Nineteenth Century Bedding Plants Included Popular Geranium

Nineteenth century bedding plants included popular geranium.

In the nineteenth century planting annuals in beds on the lawn became a popular fashion.

Plant collectors had introduced tropical and sub-tropical plants and gardeners wanted to display them in the landscape.

Among the new plants gardeners fell in love with was the geranium or pelargonium as it was called.

Stuart writes in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens, “The great bedding genera of mid-nineteenth century gardens – Calceolaria, Petunia, Verbena and Geranium (Pelargonium) – were popular not only because they were brilliantly colorful, assuaging the contemporary taste for gaudy and intense effects, but also because, being from the sub-tropics, they were ‘seasonless’.  As soon as the plants were growing, they also began to flower.”

It was the pelargonium that become the most popular flower for the summer garden.

Stuart says, “The bedding garden owed much of its popularity and ubiquitous appeal to the pelargonium that Masson had collected in South Africa.”

Plant collector from Kew Francis Masson died on one of his plant hunting trips in Montreal in 1805.

Today growers continue to hybridize Pelargoniums. A variety ‘Vancouver Centennial’ celebrates the one-hundreth  anniversary of the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. [below]

Pelargonium ‘Vancouver Centennial’ [Courtesy of White Flower Farm]

In 1883 the English garden writer William Robinson wrote in his book The English Flower Garden  that pelargoniums were either from the southern hemisphere or bred by European growers.

Today we see few of the varieties from the nineteenth century. Stuart writes, “As with verbenas and calceolarias, most of the geranium varieties are lost.”

Nonetheless we still fill our summer flower beds with the newest and most popular annual geraniums. 

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Top Ten Cottage Garden Flowers Include Hollyhock

Top ten cottage garden flowers include hollyhock.

Recently the magazine The English Garden posted online an article entitled “Top Ten Flowers for a Cottage Garden.”

Since I am interested in cottage gardens, I had to have a look at the article.

Of  the group of flowers mentioned in the article I discovered that I grow about half of them in my garden.

The list of ten includes the hollyhock. [below]

Hollyhock [Courtesy of The English Garden article]

I am not surprised at that choice since it is a popular flower, showy, and easy to grow.

Easy for everybody that is but me.

I have tried to grow it many times, but without success. It could be that I have too much shade in my garden.

The hollyhock has a long history, and is not native to Europe or America. 

The Latin name for the plant is Alcea rosea, but sometimes the name Althaea rosea may appear.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) preferred Althaea.

Vick wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878, “The true name of the Hollyhock is Althaea Rosea, and it is supposed to be a native of China, from which country it was introduced into Europe three hundred years ago [1578]. In regard to its origin, however, there seems to be some doubt, some authors claiming Syria as its native land, which an old work on Gardening, in our possession, published a hundred and fifty years since, calls it the Egyptian Hollyhock.”

Horticulturist Noel Kingsbury connects this flower to the cottage garden. In his new book Garden Flora: The Nature and Cultural History of the Plants in Your Garden he writes, “”These are short-lived non-clonal pioneer plants, as can be appreciated by the alacrity with which the cottage garden hollyhock grows in paving.”

He too recognizes the hollyhock’s ideal fit for a cottage garden.

He writes, “By the 18th century the hollyhock had become a cottage garden plant across Europe.”

 

 

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National Garden Bureau Honors Pansy

National Garden Bureau honors pansy.

Who doesn’t like the pansy?

The National Garden Bureau  loves it so much that it just declared 2017 the Year of the Pansy.

This tiny plant has a long history in our gardens. It became popular in the Victorian era of the nineteenth century.

Until then most people considered it a weed.

Today pansies are a hybrid plant cultivated from wildflowers in Europe and western Asia. Much of the collection and cultivation of pansies can be attributed to horticulturists in the UK and Europe more than two hundred years ago.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) often wrote about the pansy, and also received letters about this flower from his customers.

He wrote, “The Pansy is a popular flower with both florists and amateurs, giving abundance of bloom until after severe frosts, enduring our hard winters with safety, and greeting us in the earliest spring with a profusion of bright blossoms.”

It was the smiley face on this plant that Vick and his customers loved.

Pansy ‘Delta Premium Marina’ [Thanks to the National Garden Bureau]

Garden pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) are a mixture of several species, including Viola tricolor. Oftentimes the names “pansy”, “viola”, and “violet” are interchangeable.

The American Violet Society classifies modern pansies as having large-flowered blooms with two slightly overlapping upper petals, two side petals, and a single bottom petal, with a slight beard in its center.

Pansies are considered annual bedding plants, used for garden decoration during cooler planting seasons.

According to the NGB, “Pansies come in a rainbow of colors: from crisp white to almost black, and most all colors in between. They are also a great addition to your spring or fall vegetable garden as they are edible and pair well with lettuces. They can also be candied and used to decorate sweets or other dishes.”

Vick wrote in 1874, “The Pansies make such a beautiful bed, and are so interesting as flowers that we are anxious all should succeed with them.”

Then he wrote about the flower’s likeness to a human face. He said, “No flower is so companionable and life-like. It requires no very great stretch of the imagination to cause one to believe that they see and move, and acknowledge your admiration in a very pretty knowing way.”

Did he mean that these plants know you love them?

 

 

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Victorian Gardeners Treasured Castor Oil Plant

Victorian gardeners treasured castor oil plant.

The ricinus, or castor oil plant, can offer both a showy color and tall structure for the garden.

It was a popular Victorian plant for both the outdoor vase and garden beds.

Tom Carter writes in his book The Victorian Garden “[William] Robinson lists as indispensable to the subtropical enthusiast ricinus (castor-oil plant), canna, polymnia, colocasia, uhdea, wigandia, ferdinanda, yucca, draceana, and palms.”

In his catalogs and garden magazine Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) often recommended ricinus.

Vick wrote in his magazine in 1878, “This class of plants [sub-tropical] is becoming very popular,

Tall ricinus fills the center of this flowerbed. [Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, 1878]

and are used in what is known as sub-tropical gardening, that is, gardens furnished with plants of a tropical, or sub-tropical, origin, such as Century Plant, Agaves, Cannas, Caladiums, Ricinus, Yucca, Wigandia, Tritoma, Pampas Grass, etc.”

Vick kept up with the latest fashion and trends in gardening for his customers. He wanted them to know and appreciate flowers from various parts of the world like the exotic sub-tropicals.

One customer wrote to Vick in 1868 about her ricinus seeds. She said, “Many thanks for the fine Ricinus seed I got from you last Spring. I have two of the finest specimens of the giant species, ‘Giganteus’, one sixteen feet four inches high, and one thirteen feet.”

Ricinus fit the Victorian flair for bold and beautiful in the garden. It can grow several feet high with leaves that can measure three feet or more.

You can still find ricinus at garden centers in the spring and early summer.

Who knows? Maybe this old-fashioned Victorian annual might fit the bill for that center spot in a container or that flower bed where you need just that look.

 

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Garden Learning Never Stops

Garden learning never stops.

Sometimes newer gardeners appear to be unfamiliar with the most common of plants.

Perhaps it is because there seems to be so much to learn about gardening.

That problem is not new.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick  (1818-1882) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in August of 1881: “A correspondent of one of the London journals declares that some of the best of our annuals, those common in our gardens, and familiar to all gardeners twenty years ago, are now unknown to young gardeners, and that one would be puzzled to pick a lady a bouquet of flowers from positively good gardens, that was not mainly composed of Pelargoniums, Verbenas, and other plants commonly used for bedding.”

He recognized that gardeners needed to keep up with the newest in garden fashion but also not to forget the older plants.

Vick continued, “This is true, and much more true of English gardeners and gardens than of American.” Thus he seemed to put a bit of blame on English gardeners, but praised Americans who were eager to learn about gardening.

His conclusion could have been based on his experience with his seed business. He received hundreds of letters every year from his customers, asking questions about plants and gardening.

Vick was happy to respond to such questions in both his catalogue and magazine.

Today there are dozens of new plants that come on the market every year. Who can keep track of all of them?

One solution might be to continue to learn about gardening through garden visits, garden books, and garden social media like blogs.

Recently I came upon an old fashioned flower, unknown to me for many years.

While in Ireland a couple of weeks ago, I toured the site of the Battle of the Boyne, which took place in 1690 on the River Boyne near the town of Drogheda.

A beautiful Victorian garden is now included in the back of the site’s visitor center.

There I saw one of my favorite flowers, which I learned about only a year or two ago.

A bunch of calendula flowers appeared in this container along the wall near the greenhouse. [below]

Calendula at the Garden at the Battle of Boyne site in Ireland

Calendula in the garden of the Battle of the Boyne site in Ireland

 

 

 

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Dahlia Book Highlights Numerous Plant Varieties

Dahlia book highlights numerous plant varieties.

It’s fall and time to think about how much dahlias add to the garden. They bloom till Thanksgiving here in New England.

Leaning about dahlias has just become easier, thanks to a new book, The Plant Lover’s Guide to Dahlias.

plant-lovers-guide-to-dahlias-coverAuthor Andy Vernon takes the reader on a journey of dahlia history and growing dahlias, and then fills the rest of the book with photographs of dozens of dahlias in all their glorious color. Vernon, a BBC TV garden show producer and horticulturist, has been growing dahlias for fifteen years.

He says, “I love propagating dahlias, growing them, collecting new varieties and giving friends excess plants I’ve grown from seed.”

This book is part of the series from Timber Press called “The Plant Lover’s Guide To”, and in this case, it’s dahlias. It is published in cooperation with Kew, England’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

That origin tells the reader that there will be lots of information here about England’s fascination with the dahlia. The reader is not disappointed.

We read about dahlias at Great Dixter House and Gardens, where the modern craze in dahlias originated in the 1990s with Christopher Llyod’s display of the dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff.’ [below]

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' [Courtesy of White Flower Farm]

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ [Courtesy of White Flower Farm]

Then there are nurseries in England as well as Vernon’s own garden to provide various dahlia varieties. Of course the Hampton Court Flower Show and the Chelsea Flower Show also receive credit for their annual exhibits of dahlias.

Many novice dahlia gardeners hesitate to plant dahlias because of the fear of having to dig them up and store them for the winter. Vernon provides clear, simple advice here.

England’s Victorian and Edwardian eras used the dahlia extensively whether in a garden bed or in a container.

In the nineteenth century there were dozens of varieties of dahlias on the market. Mid century England experienced a dahlia mania, which Vernon compares to the tulip mania of the sixteenth century. Gardeners could not get enough of this flower.

Vernon provides a clear description of the various forms of the dahlia flower, which can be confusing sometimes. He lists them simply as anemone, collerette, ball, pompom, and cactus.

As anyone who grows dahlias will admit, there are hundreds of dahlias on the market. They are improving. Vernon says, “Times have changed, and dahlias are being re-invented for more modern gardens and tastes.”

Whether you plant dahlias in beds or containers, you will find much value in this book. Vernon even includes a list of forty-eight perennials and biennials that grow well with dahlias.

At the end of the book he includes a list of nurseries where you can purchase dahlias. The majority in the US are located in Oregon and Washington.

Vernon’s enthusiasm for this flower comes through from the very first page. For anyone seeking to learn about the dahlia and how easy it is to grow, and see dozens that are on the market, this book will provide the roadmap. He says, “It really is an exciting time to discover these plants.”

*

dahlia-ketsup-and-mustard

This red and yellow dahlia flower of ‘Ketchup and Mustard’, I saw at September’s Rhode Island Dahlia Society’s annual show in Wickford, R.I. It was only one of dozens of old favorites on display at the show which is also a chance to see the newest in the world of dahlias.

 

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Canna Became Popular Victorian Plant

Canna became popular Victorian plant.

I remember on my trip to Amalfi that cannas grew in flower beds that lined the main road of a small town we visited. You could tell they come up every year.  That climate was probably ideal for them.

Cannas originate in sub-tropical and tropical America and Asia.

Since the canna was a popular Victorian plant, I searched out comments in my garden history archives about it from the Victorian period.

In 1900 Cornell University Professor of Horticulture L. H. Bailey edited his classic garden resource The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture which said “Cannas are commonly used only in formal beds, but most excellent effects may be secured by scattering clumps in the hardy border or amongst shrubbery. “

The color of a canna with dark leaves offers a contrast for other plants in the garden. Even the flowers can offer a certain look. The SCH says, “Against a heavy background of green, the gaudy flowers show to their best, and the ragged effect of the dying flowers is not noticed.”

Some people did not partcilarly find the flowers attractive, but the structure of this large plant met with approval.  The SCH says, “As individual blooms, the flowers are not usually attractive, but they are showy and interesting in a mass and at a distance.”

On my deck this summer I potted the Canna called ‘Sangria’, part of the Cabana Canna Collection from J. Berry Nursery. It looked fine and did well the whole summer. [below]

canna on deck

Canna ‘Sangria’ from the Cabana Canna Collection growing in a container on my deck

Bailey does not mention the use of canna in a container.

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  does however recommend it as the center plant in a large container.  It is showy and people would see it from a distance.

Bailey seems to recommend it for beds. His book says, “Popular tall ornamental plants, prized for their stately habit, strong foliage and showy flowers; much used in bedding.”

Today we still enjoy this showy plant, whether in a container or in beds.

 

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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 Gardens Featured Carpet Bedding

Victorian gardens featured carpet bedding.

Untill 1890 the English garden included a garden fashion called ‘carpet bedding.’

In this style a particular plant provided a color for a design, which might be a diamond or a circle, while a contrasting color came from another plant.

In this Peter Henderson Seed Company catalog cover from 1886 red and white plants provided color for the diamond and the half-moon on the lawn. [below]

Bedding on the front cover of this Peter Henderson Company seed catalog

Bedding out on the front cover of this Peter Henderson Company seed catalog of 1886.

This form of gardening was also referred to as ‘bedding out,’ repeating the same plant in a design to achieve a certain mass color.

Tom Carter wrote about this garden fashion in his book The Victorian Garden. He said, “Without the bedding system, the new style of flower-gardening would not have been possible. Bedding-out, in turn, was a response to the introduction of many plants, many half-hardy annuals in the 1820s and 1830s.”

In the mid-nineteenth century English gardeners welcomed annuals from where ever plant hunters traveled including Asia, Africa, and South America.

Carter wrote, “The bedding-out system was an indispensable part of the high Victorian style of gardening which became first established in the 1850s.”

For example, it was the color of the coleus leaf, or the lobelia flower, or that special tint from the alternanthera that gardeners loved, including that plant in a design on the lawn.

David Stuart wrote an amazing book called The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy.  He said, “”In the early Victorian bedding or grouping system, plant individualities were of no importance, each individual merely yielding the colour of its flowers to the general show…The obsession with ‘show’ with plants merely as a ‘blaze of colours’ was all.”

Below is a modern version of carpet bedding or bedding out that comes from Italy. [below]

Photo: denvilles duo

Gardens in display [Thanks to Denvilles Duo]

So when you garden using a grouping of one plant, remember that the Victorians promoted that form of gardening.

Before that time it was considered a violation of garden etiquette to place one plant next to another of the same color and variety.

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Gardener Poet Celia Thaxter Loved Calendulas

Gardener poet Celia Thaxter loved calendulas.

This summer I planted several calendulas in my garden.

Recently while reading The Sandpiper, a biography of poet Celia Thaxter (1835-1894), written by her granddaughter Rosamond Thaxter, I discovered the calendula was Celia’s favorite flower.Sandpiper cover

I can understand why. It is a fabulous annual here in the northeast.

From the herbal site called Sunkist Herbal, we read its role in Victorian society. SH says, “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.”

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1816-1882) wrote in the October 1880 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.”

Calendula, Mother Earth Living

Calendula, Mother Earth Living

Vick seemed to imply that the calendula was making somewhat of a comeback.

Maybe so.

At the same time off the shores of Maine in her garden at Appledore Island, Celia Thaxter too was planting it in her garden.

Celia’s family owned a hotel on the island and for many summers Celia worked there and also tended her own flower garden.

In her garden Celia grew annuals to decorate the hotel as well as her own house where she often entertained artists, writers, and musicians.

The hotel went down in a fire in 1914, but volunteers have preserved Celia’s garden which measured 50 feet by 15 feet.

Today in her restored garden you still see the flowers laid out in the same order that Celia chose. She left the details of her garden in her book An Island Garden, probably her most famous book and still worth reading today.

Celia Thaxter's island garden measures 50 feet by 15 feet.

Celia Thaxter’s island garden measures 50 feet by 15 feet.

Celia collected her seeds from friends who came to the hotel, but also from seed companies. Perhaps one of her seed sources was the Vick Seed Company because she mentioned Vick’s death in a letter to a friend. Within weeks after his death in 1882 she wrote, “Old Vick died.”

Today the total number of flowers planted in Celia’s garden is 1600, including of course her  favorite calendula.

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