Jane Loudon Lists Familiar Flowers

Jane Loudon lists familiar flowers

Recently I came across a nineteenth century book on gardening by writer and gardener Jane Loudon (1807-1858).

Loudon (or ‘Mrs. Loudon’ as the book’s title page lists her) wrote the book The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower Garden to show that women could venture into the world of gardening with many benefits. They would profit from physical exercise and at the same time learn about the world of plants.

This is the title page of the book. [below]

Courtesy of State Library of South Australia – Library number: 635.9 L886.7

The book, edited like a dictionary or encyclopedia, lists various plants and garden topics.

What I found most fascinating is that this book from 1846 lists annuals for the garden that we still grow today.  

The same plants appeared in the seed catalogs of Rochester, New York’s James Vick (1812-1882) from the 1860s.

Vick did not search out new plants, but accepted the traditional varieties that people were already growing.

One example is the petunia, brought to England from Brazil in 1832.

Loudon writes, “Perhaps no plants have made a greater revolution in floriculture than the Petunias. Only a few years ago they were comparatively unknown, and now there is not a garden, or even a window, that can boast of flowers at all, without one.”

The petunia took a slot in the top five of Vick’s favorite annuals.

To this day the petunia assumes a central spot in the garden.

Proven Winners recently listed their most popular annuals for 2019.  The petunia, in the form of their current hybrid called ‘supertunia,’ became the grower’s best seller.

Loudon also writes about other familar annuals. The morning glory, the nasturtium, sweet pea, and geranium all appear in her book.

It seems that the nursery business keeps offering the same plants that have been part of the garden for decades. The only difference, of course, is the constant search they undertake to find the latest hybrid.

Jane Loudon did more than simply alert the gardener to what plants are important. She was creating the gardener’s palette.

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Garden Urn at Portland’s Victoria Mansion

Garden urn at Portland’s Victoria Mansion

The Victorians loved to set an urn with plants on the front lawn.

Therese O’Malley writes in Keywords in American Landscape Design “In the context of the designed landscape, treatise writers often strongly recommended that the vase be placed on top of a pedestal or plinth so that it would be easily visible.”

Right now you can see this urn on the front lawn outside of the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine. [below]

Though it has no pedestal, it still represents Victorian garden design.

Victoria Mansion, Portland, Maine

Andrew Jackson Downing, America’s mid nineteenth century’s most important landscape designer, recommended that a single urn be placed on the lawn.

A bit later Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) proposed in his garden magazine that the urn include three kinds of plants.

You needed a tall center plant like a canna or a yucca.

Then you included a plant that filled the middle section like a geranium.

Finally you introduced a plant trailing down, but not touching the ground.

Vick included this image in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly. [below]

Notice the choice in each plant to give that special look that a garden urn on the lawn needed.

In his business Vick promoted flowers for the garden, and the urn was one of the places to introduce such flowers.

Collector Barbara Israel wrote the book about landscape ornaments called Antique Garden Ornament: Two Centuries of American Taste.”

She says.”In the minds of even the most fervent proponent of naturalistic design (in which the [garden] ornament was severely limited), the urn was admired as an object of taste and refinement.”

However, O’Malley, reflecting Downing’s writing in 1849, cautioned that “ornamental vases were often regarded as works of art…and should not be reduced to the level of ‘a mere garden flower-pot.’ “

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Hardy Plants vs Annuals

Hardy Plants vs Annuals

There has long been a battle between gardeners who prefer hardy plants or perennials and those who would rather plant annuals for the summer garden.

In the nineteenth century the battle soared to its peak.

In his book A Plea for Hardy Plants (1902) the landscape architect from Pittsburg James Wilkinson Elliott (1858-1939) argued that hardy plants were rare in the garden.

Elliott’s book A Plea for Hardy Plants [Courtesy of Biblio.com]

Elliott wrote, “Nine-tenths of the ornamental gardening in America is still done with a few commonplace and uninteresting bedding plants.”

He saw such gardening with annuals as a waste of time and money.

Elliott felt sorry for gardeners who avoided hardy plants.

He wrote “Think of the pity of it, that all this enormous annual expenditure should be wasted – an expenditure that leaves our gardens in the fall exactly as it found them in the spring – bare earth, and nothing in it.”

The beautiful perennial borders of Powerscourt in Ireland illustrate what hardy plants can do for the summer garden. [Below]

Powerscourt’s garden took shape in the early twentieth century when the debate on the use of hardy plants was at its peak both in America and Europe.

Perennial border at Powerscourt in Ireland [courtesy photo]

To us it may seem like there is no issue here at all. Today most gardeners use a combination of perennials and annuals.

For decades, however, especially during the late Victorian period both in England and America, hardy plants took a back seat to showy annuals.

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Gamble House’s Pollinator Garden

Gamble House’s pollinator garden

Today there is much interest in including a pollinator garden in every landscape.

Scientists tell us there is a shortage of bees and other insects to pollinate. Much of our food crop depends on such pollinators.

The USDA Forest Service encourages gardeners everywhere to include a pollinator garden.

A national program emerged recently called the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Its lofty goal is to spread pollinator gardens across the country.

Gamble Garden

A wonderful California garden I recently visited now includes a pollinator garden.

In Palo Alto, California the grand Elizabeth F. Gamble Historic Home built in 1902 still stands. The house and garden are now open to the public.

The Edwardian revival Gamble House was built by Edwin Gamble, son of Proctor & Gamble founder James Gamble.

A sign that welcomes you to the property in a residential neighborhood.

I walked around quite a bit and found many beautiful, smaller garden areas, including this walkway edged in the short boxwood shrubs. [below]

Walkway at the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden

The Palo Alto Garden Club offered a grant to install a new pollinator garden at the Gamble garden.

Here is the sign that greets the visitor to the new pollinator garden.

New Pollinator Garden at the Gamble House

The Elizabeth F. Gamble garden now serves as an example of the importance of encouraging pollinator gardens everywhere.

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Victorian Garden Advice Works

Victorian garden advice works

Garden writers of the Victorian period can offer advice useful for today’s garden as well.

American gardener, writer, and poet Eben E. Rexford (1848-1916) wrote several books about gardening.

In 1890 Rexford first published his book Four Seasons in the Garden.

Several editions followed later in the early 1900s.

Rexford included a chapter called “The Garden in Summer.” In it he addressed several topics familiar to any gardener.

His list of annuals, for example, seems like the summer plants you’d still find at any nursery or big box store. They included Dahlia, Gladiolus, Sweet Pea, Pansies, Asters, and Petunias.

He advised the gardener to make sure to keep up with watering as needed.

Then he wrote about the importance of weeding. He said, “While most of the work of pulling weeks ends with June, it will be necessary to continue the warfare against them, to a greater or lesser extent, throughout the season.”

How well we gardeners know that.

Then I was surprised to read his list of summer plants with showy leaves, a must for any garden.

Rexford said, “Beds of ornamental foliage, like the Coleus, Alternanthera, Achyranthes, Pyrethrum, and Centaurea, will require constant and careful attention if you would have them afford entire satisfaction.”

He endosed the mass planting of such ornamental foliage.

He wrote, “If planted in rows or patterns, they must be clipped two or three times a week to prevent the several colors used from reaching out beyond the limits assigned them and blending with other colors, thus destroying that distinctness of outline upon which much of the beauty of a bed of foliage plants depends.”

Boston Athenaeum

Recently I found Rexford’s book at the downtown Boston Athenaeum.

Still in the pocket of the book was a return slip with the date of July 11, 1907 stamped on the slim but well-used card.

Over a hundred years ago someone checked out this book at about this time in the summer, perhaps for some ideas on the summer garden.

Rexford speaks to today’s gardener as much as he did to the Victorian gardener of his day.

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Any Old-Fashioned Dahlias?

Any old-fashioned dahlias?

The problem with the expression ‘old-fashioned’ is that it lacks a specific time.

The reader can simply fill in a time frame.

When it comes to old-fashioned dahlias, it might be appropriate to say the nineteenth century. It was at that time that they began to appear in American gardens.

By the end of the nineteenth century dahlias had become a garden favorite.

Here is the cover of the 1888 seed catalog from the Childs Company in Long Island, New York. [below] In the image colorful dahlias fill the blue and gold vase.

[Thanks to the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.]

A blog called Gardenista from Meadowburn Farm in New Jersey included an article about old dahlias. The title of the article says it all: “Dahlia Detectives: 7 Mysterious Heirlooms from an Earlier Century”

The article takes the definition of ‘old-fashioned’ to mean the early 1900s when the book by Helena Rutherford Ely appeared, A Woman’s Hardy Garden.

Today Meadowburn Farm, just ninety miles from New York, continues the tradition of Ely as an historic garden and working farm. Lots of dahlias appear in the garden each summer.

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’

Bill McClaren wrote about the dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ (1927) in his great book Encyclopedia of Dahlias.

McClaren said that the ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ dahlia was “one of the oldest dahlias still being grown and shown and often the jewel of the garden.” This dahlia seems to have it all: old-fashioned and still popular today.

A problem with dahlias is that hundreds of varieties have appeared since the mid nineteenth century. Most of them are long gone, replaced by ever newer varieties.

Maybe one of the reasons we love dahlias is because there are so many newer varieties always available on the market.

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Filoli Hosts Art Exhibit

Filoli hosts art exhibit

A few days ago I visited the wonderful historic garden Filoli, near San Francisco. The garden, surrounding a red brick mansion, dates to the turn of the twentieth century.

Right now artist and landscape designer W. Gary Smith has created an environmental art exhibit called “Nests: Patterns from Nature.”

The exhibit continues through November 10.

Smith has designed and built around the garden a series of nests with materials gathered from the Filoli Estate including its trees, shrubs, and grasses.

Nests appear in various forms and are made of different materials.

When you visit, you will see twelve expressions of ‘nest’ scattered around the property.

Here is one of the designs, a series of brown nests hanging from trees. [below]

A nest exhibit now on display at Filoli.

Filoli’s garden spans sixteen acres and was installed between 1917 and 1929.

The magnificent formal garden and grounds reflect the seventeenth and eighteenth century English garden with its sweeping lawn and many views to enchant any visitor.

Filoli represents a long history of landscape, gardening, and art.  That’s why it is one of my favorite gardens to visit.

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Victorian Flower Fashion

Victorian Flower Fashion

American gardeners  fell in love with annuals after 1850 during the Victorian period.

The use of perennials in the garden re-emerged by the end of the century. They became stylish through the encouragement of English garden authorities like William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll.

A T. W. Wood and Sons catalog cover [below] from the late 1880s shows a bed of annuals. The round bed sits in a well trimmed lawn.

Philadelphia seedsman Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in 1872: “The evil which accompanied [flower beds, ribbon beds, and carpet beds] was nearly banishing from cultivation the beautiful and interesting tribe known as hardy herbaceous plants. From early spring til late in the fall some of them were in bloom.”

In 1882 Warren H. Manning, New England plantsman, wrote: “The use of tender plants and annuals for bedding purposes in summer decoration has been in vogue for about a quarter of a century, and they have almost entirely superseded hardy herbaceous plants for general cultivation.”

When the English garden style  emphasized perennials rather than annuals, we discovered the English had been enjoying many of America’s native perennial plants for decades.  By the end of the century native American perennials became  a part of our home landscape as well.

As we had for the whole century, America followed the style of English garden design.

The nineteenth century seed and nursery catalogs provided the gardener with inspiration. They also pointed out the latest garden fashion.

Annuals were popular from 1850 until the late 1870s when perennials once again took center stage.

What do you think is the garden fashion today?

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Too Many Trees Spoil the View

Too many trees spoil the view in a landscape

When planning a home landscape, it is a good idea to choose the number of trees you plant carefully. You want not too many, and not too few.

Though he was discussing trees in a park, Samuel Parsons in his book Landscape Gardening (1891) offered advice usefull also to the home owner.

He wrote, “We must be careful always to keep open considerable stretches of turf, endeavoring rather to flank than to cross with plants the direct line of vision through to the background.”

He wanted an unobstructed view of lawn.

In 1978 landscape historian from Dumbarton Oaks David Schuyler wrote the book called Victorian Landscape Gardening .

The book was actually a facsimile of landscape architect Jacob Weidenmanns’ book Beautifying Country Homes written in 1871. This image appeared in the book. [below]

A drawing from Victorian Landscape Gardening

Notice that the drawing illustrated in the long dotted line the unobstructed view between the two properties.

The advice seems to make sense.

Whether you have one acre or a hundred acres, create the opportunity for a visitor to see the lawn in a long view because too many trees spoil the view.

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Beware the Coleus and Geranium

Beware the coleus and geranium

Who doesn’t love the two popular annuals coleus and geranium?

It turns out that New York’s Superintendent of Parks Samuel Parsons (1844-1923) showed little regard for these two annuals.

He wrote the book Landscape Gardening in 1891. In it he discussed these two plants.

He said, “Farm door-yards and Newport lawns alike distort themselves in the gay but unfortunately often garish colors of the coleus and geranium. No need to advocate their use. They have achieved a foothold that is not likely to be soon shaken.”

He disliked their colors, but he was most unhappy that they were assuming an important role in flower gardens.

Parsons gave his reasons for not liking these two plants.

He wrote, “As we find them presented on many grass plots, their appearance is vulgar, inharmonious, and barbaric.”

That is pretty heavy criticism for two simple plants.

Today

Well, today the coleus and the geranium have certainly found a home in our flower gardens.

Here’s a coleus called ‘Neptune’s Net‘ that I planted in a container on my lawn. 

This coleus is called ‘Neptune’s Net.’

With its shades of lime and burgundy this coleus looks splendid in a gray cement container.  It stayed there the whole summer.

Though Mr. Parsons failed to find any value in the coleus and geranium, today they have become an integral part of many summer gardens, whether in a container or in a bed.

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