Update on the Book

Publishing a book during a pandemic has several unique differences from earlier times.

One is that everyone in the publisher’s office is probably working from home.

Another is that it seems to take longer for decisions to be made.

That appears to be the case with my new book All about Flowers: James Vick’s Nineteenth-Century Seed Company.

I want to give you an update on the book.

Ohio University Press, 2001

The publisher just informed me that the publication date has now changed to the end of April.

The original publication date was late September, then January, and now April.

But what can I do?

I am writing about it here because the publication of this book is an important event for me, following several years of research and writing.

Talks on the Book

I plan to give a few talks about the book.

Today is the first such talk to the Garden Club of Harvard in Harvard, Massachusetts. Of course I will use Zoom. After several weeks writing, editing, and choosing the right image, my slides ‘are ready for their close-up’, i.e. for Screen Share.

I have also been offered some other opportunities to speak about the book on Zoom during the coming year.

Book Launch

I will probably have the launch of the book on Zoom as well.

The format is still undecided but there will be a host for the event. Not sure if a bookstore or another venue will sponsor it.

Editing

Meanwhile I continue to edit the manuscript. The publisher sends me chapters in an email, I edit them, and return them via email. Pretty efficient.

Do keep tuned.

Share

Early 19th Century Farm Journal Fostered Garden Writers

We can learn a great deal about gardening by looking at garden magazines.

At the begining of the nineteenth century there was more interest and energy put into farming than cultivating a garden.

Nineteenth century garden writers sometimes began their writing career in a farm journal where horticulture played but a minor role.

This was a new country and people had to eat. Supplying food to feed the country took center stage.

The Genesee Farmer [below] from Rochester, New York was a publication, begun in 1831, directed at farmers, but also included a section on gardening.

The goal of the magazine was to keep the farmer informed of the newest methods and machinery necessary for farming.

Farming was serious business. The farmer had to keep up with the latest, especially how he could get the most for his crops. The Genesee Farmer filled that role.

Patrick Barry, co-owner of the early Rochester nursery Ellwanger and Barry, was both a great writer and knowledgable about plants, especially fruit trees. He wrote an important book on fruit trees, simply called Fruit Garden.

His section called ‘Horticulture’ in the Genesee Farmer addressed new plants, pests, fertilizer, pruning – all the topics a gardener needed to know.

Vick on Writing

Seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) was associated with the paper as a writer and editor from 1849 to 1855 when he became owner and publisher as well.

Vick brought his own editorial style to the publication.

Harriett Julia Taylor wrote an article called “Rochester’s Agricultural Press” for the Rochester Historial Society Publication.

She wrote, “While James Vick was editor of the Farmer, the circulation mounted rapidly and the paper assumed a more elegant air than it had ever known.”

A year later, in order to devote his entire time to the seed business he was beginning, Vick sold the magazine to Joseph Harris.

Vick then started his own publication called Rural Annual and Horticultural Directory, the first part of which was a sort of glorified seed catalog and the second part a list of nursery owners.

Vick would go on to start his own successful monthly magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878.

Vick’s career as a writer, editor, and publisher owed a great deal to Genesee Farmer, the early farm magazine.

Even though the emphasis was on farming, Vick found it also gave him the opportunity to learn about the publishing business so that one day he could devote himself to the business of writing about the garden and its flowers.

A farmers’ journal gave both Barry and Vick the start to an illustrious garden writing career of many years.

Share

Sweet Pea Became Popular Annual for the Garden in Late Nineteenth Century

The sweet pea has long been a garden favorite.

We owe its popularity to the seed trade from the late nineteenth century.

James Vick (1818-1882), seed merchant from Rochester, New York, was reponsible for putting the sweet pea into the hands of many gardeners.

Peggy Cornett Newcomb wrote in her book Popular Annuals of Eastern North America 1865-1914, “James Vick took a special interest in sweet peas and kept abreast of all the new introductions from England.”

The seed merchants introduced newer varieties of many flowers. They made the sweet pea a popular choice for gardeners.

Cornett Newcomb said that Vick “was probably one of the first to introduce Blue Hybrid and Scarlet Invincible into the American trade.”

Sweet Pea Chromo

Vick included a beatiful choromolithograph of the sweet pea in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1882.

University of Rochester Special Collections librarian Karl Kabelac wrote an article called “Ninetheenth-Century Rochester Fruit and Flower Plates” in the University of Rochester Library Bulletin.

Kabelac writes about William Karle and Anton Rahn who owned a Rochester litographic company called Karle and Co. in the late 1880s.

In 1880 Karle and Co. provided a lithograph of the sweet pea for Vick’s seed catalog called Vick’s Floral Guide. [below]

The image remains to this day a splendid manifestation of the value and importance of the sweet pea.

Cornett Newcomb writes about sweet pea varieties of the time. She says, “Prominent annuals of the 1880s recognized by horticultural societies include the Eckford and Laxton Sweet Pea.”

In his book The Flower and Vegetable Garden (1875) Vick wrote, “The Flowering Peas are among the most useful and beautiful of all the hardy annuals.”

Victorians Loved the Sweet Pea

Horticulturist and garden historian Barbara Medera writes a wonderful garden history blog called Harvesting History, founded in 2016.

Barbara once gave a talk about Victorian gardening at the Boston and Flower Garden Show.

In the talk she said, “If there is a flower of the Victorian period, it would have to the sweet pea.”

Share

Never Enough about Benefits of Gardening

We gardeners love the benefits of gardening.

Many rewards come our way.

A customer, D. V. D. from San Francisco, once wrote to nineteenth century horticulturist James Vick (1818-1882) who owned a large seed company in Rochester, New York.

In 1878 Vick included the letter in his company magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

The California customer wrote these words to Mr. Vick,

“One must give care and companionship to plants and flowers to learn their grateful nature and feel their beneficent influences.”

A gardener gives but a bit, and receives treasures galore for mind and body.

Recent Article

The editors and writers at Happy DIY Home have just posted a new article called “The 25 Benefits of Gardening.”

Worth reading for great inspiration as you enjoy the fall garden.

That article put me on this kick to write about how much gardening does for us gardeners.

My New Form of Gardening

Now that we have sold our house, and I am confined to a condo deck of five containers filled with plants, I am feeling the treasures in gardening even more.

[Courtesy of Mommyuniversity.com]

In the letter the same San Francisco gardener said to Vick,

“Go into the garden weary, angry or disappointed, and relief comes without rest.”

The writer concluded with a word of encouragement for parents to teach their children about gardening.

He/she said, “To direct the inquiries of the young to this inner life of the garden is to strengthen their minds for loftier inquiries in the future.”

Share

Dahlias and Me

We all love some flowers in the garden more than others.

That is the case with dahlias and me.

I love dahlias.

Here is ‘Creme de Casis’ which I grew this summer in a container along the driveway. [below]

Dahlia ‘Crème de Cassis’

It was the first time I planted this variety.

History of Dahlias

The dahlia first came from Mexico to Spain in the sixteenth century.

The Spanish priest, artist, and scientist Antonio Jose Cavanilles (1745-1808)  served on the staff of the Royal Botanic Garden in Madrid.

He drew illustrations of the dahlia in the late 1700s.

At about the same time the dahlia began to appear in England, France, Italy, and Germany.

From the early 1800s the dahlia had become a garden staple.

American gardeners enjoyed their first dahlias by the 1830s.

Even though it went through both periods of intense desire for the latest variety as well as disgust in just hearing its name, the dahlia is still around today.

Perfect Late Summer Flower

What I like most about this flower, besides its shape and endless variety of colors, is that it blooms in late summer until almost Thanksgiving here in the Northeast.

They begin in early August and continue til November.

James Vick on Dahlias

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1814-1882) grew hundreds of dahlias in his display gardens.

You would have found his field of dahlias about five miles north of the Rochester city limits.  [below]

Vick’s Seed House and Mill at his trial farm, located north of Rochester, New York. History of Monroe County, New York, 1877

Once the editor of the Illustrated Christian Weekly visited Vick’s dahlia field and wrote an article about his visit.

The editor’s article appeared in Vick’s Illustrated Monthly  of September 1879.

He wrote, “Mr. James Vick, of Rochester, N. Y., was the pioneer in the systematic growing of flower seeds, and without doubt the most extensive grower in America.”

That was quite the praise for Mr. Vick at a time when the seed and nursery business was growing around the country.

Then the editor raved about the blooms of the many dahlias he saw in the rows devoted to this flower at Vick’s seed farm.

He said, “Perhaps the largest field devoted entirely to one kind of flowers, at the time of our visit, was one filled with Dahlias, and containing six or more acres. It was supposed to include every variety known of real merit, and the display was gorgeous.”

What a sight that must have been – to see six acres of nothing but dahlias.

Share

Nasturtium – Popular Flower for Centuries

Every year I grow nasturtiums.

They are an easy flower to grow from seed. Just press the seed into the soil.

I had no idea that it had been a popular garden flower for hundreds of years. Over that time we have records of its presence in gardens.

In his book A Natural History of English Gardening 1650-1800 Mark Laird mentions the nasturtium.

He says in a particular flower garden “There were six pots of nasturtium [Tropaeolum] in 1691 on display as a florist’s flower.” A florist was someone who cultivated flowers to sell them later in the market.

These nasturtiums were in the ‘West Walk’, near the kitchen garden.

Dutch and Flemish Gardens

The Dutch and Flemish had introduced plants to England during this period.

Edward Hyams in his book English Cottage Gardens writes, “Dutch and Flemish horticulture was strongly felt [in the Middle Ages]; between 1550 and 1650 it added new vegetables to the English garden flora, as well as new flowers.”

Among the flowers was the nasturtium, which had come to Europe from Peru.

Laird says, “Double nasturtiums [Tropaeolum majus] came to England from Netherlands post 1686 from Peru.”

So indeed the nasturtium has flourished in our gardens for a long time.

Today we still grow them.

Renee’s Seeds in California offers sixteen varieties.

One of them ‘Buttercream’ is a favorite.

Here it is growing in a container outside my front door.

Nasturtium ‘Buttercream’

You can easily grow nasturiums in pots, borders, and under shrubs.

Share

Victorians Teasured Colorful Flowers

Victorians believed that colorful flowers needed to fill the garden all summer.

In his book The Garden in Victorian Literature Michael Waters writes, “The massing of plants in showy color schemes grew rapidly in popularity.”

Waters provides three reasons for those colorful Victorian gardens.

First, the influx of foreign plant materials during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Second, the hybridization of already available species, including dwarf varieties of older plants.

Third, the introduction of greenhouses, in which huge numbers of tender annuals could be raised for wholesale use.

Thus, Waters says, “Brillance of color became the top prerequisite of the mid-Victorian garden.”

Verbena

The list of plants every garden had to have included the verbena.

The verbena, a Victorian favorite, continues among the best sellers for the garden industry.

Today the plant grower Proven Winners constantly searches for ever newer varieties of plants.

PW has introduced a beautiful, new verbena called ‘Dark Blue’.

James Vick

The Rochester, New York seed merchant James Vick (1818-1882) mentioned the popular verbena in his garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in November 1881.

He wrote, “The term, bedding plants, has long been in use, and is applied to all those tender plants that, preserved through the winter under glass, are there propagated and raised, and finally planted in beds in the spring to serve for the decoration of the garden for one season. Such plants are Geraniums, Heliotropes, Verbenas, Lantanas, and a multitude of other flowering plants.”

The Vick Company of course offered verbenas in its seed catalog. [below]

Vick won awards for his verbenas at State Fairs around the country including Michigan.

He wrote in 1880 in his garden magazine: “Among our garden flowers none is more valuable and more prized than the Verbena.”

The verbena was, however, only one of many annuals that offered colorful bloom in the Victorian flower garden whether for beds, borders, or containers.

Share

Repton Brought Back Flower Gardens

We know in the modern English landscape garden dating from the early eighteenth century the extensive lawn took center stage.

Flower gardens were there, but not emphasized until serious plant collecting from around the world emerged, as well as the support of landscape gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818).

Garden historians attribute renewed interest in flower gardens to Repton.

Andre Rogger in Landscapes of Taste: The Art of Humphry Repton’s Red Books mentions a significant threesome in Walpole’s book The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening (1780).

Rogger argues that Walpole linked the three most important landscape gardeners of the eighteenth century.

Rogger writes, “The tripartite sequence [in Horace Walpole’s book] William Kent followed by Lancelot Brown followed by Humphry Repton established the canon for the history of English landscape gardening.”

The Victorian Garden

It was Repton’s focus on flowers that makes him so significant as gardening with flowers emerged in the nineteenth century.

In The Garden in Victorian Literature Michael Waters, though not a historian as such, looked at the image of ‘garden’ in Victorian fiction and poetry.

Repton appears important to such artists because he brought back the flower garden to its important position near the house.

Waters writes , “Repton believed this would restore not only the art of gardening but also the social functions of the garden.

“That this was Repton’s major contribution to the history of garden design is occasionally acknowledged in Victorian fiction.”

For Repton flowers ought to be viewed both by the garden’s owner and the visitor.

Mick Thompson, writing in the journal Garden History, says, “During the second half of his career as a landscape gardener. Repton led the way in returning flower gardens, both formal and informal, close to the house where they could be seen and enjoyed.”

Repton includes flowers in this illustration from his Red Book for Ashridge of 1813. [below]. Flowers dot the lawn in both beds and borders.

The Countess of Bridgewater’s Flower Garden; detail from Repton’s Red Book for Ashridge (1813).
Share

Resist Colonial Attitude toward Plants

Last week I came across an amazing new article entitled “It’s time to decolonise botanical collections.”

The author Alexandre Antonelli is the Director of Science at Kew, England’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

The main idea of the article is that plants were not ‘discovered’ like a treasure in the sea. They might well predate by many years the first time their species was recorded.

Antonelli writes, “For hundreds of years, rich countries in the north have exploited natural resources and human knowledge in the south.

“Colonial botanists would embark on dangerous expeditions in the name of science but were ultimately tasked with finding economically profitable plants.”

Exotic plants are still taken from other countries and brought to the homeland of the plant hunter.

Kew became the major destination for plants from other countries, for the purpose of improving the gardens of England.

Antonelli recognizes the subtle racism in that attitide that has endured for centuries.

Kew will tackle structual racism in plant and fungal science. He says, “We will strive to increase the ethnic representation of our staff and students.”

Also, he says “Our current work on a new science strategy is an opportuntity to ensure our research is framed in the context of equality, diversity, and inclusion.”

Herbarium at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

Book Currently Reading

What’s really more than a coincidence is the book I am currently reading.

The title is A Natural History of the English Garden by Mark Laird.

Laird traces England’s involvement with plant collecting from 1650 to 1800, one hundred fifty years.

He writes about the important English botanists and horticulturalists from that period including John Evelyn, Peter Collinson, Philip Miller, Mary Delany, and William Curtis.

Each of them loved plants, especially the newer varieties arriving in England.

They all cultivated gardens and often wrote about their collections, or like Mary Delany created works of art that illustrated plants.

The goal of plant hunting around the globe was to build up the plant collection at Kew.

Laird writes, “Plant collecting had obvious relevance for apothecaries and doctors.”

By 1778 in Kew “plants from across the seven seas were being added to the original compendium of the four continents.”

It was common for English aristocrats to foster plant collections in their own gardens as well.

No individual’s plant collection however rivaled that of Kew.

Kew housed all the finest in exotics available to England.

Thus, because Kew represents such a vast and important history of plant collecting, Antonelli’s remarks are all the more relevant.

They force us to rethink at this time the collecting of plants, including for institutions like botanical gardens.

Share

Newport’s Restored Blue Garden

A restored garden always brings a sense of excitement.

You are seeing a garden the way it was first installed.

Or so you think.

Last week I visited the restored private garden called Blue Garden in beautiful Newport, Rhode Island. [below]

Blue Garden in Newport, Rhode Island

The garden is located in an area just past the Gilded Age seaside mansions on Bellevue Avenue. You proceed on Ocean Avenue and shortly you arrive at the property located on Beacon Hill Road.

To say the garden has been restored is only the beginning of what the philanthropist and horticulturalist Dorance H. Hamilton and her team of architects, contractors, and landscape designers have created.

The restored Blue Garden is a glorious garden experience.

Environtmental Concern

What I learned was that though the garden has been restored, the new garden is in keeping with serious environmental and maintenance concerns.

For example, the many plants that have been introduced demand far less upkeep than the original varieties included on the Olmsted plant list of 1913.

I saw frequent groupings of white Scaevola aemula and blue Veronica ‘Magic Show Wizard of Ahhs.’ They complement each other quite well.

The two pools still form the backbone of the garden. They sit exactly where they were in the 1913 design of the Blue Garden by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.

The garden had been left for years and became severely overgrown with invasive plants like the Norway maple.

When Mrs. Hamilton purchased the property in 2012, she wanted, above all, to restore the Garden.

She succeeded.

With over two thousand annuals, perennials, vines, and shrubs along with two hundred fifty evergreens in the three acre garden-site you experience a bit of yesterday, but designed with today’s concern in water and land preservation.

The design of the garden still reflects the formal garden style which was popular in the early 1900s, with such landscape designers as Charles Platt, Edith Wharton, and, of course, the Olmsted Brothers firm.

Everything the builders found as they dug up the original garden, where it could be, was recycled in some way.

Though the builders had the original plant list from Olmsted, they opted, where possible, for plant varieties that were easier to maintain.

Plan a Visit

Newport in the summer becomes a major attraction for the State of Rhode Island. Nonetheless, the Blue Garden ought to be on your list of places to visit.

Remember that the Blue Garden is a private garden and open only at special times. Thursdays til October you can join a guided tour of the Garden. Email the Director Sarah Vance ahead of time since the number of visitors admitted is limited.

The Blue Garden: At the top of the pergola Wisteria frutescens, ‘Amethyst Falls’ and along the cement edge blue Lobelia in containers.
Share