Flower Gardening Began Mid Nineteenth Century

Flower gardening began mid nineteenth century

Just finished reading the book Handy Book of the Flower-Garden by English horticulturist David Thomson, editor of The Gardener journal.

Thomson wrote the book in 1876.

He makes the argument that flower gardening as we know it did not become popular until after 1850.

Thomson says, ” [In the early 1800s] flower gardens had then seldom a separate locality devoted to them and then they had that advantage, they were generally of unshapely figures cut out in turf, and arranged, as the designers fondly but erroneously imagined, after the principle of English gardening as inculcated by Wheatley and Uvedale Price.

“These figures were mostly filled with a miscellaneous assortment of shrubs and herbaceous plants, many of which possessed only botanical interest. The California annuals were then undiscovered in the Far West, and all the fine recent introductions were unknown and unthought of.”

He argued that new plants were just coming into the country in the first half of the nineteenth century. That was the grand time of the plant hunter who traveled the world in search of plant varieties suitable for a flower garden.

That was also the case in America.

It was only by mid-century that people had the leisure time to cultivate a flower garden.

Plants that arrived in England from Asia, Africa, and South America eventually came to America.

It was then too that the seed merchants began to send out catalogs to lure the homeowner into cultivating a flower garden.

By the end of the nineteenth century seed companies like W. W. Rawson in Boston were sending out yearly catalogs with stunning illustrations of their latest flower for the garden. [below]

W. W. Rawson’s catalog of 1897 with carpet bed on the lawn

By then flower gardening, whether in carpet beds or borders, had all sorts of requirements to be called a flower garden. Flower gardens had arrived.

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Nineteenth Century Petunia Continues Its Popularity

Nineteenth century petunia continues its popularity

The petunia, first brought from Argentina to England in 1831, provides a powerful example of the importance of hybridizing in the garden industry.

We continue to grow petunias, and, in fact, they are among the top sellers for such prominent growers as Proven Winners.

It is the same petunia from the nineteenth century, but hybridizers have had a field day with this flower.

In 1894 Boston seed company owner W. W. Rawson wrote about the petunia in his catalog.

Rawson wrote, “The brilliancy and variety of their colors, combined with the duration of their blooming period, render them invaluable.”

Today the petunia comes in many colors, and the flowers are either single and funnel shaped, ruffled, or doubled.

Since the Wave petunia first appeared on the market in 1995, the petunia world has not been the same since.

Wave petunia

According to Wave’s blog, a Japanese brewery bred the first Wave petunia.

“Beer and wine companies often employ horticulturists who grow plants for the many flavors and components that go into making their products. Back in the 1990s, this particular company was exploring opportunities for wine-grape breeding when it uncovered a vigorous spreading petunia growing wild like a weed. “

And so the Wave petunia was born.

The little white flower from South America took the English garden world of the nineteenth century by storm

It continues to do so to this day.

Rawson once said, “It was only a few years ago that they were comparatively unknown, and now no garden is considered complete without them.”

Here is a petunia called Supertunia ‘Pretty Much Picasso’ from Proven Winners in my backyard. [below]

Supertunia ‘Pretty Much Picasso’ on the table in my back yard

How many petunias did you grow this summer?

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Jane Loudon Lists Familiar Flowers

Jane Loudon lists familiar flowers

Recently I came across a nineteenth century book on gardening by writer and gardener Jane Loudon (1807-1858).

Loudon (or ‘Mrs. Loudon’ as the book’s title page lists her) wrote the book The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower Garden to show that women could venture into the world of gardening with many benefits. They would profit from physical exercise and at the same time learn about the world of plants.

This is the title page of the book. [below]

Courtesy of State Library of South Australia – Library number: 635.9 L886.7

The book, edited like a dictionary or encyclopedia, lists various plants and garden topics.

What I found most fascinating is that this book from 1846 lists annuals for the garden that we still grow today.  

The same plants appeared in the seed catalogs of Rochester, New York’s James Vick (1812-1882) from the 1860s.

Vick did not search out new plants, but accepted the traditional varieties that people were already growing.

One example is the petunia, brought to England from Brazil in 1832.

Loudon writes, “Perhaps no plants have made a greater revolution in floriculture than the Petunias. Only a few years ago they were comparatively unknown, and now there is not a garden, or even a window, that can boast of flowers at all, without one.”

The petunia took a slot in the top five of Vick’s favorite annuals.

To this day the petunia assumes a central spot in the garden.

Proven Winners recently listed their most popular annuals for 2019.  The petunia, in the form of their current hybrid called ‘supertunia,’ became the grower’s best seller.

Loudon also writes about other familar annuals. The morning glory, the nasturtium, sweet pea, and geranium all appear in her book.

It seems that the nursery business keeps offering the same plants that have been part of the garden for decades. The only difference, of course, is the constant search they undertake to find the latest hybrid.

Jane Loudon did more than simply alert the gardener to what plants are important. She was creating the gardener’s palette.

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In Search of a Blue Dahlia

In search of a blue dahlia –

I have often heard that there is no blue dahlia.

Last year I planted a blue dahlia I bought at the market Stop and Shop. The bright photo on the front of the box depicted a very blue colored dahlia. The name of the variety was ‘Blue Bell.’ I had to buy it.

On the website Gardenia.net I read a bit about this dahlia.

The site said, “Produces truly beautiful purple-blue flowers adorned with broad petals that fade to lavender-blue.

“The fully double flowers, up to 4-6 inches…are normally large and the plants easily top 40 inches tall, although there are even taller varieties.”

I thought what a find this was to come across a blue dahlia in a local supermarket.

It did not bloom last year, but I still packed it up to store for the winter.

It bloomed this year. As you can see, it is not really a pure blue look.

It looks more like a purple. [below]

Dahlia ‘Blue Bell’

Dahlia expert and writer Bill McClaren wrote the book Encyclopedia of Dahlias.

He says, “If a bloom in the red class has the least hint of blue in it, it is classified as purple.”

Other dahlias in my garden

I planted several dahlias this summer.

When I was walking around the garden last week, I realized that the front door was framed with dahlias.

There I saw on the right the tall red ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and on the left in the back the yellow ‘Sunburst Nelson.’

This photo of the front steps highlights the colors of both yellow and red in these two dahlias. [below].

Dahlias frame this view on my front steps.

It was fun to experiment with a blue dahlia, but these two faithful varieties work just fine for me.

James Vick (1818-1882), seed company owner from Rochester, New York, loved dahlias. No surprise that he wrote in 1878, “The dahlia is ouir best autumn flower. We can depend upon it until frost, no matter how long delayed.”

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Dahlias Everywhere

Dahlias everywhere

Everywhere I go I see dahlias in bloom. I find color galore in gardens near and far.

Last week I attended the open house of the Cross Street Flower Farm in Norwell, Mass. Hundreds of dahlias stood in bloom in rows of various colors on this farm. Many people enjoyed the warm afternoon as they walked the path between the rows of bloom.

One dahlia among the two acres of the flower at Cross Street was a medium sized stunning white variety called ‘Sneustorm’.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Recently I drove to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and found myself in search of dahlias.

These I found along the harbor in downtown. The blue water gave off a wonderful background color to this scene on that bright sunny afternoon. [below]

A scene along the harbor in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire

While in Portsmouth, I visited the Moffatt-Ladd House and Garden on Market Street. The three story nineteenth century Georgian Mansion includes a Victorian garden behind the house.

What would a Victorian garden be without dahlias?

There I found a row of yellow dahlias tied to stakes to maintain a wall of yellow color. The gardener told me the dahlias have been planted there each summer for over thirty years.

Though he did not know the name of this yellow dahlia, he said it was an older variety. [below]

Yellow dahlias in the garden at the Moffatt-Ladd House, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

In my own garden I planted several dahlias in mid-May.

Here is my favorite dahlia, right outside the front door. This variety called ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ dates to the 1920s.

A ”Bishop of Llandaff’ dahlia outside my front door

Nineteenth century seed company owner James Vick, from Rochester, New York, loved dahlias. He had acres in bloom for his customers to visit at this time of the year.

Now I can understand why Vick once wrote, ““When we look upon a well-formed Dahlia, we are compelled to acknowledge that it is a wonder of beauty and perfection.”

If you are interested in learning how to grow dahlias, check out this website: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/delightful-dahlias/.

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When Women Became Their Own Gardener

When women became their own gardener

Working in the garden demands various tasks, including digging and raking. Let us not forget of course weeding, deadheading, and pruning.

We all know that the person who performs gardening tasks could be a man or a woman.

The role of a woman as gardener, however, evolved by the end of the nineteenth century.

Jennifer Davies in her book The Victorian Flower Garden shows how the most famous garden writer of the early ninetenth century John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) advocated for women.

She writes that in 1838 “Loudon thought that this skill [laying out a flower garden] was within the campacity of every woman who could cut out and put together parts of a female dress.”

By 1874 English gardener Sophia Orne Johnson was writing in her book Every Woman Her Own Flower Gardener, “A small set of tools, comprising a rake and hoe on one handle, a trowel, and a spade, are very essential. With their aid much light work can be accomplished without calling upon Mr. O’Shovelem…

“With these implements every woman can be her own gardener – and not only raise all the flowers she may desire, but also contribute a large share of the vegetables that are always welcomed at the table, during both summer and winter.”

American garden writer Ida D. Bennett says in her book The Making of a Flower Garden (1919) “The role of the male in the woman’s flower garden was that of the animated shovel, or as Sophia Johnson called him in the nineteenth century ‘Mr. Shovelem.’ “

“By the end of the century and into the twentieth century most suburban women did not expect to do the digging and other heavy labor, but most of them did plan their own gardens and do much of the planting, weeding, staking, and other tasks”, as Beverly Seaton writes in her wonderful article “Gardening Books for the Commuter’s Wife, 1900-1937.”

Women too eventually became the major garden writers for other women.

Seaton says, “The writers Americanized the garden advice of Gertrude Jekyll and Wiliam Robinson.”

By then women had become their own gardener.

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Garden Urn at Portland’s Victoria Mansion

Garden urn at Portland’s Victoria Mansion

The Victorians loved to set an urn with plants on the front lawn.

Therese O’Malley writes in Keywords in American Landscape Design “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.”

Right now you can see this urn on the front lawn outside of the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine. [below]

Though it has no pedestal, it still represents Victorian garden design.

Victoria Mansion, Portland, Maine

Andrew Jackson Downing, America’s mid nineteenth century’s most important landscape designer, recommended that a single urn be placed on the lawn.

A bit later Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) proposed in his garden magazine that the urn include three kinds of plants.

You needed a tall center plant like a canna or a yucca.

Then you included a plant that filled the middle section like a geranium.

Finally you introduced a plant trailing down, but not touching the ground.

Vick included this image in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly. [below]

Notice the choice in each plant to give that special look that a garden urn on the lawn needed.

In his business Vick promoted flowers for the garden, and the urn was one of the places to introduce such flowers.

Collector Barbara Israel wrote the book about landscape ornaments called Antique Garden Ornament: Two Centuries of American Taste.”

She says.”In the minds of even the most fervent proponent of naturalistic design (in which the [garden] ornament was severely limited), the urn was admired as an object of taste and refinement.”

However, O’Malley, reflecting Downing’s writing in 1849, cautioned that “ornamental vases were often regarded as works of art…and should not be reduced to the level of ‘a mere garden flower-pot.’ “

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Coleus Varieties Still Abound

The battle between perennial advocates and those who loved to plant annuals stretched into the twentieth century both in England and America.

In 1905 Helena Rutherford Ely wrote in her book Another Hardy Garden Book, “Would that the Coleus might vanish from the land.”

Annuals, like the coleus, had been a major part of the garden since the 1850s.

So annuals were not going to go away without a fight. Even today that is the case. There are more beautiful coleus on the market than ever.

In its catalog of 1895 the seed company W. R. Shelmire from Avondale, Chester Co., Pa. boasted that the company offered seventy-five or more varieties of coleus.

In a speech to an international horticultural group In 1892 in Ontario the Cornell botanist and writer L. H. Bailey cautioned about the drive to increase newer varieties of plants. He questioned their relevance.

Bailey said, “There are more varieties of all plants in cultivation now than at any previous time.”

Then he said, “The question which you all desire to ask me is whether all this increase represents progress. Many poor varieties have been introduced.”

In other words, how many coleus do we need?

Rosy Dawn Gardens, a coleus growing specialist, says today there are hundreds of varieties of coleus, many of them on the market.

I personally like the coleus and always include it in my garden.

Here is a container of coleus on my deck this summer. [below] Loved the lime, yellow, and green combination from the first moment I saw this plant at a local Home Depot. It’s name is ‘Main Street River Walk’.

Coleus ‘Main Street River Walk’ on my deck right now.

So what can we make of the situation?

Proven Winners, a major grower of annuals, shrubs and perennials, offers twenty-eight varieties of coleus on its website.

Breeders continue to offer newer varieties and we choose the ones that work for us.

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Commercial Grower Prefers Cuttings for New Plants

Commercial grower prefers cuttings for new plants

Recently I visited Pleasant View Gardens in Loudon, New Hampshire, a major grower for the plant brand known as Proven Winners.

What amazed me is each year from December to March the amount of small plants, called liners, that Pleasant View grows from vegetative cuttings.

The liners or small plants are then shipped out to garden centers that repot them and grow them til the spring for sale at the nursery.

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) advised the use of cuttings for new plants in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

Vick proposed the use of a bell glass for small pots, each holding a number of cuttings. [below]

Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, 1879

The glass jar of course controlled light, moisture and temperature for the young plants as they grew.

Pleasant View devotes 700,000 square feet to the many trays of plants in special greenhouses which afford ample control of heat, light, and moisure.

In this way Pleasant View grows millions of young plants to ship out in the spring to garden centers and nurseries, mostly on the east coast.

Here is a photo I took of trays of cells, each of which contains a small plant. Notice how many plants there are in just this small space in one greenhouse. [below]

Small plants in cells, inside a tray, await shipment to a garden center near you.

Vick understood the science of this process of growing plants through vegetative cuttings.

In 1879 he wrote, “The florist and the nurseryman construct propagating houses, with beds heated by pipes with hot water flowing through them, to keep up a steady heat to encourage the production of roots in advance of the growth of the stem.”

Vick knew the importance of vegetative cuttings to reproduce certain plants like many annuals.

Today, Pleasant View does ninety percent of its propagation for Proven Winners with vegetative cuttings which, in this case, are flown in from Central America.

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We Still Grow Victorian Annuals

We still grow Victorian annuals

In 1890 the garden writer, poet, and song writer from Wisconsin Eben E. Rexford [below] wrote a book called Home Floriculture.

Eben E. Rexford (1888-1900)

The James Vick Seed Company in Rochester, New York published the book.

Rexford was a rather well-known writer in that Victorian period. It is not suprising that Vick agreed to publish the book.

Ads for the book appeared in the Vick seed catalog. Thus the company promoted the book as well.

Here is a chromolithograph of flowers that appeared in Vick’s seed catalog. [below] Many familiar annuals made up the mix.

Vick’s chromo of 1871 [courtesy of Millicent W. Coggon]

Rexford included a chapter in his book called “The Best Annuals.”

He recommended five annuals “for massing and making a brilliant show.” The Petunia, Phlox, Nasturtium, Calliopsis, and Aster made up the list.

The Vick Seed Company had been selling these flowers for many years. They are also quite familiar to gardeners today. They are among our favorite annuals.

The Victorian period gave us the annuals we still grow in the garden. We treasure them today, much like the Victorians at the end of the nineteenth century.

Through his book Home Floriculture Rexford became a source for what annuals to grow in the garden both yesterday and today.

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