Nineteenth Century Commercial Botanical Artist: Dellon Marcus Dewey

To sell seeds and plants in the nineteenth century the garden industry had to rely on botanical art to persaude a customer.

The commercial botanical artist like Dellon Marcus Dewey (1819-1889) provided colorful illustrations for the plant sales person.

When the customer saw the image of beautiful flowers or shrubs in the plant peddler’s book of illustrations, it was just a matter of time before he (or possibly she) decided to purchase.

Nineteenth Century Rochester, NY

Rochester, New York had received the name ‘Flower City’ in the mid nineteenth century because of its number of garden companies that sold seeds and plants.

The botanical artist played a key role in selling them.

Rochester’s D. M. Dewey was one such artist.

Historian and librarian Karl Kabelac wrote an article for the University of Rochester Library Bulletin called “Nineteeth Century Rochester Fruit and Flower Plates.”

Kabelac writes “His [Dewey’s] premises in the Reynolds Arcade [in downtown Rochester] were spacious and convenient.

“Here not less than thirty artists and others are employed in making drawings, paintings, etchings, photographs, etc.

“And in reproducing the same either for the trade regularly, or to fill special orders from Nurserymen or Horticultural Societies.”

Dewey had already painted 275 plates by 1859, when he began his own business.

Twenty years later he offered over 2300 plates including this pear. [below]

Dewey plate 1860. Courtesy of U of Rochester

Dewey’s Book

In 1872 Dewey published a book of his botanical art work with the title: The Nurseryman’s Pocket Specimen Book, Colored from Nature. Fruits, Flowers, Ornamental Trees, Shrubs, Roses, etc.

Cultural historian Charles Van Ravenswaay in his book about the art work of Joseph Prestele Drawn from Nature praised Dewey.

Van Ravenswaay wrote, “Dewey used several different techniques, including his distinctive hand-painted work, to produce a popular art of more than average quality.

“This tireless man with his fertile, inventive mind, exploited to its full potential the nurseryman’s plate business and dominated it throughout its best years.”

Dewey proved to be an extraordinary artist who helped people see the potential of improving the home landscape with just the right plant.

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Last Year Saw a Rise in Gardening

What amazed me in the last few days was the number of articles I read about an increase in gardening over the past year.

The Boston Globe ran a story with the title “Sowing Seeds of Climate Action in the Garden” by Leah C. Stokes.

The focus in the story was the number of people who took up gardening during the past year of the pandemic.

People had a lot of time on their hands and gardening became one way to keep busy.

For Stokes, however, as it turned out, it was more than just a past time.

She already was convinced of the importance of gardening, but she went deeper in appreciating the value of the soil.

Her gardening became a real way to relate to the earth, a thought totally unexpected on the part of so many gardeners.

Stokes says, “Gardening gives us another way of living with the earth.”

She had been gardening before, but now saw new opportunities with her status as confined to her home.

Her appreciation of the soil increased for sure.

She writes, “I found my ambitions growing under quarantine and wanted to try large-scale composting.” And she did just that.

Children too took up gardening

On the website Kids Gardening we learn about gardening with young people.

During 2020 many of them took up gardening for the first time.

Emma Shipman, Executive Director of Kids Gardening, writes that Sadie, age 6, was introduced to gardening during a Zoom call.

Shipman writes “Her teacher used our lesson plans to inspire the kids in her class to get outdoors during the Spring quarantine.”

Sadie planted her first garden in an old raised tub that her sister painted.” [below]

Courtesy of Kids Gardening

Stokes writes, “This year’s gardening trend could be like a seed: the beginning of something much bigger.”

Learning about Gardening

So, whether you were a beginner in the garden, or someone who already had a deep passion for gardening, the past year opened up the garden gate in new ways for so many people.

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A Victorian Christmas Tree

It’s that time of year again.

Time to welcome the Holidays.

I hope the Holidays provide you a sense of an all-embracing tradition of love and understanding.

May the Holiday tree inspire you to see the best in each and every person.

Images of the Season

Here is the greenhouse at the University of New Hampshire, Durham.

This is how it looked a couple of years ago at this time of the winter during the annual Holiday display.

UNH Greenhouse new poinsettia display

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas.

Hope you enjoy this wonderful Victorian Christmas tree.

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How about a Talk on My New Book?

Right now I am looking for opportunities to talk about my new book All about Flowers: James Vick’s Nineteenth-Century Seed Company.

The book will be out in late April.

Ohio University Press will publish the book just in time for spring gardening.

Here is a flyer on my talk “Favorite Victorian Flowers.” [below]

James Vick

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) sold the garden flowers that we still grow today. He truly filled the role of a Victorian horticulturist.

His great passion was his love for flowers. He spent his life helping people garden and develop a love for floriculture.

The flowers for the garden, many annuals, that he sold we still grow and love today.

The Talk

Do you have a group that would like to hear a garden talk called “Favorite Victorian Flowers?” The talk is based on my new book, and filled with flowers from Vick’s catalogs and magazine.

If you want me to give a talk, on Zoom if you prefer, please let me know.

Look forward to hearing from you soon.

   

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Marigolds Remain the Same after Decades

We like to plant new varieties of old favorites.

Some old favorites however remain pretty much the same year after year.

In her book Popular Annuals of Eastern North America 1865-1914 garden historian Peggy Cornett Newcomb writes that after a long time as a garden favorite the look of the marigold has not changed.

She says, “Comparison of descriptions and photographs of marigolds at the turn of the century and now shows that their appearance then was virtually indistinquisable from today.”

What’s in a name?

The features of the ‘marigold’ are its orange/yellow color and daisy-like appearance.

The Encyclopedia of Gardening says that the name marigold is applied to several different kinds of plants.

It includes the genus called calendula or pot marigold as well as the genus called Tagetes which we know by the names African or French marigold.

The popular annual calendula is a beautiful flower for the summer garden. [below]

Calendula [courtesy Burpee Seeds]

Victorian Gardens

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  in his seed catalog of 1880 wrote this about the calendula: “The Calendula is the fine old and well known Marigold family, which every one knows, but may not recognize by this name.”

Vick made reference also to the same flower. He said “The old Pot Marigold [or Calendula] much favored for boiled mutton, is C. officinalis.”

On the herbal site called Sunkist Herbal, we read its role in Victorian society: “The calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a hardy annual with single or double daisy-like blooms of yellow or orange.

“The 3- to 4-inch flowers open with the sun and close at night, leading the Victorians to believe they could set a clock by the flower.

“The name ‘calendula’ is from the same Latin word as ‘calendar,’ presumably because the flower was in bloom almost every month of the year.”

In 1880 Vick wrote in the October issue of his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “Every one knows the old yellow Marigold, for it is common as the Sunflower, and has been as long as we can remember. It is called in the books Calendula, but that makes no difference, for it is the same old Marigold that many of us have grown for half a century. That name was given because it was thought some species were in flower every month of the calendar.”

He concluded, “The Calendula will probably never take rank with the best annuals, but we are glad to see it make a bold start for the front after so long a stay in the rear. If its improvement should continue, there is no telling the future of this good old flower.”

Vick sold seeds for calendula and other marigolds like African and French marigolds as well.

New Seed Catalog

Yesterday I received the enormous annual seed catalog from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.

The catalog has its name on the front cover: The Whole Seed Catalog 2021.

It measures 9″ by 11″ with its total pages numbering almost 500. Yes, it is quite large.

In the ‘Flower’ division there is a section for the marigold.

The catalog says, “Marigolds [Tagetes]. Cheerful flowers native to Central and South America, marigolds are strikingly beautiful and amazingly easy to grow.”

So though the marigold may go by different names, its look has remained the same for a long time. And we continue to grow it.

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The Dahlia – in and out of Fashion

You might think that a flower as beautiful as the dahlia has been a garden treasure since explorers first brought it from its home in Mexico to Europe and later to the U.S.

Not true.

The dahlia has had a long history of being in and out of fashion.

When first introduced into England in the early nineteenth century, there was an uproar over this plant.

John Claudius Loudon, Editor of The Gardener’s Magazine, recognized it as a current fashion in the garden.

He wrote, “At almost every nursery several hundred sorts may be procured; but as new sorts are continually coming into fashion, and the old sorts becoming neglected, it would be of little use presenting a list of varieties.”  

Loudon was amazed at the variety in the dahlia’s form and color.

There was even a period of dahlia mania before 1850 both in England and in America.

Then dahlias receeded in popularity.

The dahlia almost became the new hollyhock: perhaps pretty but not in my garden.

Recent Article on the Dahlia

Last week Alan Titchmarsh wrote an online article in Country Life about the dahlia.

The title of the article says it all: “How the dahlia shrugged off its ‘too common to plant’ tag – and thank goodness it did.”

He says, ” It was Country Life’s regular contributor Christopher Lloyd who was instrumental in restoring their respectability, although he would have scoffed at the use of such a word, as snobbery was as alien to Christo as silence and circumspection are to the current President of the US.”

In his own gardening and subsequent writing Lloyd put the dahlia back in the garden.

He particularly liked the wonderful dahlia called ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ which just happens to be my favorite.

Here it is in all its glory:

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ [Courtesy of White Flower Farm]

Who would have thought that the beautiful dahlia would have had such a rocky road in garden fashion?

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Public relations and the late nineteenth century garden industry

In the late nineteenth century the practice of public relations emerged though it was not called by that name.

AT&T created a monopoly for its telephone.

The one company owned all the other phone companies scattered around the country.

In its public relations effort AT&T convinced the government that the best way to serve the public was with a monoply.

It worked. For decades that is how AT&T operated.

Karen Russell tells the story in her new book Promoting Monopoly: AT&T and the Politics of Public Relations, 1876-1941.

She writes, “Many people were working to develop communication strategies and tactics long before there was a formal vocation of publicity or public relations.”

The words ‘publicity’ and ‘public opinion’ became important for AT&T.

Taking the pulse of public opinion became essential for the company.

Even the use of advertising, buying space in a paper or magazine, to tell the company’s story, became a form of public relations by AT&T.

By the end of the nineteenth century words like publicity, public opinion and communication strategies were used in AT&T’s company documents and press releases.

The goal was to maintain public support.

Garden Industry

Certainly by the end of the nineteenth century the garden industry too had to confront the same tasks in its dealing with the public.

The consumer was simply not going to accept a seed packet, a plant, fertilizer, or a garden tool without seeing evidence of how well they performed.

The company needed to be trusted for a gardener to make a purchase

No longer could a company spokesperson say or write anything to sell a product.

This truly was the begnning of public relations as a company’s responsibility.

Russell mentions how the American Newspaper Publishers Association in the late 1880s sought to change certain practices of newspapers. It was then that some editors wrote glowingly about a company because that same company bought advertising space in their papers.

We were beginning to see the rise of a serious look at how a garden-related company goes about promoting its product by creating an image of a company that understood and supported the gardener.

Since the late nineteenth century garden related companies were relatively small, compared to AT&T, nonetheless we recognize their effort to create communication strategies and tactics that fostered good will between the customer and the company. We now know such a company was ahead of most other businesses.

A strategy that took hold in the lat 1890s was an increase in paid advertising.

It was no coincidence that Philadelphia seedsman W. Atlee Burpee (1858-1915)  once said, “No business can succeed without advertising.” He wrote his own advertising copy, which sold both seeds and garden fashion.

Burpee Catalog Cover of 1899

The trade journal Printers Ink wrote about Burpee in its June 17, 1915 issue in these words: “Starting with a modest business in 1876, the House of Burpee has grown into the greatest mail order seed house in the world. Like many other Philadelphia enterprises this establishment is of international importance. Mr. Burpee will tell you that he has built up this great business by advertising, and to a great extent that is so, but back of it all has been the integrity and the enthusiasm of the founder of the House of Burpee.”

The public had trust in Burpee. Promoting strong public opinion in his favor became crucial for him and his seed business.

Burpee provides an example of successful public relations practice in the late nineteenth century garden industry.

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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.

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Victorian Gardener Listed Twelve Best Annuals

This is another list blog post.

I wrote recently about our fasciation with lists like the top five or the top ten.

Yesterday I came across a poem by a Victorian gardener, “L. O.” from Newburgh, New York.

The poem apeared in James Vick’s 1879 garden magazine, Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

The poet gardener presented the twelve best annuals.

Here are the opening lines:

“To those who love flowers, allow me to say,

“I talk of my pet in a familiar way.

“These twelve I will name – forgetting the rest –

“Because I do think they are some of the best.”

Then the twelve annuals he/she listed appeared in this order: pansy, dianthus, stock, phlox drummondii, petunia, balsam, sweet pea, portulaca, aster, alyssum, mignonette, and verbena.

And there you have it.

These Annuals Look Familiar

The poem illustrates how one Victorian judged the value of an annual in the garden.

What is amazing to me is how many of these annuals still remain popular choices for the garden.

Here is a chromolithograph of favorite Victorian flowers that appeared in Vick’s magazine. Recognize any of them?

Vick’s chromo [courtesy of Millicent W. Coggon]

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Top Ten Plants for a Cottage Garden

What is it about top ten lists? We go crazy for the list.

It is as if we will feel we have conquered the world if we but knew the names on that list.

Not all top ten lists of cottage garden plants are equal.

Here is one from 1981 and another from 2020.

What are the differences?

Cottage Garden, the Book

Anne Scott-James in her wonderful book The Cottage Garden, written in 1981, presents her choice of the top ten.

She is quite affirmative about this choice.

She says, “From the hundreds of flowers which qualify [as cottage plants] I have chosen ten as the embodiment of cottage gardening.”

Then she lists them.

Here they are: Lilium candidum, Gilliflowers, Honeysuckle, Mignonette, Primroses, Lavender, Roses, Hollyhock, Hawthorn, and Amaranthus.

Today’s List of Top Ten

Now move the calendar to the year 2020.

Just a few days ago blogger David Domoney wrote a blogpost with the title “My Top 10 Plants for the Modern Cottage Garden Style” .

He of course then proceeds to give his list, with some from the group presented by Scott-James forty years ago.

Here are the names on his list: Rose, Cornflowers, Helenium, Miscanthus, Hollyhock, Penstemon, Foxglove, Poppy, Sweet pea, and Red hot pokers.

Hollyhock [Courtesy of The English Garden]

Domoney says,  “The plants found in a cottage garden will be an invasion on the senses. Strongly fragrant and vibrantly coloured blooms will tangle together amongst lush green foliage, whilst bees can be regularly found bumbling busily amongst the vast array of nectar-rich plants.”

Both lists have similar qualities in the choice of plants.

The flowers are bold, colorful, form clumps, and make a statement in any garden of somewhat limited space.

Whether you chose the list of 1981 or 2020, similarities are there.

Today there is renewed interest in cottage gardens.

What are your favorite cottage garden plants?

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