product by creating an image of a company that understood and supported the gardener.

Since the late nineteenth century garden related companies were relatively small, compared to AT&T, nonetheless we recognize their effort to create communication strategies and tactics that fostered good will between the customer and the company. We now know such a company was ahead of most other businesses.

A strategy that took hold in the lat 1890s was an increase in paid advertising.

It was no coincidence that Philadelphia seedsman W. Atlee Burpee (1858-1915)  once said, “No business can succeed without advertising.” He wrote his own advertising copy, which sold both seeds and garden fashion.

Burpee Catalog Cover of 1899

The trade journal Printers Ink wrote about Burpee in its June 17, 1915 issue in these words: “Starting with a modest business in 1876, the House of Burpee has grown into the greatest mail order seed house in the world. Like many other Philadelphia enterprises this establishment is of international importance. Mr. Burpee will tell you that he has built up this great business by advertising, and to a great extent that is so, but back of it all has been the integrity and the enthusiasm of the founder of the House of Burpee.”

The public had trust in Burpee. Promoting strong public opinion in his favor became crucial for him and his seed business.

Burpee provides an example of successful public relations practice in the late nineteenth century garden industry.

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Early 19th Century Farm Journal Fostered Garden Writers

We can learn a great deal about gardening by looking at garden magazines.

At the begining of the nineteenth century there was more interest and energy put into farming than cultivating a garden.

Nineteenth century garden writers sometimes began their writing career in a farm journal where horticulture played but a minor role.

This was a new country and people had to eat. Supplying food to feed the country took center stage.

The Genesee Farmer [below] from Rochester, New York was a publication, begun in 1831, directed at farmers, but also included a section on gardening.

The goal of the magazine was to keep the farmer informed of the newest methods and machinery necessary for farming.

Farming was serious business. The farmer had to keep up with the latest, especially how he could get the most for his crops. The Genesee Farmer filled that role.

Patrick Barry, co-owner of the early Rochester nursery Ellwanger and Barry, was both a great writer and knowledgable about plants, especially fruit trees. He wrote an important book on fruit trees, simply called Fruit Garden.

His section called ‘Horticulture’ in the Genesee Farmer addressed new plants, pests, fertilizer, pruning – all the topics a gardener needed to know.

Vick on Writing

Seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) was associated with the paper as a writer and editor from 1849 to 1855 when he became owner and publisher as well.

Vick brought his own editorial style to the publication.

Harriett Julia Taylor wrote an article called “Rochester’s Agricultural Press” for the Rochester Historial Society Publication.

She wrote, “While James Vick was editor of the Farmer, the circulation mounted rapidly and the paper assumed a more elegant air than it had ever known.”

A year later, in order to devote his entire time to the seed business he was beginning, Vick sold the magazine to Joseph Harris.

Vick then started his own publication called Rural Annual and Horticultural Directory, the first part of which was a sort of glorified seed catalog and the second part a list of nursery owners.

Vick would go on to start his own successful monthly magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878.

Vick’s career as a writer, editor, and publisher owed a great deal to Genesee Farmer, the early farm magazine.

Even though the emphasis was on farming, Vick found it also gave him the opportunity to learn about the publishing business so that one day he could devote himself to the business of writing about the garden and its flowers.

A farmers’ journal gave both Barry and Vick the start to an illustrious garden writing career of many years.

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