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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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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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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Nineteenth Century Garden Writers Encouraged Vegetables

Nineteenth century garden writers encouraged vegetables.

Garden writers influence consumers.

Readers look to such sources to learn what to plant, what tools to buy, and what’s popular garden fashion.

The garden world enjoys it own share of garden media celebrities on whose every word eager fans depend.

So it is no surprise that in the nineteenth century historians note that at one point garden writers focused on growing vegetables rather than cultivating a flower garden.

Perhaps the emphasis on vegetable growing may have been related to the simple need to survive.  Vegetable growing and farming consumed the early decades of the country. Once we had food on the table, we could worry about a flower garden.

In his book The Victorian Garden Tom Carter writes, “Until the middle of the century gardening writers dismissed flowers in favour of useful vegetable products.”

In the 1860s and 1870s seed company owners like Rochester, New York’s James Vick still featured growing vegetables.

Here in an illustration from Vick’s catalog. Vegetables almost surround the house. [below]

Vick wrote much about flowers and spreading the love of floriculture around the country.

One customer wrote to Vick, “No other florist has done so much to create a love of flowers.”

In 1874 he wrote in his seed catalog that gardeners could have almost as much fun in growing vegetables as in cultivating flowers.

In the catalog Vick wrote, “There is almost as much pleasure in growing a choice vegetable well, in bringing it to the highest possible state of perfection, as there is in producing a beautiful flower.”

Then Vick mentioned the lowly cauliflower, pictured in the left of the illustration. [above]

He wrote, “Indeed, some think with Dr. Johnson, that a Cauliflower is the handsomest flower that grows.”

Vick’s advice became important to his customers, so I am sure they followed his guidance even in growing vegetables.

 

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Garden Company Name Influences Customers

The garden company name influences customers in choosing products.

The public relations journal called Public Relations Tactics arrives on my desk every month.

This journal provides articles on what’s new and current in public relations practice.

A recent article called “Understanding Brands and Influencer Relations” caught my attention.

Since the Public Relations Society of America publishes this journal, I generally feel confident about the quality of its articles.

The word ‘influencer’ in the title made me curious. 

Influencers happen to be individuals who can persuade others, like their readers if the person were a journalist or blogger, to notice and perhaps choose a certain brand of a product.

The author Heather Sliwinski says, “Think of bloggers, and other social influencers, as brand ambassadors.”

My thoughts, of course, went back to the nineteenth century garden industry. Were there influencers back then?

Seed company owners like W. Atlee Burpee, Peter Henderson, John Childs, and James Vick became brand ambassadors for the nineteenth century garden industry.

Their audience was the middle class woman who loved gardening.

If Vick or Henderson said or wrote something, it was common for consumers to take notice.

Henderson placed this ad in Harper’s magazine. [below]

Peter Henderson Seed Company ad in Harper's

Peter Henderson Seed Company ad in Harper’s magazine

You see illustrated the ideal customer: a middle class woman who liked gardening, and was in the search of the newest. Here Henderson wrote in the ad, “Sensational Flower Seed Novelty.”  A new variety of hollyhocks was available for this gardener.

A nineteenth century seedsman, like Vick, sometimes approached a newspaper editor, also an influencer, with press material to promote Vick’s seed company.  If a story ran, Vick would send the editor packets of seeds in gratitude.

Like today, the influencer has a following. That’s how he or she received that name.

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Nineteenth Century Targeted Garden Advertising

Nineteenth century targeted garden advertising.

Public relations and advertising professionals often need an index of available promotional sources. Such an index would include information like the circulation numbers of a media outlet.

They need to know, for example, how many people receive a particular magazine.

Since the late 19th century, advertising companies have put out directories of media available for a business considering placing an ad.

Such directories gave advertising more precision in reaching its audience.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) researched such directories for his own garden advertising.

Thus he showed an awareness of the latest in advertising as a science, as they called it then.

Vick wrote in his garden magazine of 1881 Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “There are over ten thousand different publications in America, and with all those we have more or less correspondence during the year. In this  work we are much aided by the excellent publications of the leading advertising agents, such as Geo. P. Rowell & Co., of New York, and N. W. Ayer & Son, of Philadelphia [the first US advertising firm].”

Vick continues, ” These books not only give the names, location, and character of the newspapers, magazines, etc., but, in most cases, the circulation.”

This magazine ad [below] appeared in American Agriculturist, a popular journal whose audience was middle to upper class homeowners who would buy a mower for that perfect lawn.

An ad in the magazine American Agriculruist May 1888

An ad in the magazine American Agriculturist May 1888

So nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries needed to know what publications their consumers read.

Then through a particular publication they could target its audience.

Ever since moden advertising, born in the nineteenth century, has used what we now call media directories like Cision to appeal to their consumers.

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Garden Advertising Sometimes Exaggerates

Garden Advertising Sometimes Exaggerates

Advertising in America as an industry began with the N. W. Ayer & Son Company in Philadelphia in 1867.

From that point on advertisers through the media of the day sought to persuade a consumer to buy a particular brand of a product.

Lydia Pinkham was among the first to use such advertising to market her patent medicine, a remedy for female complaints. She combined vegetable compound laced with nineteen per cent alcohol to make up her medicinal beverage.

The garden industry of course through the seed companies and nurseries did not shy away from ads to promote their wares as well.

You would think that today, one hundred fifty years later, we are smart enough to reject false claims in advertising.

Not true.

Sometimes, even today, garden advertising exaggerates what the company promises.

A ‘garden in a box’ seems to imply you simply plant something like the company’s seed strips and wallah, you have a garden.

Mike Lizotte from American Meadows said, “We’ve all seen the ‘meadow in a can’ seed products at our

Wildflower mix from Aerican Meadows

Wildflower mix from American Meadows

favorite big box store. Don’t be fooled by the nice packaging.”

There is always something left out in advertising in order that the ad can make its point.

In the ‘garden in a box’ that something happens to be the work it takes to maintain a garden, and see it through to its flowering.

Also, the product may be inferior. There may be fewer seeds than promised.

Garden advertising is really like any advertising. The buyer has to be aware of the kind of promises made by the seller.

Adrian Higgins, garden writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote an article entitled “Growing wild – by design.”

He said, “A few years ago, there was the notion that meadows were so eager to sprout that

American Meadows

American Meadows

you could buy a can full of wildflower seed, sprinkle the contents on a piece of cleared land and you would have a floriferous meadow in perpetuity. But there is no meadow genie in the can.”

Though we need to proceed cautiously with ads, advertising for the garden at the same time it tries to sell something also informs the consumer about new products.

Nineteenth century New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) recognized that part of advertising.

Vick wrote in 1880 in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly “Those desiring reliable information upon horticultural subjects will find much that is valuable in these [advertising] pages.”

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Victorian Seedsman Encouraged Advertising

Victorian seedsman encouraged advertising.

New York seedsman Peter Henderson (1822-1890) wrote several popular garden books in the late nineteenth century.

He also believed in the power of advertising for his company.

In 1884 Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan included in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly a speech that Henderson had given that year at the Chicago Convention of Nurserymen.  He quotes Henderson as saying, “Advertising is rapidly becoming a fine art, and the more it advances as a fine art, the more advertising will be done and the more profit will result from it.”

As a business, the seed industry had its share of competition.  The amount of advertising sometimes distinguished one company from another.

Henderson catalog 1885

For example, this chromolithograph cover [above] from Henderson’s seed catalog of 1885 promoted the company as modern and progressive, but still classic. The company promised to fill every need a gardener may have.

Meehan wrote the following in another issue of his magazine from that same year, “Perhaps in no other country is the press so liberally patronized by seedsmen, florists, and nurserymen as in the United States. In their advertising seasons, which cover most of the months of the year, we can rarely pick up a periodical that does not contain some of their advertisements.”

Henderson was not alone among his Brothers of the Spade, fellow garden merchants.  He believed in advertising for any modern business to succeed, including the garden industry.

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Nineteenth Century Ads Included Factory Images

Nineteenth Century Ads Included Factory Images

Recently I traveled to the Boston Athenaeum to see a new Exhibit they had promoted.

The exhibit, called Collecting for the Boston Athenaeum in the 21st Century, included prints and photographs.

Without doubt this was one of my favorite exhibits because it included chromolithographs of factories from the nineteenth century. Then it was a common practice, especially after 1850, for companies to promote their business with an illustration of their factory or headquarters.  These illustrations would appear in trolleys, stores, and on buildings.

My favorite was the 1891 chromo of the Boston Belting Co. [below]

Boston Rubber Company 1890 [Boston Aethaneum]

Boston Rubber Company 1890 [Boston Athenaeum]

The nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries scattered across the country followed suit.

They wanted customers to know they were dealing with a substantial company and so a chromo of their warehouse and seed company, even their box company, was not uncommon.

Here is a chomolithograph of the D. M. Ferry Seed Co in Detroit from 1897. [below] Notice the size of the buildings.

Ferry Buildings 1887 small

D. M. Ferry and Son Company, 1897 [Courtesy Cornell University]

At the same time the chromo of the company’s factory and  warehouse formed a bit of advertising.

The customer thought, of course, that such a big company must have a worthwhile product to sell.

Why would he or she not order seeds from such an establishment as Ferry?  After all, the company could afford this factory and warehouse.

A new exhibition called Art on Tap at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend, Wisconsin includes this poster made from an early chromolithograph by the Miller Brewing Company. [Below]

Even the nineteenth century beer giants advertised with images of their factories.

Miller Brewing Co. Factory Scene, self-framed lithograph on tin, The H.D. Beach Co., 1905, From the collection of Robert and Debra Markiewicz

Miller Brewing Co. Factory Scene, self-framed lithograph on tin, the H.D. Beach Co., 1905. From the collection of Robert and Debra Markiewicz.

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Media Still Influence Gardeners

Media still influence gardeners.

Ever since the late 1880s the media have been the greatest source of influence for gardeners.

By that time cheap paper and improved printing had made garden catalogs available in the millions. People across the country saw advertising for Quaker Oats, Ivory, and of course, Burpee’s seeds.

You probably heard the story about Martha Stewart’s hydrangea article which she wrote a while back for her magazine. The article featured stunning colored photos.

The day after the article appeared garden centers around the country sold out of hydrangeas.  People wanted the plant they saw in the media, i.e. her magazine.

Now you can find online seven influencers for gardeners.

right relevanceThe company behind the listing is Right Relevance.  It bills itself as the “quickest and simplest way to search and discover highly relevant deep topical content.”

Its goal is to “mine the social web to identify and rank topical influencers.”

Right Relevance trusts ‘influencer’ communities and searches for the most relevant online articles and conversations, the new media.

Those who influence gardeners today include Michael Pollan and Danielle Nierenberg. Among the influential organizations number the RHS and the National Trust.

The group of seven, according to Right Relevance, exhibit a considerable amount of influence on gardeners. They write about the current issues important to gardeners like growing your own food and taking care of the land.

For decades we have known that the media influence certain people, who in turn influence others to subscribe to new ideas, products and services they learn about in media.

Thus it is crucial to know who are the people who influence others so we can communicate with them about our product or idea.

This is an important way to understand how marketing and public relations operate in our society. This way of thinking about influencers is based on the theory called the two-step flow, as developed in the 1940s by sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld.

In gardening Right Relevance has simply taken the time to point out who are the opinion leaders in gardening. They influence gardeners through media like books and online writing.

To this day it is still the media that influence how we garden.

In 1891, at the start of media’s broad influence on us, the John Lewis Childs Company from Floral Park, New York provided this seed catalog cover, illustrating flowers the company called “New, Rare, and Beautiful.” Childs wanted to appeal to influencers of the day. [below

Who, after all,  wouldn’t want to grow these new plants?

Childs 1891 cover

 

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