Today Homeowners Face Two Lawn Options

Today homeowners face two lawn options.

Last year we celebrated the three hundredth birthday of the eighteenth century English landscape gardener Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783).

There were events throughout the year in his honor in various locations throughout England, including several at the landscapes he designed.

Brown gave the English garden its extensive lawn. 

Since America became eager to garden in all ways English, it was no surprise that the lawn would appear across America, beginning in earnest in the mid nineteenth century.

Today however we face a dilemma with the lawn.

In various parts of America droughts threaten cities and towns.

In that situation how can we continue to cultivate an extensive lawn?

The book Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony gives us some insights.

It  includes a quote from Frederick Law Olmsted that seems to justify the lawn.  “For Olmsted, the front lawn of a house in a suburb unified the whole residential composition into one neighborhood, giving a sense of ampleness, greenness, and community.”

He pinpoints the purpose for the lawn quite clearly.

The authors F. Herbert Bormann, Diana Balmori, and Gordon T. Geballe, however, aware of the problems with the modern lawn, provide two kinds of lawn we need to consider: the industrial lawn and the freedom lawn.

The characteristics of the industrial lawn include gas-powered lawn mowers, chemicals to maintain the lawn and exclude any weeds, and, of course, regular watering.

The freedom lawn offers another way to look at the lawn.

Rather than a monoculture of grass, this lawn would allow clover and other plants to grow in the lawn. The lawn would be mowed regularly but by a lawn mower that does not demand gas.

Chemicals would be avoided.

Watering would be at a minimum.

Perhaps sections of the lawn would be replaced by beds of perennials or ornamental grasses.

The second approach to the lawn, the freedom lawn, certainly speaks to the need to conserve energy and water, and also decrease the burning of carbon in fossil fuel. 

The authors present a valid argument.

We homeowners, however, need to decide what route we will take with our lawns.

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England’s Landscape Garden Beginnings

England’s landscape garden beginnings

We owe the origin of the landscape garden in England at the start of the eighteenth century not to just one person.

It changed gardening forever because it gave a new form to landscape. But what inspired the idea in the first place?

Tim Richardson in his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden has thought about the beginnings of this English garden tradition.

He writes, “The landscape garden did not arise out of stately profession of Taste, as the Whigs would have us believe, but of an explosion of creativity.”

Thus it was no accident that poets, artists, and writers would be at the forefront of this landscape movement.  Poet Alexander Pope rose to become one of the pioneers of the landscape garden.

As Richardson points out, The Spectator essay [by Joseph Addison, dated June 25, 1712] is generally held to be the jumping off point for the English landscape garden.

The people who were stirring the ship that would bring this new vision of landscape to England wanted, as Richardson writes, “to carve a new face for Britain out of the soil itself.”

And so they did.

The garden, at least for England and America, has never been the same since.

The chief quality of the modern landscape garden design was its variety, the total of several features that would make up the landscape garden

We often simply refer to the difference in garden design before and after the early eighteenth century as the formal garden versus the natural look to the landscape.

Richardson writes, “Even more than concepts such as ‘naturalism’, ‘informality’ or ‘wilderness,’ or even the symbolic content of the design, it was variety which emerged as the most important structural element of the eighteenth-century landscape garden.”

It was a variety in the design which included soil, plants, stone, water, woodland areas, forests, and even farming that marked this new moment in gardening history.

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Dahlia Mania Struck Early Nineteenth Century

Dahlia mania struck early nineteenth century.

This week I will plant dahlia tubers in my garden.

First I will have to unpack and inspect each of the tubers still stored in my basement.

The dahlia happens to be my favorite flower because it provides such wonderful autumn color in the garden. 

At one point gardeners loved this plant so much that there was a frenzy created for the latest hybrid. The craziness over this plant was called ‘dahlia mania’ and it took place in the 1830s both in England and America.

Communication scholar Hugh Dalziel Duncan writes in his book Communication and Social Order, “A style of dress or a taste in furnishings, so affect people that we use the word ‘rage’, in the sense of mania, to define their sudden and overwhelming power.”

Duncan implies that a material object like clothing or furniture could create a ‘rage’ in a particular time and place.

Well, that happened with the dahlia that first arrived in Spain from Mexico in the 1600s. It was not until the late 1700s that the plant appeared in English gardens.

English botanical artist Margaret Meen painted this bouquet of dahlias in 1789. [below]

Margaret Meen “Dahlias (Asteraceae)” (circa 1790) [Courtesy of the Royal Bontanic Gardens, Kew]

The garden interest in the plant however did not take off for a couple of decades.

It was not until after 1804 when Lady Holland re-introduced the dahlia in her garden at Holland House in Kensington, near London, that dahlias became the rage.

A dahlia flower produced many seeds, from which new hydrids could develope.

That is what the dahlia is famous for to this very day: producing many hybrids. 

In 1834 English garden writer and horticulturist John Claudius Loudon, called the ‘Father of the English Garden,’ wrote about the many dahlia varieties already on the market.

He said  “At almost every nursery several hundred sorts [of dahlias] may be procured; but as new sorts are continually coming into fashion, and the old sorts becoming neglected, it would be of little use presenting a list of varieties.” 

Just a few years later Loudon also wrote about dahlia mania in The Gardener’s Magazine.

He said, “The culture of the dahlia, though it has not attained so extravagant a pitch in England as that to which the tulip is said to have arrived in Holland, is yet now engaged in, in Britain, by a much greater number of persons than ever were possessed by the tulip mania.”

Loudon thus recognized a mania for the newest dahlia even greater than the past rage for tulips.

 

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Nineteenth Century Wisconsin Hort Society Encouraged English Garden

Nineteenth century Wisconsin Hort Society encouraged English garden design.

The English garden with its lawn, curved path, trees to line the property and kitchen garden out back had become the fashion on the American east coast throughout the nineteenth century.

In her book Vintage Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Garden Making landscape architect and historian Lee Somerville describes how in the nineteenth century the Wisconsin State Horticultural Society encouraged that same English style for the home landscape.

Somerville writes, “In 1869, as the WSHS was reorganized after the Civil War, President Joseph Hobbins forcefully outlined the prevailing ideals for the vernacular garden in his opening address to the membership.”

In his remarks Hobbins described the look of the modern home landscape.

Somerville writes, “The picture Hobbins painted can be clearly traced to the principles espoused by Andrew Jackson Downing, Jacob Weidenmann, Frank J. Scott, and others.”  

This group of famous nineteenth century landscape gardeners fostered the look of the English garden, with its lawn and trees to line the property.

The homeowner was to plant trees, shrubs, and flower beds to create an ornamental front yard that would enhance “the view from the street and provide a picture for those inside the house.”

Hobbins was familiar with the landscape theory of Downing who wrote of ‘rural art’ that ought to  guide the homeowner, beginning with a lawn.

That design was of course the English garden with its principle feature, the lawn, inherited from the early eighteenth century when the natural or modern English garden first emerged.

Most Wisconsin gardeners would wind up with vernacular gardens that were a blend of the English view along with the emerging mid-west emphasis on native plants in what they called the new prairie landscape design.

Just as had happened on the east coast through the encouragement of seed companies, nurseries, and landscape designers, the nineteenth century recommendation for Wisconsin homeowners also centered on the English garden style.

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Two Irish Gardens Inspire Herbaceous Borders

Two Irish gardens inspire herbaceous borders.

Since the late nineteenth century when English garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935) encouraged the herbaceous  border rather than beds of annuals, the border has been an important part of garden design.

Once garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1935) arrived on the English garden scene and befriended Robinson, she also became an advocate of the herbaceous border.

David Stuart writes in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens “The great Edwardian herbaceous border has a fascinating past, and has been resilient enough to evolve into new forms relevant to contemporary gardens.”

Thus, he implies that we still include the herbaceous [American gardeners say ‘perennial’] border in the garden.

Two Irish gardens might provide some inspiration.

Late last fall I saw two herbaceous borders in Ireland, one at Powerscourt Castle and the other at the

Powerscourt herbaceous border [courtesy photo]

birthplace of St. Oliver Plunkett called Loughcrew.

Loughcrew’s border was installed in the nineteenth century. The original Powerscourt herbaceous border predates that period but the current border was installed with new plants in 2014.

Both included dozens of perennials as well as a few annuals like dahlias, which were blooming at that time.

In 1883 William Robinson wrote in his book The English Flower Garden, “In planting, plant in groups, and not in the old dotting way. Never repeat the same plant along the border at intervals, as is so often done with favorites.”

You need to fill the whole border with plants. Robinson wrote, “Have no patience with bare ground”

Now that we are approaching summer, perhaps a herbaceous border might be in the works for your garden.

These two Irish gardens certainly stand as a testament to how beautiful such a border can be.

 

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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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Conflicting Eighteenth Century Lawn Advice

Conflicting eighteenth century lawn advice.

It is spring and that mean’s it’s time to look at your grass and figure out what level of maintenance it needs after the winter.

The lawn played an essential role in the landscape design of mid eighteenth century English landscape gardener Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783).

By the end of the century another landscape gardener, Humphry Repton (1752-1818), looked at the lawn a bit differently.

The eighteenth century witnessed conflicting advice on the spot where the lawn begins in the landscape.

In his book The English Garden Edward Hyams, writes, “It was Brown’s rules to bring the lawns or at all events grass which might be rather meadow than lawn, right up to the house itself so that the house stood in a sea of grass and the first incidents in the landscape were at some distance.”

Then he writes about Repton’s idea of the lawn. Hyams says, “Instead of bringing the grass up to the house, Repton designed terraces, often with balustrades of stone piers or with urns carrying flowers, to link the house to the garden or park.”

Though both encouraged the lawn, it seemed more an issue of how close the lawn came to the house.

As happens in style and fashion, the Repton view continued into the nineteenth century and terraces became an integral part of the house architecture.

The lawn would come right up to the balustrades.

By the end of the nineteenth century seed company owners usually encouraged lawns. It was not a question of how close to the house, just as long as there was a lawn.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick wrote in his seed catalog of 1872, “The space in front of the house, and generally the sides exposed to view from the street, should be in grass. No arrangement of beds, or borders of box, or anything else, will look so neat and tasteful as a well kept piece of grass.”

The lawn by then had become an integral part of residential landscape design, which across America followed the English garden tradition.

In his 1873 company catalog Vick wrote, “A place can never look well unless the lawn and walks are in perfect order.”

By that time the differing views of the lawn from the eighteenth century were long forgotten.

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London’s Holland House Introduced Dahlias

London’s Holland House Introduced Dahlias

A late eighteenth century painting of dahlias in England indicates the plant, native to Mexico, had already appeared in the country.

It would take a couple of decades, however, to assume its popularity among gardeners everywhere.

In early nineteenth century England the dahlia made its grand appearance in the garden of Lord and Lady Holland. It was after that time that the plant became so popular that by the 1830s some over eager gardeners even became afflicted with ‘dahlia mania.’

Their estate called Holland House in London’s Kensington section had become a gathering place for artists, writers, and politicians.

In her book Holland House: A History of London’s Most Celebrated Salon Linda Kelly tells the story of the Hollands and their many nightly dinner guests who sometimes included Lord Byron and even the Prince of Wales.

Kelly writes “The dinner book [at Holland House], kept by Allen [family doctor who lived with the Hollands], sometimes recorded as many as 50 guests. “

She also writes about the many trips the Hollands took that often included an entourage of servants and a cook.

It was on one of their trips that Lady Holland first saw the dahlia.

Between 1800 and 1805 Lord and Lady Holland lived in France, and also in Spain, where Lady Holland spotted the new flower called ‘dahlia’ that had reached Spain from Mexico about fifteen years earlier.

Lady Holland sent some seeds home to England in 1804 and it is on the strength of that shipment that she is given credit for the introduction of the dahlia into England.

From these came nearly all the dahlias grown in gardens in those early years.

Kelly writes “Lady Holland took great pleasure in the gardens at Holland House…In summer its borders were bright with dahlias.”

Her husband celebrated Lady Holland in this poem he wrote for her:

“The Dahlia you brought to our isle

Your praises forever should speak:

Mid gardens as sweet as your smile,

And in colour as bright as your cheek.”

 

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Landscape Painting Inspired Eighteenth Century English Garden

Landscape painting inspired eighteenth century English garden.

The English garden took a new direction in the early 1700s.

The landscape became an expression of art, fashioned with materials like land form, plants, stone, and water. The aristocratic landowners, who fostered this new garden style, claimed it offered a more natural look, rather than one based on formality and symmetry.

Landscape painting became the inspiration for this new landscape garden.

The landscape painting most influential included mountains, trees, various images of sunlight, clouds, water, pathways, and sometimes classic structures like temples.

In the process the English garden, expressed in eighteenth century landscapes like Stowe, Rousham, and Stourhead, became a work of art.

In his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden Tim Richardson says           “[During the late 1730s and 1740s] the political charge of landscape design did not exactly diminish, but it was challenged by a fashionable new aesthetic sensibility with regard to outdoor scene-making that was largely derived from painting.

“The landscape garden was now beginning to be viewed as much as an artform as it was a vehicle for political self-expression.”

It was landscape painting that motivated this new English garden.

Edward Hyams writes in  The English Garden that Henry Hoare in his garden at Stourhead had carried out in nature’s own materials the landscape on canvas of Claude, Salvator Rosa and Zuccarelli.

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Variety Marked Eighteenth Century English Garden

Variety marked eighteenth century English garden.

How well I remember my visit to the garden at  Stourhead, built in the mid 1700s.

We drove a couple of hours west of London, near Mere, Wiltshire to find Stourhead which today covers 2,650 acres.

What impressed me were the different kinds of art that I found in the garden as I walked around like the temple, the grotto, the lake, and the Palladian bridge.

Tim Richardson writes in his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden “Even more than concepts such as ‘naturalism’, ‘informality’, or ‘wildness’, or even the symbolic content of the design, it was variety which emerged as the most important structural element of the eighteenth-century landscape garden.”

From the moment the visitor’s guide instructed me to follow the path through the woods up the hill to the grand house, I was surprised at every turn in Stourhead.

I never knew what I would find as I walked the path around the lake. The path offered its own twists and turns.

There were so many beautiful parts to this landscape garden design.

No wonder Richardson refers to Stourhead as one of the greatest of all Arcadian landscapes.

Palladian bridge at Stourhead

Stourhead took decades to bring it to the look it has today. Gardeners moved the earth to form the hills, and engineers built the lake which now fills the role of the central feature in the landscape.

Edward Hyman writes in his book The English Garden, “Landscape gardening on a heroic scale, involving the moving of vast quantities of earth, the making of lakes and the planting of woods, distinguished the eighteenth century in England.”

You can only imagine the array of projects that the landscape at Stourhead demanded to acheive the look we see today.

Stourhead, a work of art, succeeds on its variety of design elements in the landscape.

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