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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Leaving My Garden after 33 Years

The last couple of weeks have provided me with all sorts of feelings.

We are selling our New England house after thirty-three years.

The land around our house, three quarers of an acre, has been my garden and has taught me so much.

I know people think the location is great. After all, we are only a block or so from the beach.

But it is the garden that I will miss.

The house, built in 1948, sits on a hill of New Hampshire ledge.

From the Beginning

Over many summers I would attack a different area, and create a special garden.

No surprise that today I have a white garden, a yellow garden, and a blue garden. Also, perennial beds and borders add wonderful color as well.

The plants I met along the way are too many to list. Some of them still enjoy a spot in the garden.

I must say that I learned gardening by doing. I saw that plants need soil, water, and sun in varying degrees to grow and prosper.

My back yard with my shed to the right.

No surprise that I lost many plants. That is how I learned.

Here is one of my favorite memories from the garden. Every summer the wrought iron table in the backyard would support a pot of ever flowering petunias. [below]

Petunias bloosom on this wrotught iron table in the backyard.

My garden was home to many treees, some decades old.

No surprise that in the fall if I would have leaves everywhere, including on the steps to the front door. [below]

Lately we have been sorting and packing.

Not easy, especially when it comes to anything related to the garden like garden tools.

My next garden adventure will be to create an outside patio of color at our shady condo. Gardening in containers will become my outside focus.

I take consolation in the thought that I have learned so much about gardening over these many years, but I have learned much about life as well.

No surprise that I met so many wonderful gardeners. I can truly see why people love gardening.

Local Newspaper Story

For a local story about this farewell to the garden, please check out the Seacoast Media story “Longtime garden writer Tom Mickey bids his garden goodbye.”

We come, we give, we live, we work, we enjoy, and we move on to the next advernture.

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Celia Thaxter’s Garden in Portsmouth

Nineteenth century poet and gardener Celia Thaxter (1835-1894) spent her summers on Appledore Island off the coast of New Hampshire.

There in the summer she planted a garden with heirloom Victorian flowers.

She records her garden experience in her wonderful book called An Island Garden. There are many colorful images of Celia and her garden including this one by Boston artist Childe Hassam. [Below]

For the past several years volunteers have worked on the island to create Celia’s garden.

They planted in the same spot where she gardened, following the plant list of fifty varieties from her book.

This summer was different.

The threat of the coronavirus made boat travel to the Island impossible.

So the same volunteers, with the support of the Shoals Marine Laboratory, built her garden at Prescott Park along the water in downtown Portsmouth. [Below]

Celia’s Garden at Prescott Park

You see three beds, each measuring 5′ by 15′ and planted with many of her flowers. The list includes cleomes, poppies, and zinnias.

It is a wonderful collection of annuals, biennials, and perennials. [Below]

Celia’s flowers,including a single dahlia at upper right corner

Rolling Green Nursery in nearby Greenland sells many of her flowers in a special collection under her name.

On the seacoast of New Hampshire everything related to Celia Thaxter is revered. Her garden at Prescott Park is no exception.

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Petunias Slowly Gained Garden Prominence

 I couldn’t believe it when I first heard from a worker at a garden center that the petunia was toxic.  To me the petunia looks just too beautiful to kill you.

That surprise was nothing compared to what I read in Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan’s magazine Gardener’s Monthly from 1868.

It took decades for the petunia to attain the status of a coveted flower in the garden.

Meehan devoted an entire article in that volume of GM to the petunia. The article began with the plant’s travel from Brazil to England, where it first appeared in 1823.

Then the author of the article W. P. from Detroit said, “For a long time after its first introduction, the Petunia was looked upon as almost worthless, and from the flimsy appearance of its flowers, was pronounced a ‘miserable weed’, but we must now abandon the word weed, for the Petunia has become a florists’ flower.”  

By 1868 flower-lovers everywhere treasured it.

A bit later the 1874 catalog of seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) from Rochester, NY listed eight varieties of petunias.

Vick wrote in the flower description: “The improvement of this flower has been constant.”

Even today.

A petunia variety from Proven Winners that I love is Supertunia® ‘Pretty Much Picasso.’

One summer I grew it in a container in my backyard on top of this wrought iron table [below]. 

Supertunia ‘Pretty Much Picasso’

The popular petunia began its journey to American gardens from England, as was the case with many flowers in American gardens in the nineteenth century.

Today the petunia is one of the top ten most popular summer annuals, according to the National Garden Bureau.

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Victorians Teasured Colorful Flowers

Victorians believed that colorful flowers needed to fill the garden all summer.

In his book The Garden in Victorian Literature Michael Waters writes, “The massing of plants in showy color schemes grew rapidly in popularity.”

Waters provides three reasons for those colorful Victorian gardens.

First, the influx of foreign plant materials during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Second, the hybridization of already available species, including dwarf varieties of older plants.

Third, the introduction of greenhouses, in which huge numbers of tender annuals could be raised for wholesale use.

Thus, Waters says, “Brillance of color became the top prerequisite of the mid-Victorian garden.”

Verbena

The list of plants every garden had to have included the verbena.

The verbena, a Victorian favorite, continues among the best sellers for the garden industry.

Today the plant grower Proven Winners constantly searches for ever newer varieties of plants.

PW has introduced a beautiful, new verbena called ‘Dark Blue’.

James Vick

The Rochester, New York seed merchant James Vick (1818-1882) mentioned the popular verbena in his garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in November 1881.

He wrote, “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.”

The Vick Company of course offered verbenas in its seed catalog. [below]

Vick won awards for his verbenas at State Fairs around the country including Michigan.

He wrote in 1880 in his garden magazine: “Among our garden flowers none is more valuable and more prized than the Verbena.”

The verbena was, however, only one of many annuals that offered colorful bloom in the Victorian flower garden whether for beds, borders, or containers.

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