Victorian Gardeners Loved Lily Auratum

Victorian gardeners loved lily auratum.

Recently I have been reading about lilies and the frenzy they created in the late nineteenth century, both in England and in America.  Everyone wanted lilies.

Among the popular lilies appeared the plant called lily auratum.

The nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick praised this lily in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.  In 1880 he wrote, “All of our readers have heard about the celebrated Auratum Lily, and it has no doubt been seen by nearly all.”

Then he spoke of its origin.

He wrote, “The lily is a native of Japan and abounds in the mountains, where the bulbs are gathered and shipped to this country in large quantities.”

Nicolette Scourse says in her book The Victorians and their Flowers that the English plant hunter Robert Fortune brought this lily from Japan in 1860 or 1861.

In Restoring American Gardens Denise Wiles Adams claims that the Parsons plant catalog from New York first listed it in 1861.

I went in search to see where this lily might be available today.

I found it in the catalog from White Flower Farm. [below]

The plant’s dotted white flower with yellow lines is as beautiful as Vick wrote about it in the nineteenth century.

Lily auratum var. platyphyllum from White Flower Farm

Lily auratum var. platyphyllum from White Flower Farm

Vick loved the flowers on this plant. He said, “We have received many reports from our readers of plants that have given from ten to thirty blossoms each year for several years.”

Today nurseries still sell this plant, originating in the nineteenth century, thanks to an English plant collector who traveled to Japan to find plants for the English garden.

The Elliott Seed Company catalog of 1891 included this illustration of a child standing next to a lily. [below] Though perhaps not the auratum, the image reveals the importance of the lily to gardeners.

The six-foot lily auratum gave off a strong vanilla fragrance. One of Vick’s customers wrote him and said, “It filled the air with its sweetness.”

Elliott Seed Catalog of 1891

Elliott Seed Catalog of 1891

Based on the frequent mention that Vick gave this lily in his magazine, it remained popular for Victorian gardens for decades.

A reader once wrote Vick, “I hope your customers will try an Auratum.”



Victorian Middle Class Wanted the Lawn Mower

Victorian middle class wanted the lawn mower.

From the beginning of the eighteenth century the lawn has assumed an important role in the English garden.

Lancelot Capability Brown, the English gardener to the King in the mid 1700s, created many a lawn on the properties that he was contracted to design in the new modern landscape style.

Since the garden of the wealthy had a team of gardeners to cut the grass, the lawn mower did not appear until mid nineteenth century.

The lawn mower came about because the middle class homeowner couldn’t afford the staff of gardeners.  He wanted an easier way to cut the grass.

Mark Laird in his book The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds 1720-1800 writes, “Not until gardening became the leisure occupation of many new middle-class town dwellers did the mechanization of mowers begin.”

Buckeye Lawnmower ad [Pinterest]

Buckeye Lawnmower ad [Pinterest]

The lawn mower in England appeared in 1830, and in America a few years later, 1850. Here is an ad for the Buckeye Lawn Mower from Springfield, Massachusetts that appeared in garden catalogs in the 1890s. [above]

With a mower the middle class could enjoy a lawn just like the wealthy, upper class had been doing for decades.

A lawn thus reflected social class. With a lawn the middle class could identify with the more wealthy estate owner, because now they both had a lawn to maintain.




19th Century Garden Catalog Was Advertising

19th Century Garden Catalog Was Advertising

The seed and nursery catalog covers from the nineteenth century appealed to so many people because they offered a sense of color, design, and feel for that period.  Even today we love their look.

They are also ads.

The nineteenth century American style of landscape followed the English model not only in newspapers but in magazines, and, of course, the garden catalog, as New York seedsman Peter Henderson did on this 1897 seed catalog cover. [below]

Anthropologist Grant McCracken in an article about advertising in the Journal of Consumer Research says, “Cultures segment the flora, fauna, and landscape of natural and supernatural worlds into categories.”

Advertising in a culture defines class, gender, and fashion, including gardening.

So in the nineteenth century American seed and nursery businesses said the English garden style, sometimes picturesque, sometimes naturalistic, sometimes gardenesque. was the preferable form for the gardener.

McCracken says, “Advertising works as a potential method of meaning transfer by bringing the consumer good [like a plant or seed] and representation of the culturally constituted world together within the frame of a particular advertisement.”

Since the catalog from the seed and nursery industries was often called an advertisement, we can certainly refer to the cover as such, since the colorful illustrations were so carefully chosen by the company owner to give a particular message.

In this Henderson catalog it is the English garden style that he represented, especially in the lawn.

Think how advertising works.  We never just buy a product, like a plant or seed, we buy the dream in the image connected with the product. How the flower might look, how the garden might turn out. 

In Henderson’s cover home owners could envision a lush and green lawn like the one illustrated on the cover.

The cover sold the English garden with its lawn.


Men and Women of the Cloth Love the Garden

History shows us that men and women of the cloth love the garden.

From the middle ages cloistered nuns and monks, behind garden walls, taught us the importance of herbs for medicine and the kitchen.

Later in England clergymen played an important role in the history of the English garden. They may have introduced new plants, grew special plant varieties, collected plants from around the world, and perhaps exhibited plants at local flower shows.

In his magazine Gardener’s Monthly Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan in 1866 included a letter from a clergyman who lived in Adrian, Michigan. The letter addressed his fellow ministers.

The clergyman wrote: “First get Buist and Breck, take the Monthly, buy a select list of seeds and plants, and go to work. You have preached patience, practice it now.”
He recommended his fellow clergymen seek out both a Breck and a Buist seed catalog, order some seeds, and start gardening.
Catalog from the Joseph Breck Seed Company which began in Boston in 1818.]

Catalog from the Joseph Breck Seed Company

The Joseph Breck Seed Company opened in 1818 Boston. A few years later Robert Buist started his seed company in Philadelphia.  Both were well-established American garden businesses by 1866.

To this day we spread the word about gardening to our family and friends. The seed companies and nurseries that help us are the ones we recommend.

Thus the cycle continues. Our friends, in turn, recommend the same companies.

Mass marketed gardening emerged for the first time when nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries  introduced the mail order catalog as a means to connect with gardeners whether in the city, the suburbs, or on the farm.

Since all advertising, and the catalog was first and foremost an ad, sells cultural values, in the process the seed and plant merchants sold a certain style of gardening which was the English garden, especially the lawn.

When the Michigan preacher recommended the Breck and Buist company catalogs and Meehan’s magazine Gardener’s Monthly, he too promoted the English style of gardening.


Flowers Fascinated Victorian Women

In the nineteenth century growing flowers meant much more than a hobby, especially for women.

Victorian women grew flowers because it was the moral thing to do. Growing flowers, in fact, became itself a lesson in morality.

Nicolette Scourse in her book The Victorians and their Flowers says, “The Victorians inherited a tradition of flower morality originating from the Book of Genesis.”

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  often wrote that the first garden was that of Adam and Even, the Garden of Paradise. Vick saw it as his job to spread floriculture, or the love of flowers, across the country, a kind of return to the first garden.

Flowers in 1887 catalog of the Parker & Wood Seed Company, Boston

Flowers in 1887 catalog of the Parker & Wood Seed Company [Mass Hort]

Scourse writes, “The presence of weeds and other difficulties of cultivation were directly attributed to Man’s disobedience rather than any natural cause favoring weed dispersal.”

John Lindley (1799-1865), famed horticulturist and a member of the Royal Horticultural Society at age 23,  once said “The love of flowers is a holy feeling, inseparable from our very nature.”

The chromolithograph [above] from the Parker and Wood seed catalog of 1887 illustrated twenty-five varieties of flowers that gardeners could grow from the company’s seeds.  As the illustration mentioned at the bottom in the words “Painted from Nature,” it reflects the importance of flowers for the middle class Victorian gardener.

At the same time as flowers provided a lesson in morality, flowers also opened the doors of science to many, including women. People could study a flower and learn about its reproductive habits.

Flowers provided lessons in biology, giving many Victorians a first hand look at how science could enable a more learned society.

In 1844 English gardener Louisa Johnson wrote the book Every lady her own flower gardener as kind of a plea for women to discover themselves in the world of flowers. And, of course, it was not long before people began to write about ‘the language of flowers.’

And to think it all rested on the humble flower.


Victorian Vase Appeared in 1888 Lawn Mower Ad

During the late nineteenth century Victorian period in America, the vase played an important role in the garden. The container had to be large and positioned on a stand so people would be able to see it.

Its plants included tropicals such as banana or canna. People also loved such plants because they were exotic.

Recently, while paging through the Parker and Wood seed catalog of 1888, I came across an advertisement for a lawn mower. Here is the illustration in the ad.  [below]

The Parker and Wood Seed Company became the New England Agents for Blair Manufacturing in Springfield, Mass. which made lawn mowers.

Parker & Wood Catalog 1881 "Seeds and Agricultural Impletments"

Parker & Wood Catalog 1888 [Courtesy of Mass Hort]

In the vase notice the large leaves on what is probably a tropical plant.

You can’t miss them.

Of course, the military figure cutting the grass also caught my attention. Why is he wearing what appears to be some sort of military uniform?

But it is the lawn mower that the ad intended to sell. The ad detailed the features of the lawn mower: “will cut narrow borders and will perfectly cut low terraces. Runs perfectly silent; easily operated.”

This was a time when suburban homes took pride in an English lawn.  A machine to keep the lawn trim certainly found an audience among the gardeners who read this catalog.

Such advertising became national since people around the country wanted a lawn mover. In 1906 Truman A. DeWeese wrote The Principles of Practical Publicity, an early volume on the success of advertising. He said, “”The manufacturer now creates a demand for the goods through advertising.”

The ad in its own quiet way also sold Victorian values, like the showy garden vase.



1890s Lawn Seed Ad Linked to Public Garden

By the 1890s modern advertising sought to motivate the buyer by an emotional appeal.

Recently I spent an afternoon examining nineteenth century seed catalogs at the library of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

A grass seed ad in a catalog from 1889 caught my attention.

The Parker and Wood Seed Company in Boston used the Public Garden which borders the Boston Common as an illustration to sell its grass seed. Created in 1837, the Public Garden was the first public botanical garden in America. From the begnning decorative and flowery, it featured meandering pathways for strolling. Today its famous duck boats bring tourists to its lagoon in the summer.

Both the Public Garden and the Boston Common, begun in 1634, extend for several city blocks.  Recently I drove by at night to see their Christmas lights. Quite impressive.

an ad for grass seed in Park & Wood Catalog 1889

An ad for grass seed in this 1889 Park & Wood Catalog featured Boston’s Public Garden.

By late  nineteenth century the lawn had become an important part of the home landscape.

This advertising told the reader that if the grass seed was good enough for Boston’s Public Garden, it certainly would be fine in your home landscape as well.

An appeal in this case to sell something by associating it with something or someone that people treasure is what we still do today in marketing, advertising, and public relations.

By the late nineteenth century advertising meant not simply giving information about a product, but motivating a buyer to choose a particular product.  In this ad the Company referred to its particular variety of grass seed  called ‘Boston Lawn Seed.’  You can see the product name in the lower right corner of the ad. [above]

Connecting the grass seed with this established public green space was an example of that kind of modern advertising.

By linking the lawn seed to the Public Garden, for people across the country this nineteenth century ad also sold the importance of the lawn in the landscape.



Nineteenth Century Garden Catalogs Sold Vases

The garden vase played an important role in the late nineteenth century Victorian garden.

Nurseries and seed companies, like Rochester’s James Vick, sold such garden ornaments along with their plants and seeds.  Illustrations of the garden vase appeared among the ads in the back of the catalog

Sometimes the same manufacturer supplied seed companies and nurseries with its products, including such vases.

An advertisement in Vick's Floral Guide 1880

An advertisement in Vick’s Floral Guide 1880

Therese O’Malley writes in her book Keywords in American Landscape Design, “The term vase typically referred to a free-standing, symmetrical vessel having a wider mouth than foot…In the context of the designed landscape, treatise writers often strongly recommended that the vase be placed on top of a pedestal or plinth so that it would be easily visible.”

Vick’s catalog of 1880 called Vick’s Floral Guide included an advertisement for an outdoor garden vase. [above]. The vase dimensions were 18″ in diameter with 25″ in height.

The vase resembles O’Malley’s description of such an ornament for the nineteenth century garden.

The ad from Vick’s catalog referred to the vase as a “Highland Garden Stone Vase.”  The manufacturer, as listed in Vick’s ad, was Joseph Willett from Boston.

The Parker and Wood Seed Company, also in Boston, included a similar ad in its catalog of 1886. [below] The words at the top of the ad read “Highland Stone Vases”.

Notice the “No. 16” vase  at the top left is identical to Vick’s vase in his ad, where it is also referred to as “No 16.” The vase number was probably the manufacturer Willett’s number.

Back cover of W&V, circa 1880

Back cover of the Parker and Wood Seed Company catalog of 1886

The Parker and Wood Company ad did not mention the Willett Company as the manufacturer.  However, it included the recommendation of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association at the top of the ad with the words “Commended for smoothness of finish and uniformity of color.”

Each of these two seed companies sold the same urn, at the same price,  to help gardeners keep up with the garden fashion of the time, a garden vase on the lawn.


Victorian Gardens Required Coleus

You already know that the leaves of the coleus give color and form to any bed or container. 

According to Allison Kyle Leopold’s The Victorian Garden, the coleus, native to Africa, was introduced to the United States during the second half of the 19th century.

Victorian gardens, both in England and America, required the coleus.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan’s magazine Gardener’s Monthly said in 1861: “Coleus Blumei mixed or edged with Perilla Nankinensis will make a fine bed, the latter if used for edging should be frequently stopped or pegged down, and not allowed to bloom.”

Burpee catalog of 1893

A chromolithograph of the coleus from the Burpee Seed Company catalog of 1893

Eventually more mention of the coleus and its varieties appeared in the garden catalogs.

The James Vick Seed Company catalog of the 1870s does not list the coleus among the plant offerings, but in the company magazine of 1887, after the elder Vick’s death, a column appears about how to propagate the coleus. The writer said, “My practice is to grow fine healthy plants this summer, and in August or September, before frost, take cuttings for my winter stock.”

The Dingee and Conard catalog of 1892 offered a series of coleus plants called Success Coleus. “Everybody admires gorgeous summer bedding coleus, and every flower grower wants a bed, border, or edging of them. In fact, they are indispensable for bright bedding effects. We offer for the first time a special selection of coleus seed that will produce vigorous and fine plants, showing the most perfect markings and colors, in a short season.”

Leopold writes that the two major gardening sites, beds and borders, helped define the color and shape of Victorian gardens.

The coleus played no small role among the plant choices to fill that bed or border both in English and American gardens.


Advertising Builds Loyalty

Coca-Cola, born in Atlanta at the end of the nineteenth century, owes a great deal of its success as a soda to the power of advertising.

In 1985 the company, then called Coke, changed the soda’s formula for the first time in 50 years.

The current newsletter from the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History at Duke University said, “Consumers boycotted the new product and called Coke’s hotline to complain.”

Coke listened. The company reintroduced the old formula as Coca-Cola Classic, just 75 days after the launch of the New Coke.

Advertising builds loyalty.

A parallel case took place in the nineteenth century American seed business.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) enjoyed a following of loyal customers across the country.

To them, he was their “Mr. Vick” who provided garden advice and, of course, seeds. For them he became the voice of the Vick Seed Company.

He sought to instill in his customers a love of flowers or, as he wrote, “a love of floriculture.”

Vick chromo of 1873

Vick chromolithograph  sold in his seed catalog of 1873

He persevered with that goal throughout the years of his leadership of the company.

In his seed catalog Vick wrote in the section called “Flora Decorations” the following words, “For many years we have endeavored to teach the people to love flowers, and how to gratify this new-born love.”

He wanted his readers to enjoy flowers but also to decorate both home and garden with flowers. He said, “Believing we could do no better service to our readers than to show them how to make home tasteful and pleasant.”

Through his consistent message about flowers customers remained faithful to Vick and his company. Even his chromolithographs that he offered for sale illustrated that theme. [above]

He advertised widely in newspapers and magazines around the country.

Advertising for Vick also came in the form of the regular seed catalog as well as his garden magazine, Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

Advertising builds loyalty.