Garden Renewed: Rescue of an Old Place

Recently I finished reading a book, published in 1892, called The Rescue of an Old Place.

The book traces the journey of a late nineteenth century couple to renew a Victorian garden.

 

 

Author

The author, Mary Caroline Robbins, tells the story of discovering the home and renewing its landscape in Hingham, Massachusetts, not too far from where I live.

She and her husband purchased the property in the early 1890s.

Robbins writes, “The site of the old house, shaded by some fine Elms and White Ashes, was too near both streets to be at all desirable, though the shrubbery and the tangled remains of an old flower-garden rendered it very attractive.”

She could see the potential in the landscape, though it had long been neglected and seemed to be  crying out for attention.

Winter Street

Their house sat on four-acres along Winter Street.

On a recent visit to Hingham I drove down Winter Street. Though I could not find the house, I saw the contours of the land along each side of the street.

I also noticed that part of the street bordered on a marsh with water that came from the near-by ocean.

Hingham is a town along the coast that attracts people who covet a quaint New England seacoast town.

Garden

The book devotes a great deal of space to the poor condition of the trees and shrubs as well the garden.

As I was reading it, I could see how clearly the author wanted to make the landscape attractive.

She sought to save much of the existing plantings, identifying much that she found on the property.

She named the property ‘Overlea.’

Robbins writes, “When came to examine matters at Overlea, as we named our acquisition,  from its command of the meadow, we found that a good sweeping and dusting would do wonders for it.”

But it was the long-neglected Victorian flower garden that called out to her.

She wrote, “Next to our tree garden came the old-fashioned flower garden as an object of care and interest in the renovation of the place.”

She restored it with popular Victorian perennials and annuals.

The life of a garden

Though a garden may decline and even cease to exit because of neglect, some form of regular maintenance will preserve a gardener’s work for a long time, even generations.

Gardeners know the challenge so well.

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Annuals Make Summer’s End Special

Annuals make summer’s end special.

Annuals become an important part of the garden at the end of the summer.

When so many perennials have gone by, annuals continue to supply color and structure to the garden.

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) wrote about annuals and their appeal even to the end of summer.

In his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1879 Vick wrote,  “The seeds of Annuals are sown in the spring, either in nicely prepared beds in the garden, or in boxes in the house, by those who have no better or more costly arrangements; the plants arrive at maturity in the summer, bud, blossom, ripen their seeds and die in the autumn, having performed their entire mission.”

“To the Annuals, we are indebted mainly for our brightest and best flowers in the late summer and autumn months.”

Right now you will find annuals shining in all their glory in Prescott Park in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. [below]

Prescott Park garden, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Perennials form part of this garden at Prescott Park, but it is the continued blooming of annuals that makes this scene at the end of the summer so special.

Vick taught his readers to love flowers, including annuals.

In a piece on annuals in his magazine Vick wrote, “While writing this article we received a communication from the wife of one of the leading editors of America, describing her success with Annuals, and their wonderful beauty during the autumn months.”

Then Vick quotes her.

She said, “I never had much success with Annuals until I became acquainted with your Guide, and learned about good seed and how to grow them, and now I never fail. My garden is beautiful all the fall with lovely brilliant flowers.”

She mentions some Victorian favorites, still popular today. Her list includes pansies, petunia, phlox, amaranth,and nasturtium.

The color in her garden at the end of summer she attributed to Vick’s guidance.

She promised Vick, “I intend to do wonders this year, and exhibit my flowers at our State Fair, and if I take a prize I will let you know.”

As in Vick’s day, annuals continue even to the end of summer to provide a joyous color just like you can see right now at Prescott Park.

 

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Victorians Reignited Tulip Interest

Victorians reignited tulip interest.

Tulips have been popular flowers for the gardens of Europe and America since the seventeenth century.

After tulip mania, when the cost of a single tulip might equal the price of a house, tulips became common and soon gardeners lost interest.

In the late Victorian period once again tulips took off as important garden plants.

Garden historian Ruthanne C. Rogers’ article “The Man who loved Tulips ” appeared in the Journal of the New England Garden History Society. She wrote, “Although interest in tulips waned in the early nineteenth century, the Victorian period brought about a revival in this country.”

The seed companies and nurseries of the late nineteenth century fed that new interest though articles and illustrations in their catalogs. Of course such garden businesses also provided the latest tulip bulbs.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in 1879, “Nothing in the floral world can equal the dazzling brilliance and gorgeousness of a bed of good Tulips.”

Vick often included illustrations in his catalog. Tulips surround the metal bird bath in this garden scene from one of his catalogs. [below]

Bulbs in the Garden, Vick’s Floral Guide,1880

 

An illustration from another Vick catalog showed a whole bed of tulips.

The Bulb Garden. Vick’s Floral Guide, 1874

 

Vick often invited visitors to see the flowers, including tulips, that he had planted at his own home in Rochester. [below]

Vick’s Rochester home on the south side of East Avenue. History of Monroe County, New York. 1877

In his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly Vick included this colorful chromolithograph of several popular tulips.

 

Tulips, Vick’s Illustrated Monthly 1879

 

Merchant Alexander Hamilton Ladd (1815-1900), a passionate gardener in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, planted sixty thousand tulips every year.  In his garden journal he recorded both the work and the enjoyment from such a massive planting.

He certainly embodied the Victorian love of tulips.

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Remembering Years of Pleasure from Gardening

Remembering years of pleasure from gardening

Alexander Hamilton Ladd (1815-1900) lived in a colonial mansion on downtown Market Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

William Whipple, an eighteenth century relative and the original owner of the house, had signed the Declaration of Independence.

A horse chestnut that Whipple planted in 1776 when he returned from the signing in Philadelphia still stands in the front to the side of the house.

Today, however, A. H. Ladd is remembered primarily for his garden in the back of the property.

Alexander H. Ladd’s garden journal

Ladd kept a journal of his work of many years in the garden.  The journal, discovered only in 1990, became a book simply titled Alexander H. Ladd’s Garden Book 1888-1895: A 19th Century View of Portsmouth.  It recounts his love of gardening.

After many years of working in the garden Ladd reflected on how much the garden meant to him.

In a letter to his son William dated Saturday, November 16, 1895 Ladd wrote about the pleasure the garden had given him for so many years.

He said, “I think it [the garden] is as good and productive a garden as any in the state, and I have never seen a better one. I have been at work upon it for 30 years and have gotten lots of pleasure, health, and vegetables from it.”

Very simply stated, isn’t it?

He enjoyed gardening because of the pleasure it gave him.

Ladd planted thousands of tulips every Fall. He dug them up after blooming and stored them for planting later for the next spring.

His love of gardening included dark moments as well.  These are moments when you ask yourself, is it all worth it?

Ladd wrote in his journal on October 24, 1889, after planting dozens of tulips, “I can never do better, and perhaps not so well again, and have lost much interest in this Hobby.”

He gardened, inspite of dark moments, because of the pleasure it gave him.

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Just Enjoy the August Landscape

Just enjoy the August landscape

We have worked hard in the three months of April, May, and June to get the landscape in shape. We planted  trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals.

Late nineteenth century Central Park superintendent Samuel Parsons Jr. (1844-1923) founded the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1899.

He wrote his book Landscape Gardening in 1891.

In it he said that the landscape needs something to sustain us during the hot and steamy months of July and August.

He wrote, “Since we are forced to dwell more or less in the open air in July and August, constrained by fashion and the heat of the weather, it is all the more reasonable to make the extension of the house attractive.”

The past few summer weeks here in the Northeast have been particularly hot and humid.

Who feels like working in the garden in heat and humidity?

Parsons continued in these words: “and to take the opportunity of making this fashion a means of gradually developing a more widespread love of nature.”

Since it is too hot to dig and plant in the garden right now, this is the time we take to enjoy the trees and shrubs and other treasures we have carefully planted either this year or in earlier springs and earlier summers.

Parsons clearly pointed out that the landscape needs a lawn, choice trees, and a few shrubs with color. 

We’ve planted them.

This is the time to enjoy the work we have done.

Parsons gave many recommendations for trees and shrubs that we could enjoy as part of the landscape.

The point he made however was we need to enjoy the landscape now. Just walk around, take it all in, and then sit down for a quiet moment or two.

We’ve worked hard. Now we enjoy.

 

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Reading Plants Like Late Nineteenth Century Climbing Rose

Reading plants like late nineteenth century climbing rose.

I am still filled with awe at the life and career of the nineteenth century plant hunter Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859).

He brought both science and imagination to his understanding of nature.

Andrea Wulf in her  book The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World points out that Humboldt read plants.

She writes, “Humboldt ‘read’ plants as others did books — and to him they revealed a global force behind nature, the movement of civilizations as well as of landmass. No one had ever approached botany in this way.”

Humboldt’s view of nature as one, and not divisions by various sciences, took the world of understanding plants in a new direction.

Now that I think of it, his idea of reading plants makes perfect sense.

A plant you have in your garden right now had a journey to that spot, a journey that may have been decades or centuries. It is not simply a sunflower or a lily of the valley.

They both express a time and a culture from which they originate.

I know they are beautiful in their own right, but they also reflect the history of gardening.

Take the rose as an example and one rose in particular.

The ‘Crimson Rambler’ became a popular rose with gardeners in the late nineteenth century.

Tradecard for the ‘Crimson Rambler’ Rose

It was introduced to the garden market in England in the early 1890s.

It had come from Japan to a nursery, first in Scotland, then in England.

Queen Victoria traveled to the nursery to see this special rose.

The ‘Crimson Rambler’ became a popular climbing rose for the next thirty years both in Europe and America.

Eventually it was replaced by other climbing roses, less inclined to problems of disease and insects.

Thus I see more than simply a rose. It represents to me the nineteenth cenutry nursery industry. Its origin tells us it was an exotic in gardens at that time.

The Peter Henderson Seed Company from New York used this rose in its catalog of 1896 [below].

The new ‘Crimson Rambler’ rose appeared here in this 1896 Henderson seed catalog.

‘Crimson Rambler’ was not just a rose. It represented as well the influence of the Victorian garden industry on homeowners everywhere.

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Nineteenth Century Botanical Art Book Illustrated Social Status

Nineteenth century botanical art book illustrated social status.

Botanical art reveals wondrous details about plants through the eyes of the artist.

Ronald King, former Secretary at the Botanic Gardens in Kew, in his book Botanical Illustration says, “It was not until 1530 that attention was turned fully upon the plant and an effort to draw it as it actually appeared.”

Once interest in the study of botany took off in the eighteenth century, especially with Linnaeus’ triumph in coming up with a system to categorize plants, botanical art also grew.

The English physician Robert John Thornton (1768-1837) became interested in botany and made botanical writing his career.

In 1807 Thornton published a book of botanical art with the title New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus. He wanted to promote the work of Linnaeus who distinguished plants by their method of reproduction.

The subtitle was Temple of Flora. The book became an important nineteenth century example of botanical art as well social status.

In his book The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives Stephen Buchman writes, “The most famous work of botanical scientific illustration of all time is the unique Temple of Flora by Englishman Robert John Thornton.”

Thornton enlisted artists Peter Henderson and Philip Reinagle for most of the twenty-eight paintings in the book called a florilegium but did this painting of the cabbage rose himself. [below]

Cabbage Rose by Robert John Thornton from Temple of Flora published in 1807

King defines ‘florilegium’ as a book with portraits of flowers included for their ornamental value.

Buchman writes “The Temple of Flora is properly known as a florilegium, and such books were popular with the wealthy and privileged from the second half of the eighteenth century through the early twentieth century.”

Access to works of botanical art during Thornton’s time was restricted to the more educated and wealthy.

Eventually by the early twentieth century when printing became cheaper and mass education was the norm, books of botanical art were available to everyone.

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Tulip Mania Provides Garden Marketing Lesson

Tulip mania provides garden marketing lesson.

The tulip has long been a popular spring flower.

Here is an illustration from Boston’s W. W. Rawson seed catalog of 1904. [below]

An illustration of tulips that appeared in the W. W. Rawson Seed Catalog of 1904

A new tulip farm of several acres opened in Rhode Island a couple of years ago.

Now for two or three weeks in April hundreds of people flock to see the fields of thousands of tulips in bloom.  You need a reservation just to visit.

Though today they are precious to every gardener, tulips once were out of reach of most people when they commanded high prices and were sold to the highest bidder.

That happened during the seventeenth century in Holland when the first tulips were arriving from Turkey and Iran. We called the frenzy tulip mania.

Tulip mania provides a lesson in the power of garden marketing.

Stephen Harris says in his book Planting Paradise: Cultivating the Garden, 1501-1900 “During tulip mania, staggeringly high prices were paid for individual bulbs. A single bulb of one of the rarest and most prized, ‘Semper August’, was sold for up to twice the price of an Amsterdam house.”

The market for the tulip had grown to such an extent that only the rich could afford them.

Tulip mania, with its limited market, ended in the winter of 1636-37.

In his book The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How they Change Our Lives Stephen Buchman writes “Fortunately tulip bulbs no longer command astronomical prices as they are easily mass produced.”

Eventually growers in Holland figured out how to grow tulip bulbs in large numbers.

The marketing that resulted from the mass production of tulips meant persauding every homeowner to grow them, no matter the size of the garden.

No surprise that scenes like the illustration in Rawson’s catalog appeared often.

As Harris says, “By the late eighteenth century, as more cultivars were developed and effectively propagated, prices had dropped dramatically; 730 named tulips in one catalogue ranged in price from a few pence to several shillings per bulb.”

Today most plants you buy at that big box store or garden center are there because they have been mass produced and mass marketed to gardeners like you and me to emphasize their appeal.

Thus we probably won’t see another tulip mania.

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Love of Flowers Promotes Health and Well-Being

Love of flowers promotes health and well-being.

It is spring and the time of year that gardening takes off in full force.

One thing we need to do is to make sure we plant flowers so that we have color in the garden. Who wants to look at just a sea of green all summer? Not me.

We need flowers to survive.

At least that is what Stephen Buchmann writes in his book The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives.

He says, “The belief that plants are beneficial for medical patients is at least one thousand years old. In Europe, during the Middle Ages, monks in monasteries built beautiful gardens to see and comfort the ill.”

Though I think that we have known of the medicinal value of plants much longer than one thousand years, he makes a point about how important plants are for our health and well-being.

Buchmann writes, “Plants are often the primary gifts given to hospital patients, and for good reasons.

“Flowers, whether in pots or flower beds, have taken on a new cultural and evolutionary role as our companion plants.

“Perhaps it is the flowers who have led us along garden paths, using their seductive petaled beauty, since they were first intentionally grown, tended, and admired in ancient gardens.”

Something about a flower, like this dahlia, brings a smile and a bit of joy to the human heart. [below]

‘Ketsup and Mustard’ Dahlia

We cultivate flowers because we need them. They are not just pretty. In some way they provide us with hope, health, and happiness.

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Nineteenth Century Formal American Landscape

Nineteenth century formal American landscape

Last week I drove to the Hunnewell estate in Wellesley, near Boston. Both Wellesley College, which is adjacent, and the Hunnewell garden overlook beautiful Lake Waban.

Boston financier and horticulturist Horatio Hollis Hunnewell (1810-1902) designed his landscape in the emerging English formal look of the mid-nineteenth century.

In his great garden history book Victorian Gardens Brent Elliott says  “By the 1840s England was entering what has been called ‘the heroic age of gardening.’ England was leaving the natural look of the landscape.”

Writing also about that period Alan Emmet says in her book So Fine a Prospect: Historic New England Gardens “Nature, no longer particularly revered [as in the 18th century], was now considered as merely the canvas upon which human genius could work wonders of artifice.”

In 1865 Hunnewell gave $2000 to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society to encourage the art of landscape gardening. He knew and appreciated landscape design.

Hunnewell improved the landscape of his own property in Wellesley with a formal garden of evergreens.

The Hunnewell Pinetum, as his collection of evergreens was called, still stands today as a symbol of mid-nineteenth century garden design. It reflects the formal English garden of the same time which was expressed in the work of landscape gardener William Andrews Nesfield (1793-1881) and architect Sir Charles Barry.

Hunnewell once said “The laying out and planting of our country places are often the result of chance rather than any well-dedicated plan.” He had a plan, a formal design.

The nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs embraced the natural English garden style, later the gardenesque, and then the more formal design.

The seed company and nursery owners convinced us of the importance of both the natural and the formal landscape style, especially in parks.  Philadelphia garden writer and nursery owner Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine of 1865: “We all wish to see the public grounds of this country equal to those of Europe.”

America followed the English style of landscape both in private homes and in public parks.

Hunnewell contributed to the evolution of  America’s landscape gardening through his emphasis on a formal look in the garden.

Below you can see his garden of pines across the lake. [below]

The Hunnewell Pinetum with blooming azaleas in the background

A close-up view of the Pinetum shows the pruning that continues to this day. [below]

Well-trimmed evergreens still appear in the landscape of the Hunnewell Estate, adjacent to Wellesley College

Emmet says in her book “Hunnewell may have been the first American to follow English prototypes in reviving the formal garden.”

 

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