Verbena Essential Victorian Flower

Verbena essential Victorian flower.

What is good about annuals is that they continue to bloom until the Fall, or even til the first frost.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) defined them as “those plants that live but one season.”

In the nineteenth century when colorful flowers became an essential in every garden, the verbena rose to become an important addition to the garden. Vick called it “one of the most showy and valuable plants of the garden.”

English horticulturist David Stuart wrote in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens, “The verbena was acknowledged, even by contemporaries, as central to the whole bedding movement.”

Bedding meant a design on the lawn, often a diamond, a circle, or a half-moon. Flowers and plants with colorful leaves made up the design. Weekly trimming and weeding followed for the season.

Vick, in an article called “Bedding Plants” wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in November, 1881: “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.”

Today verbenas continue to be an important summer flower for the garden.

The plant grower Proven Winners offers a hybrid variety of verbena called dark blue superbena. [below]

Proven Winners dark blue superbena variety of verbena.

Though today we may not include carpet bedding in the landscape because of its high maintenance, in Victorian times bedding always depended on a well-trimmed lawn.

Vick offered a bit of caution to his readers about the lawn. He wrote,”This style of gardening [bedding] is admissible only with grounds kept in elegant condition; otherwise it would be like jewels in a swine’s snout.”

Even though we do not cultivate carpet bedding, we can still enjoy the Victorian summer flower called the verbena.

 

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. 

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.

Boston Flower Show Honors Capability Brown

Boston Flower Show honors Capability Brown.

Last week the Boston Flower and Garden Show honored England’s eighteenth century gardener to the King, Lancelot Capability Brown.

For months Brown has been in the news quite a bit because 2016 was his three hundredth birthday anniversary.

At the Flower Show Joseph Gray Stonework teamed up with  the plant grower Proven Winners to create an exhibit with Brown as the inspiration.

Together they envisioned the Show’s theme “Superheroes of the Garden” in the person of Capability Brown.

Brown designed over two hundred gardens in England including Warwick Castle, which has a mythical connection to the legend of King Arthur.

Gray said, “My garden is a fantasy design of the Warwick Castle grounds and the hidden lair of Merlin the Magician.”

The exhibit featured this nine-foot high granite fountain of Merlin’s face. [below]

Proven Winners from Pleasant View Gardens in Loudon, New Hampshire provided the many flowers that filled five hundred square feet throughout the exhibit.

Colors like pink in large swathes made a memorable impression on any visitor to this exhibit.

The heavy stone with the delicate looking blooms created a pleasant contrast in this award-winning exhibit and tribute to England’s Capabiity Brown, a true ‘Superhero in the Garden.’

 

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.”

 

Remember Gardens Speak

Remember gardens speak.

Visiting gardens can open the door to ideas you might express in your own garden.

It is not a passive experience when you step into someone else’s garden to see what the owner has done.

It’s quite the opposite. The garden speaks to you.

A garden can connect with a visitor in a special way.

Just think of a garden that you have visited.

Like time spent with a friend you have not seen for a while, you find you could have stayed there for hours.

In his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden Tim Richardson says , “Landscape gardens are not passive; they speak to us, and as we progress around we communicate back with our actions, and later with our memories.,”

His reference point is the extensive garden of the aristocrats that date to the seventeenth century. His book reveals the inspiration and the work of installing such gardens like Stowe and Rousham that still open their doors to visitors .

But I think you can use his thought and apply it to any visit to a garden.

As spring and summer approach, you know you will seek out gardens to visit.

The garden at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Connecticut is now on my list. I prefer gardens of the late nineteenth century, whether Victorian, Arts and Craft, formal, or natural. That period, when the seed and nursery industries became so important to gardeners, reveals the role of the garden industry in the style and fashion of American gardens.

I remember visiting the Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakdast in New Hampshire. A row of ferns, rose astilbes, and yellow ‘Stella de Oro’ daylilies just stopped me in my tracks. [below]

Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakfast in New Hampshire

Rochester, New York’s James Vick spent time visiting gardens as part of his role of owner of a seed company in the nineteenth century.  He traveled in both America and Europe and always mentioned the gardens he had seen.

In 1878 Vick wrote about the English Ivy he had seen on his visit to England. He said, “Those who have visited the Ivy-clad cottages and palaces and ruins of the Old World, will never forget the admiration with which they first beheld this wonderful plant.”

The memories of gardens visited continue for a long time.

Coastal Wilderness Marks 1920s South Florida Garden

Coastal wilderness marks 1920s south Florida garden.

I recently went back in time along the coast of South Florida to visit an island garden from the 1920s.

In Fort Lauderdale Frederic Clay Barrett and his wife Helen built the house with its garden called Bonnet House on Birch Street. The street is named after Hugh Taylor Birch, Mrs. Barrett’s father who gave the thirty-five acres as a wedding gift.

Bonnet House is situated on a coastal barrier island with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west.

Barrier islands protect the mainland from the impact of the ocean tides and currents and also provide a habitat for many kinds of wildlife.

The gardens at the Bonnet House present a visitor with several areas of both desert and tropical plants.

Barrett planted a desert garden near the main house. The garden measures three-fourths’ of an acre and serves as a transition area for the natural barrier island habitat to the south and the main house to the north.

Main House

The house was built in southern plantation style. [below]

Main house at Bonnet House

A near-by lily pond features the bonnet lily, after which the house was named, and provides a respite for the visitor.

Mrs. Barrett collected orchids and housed them in the Orchid House, also not far from the main house.

An alley of palm trees [below] ends up at a fountain, designed and built by Barrett, who, along with his wife, was an artist.

An alley of trees

The beach path leads you right up to a black iron fence separating the property from the beach. Many trees and shrubs line the path, holding in the soil but also teaching a visitor what the land looked like before the commercial development in the area.

Near the house six tall Hibiscus shrubs have become a dense screen of green leaves with orange and red flowers which were in bloom during my visit. [below]

A group of Hibiscus shrubs near the house

Visiting this garden is a trip back in time. Bonnet House also lets you see what the Florida coast looked like before the many condos and hotels lined Fort Lauderdale’s beach.

Dahlias Still Enchant Gardeners

Dahlias still enchant gardeners.

I love dahlias. What can I say?

But then gardeners have loved this plant since it was first introduced from Mexico into Europe in the eighteenth century.

We treasured them so much that both in England and in America the early nineteenth century witnessed a ‘dahlia mania.’  Gardeners coveted the newest dahlia.

Head gardener at Chatsworth Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) wrote a book called A practical treatise on the cultivation of the dahlia (1838).

In the book Paxton said “The state of perfection to which [the dahlia] has already attained is absolutely unparalleled in the history of any other plant or tribe of plants at present known to our collections; and perhaps I shall not be guilty of a departure from truth when I say, that it is at present by far the most interesting, beautiful and popular autumnal-flowering plant, of which the gardens of this country can boast.

“It is conjectured, that the number of named sorts of varieties of this plant now in cultivation, exceeds one thousand.” It was the 1830s and already gardeners could choose from one thousand varieties of the dahlia.

Dahlias continue to enchant gardeners to this day.

Recently I received a notice from Longfield Gardens about its offer for a selection of ‘border’ dahlias. That is a terrific idea. 

Why not plant dahlias as a border?

Border dahlia called ‘Gloria Pablo’ [Courtesy Longfield Gardens]

Dahlias are a terrific flower for containers, beds, as well as borders.

Paxton wrote “No plant, or tribe of plants, of the most acknowledged beauty, or the most extensive variety of form and colour, has ever excited so much interest and attention, or been so successfully and universally cultivated by British florists and horticulturists, as the one here noticed.”

English horticulturist Neil Kingsbury said in his new book Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants in Your Garden that today there are fifty-seven thousand varieties of dahlias on the market.

Surely that number is more than enough for that dahlia enchantment so many of us feel.

Modern Landscape Garden Included Ferme Ornee

Modern landscape garden included ferme ornee.

When the new English landscape garden appeared in the first half of the seventeenth century, it was marked by the elements of both nature and art.

The ‘ferme ornee’ or the ornamental farm appeared as part of that new, modern style.

Ferme ornee means  a farm designed for both utility and beauty, the buildings treated decoratively and contributing to the aesthetic effect within a picturesque landscape.

Horticulturist Stephen Switzer, in his book The Nobleman, Gentleman and Gardener’s Recreation (1715), first described the practice of the ferme ornee. He wrote, “By mixing the useful and profitable parts of Gard’ning with the Pleasurable in the Interior Parts of my Designs and Paddocks, obscure enclosures, etc. in the outward my Designs are thereby vastly enlarg’d and both Profit and Pleasure may be agreeably mix’d together”.

His English readers, steeped in the classics, would detect, in the juxtaposition of useful and pleasurable, the classic view of the twin aims of poetry, inherited from Horace, “to instruct and to delight.”

Tim Richardson writes in his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden, “Ferme ornee, or ornamental farm, was the first example of an important sub-genre of the landscape garden.”

In this country the ferme ornee also interested Thomas Jefferson as he considered how to landscape his hill property called Monticello.

Philip Southcote in the 1730s developed a ferme ornee as part of his English landscape at Woburn Farm. Thomas Whatley later wrote about it in his book Observations on modern gardening (1770).

Through Whatley’s book Jefferson learned about the ferme ornee, which he adopted at Monticello. [below]

In 1786 Jefferson, along with John Adams on their tour of English gardens, had visited Woburn Farm near Chetsey, formerly owned by Southcote. The landscape included the ferme ornee.

That particular ferme ornee impressed Jefferson.

Landscape architect Rudy Favretti wrote in his article “Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Ferme Ornee’ at Monticello”, “The experience greatly enriched his [Jefferson’s] ideas about creating a ferme ornee at Morticello.”

The modern English landscape garden of the early eighteenth century thus impacted farming as well as the pleasure garden both in England and America.

 

 

Politics Influenced Modern English Garden

Politics influenced modern English garden.

One would think that politics is the farthest thing from any sort of garden style or fashion.

A garden is, after all, about the design of a piece of land with plants.

Tim Richardson in his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden makes the point that the English garden change called the ‘landscape garden’ in the early 1700s was linked to the political environment in England.

At that time the English garden developed a ‘modern’ style that changed the English garden forever. The style included a more natural look, less tied to the precise pruning of the Dutch contribution to landscape at that time.

The poet Alexander Pope, the nurseryman Thomas Switzer, and others sought to express a new form of landscape design.

The new English landscape had the opposition between the Tories and Whigs to thank for its emergence.

Richardson says, “[In the 1680s and 1690s]  those in favor of a Protestant succession to the throne – and the businesslike ordering of national affairs that came with it – realized that the treatment of the land itself, including gardens, could be assumed as a powerful emotional and economic argument in favor of Whig ideas of progress and patriotism.”

More creative, intellectual British aristocrats considered the earlier formal, symmetrical garden design of an ‘Anglo-Dutch’ manner that preceded the early 1700s, unsuitable to a modern nation.

This group of new landscapers, led by Pope, sought to express themselves in redesigning the garden.

Richardson writes, “Pope’s ideas were to shape the form of the landscape garden in decades to come.”

“The landscape garden did not arise out of a progression of Taste, as the Whigs would have us believe, but out of an explosion of intellectual creativity,” says Richardson.

If Richardson’s argument is accepted, and in the book he presents evidence to make that point, we have much to be grateful for in the struggle between the two political factions of England in the early 1700s.

The elements of surprise and variety also became the qualities that accompanied the new landscape garden.  The artist William Kent emerged as a major force in designing properties with the new landscape garden look.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both preferred this new landscape garden style on their properties in Virginia.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save