Can’t We Just Enjoy Gardening

Lately I have been reading about gardening in the nineteenth century.

By the 1870s the garden Industry witnessed more seed companies and nurseries spreading across the country.

Every homeowner wanted a landscape with a garden.

The seed houses and nurseries, however, had as their goal the ‘selling of the garden.’

They felt it was their job to sell the consumer ways to make money off the garden. Therefore they wrote about ways one could succeed in harvesting a crop, selling flowers, and joining an outside market to peddle your goods.

We are talking about gardening, and love of gardening, or are we?

Garden Writing

Cheryl Lyon-Jenness, author of For Shade and For Comfort, wrote an article called “Planting a Seed: The Nineteenth-Century Horticultural Boom in America.”

She points out the heavy commercializing of gardening in the nineteenth century.

Lyon-Jenness then adds that there was not a surge to profit from gardening from every voice, though.

In 1872 the Pomological Society of Michigan cautioned against the onrush in garden writing about the financial gain found in gardening .

The Society published an article called “Floriculture for the Million.”

It said, “It is time that some improvement should be taking place in our horticultural literature; we have, I think, enough books like some recently published: ‘Money in the Garden,’ ‘Gardening for Profit.’ ‘Practical Floriculture,’ teaching mainly how to grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers to sell.

“Let us have something like ‘The delight of Horticulture,’ ‘The moral use of flowers,’ and books of that character, and it will be the commencement of better times in horticulture.”

I never thought of it that way.

We don’t always have to make money from gardening, or see gardening in dollar signs.

Sometimes, can’t we just enjoy gardening?

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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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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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Sweet Pea Became Popular Annual for the Garden in Late Nineteenth Century

The sweet pea has long been a garden favorite.

We owe its popularity to the seed trade from the late nineteenth century.

James Vick (1818-1882), seed merchant from Rochester, New York, was reponsible for putting the sweet pea into the hands of many gardeners.

Peggy Cornett Newcomb wrote in her book Popular Annuals of Eastern North America 1865-1914, “James Vick took a special interest in sweet peas and kept abreast of all the new introductions from England.”

The seed merchants introduced newer varieties of many flowers. They made the sweet pea a popular choice for gardeners.

Cornett Newcomb said that Vick “was probably one of the first to introduce Blue Hybrid and Scarlet Invincible into the American trade.”

Sweet Pea Chromo

Vick included a beatiful choromolithograph of the sweet pea in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1882.

University of Rochester Special Collections librarian Karl Kabelac wrote an article called “Ninetheenth-Century Rochester Fruit and Flower Plates” in the University of Rochester Library Bulletin.

Kabelac writes about William Karle and Anton Rahn who owned a Rochester litographic company called Karle and Co. in the late 1880s.

In 1880 Karle and Co. provided a lithograph of the sweet pea for Vick’s seed catalog called Vick’s Floral Guide. [below]

The image remains to this day a splendid manifestation of the value and importance of the sweet pea.

Cornett Newcomb writes about sweet pea varieties of the time. She says, “Prominent annuals of the 1880s recognized by horticultural societies include the Eckford and Laxton Sweet Pea.”

In his book The Flower and Vegetable Garden (1875) Vick wrote, “The Flowering Peas are among the most useful and beautiful of all the hardy annuals.”

Victorians Loved the Sweet Pea

Horticulturist and garden historian Barbara Medera writes a wonderful garden history blog called Harvesting History, founded in 2016.

Barbara once gave a talk about Victorian gardening at the Boston and Flower Garden Show.

In the talk she said, “If there is a flower of the Victorian period, it would have to the sweet pea.”

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Never Enough about Benefits of Gardening

We gardeners love the benefits of gardening.

Many rewards come our way.

A customer, D. V. D. from San Francisco, once wrote to nineteenth century horticulturist James Vick (1818-1882) who owned a large seed company in Rochester, New York.

In 1878 Vick included the letter in his company magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

The California customer wrote these words to Mr. Vick,

“One must give care and companionship to plants and flowers to learn their grateful nature and feel their beneficent influences.”

A gardener gives but a bit, and receives treasures galore for mind and body.

Recent Article

The editors and writers at Happy DIY Home have just posted a new article called “The 25 Benefits of Gardening.”

Worth reading for great inspiration as you enjoy the fall garden.

That article put me on this kick to write about how much gardening does for us gardeners.

My New Form of Gardening

Now that we have sold our house, and I am confined to a condo deck of five containers filled with plants, I am feeling the treasures in gardening even more.

[Courtesy of Mommyuniversity.com]

In the letter the same San Francisco gardener said to Vick,

“Go into the garden weary, angry or disappointed, and relief comes without rest.”

The writer concluded with a word of encouragement for parents to teach their children about gardening.

He/she said, “To direct the inquiries of the young to this inner life of the garden is to strengthen their minds for loftier inquiries in the future.”

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Plants as Commodity

It wasn’t always the case that a plant had a certain dollar value.

Sometimes people planted what was available, what they loved, or what they could find.

There was no question about the cost of the plant.

Just because a plant is now for sale, however, does not mean it is worth growing.

Commercial Plant Business

In 1990 Julie S. Higginbotham wrote the article “Four Centuries of Planting and Progress” for the trade journal American Nurseryman.

She said, “America’s commercial nursery trade was born on Long Island, where the first major nursery was founded in 1737.”

Nursery Trade

Of course, the search for new plants to sell in the nursery began around that time as well.

Thank God we don’t have too many periods of tulip mania or dahlia mania as we did in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries respectively. There gardeners/investors lost fortunes in pursuit of the ‘must have’ plant.

One thing we do know about buying plants.

Noel Kingsbury says it so well in his book Hybrid: “New versions of familiar plants sell well.”

There is ample evidence from the lists of top selling plants for growers like Proven Winners.

Each year the same plants seem to make the list.

Maybe Kingsbury is on to something here.

Why is it that every year people buy plants like verbenas, geraniums, petunias, and begonias in such numbers?

It could be that gardeners know them and trust they will do fine in the garden.

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Victorian Gardener Listed Twelve Best Annuals

This is another list blog post.

I wrote recently about our fasciation with lists like the top five or the top ten.

Yesterday I came across a poem by a Victorian gardener, “L. O.” from Newburgh, New York.

The poem apeared in James Vick’s 1879 garden magazine, Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

The poet gardener presented the twelve best annuals.

Here are the opening lines:

“To those who love flowers, allow me to say,

“I talk of my pet in a familiar way.

“These twelve I will name – forgetting the rest –

“Because I do think they are some of the best.”

Then the twelve annuals he/she listed appeared in this order: pansy, dianthus, stock, phlox drummondii, petunia, balsam, sweet pea, portulaca, aster, alyssum, mignonette, and verbena.

And there you have it.

These Annuals Look Familiar

The poem illustrates how one Victorian judged the value of an annual in the garden.

What is amazing to me is how many of these annuals still remain popular choices for the garden.

Here is a chromolithograph of favorite Victorian flowers that appeared in Vick’s magazine. Recognize any of them?

Vick’s chromo [courtesy of Millicent W. Coggon]

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Poetry Inspired Nineteenth Century Gardens

What inspires a gardener can take many forms.

Often we depend on garden writers to tell us how the garden needs to look.

Nineteenth century poetry inspired two of the most famous English garden writers of that period, Shirley Hibberd and William Robinson.

Both of them despised the bedding system of plants which was popular at that time.

The garden fashion style called carpet bedding, which filled a design with colorful plants on the lawn, spread among gardeners everywhere.

Both Hibberd and Robinson found solice in the writings of Tennyson.

Michael Waters writes in his book The Garden in Victorian Literature that poetry and fiction provided gardeners with ideas on how the garden should look.

Waters says, “Two of the most prestigious and prolific garden writers, Shirley Hibberd and William Robinson, found in Tennyson’s poetry what they were looking for, and, more importantly perhaps, an absence of what they were not looking for.

“What they were not looking for was the poetic celebation of the bedding system.”

Robinson's book celebrates the value of perennials in the garden.

Robinson in his book The English Flower Garden recommends perennials over annuals in the garden.

He saw carpet beds as a waste of both money and labor.

By the end of the century there was a resurgence of interest in perennial beds and borders.

Robinson thus saw his work valued and inspiring to many gardeners, I am sure. They would take his advice about perennials.

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Dahlias and Me

We all love some flowers in the garden more than others.

That is the case with dahlias and me.

I love dahlias.

Here is ‘Creme de Casis’ which I grew this summer in a container along the driveway. [below]

Dahlia ‘Crème de Cassis’

It was the first time I planted this variety.

History of Dahlias

The dahlia first came from Mexico to Spain in the sixteenth century.

The Spanish priest, artist, and scientist Antonio Jose Cavanilles (1745-1808)  served on the staff of the Royal Botanic Garden in Madrid.

He drew illustrations of the dahlia in the late 1700s.

At about the same time the dahlia began to appear in England, France, Italy, and Germany.

From the early 1800s the dahlia had become a garden staple.

American gardeners enjoyed their first dahlias by the 1830s.

Even though it went through both periods of intense desire for the latest variety as well as disgust in just hearing its name, the dahlia is still around today.

Perfect Late Summer Flower

What I like most about this flower, besides its shape and endless variety of colors, is that it blooms in late summer until almost Thanksgiving here in the Northeast.

They begin in early August and continue til November.

James Vick on Dahlias

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1814-1882) grew hundreds of dahlias in his display gardens.

You would have found his field of dahlias about five miles north of the Rochester city limits.  [below]

Vick’s Seed House and Mill at his trial farm, located north of Rochester, New York. History of Monroe County, New York, 1877

Once the editor of the Illustrated Christian Weekly visited Vick’s dahlia field and wrote an article about his visit.

The editor’s article appeared in Vick’s Illustrated Monthly  of September 1879.

He wrote, “Mr. James Vick, of Rochester, N. Y., was the pioneer in the systematic growing of flower seeds, and without doubt the most extensive grower in America.”

That was quite the praise for Mr. Vick at a time when the seed and nursery business was growing around the country.

Then the editor raved about the blooms of the many dahlias he saw in the rows devoted to this flower at Vick’s seed farm.

He said, “Perhaps the largest field devoted entirely to one kind of flowers, at the time of our visit, was one filled with Dahlias, and containing six or more acres. It was supposed to include every variety known of real merit, and the display was gorgeous.”

What a sight that must have been – to see six acres of nothing but dahlias.

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Nasturtium – Popular Flower for Centuries

Every year I grow nasturtiums.

They are an easy flower to grow from seed. Just press the seed into the soil.

I had no idea that it had been a popular garden flower for hundreds of years. Over that time we have records of its presence in gardens.

In his book A Natural History of English Gardening 1650-1800 Mark Laird mentions the nasturtium.

He says in a particular flower garden “There were six pots of nasturtium [Tropaeolum] in 1691 on display as a florist’s flower.” A florist was someone who cultivated flowers to sell them later in the market.

These nasturtiums were in the ‘West Walk’, near the kitchen garden.

Dutch and Flemish Gardens

The Dutch and Flemish had introduced plants to England during this period.

Edward Hyams in his book English Cottage Gardens writes, “Dutch and Flemish horticulture was strongly felt [in the Middle Ages]; between 1550 and 1650 it added new vegetables to the English garden flora, as well as new flowers.”

Among the flowers was the nasturtium, which had come to Europe from Peru.

Laird says, “Double nasturtiums [Tropaeolum majus] came to England from Netherlands post 1686 from Peru.”

So indeed the nasturtium has flourished in our gardens for a long time.

Today we still grow them.

Renee’s Seeds in California offers sixteen varieties.

One of them ‘Buttercream’ is a favorite.

Here it is growing in a container outside my front door.

Nasturtium ‘Buttercream’

You can easily grow nasturiums in pots, borders, and under shrubs.

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