America’s Enduring Home Landscape Style

America’s enduring home landscape style

Several years ago I owned a house which included two side-by-side rental units.

I thought it would be a a good idea to include plants along the front porch. I planted the old-fashioned spirea prunifolia called ‘BridalWreath.’

Of course at the time I had no idea it could grow to nine feet.

I also planted a young arbor vitae.

Little did I know that I was following the American tradition of foundation planting, or planting along the walls of the front of the house.

In his book From Yard to Garden: The Domestication of America’s Home Grounds landscape arhictect Christopher Grampp  writes about the origin of foundation planting, an American invention for the home landscape.

He says, “By the 1930s, lawns and foundation planting had so firmly established themselves in American front yards that it was rare to see other styles.”

Since then the front home landscape has included the lawn and foundation plantings.

In 1901 the Rawson Seed Company from Boston advertised its grass seed with this image from Quincy, Massachusetts. [below] Notice the front lawn and plantings near the house.

The lawn photo in the 1901 Rawson catalog

The garden industry continued for decades to promote this kind of front yard with its lawn and foundation planting.

Grampp writes, “Nearly all garden design advice in books, newspapers, and magazines were now recommending shrubs against the facade of the house and lawns running to the street.”

No surprise that American homes shared this sameness in landscape from California to Maine – even to this very day.

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Media Drives Garden Industry

Media drives garden industry

We gardeners like to think we are original in planning and installing a garden space.

In an environment of newspapers, magazines, books, and, of course, social media that is not possible because we are surrounded by media messages in both advertising and editorial content.

Since the 1890s the media have become the major influence on our ideas about gardening.

Quaker OatsAt the end of the nineteenth century people wanted standardized products that came from the nation’s factories, whether clothing, shoes, or food.  Even seed company and nursery owners illustrated their large operations in a chromolithograph included in the pages of the catalog.  A customer could then see the trial fields, the building which made boxes for the company’s many orders, and, of course, the multi-storied factory that served as the seed company or nursery headquarters.

People didn’t want just any oat meal.  They wanted Quaker Oats.

And they got that, and lots of other standardized products.

People also wanted a garden like the one illustrated in the garden catalog, which spread across the country in the millions from the many seed companies and nurseries, operating as the modern business they had become.

The Philadelphia seedsman Robert Buist might have felt the power of the media on his business when he wrote in 1857: “Nurserymen have to cater for the wants of their customers, and they wish everything that receives a newspaper puff, however indifferent in quality–so that we go on increasing in all sorts of varieties.”

Garden Catalogs

No surprise then that the yearly catalog from the seed company or nursery helped people to choose seeds and bulbs for the flower garden.

This Smith catalog from Worcester, Massachusetts in 1898 provides an example from that period of the vibrant Victorian garden.

Because everyone was ordering the same seeds and bulbs there was a certain sameness in plant choice and garden design.

People wanted to conform to the norms of the culture.

Thus standardized gardens appeared everywhere.

It reminds me of the ‘ready garden’ you can buy today. All the seeds are embedded in a cloth that you simply lay on the prepared soil and water.

Not only has the garden vendor given you a garden. That person has also provided the design and the seeds.

All you need to do is water and watch it grow.

 

 

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Newport Mansions Feature Christmas Poinsettias

Newport mansions feature Christmas poinsettias.

Everyone knows that Newport, Rhode Island is home to the east coast grand mansions of America’s Gilded Age.

Right now four of the mansions have taken on a festive holiday look.

Four Mansions

Until January 1 you can visit these four Newport mansions, The Breakers, The Elms, Rosecliff, and Marble House, decked out in lights and the holiday colors of red, green, and gold. The Preservation Society of Newport County, the group that oversees eleven historical properties in Newport, has made this holiday display at the mansions available to visitors for more than twenty-five years.

Decorated Christmas trees dot the rooms of the mansions. The trees sometimes surprise you when you turn a corner and see a tall evergreen decked in gold and red as in the Gothic Room of Marble House.

The dining room tables are set with period silver and china, and individual white candles illuminate the windows. Christmas wreaths and evergreens decorate walls.

Poinsettias

Three thousand poinsettias add color to the rooms of the four houses. The plants, grown in the Preservation Society’s own greenhouse,

Pointsettias in the Greenhouse at The Breakers

Poinsettias in the Greenhouse at The Breakers

are removed and replaced several times during the holiday season to ensure the displays remain fresh.

The poinsettias at The Breakers  provide a stunning show of the season’s colors.

Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed The Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, built in 1895, for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, President and Chairman of the New York Central Railroad.

Its interior includes rich marble, mosaic tile floors and ceilings, and open-air terraces with magnificent ocean views.

The Breakers

Right now in the Grand Hall of The Breakers stands a 15-foot tree made of red poinsettias. The room with its walls of yellow stone and a 50-foot high ceiling that seems to go up forever shines with the red color of the poinsettia.

The Grand Hall at The Breakers with its fifteen foot Christmas Tree to the left

The Grand Hall at The Breakers with its fifteen foot Christmas tree, made of poinsettias, to the left

When The Breakers was built, the poinsettia, originally from Mexico, was beginning its journey as the holidays’ most popular decorative plant.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Robert Buist, who introduced the poinsettia to the garden industry, once said that it was “truly the most magnificent of all the tropical plants we have ever seen.”

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan included an article about the poinsettia in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in May of 1876.

Meehan said that this plant “has been of late years an almost indispensable adjunct of Christmas decorations, be they of church or hall–the brilliant Poinsettia pulcherrima, the bright scarlet bracts of which give the head of blossoms a flower-like appearance, and serve admirably to lighten up the somewhat somber masses of evergreen.”

And that is truly what you find at The Breakers. The blossoms of the poinsettias brighten up this mansion and three others in a holiday spirit.

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Seventeenth Century Front Garden Restored

Seventeenth century front garden restored –

The north shore Massachusetts town of Ipswich claims more First Period houses than any other community in America.

First Period refers to those houses built between 1625 and 1725.

The style of the Whipple House, built in 1677, represents that period.

At the end of the nineteenth century the Whipple House was moved to its current location in Ipswich.

Though it had suffered much disrepair over the years, several historically minded citizens of the time thought it worth saving.  In its day the Whipple House was the grandest of examples of early American homes.

At the end of the nineteenth century the Reverend Thomas Franklin Waters became a leading member of the Historical Preservation group in Ipswich.

He said at the time that the Whipple House was “a link that binds us to the remote Past and to a solemn and earnest manner of living, quite in contrast with much of our modern life.”

The Whipple House still stands, thanks to the initiative of this group and its successors. [below]

Whipple House in Ipswich, Massachusetts [built in 1677]

Garden

An extensive kitchen garden at the front of the house greets a visitor to the Whipple house.

The location and design of the kitchen garden continues the English garden tradition of early Plimouth Plantation as well.

In the  early 1960s garden historian Isadore Smith (AKA Ann Leighton) and landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff designed and installed the raised beds of the kitchen garden.

Smith and Shurcliff set out to recreate what would have been a typical wife’s kitchen garden of the seventeenth century. They designed a garden with mostly herbs since the wife was responsible for both the food and the medical needs of the family.

There was not much time for a pleasure garden of decorative flowers so the plant choices of the kitchen garden were based on the cooking and health needs of the family.

The English style of an enclosed kitchen garden with raised beds lined up in a certain symmetry was also the style at the restored gardens of Colonial Williamsburg.

Mr. Shurcliff provides a link between the Whipple House and the Williamsburg garden restoration.

In the 1930s Boston landscape architect Shurcliff, who previously had worked with American landscape pioneer Frederick Law Olmsted, also recreated the garden of the Governor’s Palace at Williamsburg.

According to landscape architect and garden writer Rudi Favretti, the Whipple garden style, centered on the practical needs for plants, continued as the predominant form of gardening well into mid-nineteenth century America.

Thus today the Whipple House illustrates the early influence of English garden design on American home landscape.

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Nineteenth Century Middle Class Home Landscape

Nineteenth century middle class home landscape

The colonial era along the East coast set a landscape design pattern for the middle class, or worker class, in the decades that followed.

A certain kind of nineteenth century middle class home landscape appeared mostly in rural or farm areas. The vegetable and herb garden was close to the house just where the first colonists located it as well.

Historian John Stilgoe wrote a wonderful book about the history of home landscape in America called Common Landscape of America, 1580-1845.



He writes, “Vegetable and herb gardens ought to be near the kitchen so that the farmwife or one of her children can quickly gather fresh vegetables and herbs.”

At that time most people lived on farms or in rural areas. Their home landscape was more utilitarian than the elaborate designs of that period  at the country homes of more wealthy Americans.

Home Ownership

Stilgoe writes, “By 1840 the notion of home ownership was deeply rooted in the national imagination; only a small percentage of farm families rented their farms, and those hoped to own farms someday.”

It was owning a single family home that became important to the nineteenth century middle class.

Clifford Edward Clark, Jr. refected that same idea in his book, The American Family Home, 1800-1960.

In the Introduction to his book Clark commented on what motivated him in writing the book.

He said, “I was struck by the persistent antiurban bias and the glorification of the single-family dwelling that has dominated middle-class consciousness.”

Once people became home owners, the way the home landscape was to look became important to reflect tradition and what neighbors included in their own yards.

The kitchen garden near the house, an idea inspired by the early colonists, continued in that middle class home landscape design.

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19th Century Advertising Featured People as Vegetables

19th Century advertising featured people as vegetables

Tower Hill, near Worcester, Massachusetts, ranks high on my list of favorite public gardens.

On a recent visit I saw their newest exhibit.

The exhibit featured several trade cards from the nineteenth century garden industry.

In their effort to market vegetable seeds, companies used trade cards that included people as the vegetable.  This trade card from Jerome B. Rice and Company promoted beet seeds. [below]

Jerome B. Rice and Company sold beet seeds with this colorful chromolithograph, copyrighted in 1885.

Notice the phrase beneath the beet-man. It says, “I AM FREQUENTLY MISTAKEN FOR A DEAD BEET.” The lettering appears all in uppercase for greater emphasis.

It was not uncommon for several seed companies to share the same image, changing only the name at the bottom of the card.

The Tower Hill exhibit used this same beet image with another seed company’s name. The name ‘John B. Varick Company of Manchester, New Hampshire,’ appears at the bottom of the card.

Trade Cards

In her book  The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880s to 1910s  cultural historian Ellen Gruber Garvey writes about the history of trade cards.

She says, “Beginning in the 1880s, trade cards dominated advertising for national distributed products, until they were largely supplanted by national magazine advertising during the 1890s.

“Manufacturers had put colorful advertising trade cards into the hands of thousands but nationally circulated magazines were a more efficient tool.”

By the 1890s national magazine advertising had outpaced the effectiveness of the trade card.

At one time these small cards, some with people as vegetables, proved popular both for businesses and customers around the country.

Some people even turned to collecting them as a form of amusement.

The Tower Hill seed trade card exhibit in the library will be up for only a few more days.

 

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Crockett’s Compost Bin Works Well

Crockett’s compost bin works well –

A few days ago the Boston Globe featured an editorial called “Time to embrace composting. No, really.

The message struck me in a somewhat personal way since I just had my compost bin rebuilt.

The final words in the title made me see the importance the writer attempted to give this message.

The world is full of too much garbage. Where possible, we need to recycle it as compost.

I have had a compost bin in the backyard, behind the shed, for almost twenty years.

The old one was decaying, and the wood no longer held together.

Three compartments make up the bin. One is full of the newest material that I add right now; the second is material from last year decaying so I can use it next year; and the third is the ready compost which I can use right now for any need in the garden. Next summer I just rotate each of them.

In having it built I followed the design of the drawings and photos from the original design that appeared in Crockett’s Victory Garden published in 1977.

That is where I first saw this version of a compost bin. Some have called it “the Cadillac of compost bins.’

It is easy to use and offers plenty of space.

This photo of my old compost bin illustrates how I desperately needed a new one. This is the bin just a few days ago:

My old compost bin has certainly seen better days.

Here is a photo of the new version which I just had built this week:

My new bin ready for making that ‘black gold’ called compost.

Gardeners and Compost

Gardeners have long seen the value of compost, even for a lawn.

Rochester, NY seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) saw the value of compost in putting in a lawn.

He wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1879 how a new lawn, installed in the spring, needs a bit of compost. He said: “Compost should be spread evenly over the surface and raked in.”

 

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Time to Plant Tulips

Time to plant tulips –

It is October 1 and a gardener’s thoughts turn to spring bulbs like tulips.

For generations gardeners dug up tulip bulbs only to replant them in the Fall.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) recalled that practice in his garden magazine.

A suburban gardener wrote to Vick in 1878, “I don’t know of any flowers that afford me more pleasure than my Tulips, because they are so sure and so little trouble.

“I take up the bulbs, dry them a little, and store them away until October, when they are planted again.”

Then she laid out her method of planting the tulips.

“To occupy the Tulip ground, secure a few Petunia plants, or Portulacas, and sometimes Verbena.

“In October these have done flowering, or nearly so, and the Tulip bed is made again.

“In this way I get two seasons of flowers on the same bed in one season.”

Thus in the late nineteenth century she demonstrated the common practice of planting the same bed with both spring tulips and summer annuals.

Boston Seed Company

Like many other late nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries, the Rawson Company, with its main office in Boston’s Fanuel Hall, offered tulips to its customers.

Rawson included this black and white tulip illustration in its seed catalog of 1904. [below]

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

In the 1880s Alexander H. Ladd in Portsmouth, NH planted hundreds of  tulips each year in his downtown garden.

He too would dig them up and store them for the summer only to plant them later in October.

Unfortunately, one year his baskets were so heavy on the storage shelves he had created that the whole structure collapsed. Hundreds of bulbs fell to the floor. As you can imagine, the next spring saw a mixture of colors and sizes in Ladd’s fields of tulips.

In 1889 he wrote, “I estimate by loss of Bulbs, to have been at least 60,000 – by the rain and want of attention last summer.”

 Year of the Tulip

This is the Year of the Tulip according to the National Garden Bureau which provided this stunning show of modern tulip color. [Below]

The Parade of Pink collection. It is a mix of fragrant doubles that includes white, pink, peach and purple. [Courtesy of the National Garden Bureau]

Today it is more common to leave tulips in the ground so they can continue to grow in the same spot year after year.

Breck’s Bulbs says on its website, “Most bulbs prefer not to be disturbed and can be left in the ground for many years.”

Whether you dig them up after they bloom, or leave them in the ground, October begins the time to plant tulips for spring color.

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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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