After six years, my book America’s Romance with the English Garden (Ohio University Press) is now officially published.
My friend, publicist Lissa Warren in her book The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity says, “The pub date is the date your book makes its entry into the world. Think of it as its bar mitzvah, or debutante ball.”
She presents colorful imagery in the comparisons.
I must say that I am just happy that the book is out and available.
Thank you for supporting me during these years of researching and writing the book, a topic which I often covered in posts on this blog.
I intend to spend the next couple of days working in my garden. It’s a way of rewarding myself.
Today plant hunters still travel the world looking for plants that will find a home in American gardens.
The American grower Proven Winners tests plants from sixty breeders around the world. The company trials them and if they are worthwhile, the new plants become part of the palate for the American gardener.
The company introduces fifty new plants out of thousands that it tests every year.
Exotics were important to the nineteenth century English garden as much as they are to American gardens today.
English garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935) encouraged gardeners to cultivate exotics in the garden.
In his book The English Garden Edward Hyams wrote: “It was always implicit in the ideas of William Robinson that exotics would not only be introduced into the English landscape garden and woodland garden, but that they should become altogether at home there, even to the extent of naturalizing.”
Today as we garden, exotics can continue to play a role in the garden. Plants from outside the US have always found a home in our gardens.
In Germany Gary Grueber bred the popular Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ [above], first introduced in 2004. The flowers resemble ‘Baby’s Breath’. Proven Winners soon after sold it to American gardeners. Since then it has won over twenty-three awards.
Exotics, or plants from outside the US, continue to be important today.
American gardening reflects Robinson’s words of advice.
The alternanthera is grown for its leaves.
It was a popular plant in beds during the nineteenth century both in England and in America.
In the 1880 issue of Philadelphia seedsman Thomas Meehan’s Gardener’s Monthly M. Digram wrote an article called “The Alternanthera as a Lawn Plant.” He said, “A carpet-like effect may be producted with the Alternanthera on a smooth lawn in the following manner: cut strips or figures out of the turf of any shape determined on, from three to four inches deep, and in width of the ordinary mowing machine.”
Today the alternanthera comes in many varieties. It is a genus of approximately eighty herbaceous plant species in the Amaranth family.
Alternanthera ficoidia, or in its common name Joseph’s Coat, is native to Mexico and Brazil and is related to celosia and gomphrena. It thrives in full sun with fertile, loamy, well-drained soil. You grow the plant for its colorful leaves, not its flower. The plant lasts in the garden till frost.
Hybridizers cross plants to get a stronger, more desirable variety. That has happened with the Alternanthera.
Researchers at the Athens Select Trial Gardens in Georgia have evaluated hundreds of plants it receives every year from breeders around the world. Two of them are now the alternanthera varieties called ‘Red Threads’ and ‘Summer Flame’.
Allan Armitage, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia where the Trial Gardens are located, says, “Only the plants that prove to be outstanding performers under the South’s oppressively hot and humid conditions are selected. These alternanthera met and surpassed our quality standards.”
The 5-inch ‘Red Threads’ features beautiful, deep burgundy-colored foliage that’s almost grass-like with its narrow leaves. It forms a dense mound. ‘Summer Flame’ is also low growing, only 6 inches, buts its foliage appears broader and is multi-colored in pink, white and green tones.
American seed catalogs of the nineteenth century often listed the alternanthera. In the home landscape the plant appeared in beds, but also in containers.
What people like about this plant is that you can trim it to stay a height that you would like. The plant takes the cutting and still grows quite well. The new foliage looks great after shearing.
The alternanthera continues to be a popular plant in the garden.
A common theme in the marketing of the garden from the nineteenth century seed and nursery industries is that gardening in Europe, but particularly in England, surpassed American gardening.
New York seedsman Peter Henderson (1822-1890) often wrote about that difference.
Henderson admitted that American garden ingenuity outpaced that of England in some areas. He once saw in England twenty men, each using a spade to form a market garden. He admitted that in America the “plow and harrow will pulverize the soil better”, which is what any garden marketer on Long Island or New Jersey would have done.
But he also pointed out the backwardness of American gardening.
In the 1880 issue of Thomas Meehan’s Gardener’s Monthly Henderson wrote : “It must be admitted that in some phases of horticultural progress, we are yet far behind Europe, particularly in the ornamentation of our public grounds. We have nothing to compare with the Battersea Park, London; the Jardin des Plantes, of Paris; or the Phoenix Park, Dublin; and when comparison is made of the grounds surrounding the villas in the suburbs of these European cities, with our suburbs here, the comparison is, if possible, more against us, for there it is rare to see a neat cottage without a well-kept lawn, and good taste shown in the planting of its flower beds, its well trimmed fruit trees and neat vegetable grounds. Here as yet, we have hundreds of expensive mansions, particularly in the suburbs of New York, where the so-called garden surroundings tell all too plainly of the mushroom wealth of its shoddy owner.”
So America needed to look to Europe to improve its gardening.
In that same issue of GM Henderson wrote about “coarse taste” in gardening. He said, “We can excuse the wife of a day laborer planting her seeds of Morning Glorys or Lady’s Slipper in the potato or corn patch; but when the owner of a $10,000 cottage has the vulgarity to invade his flower beds with beets or tomatoes, he is carrying his utilitarian principles beyond the bounds of ordinary good taste.”
Sounds a bit like the homeowner recently who dug up his front lawn and planted vegetables. His neighbors were up in arms.
The standard to measure American gardening in most of the nineteenth century remained European, particularly English.
In the 1890s advertising took off in a new direction.
No longer did the company simply provide information about a product or service in an ad.
Ads appeared everywhere, including the streetcar.
The goal of course was to persuade the viewer to buy a product or service.
Nineteenth century Philadelphia seedsman W. Atlee Burpee believed advertising was necessary for any business to succeed. In his 1897 catalog he wrote, “Advertising is as necessary an annual expenditure as the payment of taxes or rent …. Intelligent buyers realize that a good thing is worth advertising, and thus, making more sales, instead of increasing, advertising actually reduces the cost of goods.”
Companies were on the lookout for any new method of advertising in order to reach that customer.
Today those who have something to sell also pursue any avenue to reach an audience.
Here is a one-minute video that illustrates the strategies of today’s advertisers: the future of advertising.
Historian Thomas Cochran in his book The Pabst Brewing Company about the origin of the largest brewery in late nineteenth century America gives some insight into how companies viewed advertising. He wrote: “Advertising managers were in a hard spot in all companies in the latter nineties. Advertising mediums and practices were growing at a rate that business executives could scarcely appreciate. Campaigns that appeared daring from the standpoint of a few years earlier might, in truth, be small scale, and behind the times.”
In the 1890s most seed companies and nurseries sought to build their business by the new forms of advertising.
Gardeners across America became their market. So it was no surprise that the same kind of garden appeared from California to Maine.
Today we take the sales catalog for granted.
In our house several arrive in the mail each month, selling everything from flour to clothes.
In the nineteenth century the American seed and nursery industries pioneered the use of the mail order catalog to reach customers across the country. It became their major form of advertising.
Truman A. DeWeese in his 1908 book The Principles of Practical Publicity wrote: “Mail order advertising is one of the marvelous developments of the modern art of Publicity. By means of this ‘salesmanship-on-paper’ many fortunes have been made and great mercantile establishments have been built up.”
Seed companies and nurseries took pride in presenting their yearly catalogs. Seedsman John Lewis Childs, in 1896, told his customers in his catalog, “One of the pleasures which the first of each year affords is the presentation of a copy of our new catalogue to each of our customers, and we do it believing that they find pleasure and profit in receiving it. It is no small task to supply half a million books like this, and it necessitates an enormous outlay of labor and money.”
There was great competition in the seed and nursery trade, each company attempting to appeal to customers in different ways [as illustrated in the image above]. Some included the biggest plant variety and another the best colorful plant illustration. All in hopes of winning over a customer.
As the century moved along, the seed and nursery catalog proved successful enough that other companies like Sears and Roebuck built their success on the catalogs issued from seed companies and nurseries.
John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) has been called the Father of the English Garden.
I think that is because in his writing he promoted the art of gardening among all classes of people, not just the wealthy.
In the first issue of his Gardener’s Magazine in 1826, he wrote: “We shall endeavor to promote a taste for the art [of gardening] among country labourers, and to draw the attention of every cottager who has a garden, to the profit and enjoyment which he may derive from its improved cultivation.”
Every gardener would benefit from reading the magazine and, hopefully, become an even better gardener.
That goal motivated Loudon as he wrote throughout his life.
Before that time, only the wealthy could enjoy gardening because they had the resources to employ gardeners who made the English landscape garden a reality for them.
Loudon argues it doe not matter how much money you have, you can still enjoy gardening.
Seems so essential for us today, but then learning about gardening was not open to every class of society.
Loudon once said that writing about the garden teaches more people about gardening than any garden itself could.
That’s another reason I like him.
One of the research activities I enjoy is scouring library archives for their treasures.
Recently I spent an afternoon in the Special Collections at Harvard’s Loeb Design School. There I came across the book The Gardens of England (1857) by artist E. Adveno Brooke.
The book was filled with page-length drawings of prominent English gardens from the first half of the nineteenth century.
The name William A. Nesfield (1793-1881) appeared as the landscape gardener for more than one of these gardens. He has been called “Victorian England’s most famous landscape gardener.”
Nesfied’s signature design element became carpet beds of flowers and colored foliage plants. He could weave such plants in a design as intricate as any carpet maker. Brooke displayed the colors of each property’s carpet bed in careful detail in the book’s drawings.
Carpet bedding became popular in America as well. Such beds often appeared on the cover of seed catalogs like Peter Henderson’s of 1886 [above].
Edward Hyams, however, in his book The English Garden had little tolerance for carpet beds.
Hyams wrote “The detail of Nesfield’s work was, in short, repulsive, and he was one of those responsible for that disagreeable kind of gardening known as ‘bedding out’.”
Nesfield’s style of carpet bedding, however, lasted much of the nineteenth century, and appeared in landscapes both in England and in America.
How we welcome the flowers of spring after that hard winter we suffered.
The California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, is a species of flowering plant in the family Papaveraceae, native to the United States and Mexico, and the official state flower of California.
It’s now blooming in California.
On December 12, 1890, the California State Floral Society voted to select a State Flower. The three nominees were Eschscholzia californica, the California poppy, Romneya coulteri, called giant poppy at the time, but now usually referred to as Matilija poppy, and Calochortus (no species indicated), the mariposa lily. The California poppy won by a landslide.
Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) included the California poppy in his seed catalog of 1873. The packet of seeds cost only 5 cents. Vick wrote, “A very showy class of hardy annuals, of different shades of yellow and creamy white.”
He listed the California poppy under ‘Annuals’. He wrote: “For our best and gayest flowers we are dependent mainly upon his Department, and to it we are especially indebted for a brilliant and constant show late in the season.”
That’s evidence that nineteenth century American seed merchants did sell native plants.
Here is a picture [above] from the yard of my sister-in-law’s house in California.
The California poppy shines as a native plant that still, after all these decades, brings out that feeling of freshness and new beginnings when you see its orange/yellow flower in the spring garden.
Advertising in nineteenth century America moved from simply product information to creating icons for the culture.
At least that’s want Mary Cross writes in her book A Century of American Icons.
Products became recognizable as brands, linked to a visual symbol that eventually became an American icon.
For example, the Quaker Oats figure sold oatmeal, but the figure became an American icon as well. A consumer did not just buy oatmeal, but Quaker Oats.
Advertising makes icons out of things it sells. The same happened in nineteenth century garden advertising.
The icon makes the product more desirable.
The garden catalogs sold a garden icon, a symbol of what the ideal garden would look like. People could visualize it with its lawn, shrubs, and flowerbeds because they had already seen it in garden advertising.[above]
That garden took on the look of the English garden.
By the end of the nineteenth century garden mass-produced catalogs, garden books, and garden magazines in unison wrote about and illustrated that same garden.
Thus Cross’ idea of advertising creating an icon might well apply as well to the garden.
What are the garden icons today? Where do they come from?