Garden Advertising Creates Sameness Everywhere

Garden advertising creates sameness everywhere.

In search of annuals for my garden I recently visited a couple of box stores in the area.

Of course there were many plants to choose from, but they were the same plants in both places. It is as if to have a garden means we all need to include the same plants.

Fashion and style have always influenced the way we garden.

Certain plants seem to be more acceptable than others.

We know what they are by the advertising about plants for the summer landscape that is going on right now in print, social media, and the many advertising channels.

Communication scholar Hugh Dalziel Duncan said, “In America, cars, clothes, and houses are high communicable symbols of power because they are designed, advertised, and distributed as mass symbols.”

Richard L. Bushman wrote about the link between gardens and social status in his book The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities.  

He said “Colors of the exterior included yellows, browns, and greens to show off the house. Gone were the Colonial days of the bare essentials in house design. Now the shift appeared in what could display the wealth of the homeowner. Colorful houses and gardens contributed to that sense of social status. Nature had been smoothed and decorated as assiduously as walls and paneling inside the house.”

When you see advertising about plants, you tend to see the same plants and garden design from the media.

It should be no surprise that the same garden appears from coast to coast.

The media dictate garden fashion and style, and thus link the garden to social status.

Why is it so difficult to choose different plants?

A big reason may be that most people do not know any plants other than the ones heavily advertised.

 

 

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Dahlia Mania Struck Early Nineteenth Century

Dahlia mania struck early nineteenth century.

This week I will plant dahlia tubers in my garden.

First I will have to unpack and inspect each of the tubers still stored in my basement.

The dahlia happens to be my favorite flower because it provides such wonderful autumn color in the garden. 

At one point gardeners loved this plant so much that there was a frenzy created for the latest hybrid. The craziness over this plant was called ‘dahlia mania’ and it took place in the 1830s both in England and America.

Communication scholar Hugh Dalziel Duncan writes in his book Communication and Social Order, “A style of dress or a taste in furnishings, so affect people that we use the word ‘rage’, in the sense of mania, to define their sudden and overwhelming power.”

Duncan implies that a material object like clothing or furniture could create a ‘rage’ in a particular time and place.

Well, that happened with the dahlia that first arrived in Spain from Mexico in the 1600s. It was not until the late 1700s that the plant appeared in English gardens.

English botanical artist Margaret Meen painted this bouquet of dahlias in 1789. [below]

Margaret Meen “Dahlias (Asteraceae)” (circa 1790) [Courtesy of the Royal Bontanic Gardens, Kew]

The garden interest in the plant however did not take off for a couple of decades.

It was not until after 1804 when Lady Holland re-introduced the dahlia in her garden at Holland House in Kensington, near London, that dahlias became the rage.

A dahlia flower produced many seeds, from which new hydrids could develope.

That is what the dahlia is famous for to this very day: producing many hybrids. 

In 1834 English garden writer and horticulturist John Claudius Loudon, called the ‘Father of the English Garden,’ wrote about the many dahlia varieties already on the market.

He said  “At almost every nursery several hundred sorts [of dahlias] 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.” 

Just a few years later Loudon also wrote about dahlia mania in The Gardener’s Magazine.

He said, “The culture of the dahlia, though it has not attained so extravagant a pitch in England as that to which the tulip is said to have arrived in Holland, is yet now engaged in, in Britain, by a much greater number of persons than ever were possessed by the tulip mania.”

Loudon thus recognized a mania for the newest dahlia even greater than the past rage for tulips.

 

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Victorian Garden Catalogs Sold Ideal Landscape

Victorian garden catalogs sold ideal landscape.

The nineteenth century seed and nursery industries advertised their seeds and plants to an emerging group of middle class homeowners through catalog essays and images of an ideal garden and landscape.

The publications sold the dream of a home landscape that included a lawn, trees, and shrubs.  They promised a setting the homeowner would enjoy by simply purchasing the necessary seeds and plants.

The link between the family and the role of the home landscape also emerged as a popular theme in books for home plans as well as contemporary literature like The Mother’s Magazine and Family Circle.

The Mother’s Magazine included a short story called “Strangers and Pilgrims” in its issue of January 1875. The author Mrs. J. E. McConaughy wrote, “Many a bright evening did the family spend over the plan of the new house, perfecting all its details. When it was finished, and the last bright carpet laid, the furniture all in its place, and the beautiful lawn in perfect order, the family moved into it.  At last they were home.”

In his 1878 garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick  (1818-1882) included an image of  the ideal home with a before [above]  and after [below] look in what he called “Thistles and Roses.” The landscape transformed after purchasing seeds and plants shown brightly in its manicured lawn and those necessary plantings around the home.

Notice in the second image [below] a woman stood on the front lawn. The home was her domain where  her good taste in the landscape provided the proper setting to raise a family.

The seed and nursery industry catalogs used  themes like home and family to promote a Victorian landscape with a  lawn, trees, shrubs, vines, and flower beds of annuals, reflecting what was in style with English garden design at that time.

Vick’s two illustrations tell the story.

One can only imagine the Victorian homeowner thinking words like “I too could have this beautiful landscape.”

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Early Wisconsin Gardeners Valued Native Plants

Early Wisconsin gardeners valued native plants.

Just read a wonderful story about native plants in Lee Somerville’s book, Vernacular Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Garden Making.

As it happened a homeowner cleared a beautiful little valley full of native plants to prepare it for landscaping. He then called in a landscape architect for advice on how he might improve the area. The owner was surprised when the architect advised the planting of the same kinds that the owner had so thoroughly removed.

Gardeners like Philadelphia’s John Bartram encouraged native plants in the eighteenth century.

Then in the nineteenth century as exotic plants arrived for American gardens from Asia, South America, and Africa, native plants took a back seat in the home landscape.

During that time Wisconsin garden opionion leaders, however, kept recommending native plants for the garden.

Somerville writes in her book that in the publications of the Wisconsin State Horticultural Society “The use of native plants was first suggested in the 1850s as an easy and economical way to improve the look of Wisconsin home grounds.”

In the early 1900s the movement called the midwest Prairie style of landscape design, launched in the midwest by designers Jens Jensen, O. C. Simonds, and Wilhelm Miller, encouraged the use of native plants in the home landscape.

Certainly Wisconsin gardeners knew about this new midwest style of gardening, particularly through the work of WSHS in its articles and lectures.

Somerville says, “In general the varieties of plants in the Wisconsin vernacular garden changed less than did the patterns in which they were planted [from beds to borders]. The exception is in the marked increase of native shrubs and plants after 1900.”

The book’s listing of native perennials, popular in Wisconsin gardens in 1915, includes the columbine, Aquilegia canadensis. [below]  This plant is still worthwhile in the garden.

Columbine Aquilegia canadensis, [courtesy Prairie Nursery, Westfield, Wisconsin.] 

Native plants have traveled a rocky road in American garden history. It is good to see this early emphasis on native plants for Wisconsin gardens.

 

 

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Understanding Nineteenth Century Vernacular Gardens

Understanding nineteenth century vernacular gardens.

I just finished reading Vintage Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Home Gardening.

What made the book so worthwhile was the research that paved the way for the book.

While working on her master’s degree in landscape architecture at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, author Lee Somerville chose to examine nineteenth century vernacular gardens in Wisconsin.

She defines vernacular gardens as the gardens of ordinary people who lived in ordinary homes.

The treasure for her research turned out to be the records of the Wisconsin State Horticultural Society.

Each year from 1869 until 1928 WSHS published the proceedings of its annual meeting,  Two Society journals The Wisconsin Horticulturist (1896-1903) and Wisconsin Horticulture (1910-1967) supplemented the annual report.

With the help of these primary resources, and many secondary resources as well, Somerville sought to understand the vernacular garden of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Wisconsin.

She covers home landscape design, plants, and the lawn for both rural and city properties. She includes landscape drawings, clearly detailing the vernacular garden over this period of time.

At the end of the book she makes recommendations for anyone considering either creating or restoring a vintage garden. She writes, “Photographs, letters, journals, maps and publications usually available at local or regional libraries and historical societies for researching a particular garden can be a starting point for researching any particular garden.”

That is exactly what Lee did in the research and writing of this book.

The book includes many photographs and illustrations. The end of the book features a listing of heirloom plants, including trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials grown in vintage Wisconsin gardens.

Anyone interested in old gardens, but especially the evolution of garden design in this country would  enjoy this book.

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Americans Introduced Foundation Planting

Americans introduced foundation planting.

We have all seen a foundation planting that has grown out of bounds.

It might be a rhododendrum that now reaches to the second floor window. Though planted with good intentions, the shrub now grows beyond its original purpose.

Foundation plantings appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is an American garden feature.

Lee Somerville writes in her book Vernacular Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Garden Making, “An interesting development that reflected national changes is seen in the gradual recommendation for foundation plantings – that is, the planting of a border close to the foundation of the house.”

The magazine Garden and Forest first mentioned foundation plantings in 1891, a point that Somerville notes from the work of garden historian Denise Wiles Adams in her book Restoring American Gardens.

Somerville quotes the Boston landscape architect Charles Eliot who suggested in the article connecting the house with the grounds “by massing shrubs along the bases of walls or piazzas.”

Thus foundation planting began and it looks like it will be around for a long time.

Here is a garden in Reno, Nevada that I visited last summer. [Below] Note the plants near the window.

This front yard in Reno, Nevada includes foundation planting.

Somerville writes, “At the 1902 Wisconsin State Horticultural Society meeting, F. E. Pease supported the idea [of foundation planting], suggesting that shrubs and plantings not cover the entire house or foundations but soften them.”

The WSHS discussed shrubs as well as perennial planting along the foundation.

The goal was simply to soften the look of the straight lines of the house to blend in with the contours of the landscape.

A worthy enough goal.

Much has happened with foundation planting since that early time when the idea was first proposed.

Today it is quite common to include foundation plantings in a residential design. It is however up to the homeowner to maintain them which usually means pruning to avoid that over-grown look.

Somerville notes that Wisconsin gardeners were way ahead in the inclusion of foundation plantings in the landscape.

She writes,”A review of the WSHS literature includes Wisconsin horticulturists may have been ahead of the national trend. The first mention of foundation planting at WSHS meetings by Charles Ramsdell in 1900, ten years before [Liberty Hyde] Bailey and nearly twenty years before the rest of the nation took notice.”

 

 

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Nineteenth Century Wisconsin Hort Society Encouraged English Garden

Nineteenth century Wisconsin Hort Society encouraged English garden design.

The English garden with its lawn, curved path, trees to line the property and kitchen garden out back had become the fashion on the American east coast throughout the nineteenth century.

In her book Vintage Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Garden Making landscape architect and historian Lee Somerville describes how in the nineteenth century the Wisconsin State Horticultural Society encouraged that same English style for the home landscape.

Somerville writes, “In 1869, as the WSHS was reorganized after the Civil War, President Joseph Hobbins forcefully outlined the prevailing ideals for the vernacular garden in his opening address to the membership.”

In his remarks Hobbins described the look of the modern home landscape.

Somerville writes, “The picture Hobbins painted can be clearly traced to the principles espoused by Andrew Jackson Downing, Jacob Weidenmann, Frank J. Scott, and others.”  

This group of famous nineteenth century landscape gardeners fostered the look of the English garden, with its lawn and trees to line the property.

The homeowner was to plant trees, shrubs, and flower beds to create an ornamental front yard that would enhance “the view from the street and provide a picture for those inside the house.”

Hobbins was familiar with the landscape theory of Downing who wrote of ‘rural art’ that ought to  guide the homeowner, beginning with a lawn.

That design was of course the English garden with its principle feature, the lawn, inherited from the early eighteenth century when the natural or modern English garden first emerged.

Most Wisconsin gardeners would wind up with vernacular gardens that were a blend of the English view along with the emerging mid-west emphasis on native plants in what they called the new prairie landscape design.

Just as had happened on the east coast through the encouragement of seed companies, nurseries, and landscape designers, the nineteenth century recommendation for Wisconsin homeowners also centered on the English garden style.

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Verbena Essential Victorian Flower

Verbena essential Victorian flower.

What is good about annuals is that they continue to bloom until the Fall, or even til the first frost.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) defined them as “those plants that live but one season.”

In the nineteenth century when colorful flowers became an essential in every garden, the verbena rose to become an important addition to the garden. Vick called it “one of the most showy and valuable plants of the garden.”

English horticulturist David Stuart wrote in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens, “The verbena was acknowledged, even by contemporaries, as central to the whole bedding movement.”

Bedding meant a design on the lawn, often a diamond, a circle, or a half-moon. Flowers and plants with colorful leaves made up the design. Weekly trimming and weeding followed for the season.

Vick, in an article called “Bedding Plants” wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in November, 1881: “The term, bedding plants, has long been in use, and is applied to all those tender plants that, preserved through the winter under glass, are there propagated and raised, and finally planted in beds in the spring to serve for the decoration of the garden for one season. Such plants are Geraniums, Heliotropes, Verbenas, Lantanas, and a multitude of other flowering plants.”

Today verbenas continue to be an important summer flower for the garden.

The plant grower Proven Winners offers a hybrid variety of verbena called dark blue superbena. [below]

Proven Winners dark blue superbena variety of verbena.

Though today we may not include carpet bedding in the landscape because of its high maintenance, in Victorian times bedding always depended on a well-trimmed lawn.

Vick offered a bit of caution to his readers about the lawn. He wrote,”This style of gardening [bedding] is admissible only with grounds kept in elegant condition; otherwise it would be like jewels in a swine’s snout.”

Even though we do not cultivate carpet bedding, we can still enjoy the Victorian summer flower called the verbena.

 

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Exotic Plants Still Treasured

Exotic plants still treasured.

Exotic plants in our gardens have been a standard since seventeenth century plant collectors like John Tradescant the Elder and John Tradescant the Younger from England traveled the world in search of unusual plants.

In his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens David Stuart makes the case that such new plants introduced from other countries have changed the garden forever.

He calls the ‘golden age’ of gardening the time before exotics had burst in through the garden gate.

The reason they change the garden is what progeny may result from these new plants.

Stuart writes, “So many species have arrived in the garden that the genetic potential of the mix has hardly been taped. At any moment, a new plant discovery, or the development of a group of plants by an unknown gardener or nurseryman, may have the potential to transform our gardens all over again.”

A plant grower like Proven Winners travels the world for garden plants like new annuals and shrubs to introduce to the American gardener.

Sometimes  PW finds a new plant variety with a hobby gardener.  If PW sees potential in the plant, the company then tests the plant for several years before it becomes available on the market.

Thus a new plant finds a home in our gardens.

PW works with sixty breeders all over the world. Many are hobbyist breeders in England, France, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Korea, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, and America.

A breeder could be a garden hobbyist who might find a natural mutation or a hybrid in a greenhouse or in the garden.  PW then tests that plant.

The trialing process takes three years.  PW grows thousands of plants to test each year.

I remember when PW’s Euphoria ‘Diamond Frost’ first came on the market.  It won twenty-three  awards at that time. I grew it in my garden in a container and loved it. The tiny white flowers resemble ‘Baby’s Breath.’ 

Today PW offers another Euphorbia called ‘Diamond Delight’ which according to many gardeners is even better than ‘Diamond Frost.’ [below]

 

Euphorbia 'Diamond Delight' [Courtesy of Proven Winners]

The Euphorbia called ‘Diamond Delight’ [Courtesy of Proven Winners]

As in the nineteenth century when the plant business was booming for the middle class gardener, plant hunters still travel the globe to find new plants for the garden.

Today we still depend on exotics in the garden.

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Lawn Mower Became Essential Nineteenth Century Garden Tool

Lawn mower became essential nineteenth century garden tool.

The lawn continues to be important to many homeowners.

The ‘modern’ design of the English garden, as it was called in the early eighteenth century, included a lawn.

The house was to appear as if  “in a sea of green.”

The gardeners during this period used a scythe to cut the grass.  Eventually the lawn mower appeared on the market, first in England, then by 1850 in America.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) sold lawn mowers in his seed catalog.

Vick wrote in his company catalog of 1875, “Lawn mowers are now a necessity. As a general rule, we may say there can be no good lawn without this useful machine. Not one in ten thousand can use a scythe with sufficient skill to secure a good lawn.”

Buckeye Lawnmower ad 

Vick recommended a lawn mower called the “Charter Oak”. He said, “Its workmanship, and the principles upon which it is constructed, we are disposed to think it is one of the best, if not the best Lawn Mower ever introduced.”

In an ad the manufacturer wrote these words about the ‘Charter Oak’ mower, “The machine is light and easily operated, beautifully and mechanically made and finished, leaving no essential point overlooked; has a three blade solid revolving cutter, preventing any appearance of ribbing on the finest English grass lawn.”

By the end of the nineteenth century the Buckeye lawn mower appeared on the market. [left]

The illustration seems to say “It is so easy to use, even a child could mow the lawn.”

Whatever a homeowner used was not as important as the goal of keeping the lawn in the home landscape trimmed.

Thus the American home owner could boast of a lawn in the long tradition of the English garden.

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