New Short Video Shows Pollinators

New short video shows pollinators.

Pollinators remain an important contributor in any garden. According to the New England Wild Flower Society, eighty percent of flowering plants depend on pollination. Yet organic farmer Jane Sorenson from River Barry Farm in Fairfax, Vermont says, “There are fewer bugs today than only a few years ago.”

That is all the more reason today to plant a pollinator-friendly garden. Pollinators include more than butterflies and birds, according to entomologist and author Eric Grissell.

Pollinators also include ants, wasps, and, of course, bees. Grissell writes in his book Bees, Wasps, and Ants, “It seems as if the usual state of human affairs is at work: an attraction for the bright, shiny aspects of nature in preference to the bugs that do the basic work of keeping our gardens functioning as nature meant them to.”

In April 1879 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick wrote in his garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly , “Most of our garden flowers are honey-producing, as well as many of our wild plants and weeds. The main question is, what can we plant to produce the most food for bees, at the least expense.” He made a point then, which remains relevant today as well.

Plant for bloom of some sort during the whole gardening season. Use plants that provide nectar and pollen sources like annuals, perennials, shrubs, both native and exotic.

Situate the garden in a sunny area with windbreaks.

Provide where possible a water source like a birdbath. Pollinators do not live by nectar alone. They need water and shelter as well as food, and food requirements differ depending on the life stage of the pollinator.

Finally, pesticides can create problems in a pollinator-garden. Eliminate or minimize the impact of any pesticide in the garden.

Providing for pollinators doesn’t have to be complicated. Most of the plants you could use are available at a local nursery and easy to maintain.

After you plant your pollinator-friendly garden, register it online with the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, a nationwide call to action.

Diane Blazek, Executive Director of the National Garden Bureau and one of the founders of the Challenge, says, “Once you plant it. Share it. A garden can be an acre, or a container, as long it includes a pollinator-friendly plant.”

Here is the new short video called “The Beauty of Pollination.” Enjoy.



Plant Old Fashioned Annual Called Calendula

Plant old fashioned annual called Calendula.

From the large family of flowers called the Compositae comes the yellow or orange flower known as Calendula.

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 flower’s other name, “The old Pot Marigold, much favored for boiled mutton, is C. officinalis.”

From 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

Calendula [courtesy Burpee Seeds]

Calendula [courtesy Burpee Seeds]

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.”

The Calendula has a long history in American gardens, appearing in the book Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg. “Typically, the beds are filled with pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis).”

The Encyclopedia of Gardening, first published in 1936, says that the Calendula “is one of the most popular tender annuals.”

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 seemed to imply there that in 1880 the Calendula was making somewhat of a comeback.

Recently I purchased Calendula seeds. Plan to use this colorful plant in the garden this summer.

Vick would be happy.

Perennials Changed Victorian Gardening

Perennials changed Victorian gardening.

Perennials play an important role in our gardens today. It’s as if we could not garden without them

In the history of the American garden that was not always the case.

As in Victorian England, in the mid nineteenth century annuals became the important plant, especially the bright and colorful varieties imported into the country from Asia, Africa, and South America. Such plants added constant color to the summer garden.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) advocated for the use of perennials in the garden.  He wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1880, “The wealth of beauty presented by the hardy perennials is inexhaustible, and we can only pity those who are content to confine their attention to a few beds of tender plants, however bright and gay they may be while in their best conditions.”

Look at this glorious garden in the landscape of an eighteenth century mansion in Scotland called Carolside. [below] Perennials abound in this garden.


Carolside Garden

The Carolside garden in Scotland

Perennials and annuals can be used together, especially because the flowers of most perennials usually last for only a short length of time.  Annuals, on the other hand, give us their best the whole growing season.

The English recognized a change in gardening that included perennials. In the July 1880 issue of his magazine Vick quoted the English publication called The Gardener, “The flower garden of the present time seems to be undergoing a slow transition. There is a blending of tender with hardy plants which is most desirable; tender and hardy plants appear only to have rival claims until they are placed side by side, when it is found that the attractions of either are about evenly balanced.”

By the end of the nineteenth century when English landscape designer Gertrude Jekyll laid out a garden, she insisted on an array of perennials to give color and structure to the garden.

To this day perennials provide much of the beauty in the garden.



Victorian Flower Beds Bloom in St. Louis

Victorian flower beds bloom in St. Louis.

A British immigrant, Henry Shaw (1800-1889) built his St. Louis, Missouri landscape in the gardenesque style.  In 1832 the English writer and horticulturist John Claudius Loudon first proposed the gardenesque style as a blend of the picturesque with room in the garden to show off one’s plant collection.

Shaw bequeathed his property to the city fathers who named it the Missouri Botanical Garden.

In this photo [below]  you can still see Shaw’s house but today also intricate beds of flowering plants that now decorate the area. This landscape presents a high Victorian style.

Hnery Sahw's house with Victirain flower beds on the lawn

Shaw’s house with Victorian style carpet beds [courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden]

Philadelphia nurseryman and editor of Gardener’s Monthly Thomas Meehan wrote in 1868: “Mr. Henry Shaw is one of those liberal public spirited men who do so much honor to the United States. Some take pride in endowing and establishing one kind of institution, some others. Mr. Shaw’s taste leads him to botany, arboriculture, and gardening. His Botanic Garden and residence at Tower Hill is unequalled to anything of the kind in the United States, and indeed by few others in the world.”

Meehan noted in that same article that Shaw was building the Linnean House  where he would one day showcase  his camellias. “The hot-house department is quite extensive, and the various collections are gradually being filled up. A new palm or tropical house on a magnificent scale was being constructed.”

When I visited the Missouri Botanical Garden, I saw the  Linnean House, highlighted by dozens of tulips beside it on that Spring day. [below]

Shaw's Linnean House at the Mousouri Botanical Garden

Springtime at Shaw’s Linnean House at the Missouri Botanical Garden

Shaw, like other 19th century American gardeners, preferred the English landscape style called gardenesque.

By mid-nineteenth century landscape design in both England and America included intricate flowerbeds called carpet beds as you can see today at the Missouri Botanical Garden.


Differing Views of Nineteenth Century Garden

Differing Views of  Nineteenth Century Garden

The way to plant a flower garden changed during the nineteenth century.

Two American seedsmen wrote differently about how to install a flower garden.

Boston seedsman Joseph Breck (1794-1873) wrote The Flower Garden in 1851.

In the book he recommended the placement of the garden as a border before a window with southern or southeastern exposure.

He carefully laid out for the reader the design of the flowerbed.

Breck wrote, “This outward border will be the most appropriate place for flowering shrubs, and tall herbaceous biennial and perennial plants”.

When he discussed what flowers to plant, Breck listed several annuals, plus Dahlias and Gladiolus and Roses, with a few choice perennials. He recommended native plants like Lobelia Cardinalis, Aquilegia Canadensis, Aster Novae Anglae and Solidago.

Breck wanted a flower garden in bloom during each season. Choosing the right plant would have provided that color. His borders were to be filled with annuals, perennials, and native plants.

Carpet bedding croppedNew York seedsman Peter Henderson (1822-1890) wrote his book Gardening for Pleasure in 1875. In it he also discussed laying out the flower garden.

He admitted at the start that old-fashioned mixed borders with hardy herbaceous plants were “now but little seen”. He wrote, “The mixed system still has its advocates, who deprecate the modern plan of massing in color as being too formal, and too unnatural a way to dispose of flowers.”

The fashion he discussed called ‘massing of color’ referred to the use of many annuals of the same variety to create a display of one color. The plants were to be placed in a pattern or ribbon line like in the Sunset Seed and Plant Company catalog of 1897. [above]

The words “They Grow” in the catalog cover here might have been planted with Alyssum, which of course needed to be trimmed regularly.  Mass beds needed many plants of the same variety but also much maintenance to keep them short.

Henderson wrote, “A single misplaced color may spoil the effect of the whole.”

Thus these two nineteenth century seedsmen offered two different forms of the flowergarden.

In 1851 Breck advocated for a border of annuals, perennials, and native plants. In 1875 Henderson promoted the modern carpet bed, a design of mass planting with annuals.

I am ending with this  photo of the beautiful perennial borders from the Scottish garden Carolside in Earlson. [below] Just received this on Twitter from Great British Gardens.

Carolside Garden, Earlson, Scotland

Carolside Garden, Earlson, Scotland [Thanks to @BritishGardens]



Victorians Thought Weeds a Result of Adam’s Fall

Victorians Thought Weeds a Result of Adam’s Fall

You know weeds are a problem for every gardener.

The nineteenth century Victorians who considered cultivating flowers a reflection of the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis had their own view of weeds.

Nicolette Scourse writes in her book The Victorians and their Flowers, “The presence of weeds and other difficulties of cultivation were directly attributable to Man’s disobedience rather than any natural cause favoring weed dispersal.”

That view seems in line with the way Victorians thought about flowers. They were signs of God’s presence among us.  Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote, “Flowers are the symbols of all that are pure and true in this life, and they teach us to hope for Life to come.”

To cultivate a flower garden therefore meant a closeness to God.

This Schegel catalog cover of 1895

This Schegel catalog cover of 1895

Vick once received a letter from one of his customers. The letter said, “Mr. Vick, you say ‘The culture of flowers teaches industry, patience, and faith and hope.’ I think you may add courage and persistency…I do feel ‘better prepared for the duties and responsibilities of life – more fitted to conquer its evils and enjoy its pleasures.”

All of that from growing a few flowers.

That is precisely the point here.

In nineteenth century Victorian times you were not just growing flowers, you were showing a sense of morality and religious sentiment.

The Boston horticulturist Marshall Wilder (1798-1886) once wrote to Vick the following, “Flowers are the very embodiment of beauty; flowers are like angel spirits, ministering to the finest sensibilities of our nature, often inspiring us with thoughts, which like the unexpressed prayer, lie too deep for utterance.”

So it was no surprise that weeds would be considered a result of rejecting God’s love.

The Victorians sought to frame gardening in such a religious context, even calling the rose ‘the curse of Adam’ since, according to Scourse, they were ‘the thornbearers.’

The nineteenth century too inherited the sentiment of an earlier Romantic period in which nature reflected the Divine within its soil, water, stone, and plant.

The idea of using religious langauge to motivate the gardener reminded me of the words of Pope Francis in his recent Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality. He writes, “The ethical principles capable of being apprehended by reason can always appear in different guise and find expression in a variety of languages, including religious langauge.”




Orchids Grow on Trees

Orchids grow on trees.

In the mid 1700s orchids arrived from tropical areas around the world to find a new home in England and France. Thus began the European gardener’s fascination with cultivating this exotic flower. It would not be long before the orchid also arrived in America.

A few days ago I attended the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a trade show for the green industry. The show included over 400 growers, many from southern Florida, with about 16,000 attendees who were mainly garden center owners in search of plants.

Chris Beyter, from Ball Horticultural in Illinois, said, “Tropicals are popular today, especially orchids and succulents.”

It was thus no surprise that I saw many orchid varieties, including Jay Marrero’s, from Florida orchid grower Silver Vase. He told me, ”We are creating a demand for orchids.”

If cared for correctly, the orchid flowers will bloom for three to five months.

The day before the Show a garden tour bus took us to a Miami garden where I saw an orchid growing on a tree in the front yard of a home. [below] I couldn’t believe it. It was a beautiful sight.


In this Florida front yard you can see orchids on this tree

In this Florida front yard an orchid grows on this tree.

Orchids do not grow in soil but prefer a growing medium like Leca, a clay material in the shape of small brown colored balls that look almost like marbles.

Unfortunately, many people over water an orchid, the major problem in growing the plant.

In the wild you find the orchid growing between rocks and on tree trunks – vertically.

Victoria Zemlan in her article “By Hook by Crook: The Plunder of Orchids for the New World” says “Now, we can buy inexpensive orchids in almost any nursery, home improvement center, or grocery store, but 19th century orchids were an extravagance reserved for the nobility.”

This flower provided many hours of pleasure to gardeners in nineteenth century America who could afford both the greenhouse and a garden staff to tend to them.

But now any gardener can grow them. Zemlan says, “Orchids haven’t lost their allure — Americans now spend more on orchids each year than on any other houseplant.”

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 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.