Nineteenth Century Introduced Flower Gardens

Nineteenth century introduced flower gardens

In the eighteenth century the classic English garden took the form of an extensive lawn, a lake, a deer park, and trees to line the property. There was little room for a flower garden.

The famous royal gardener Lancelot Capability Brown (1715-1783) designed his many contracted landscapes around the country in that style.

In his book The Victorian Flower Garden garden historian Geoffrey Taylor tells the story of how the flower garden assumed its important role.

He writes that the landscape gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818) became a lone voice, encouraging the planting of flowers in the landscape.

Taylor says, “Humphry Repton’s evident, though subordinate, interest in flowers and flower gardens marks the beginning of a change in taste.”

Flowers began to take on a small, but significant role, in the landscape.

Taylor says, “The eighteenth century was flower-conscious in its gardening, but very far from exclusively so. The flower garden, generally speaking, took up only a very small proportion of the total garden area, and was secluded from the house.”

Repton however encouaged flowers in the landscape. Early in the nineteenth century he painted a scene of a garden of roses that he simply called ‘The Rosarium.’

His painting represents an entire garden area dedicated to the beautiful and now essential rose.

This is his painting:

Humphry Repton’s Rosarium (1813)

Today we take flower gardens for granted. We assume they have been around forever.

As Taylor points out, there was a gradual development of interest in flower gardens. Eventually, especially by the late Victorian period, such gardens would become essential.

It was the nineteenth century however that introduced flower gardens.

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Book Contract in the Mail

Book contract in the mail –

I received some wonderful news this week.

Ohio University Press offered me a contract to publish my new book All about Flowers: James Vick’s Nineteenth Century Seed Company.

I want to thank the people who read earlier versions of this book and gave me advice on how to make it clearer and more enjoyable.

Many people do not know James Vick (1818-1882) from Rochester, New York who owned one of the largest seed companies in the country.

The main idea behind the book is that Vick sold Victorian flowers for the garden that we still love today, a century and a half later. He promoted the kind of Victorian garden that we all love.

What was so fascinating about him was the way he conducted his business.

His goal was to spread the love of floriculture.

Letters from customers he included in his catlaog and magazine testify to his great passion for flowers and his love for his customers.

I think that’s what amazed me most, his relationship with his customers, spread around the country.

Publication Date

At this point I have no idea when the book will actually come out but certainly not before the fall of 2020.

An academic press like OUP enlists reviewers to read the manuscript. The author does not know who they are.

One such reviewer said,  “Historians have previously overlooked plantsman James Vick and his significance to 19th c. ornamental horticulture. Thomas Mickey’s book makes an indispensable contribution to the field of U.S. ornamental horticultural history. “

James Vick (1818-1882)

Here is an image of the kind of flower chromolithograph that Vick made available to his customers. They would hang it up in the living room as decoractive art.

Vick’s chromo [couretsy of Millicent W. Coggon, a Vick descendant]

I am happy to report that the book includes several colorful illustrations from both Vick’s catalog and his magazine, Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

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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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Halloween Pumpkins Filled with Succulents

Halloween pumpkins filled with succulents

A few days ago I visited the nursery Avant Gardens in the southeastern Massachusetts town of North Dartmouth, near Fall River.

In the greenhouse there I found this beautiful succulent called Kalanshoe thyrsiflora. [below] It seemed like succulents were surrounding me no matter where I turned.

Then I understood why.

A short distance in another greenhouse I saw a group of people filling pumpkins with succulent cuttings. An instructor walked around to guide them through the task.

I discovered that this happened to be a workshop offered that afternoon.

Here is one of the pumpkins. [below]

I thought what a beautiful way to feature a pumpkin on your table.

Since the pumpkin is filled with moss on top along with the cuttings of succculents, the pumpkin offers a wonderful seasonal blend of color, texture, and structure.

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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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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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Victorians Suffered Orchid Mania

Victorians suffered orchid mania

You have heard about tulip mania in the seventeenth century and perhaps even dahlia mania in the early nineteenth century.

In 1894 the London magazine Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art published an article entitled “The Romance of Orchid Collecting” about the sickness called orchid mania in late Victorian England.

Collectors were going crazy over the newest and latest orchids, in spite of the many dangers involved in hunting for orchids.

Earlier in the century Charles Darwin had done research on orchids. Historian James T. Costa mentions the mania in his book Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory. He writes, “Victorian orchid collectors suffered this form of madness.”

The Chambers’s article discussed the trials, tribulations, murder and mayhem that resulted from the hunt for orchids.

“A plant no bigger than a tulip bulb has been sold for many times its weight in gold.”

That someone could become so obsessed with a particular plant is probably not surprising if you consider plant collecting as both a hobby and current fashion.

Darwin, however, was interested in orchids because they cross pollinated.

His interest was scientific.

In the course of Darwin’s investigation into flower structure and pollination, he started a line of orchid research in the 1840s.

Costa does not, however, make any mention of Darwin suffering from orchid mania, probably because that ‘illness’ came later in the century.

Darwin, too, was more interested in plant experiments than plant collecting.

And so, you might say, the orchid mania bug never bit him.

Photo from my Florida trip. You can see orchids on this tree in the front yard. [Thanks to FNGLA garden tour.]
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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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