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.

 

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Victorians Loved Winter Indoor Gardening

Victorians loved winter indoor gardening.

Recently I received a press release from Costa Farms about growing house plants in the winter.

The company’s argument that encourages indoor plants sounds quite similar to what I have read in the seed and nursery catalogs of the nineteenth century.

Costa Farms advises us to “infuse new life into spaces by decorating with easy-to-care-for houseplants. It’s simple to give rooms, from bedrooms to bathrooms and even kitchens, a small pick-me-up during winter months.”

Justin Hancock, garden expert at Costa Farms, says “The key is picking a plant that likes the room’s environment.”

Victorian gardeners loved nothing more than plants in the house during the cold days of winter.

Under the title “House Adornments” Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in his catalog of 1872 , “Nothing gives a home a more cheerful appearance in winter than a few plants and flowers, and when they are accompanied with tasteful accessories, the fine effect is much increased.”

In the same catalog Vick sold articles a homeowner needed for indoor gardening such as a black walnut shelf on bronze brackets, a black walnut fernery, and a walnut window garden box.

This Illustration of indoor gardening from Catherine Esther Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1869 book The American Woman’s Home shows how plants in the window can provide a sense of comfort to the summer gardener. [below]

Illustration of indoor plants, including vines, from Catherine Esther Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book The American Woman’s Home, 1869.

Yesterday a catalog arrived in the mail from Logee’s. The nursery, located in Connecticut, is one of my favorite greenhouses. It offers great plant choices for the indoor gardener. The new catalog lists thirty-eight new plants, just the inspiration a gardener needs.

It’s winter. No wonder, just like Vick’s catalog once encouraged, advertising for indoor plants now fills my mailbox.

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National Garden Bureau Honors Pansy

National Garden Bureau honors pansy.

Who doesn’t like the pansy?

The National Garden Bureau  loves it so much that it just declared 2017 the Year of the Pansy.

This tiny plant has a long history in our gardens. It became popular in the Victorian era of the nineteenth century.

Until then most people considered it a weed.

Today pansies are a hybrid plant cultivated from wildflowers in Europe and western Asia. Much of the collection and cultivation of pansies can be attributed to horticulturists in the UK and Europe more than two hundred years ago.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) often wrote about the pansy, and also received letters about this flower from his customers.

He wrote, “The Pansy is a popular flower with both florists and amateurs, giving abundance of bloom until after severe frosts, enduring our hard winters with safety, and greeting us in the earliest spring with a profusion of bright blossoms.”

It was the smiley face on this plant that Vick and his customers loved.

Pansy ‘Delta Premium Marina’ [Thanks to the National Garden Bureau]

Garden pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) are a mixture of several species, including Viola tricolor. Oftentimes the names “pansy”, “viola”, and “violet” are interchangeable.

The American Violet Society classifies modern pansies as having large-flowered blooms with two slightly overlapping upper petals, two side petals, and a single bottom petal, with a slight beard in its center.

Pansies are considered annual bedding plants, used for garden decoration during cooler planting seasons.

According to the NGB, “Pansies come in a rainbow of colors: from crisp white to almost black, and most all colors in between. They are also a great addition to your spring or fall vegetable garden as they are edible and pair well with lettuces. They can also be candied and used to decorate sweets or other dishes.”

Vick wrote in 1874, “The Pansies make such a beautiful bed, and are so interesting as flowers that we are anxious all should succeed with them.”

Then he wrote about the flower’s likeness to a human face. He said, “No flower is so companionable and life-like. It requires no very great stretch of the imagination to cause one to believe that they see and move, and acknowledge your admiration in a very pretty knowing way.”

Did he mean that these plants know you love them?

 

 

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Growing Vegetables Required Enclosed Garden

Growing vegetables required enclosed garden.

Recently I received a gift of a seed starting kit with several vegetable seed packets.

Unfortunately, I cannot grow vegetables in my garden because we have too much shade.

Today with influence from groups like the Farm-to-Table social movement, the interest in growing vegetables is becoming more extensive.

The kitchen garden, or vegetable garden as it became known, has a long history in the story of gardening, but often meant a walled garden area.

In her book Keywords in American Landscape Design Therese O’Malley writes about the meaning of the words “Kitchen garden.”  She says, “In garden periodicals and treatises of the 1840s, the kitchen garden saw a resurgence as an element of newly marketed plans for suburban domestic landscapes.”

Every Victorian home had to have a kitchen garden.

O’Malley continues “All citations emphasized the need to enclose a kitchen garden with a wall or fence.”

“[Several treatises] preferred a regular shape like a square or rectangle.”

George Washington loved the English garden tradition. At Mount Vernon he included a walled kitchen garden to enclose the area where vegetables would grow. [below]

Upper Garden at Mount Vernon [Courtesy photo]

Such an enclosure protects the plants from winds and of course from certain animals.

For decades here in America we had to plant vegetables behind the house, or in the back yard, and often with a fence around the area.  That tradition followed the English example of a walled kitchen garden.

 

 

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Nineteenth Century Garden Writers Encouraged Vegetables

Nineteenth century garden writers encouraged vegetables.

Garden writers influence consumers.

Readers look to such sources to learn what to plant, what tools to buy, and what’s popular garden fashion.

The garden world enjoys it own share of garden media celebrities on whose every word eager fans depend.

So it is no surprise that in the nineteenth century historians note that at one point garden writers focused on growing vegetables rather than cultivating a flower garden.

Perhaps the emphasis on vegetable growing may have been related to the simple need to survive.  Vegetable growing and farming consumed the early decades of the country. Once we had food on the table, we could worry about a flower garden.

In his book The Victorian Garden Tom Carter writes, “Until the middle of the century gardening writers dismissed flowers in favour of useful vegetable products.”

In the 1860s and 1870s seed company owners like Rochester, New York’s James Vick still featured growing vegetables.

Here in an illustration from Vick’s catalog. Vegetables almost surround the house. [below]

Vick wrote much about flowers and spreading the love of floriculture around the country.

One customer wrote to Vick, “No other florist has done so much to create a love of flowers.”

In 1874 he wrote in his seed catalog that gardeners could have almost as much fun in growing vegetables as in cultivating flowers.

In the catalog Vick wrote, “There is almost as much pleasure in growing a choice vegetable well, in bringing it to the highest possible state of perfection, as there is in producing a beautiful flower.”

Then Vick mentioned the lowly cauliflower, pictured in the left of the illustration. [above]

He wrote, “Indeed, some think with Dr. Johnson, that a Cauliflower is the handsomest flower that grows.”

Vick’s advice became important to his customers, so I am sure they followed his guidance even in growing vegetables.

 

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Victorian Homes Needed Lawn

Victorian homes needed lawn.

The lawn marked the landscape as contemporary in nineteenth century America.

Every Victorian house needed the lawn.

David Stuart writes in his book Garden of Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “The front garden, except in the poorest examples, became the site of another piece of competitive gardening: the lawn.

“Of course the great eighteenth-century gardens had lawns, often vast, though these were either cropped by the park’s inhabitants such as fallow deer, rare breeds of sheep and cattle, or kept scythed by the garden staff.

“Soon, every Victorian house had a square of lawn, even if this was scarcely large enough to lie upon outstretched and could be cut with a few sweeps of the scythe.”

A beautiful illustration of a Victorian home with a lawn appears on the cover image from Clifford Edward Clark, Jr.’s  book The American Family Home 1800-1960. [below]

Eventually taking care of lawn became an important household task for the middle class.

As Frank Scott in 1870 argued so well in his book The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds, a homeowner took care of the lawn for the view, for what the neighbor would see.

Thus it was important, he wrote, to keep it cut and looking attractive.

And so Scott set the stage in the nineteenth century for all the stress homeowners feel in the need not only to cultivate a lawn, but to spend hours manicuring it so that it has that certain look.

Victorian homeowners needed a lawn, but a certain kind of lawn, with a certain look.

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Growing Orchids Reflected Social Status

Growing orchids reflected social status.

As material culture, plants can contribute to a person’s social status.

Certain plants often become connected to a higher social class.

That is the case with the orchid from the beginning of its introduction into eighteenth century England.

David Stuart in his book The Garden Triumphant writes, “Orchids of the tropical kind, mostly needed both jungle heat and humidity, were considerable status symbols from the moment of their introduction.”

As tropical plants, orchids demanded the comfort of a greenhouse or conservatory.

“By 1839 the glasshouses at Chatsworth were packed with orchids, many collected specifically for the Duke of Devonshire,” writes Stuart.

On a garden tour in southern Florida last year I came across this blue orchid growing on a tree. [below]

In this Florida front yard you can see orchids on a tree.

The flowers had the perfect combination of heat and moisture to survive on the tree trunk.

Really a beautiful sight.

It never occured to me to judge the social status of the owner of the house and garden.

Though the orchid provided many hours of pleasure to gardeners in nineteenth century America who could afford both the greenhouse and a garden staff to tend to them, today things have changed.

Victoria Zemlan in her article “By Hook by Crook: The Plunder of Orchids for the New World” says “Now, we can buy inexpensive orchids in almost any nursery, home improvement center, or grocery store, but 19th century orchids were an extravagance reserved for the nobility.”

Tom Carter, author of  The Victorian Garden which covers nineteenth century gardening,  says, “Orchids were another class of plants needing special arrangements, and only experienced gardeners attempted them.

“Even though orchids were beyond the scope of most gardeners, they appealed strongly to a curious public, and nurserymen vied to produce the showiest and most exotic specimens.”

Eventually nineteenth century nurseries in both England and America made orchids available to anyone who wanted them. They no longer belonged only to the wealthy.

Today any gardener may grow them.

Zemlan says, “Orchids haven’t lost their allure — Americans now spend more on orchids each year than on any other houseplant.”

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