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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Victorians Loved Flower Arranging

Victorians loved flower arranging.

Today people send flower arrangements quite easily through several online vendors.

Flower arranging as an art form took hold in the Victorian period.

After 1850 the seed and nursery catalogs moved from selling mostly vegetables to flowers.  Gardeners wanted flowers

Flowers became a Victorian passion. Flower arranging appeared everywhere.

David Stuart writes in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “Flower arranging seems to have been an innovation of the Victorian period.”

Cut flowers added beauty to home decoration.

Stuart writes, “The decoration of rooms with cut flowers became increasingly important in the nineteenth century and gave rise, by mid-century, to all sorts of appliances to hold flowers and keep them fresh.”

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) offered many flower containers in the pages of his seed catalog. He featured wooden, metal, and even ceramic vases.

Vick also included this chromolithograph of cut flowers in a vase that his customers could frame and adorn the walls of the parlor or living room.  [below]

Vick chromo of 1873

The Victorian home needed flower arrangements for many occasions. Stuart writes, “The need for ladies to be accomplished flower arrangers extended to almost all aspects of both life and death.”

The magazine The English Garden recently posted an article called “Arranging cut flowers – secrets of a top London florist” about the English florist Vic Brotherson who recently designed the flower arrangements for Kate Moss’ wedding in London.

The flowers listed in the article included Victorian favorites like foxglove, allium, cosmos, roses, and dahlias.

The Victorians not only loved flower arranging. They taught it so well that today we still use the same Victorian flowers for such arrangements.

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Gardeners Can’t Control Nature

Gardeners Can’t Control Nature.

Plants not only provide food.  They can also become a source of pleasure when used in the landscape.

We even refer to landscape as an art form in which plants provide an important element of the design.

Gardeners however cannot control plants in the landscape.  Nature has its own ways.

Recently Sheera Stern, who gardens in Metuchen, New Jersey, wrote a guest post called “On the Industrialization of Gardening” on the blog called Garden Rant, one of my favorite blog sites.

She writes, “As fall segues into winter, we are all relieved that the whine of the gas-powered leaf-blower has finally ceased.”  Stern cannot understand the attempt of the homeowner to remove every single leave that obstructs the clean surface of the lawn.

She makes the case that trying to remove them with the newest machinery, or manicuring every shrub to perfection, seems beyond the demands of enjoying a landscape.

It seems like our attempt to control nature.

That is nothing new.

We have been involved in trying to control nature since the first garden. We use nature for our own purposes.

Richard Bushman in his book The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities writes, “Nature had been smoothed and decorated as assiduously as walls and paneling inside the house.”

Then he says, “Besides refining the environment for polite company, the plantings functioned just as pictures, ceramics, or books did – that is, as subjects of conversation”

So we use nature – in the form of plants in the landscape – for a mixture of purposes that reflect social needs and social status.

One of the strongest examples of attempting to control nature has to be the use of plants in a design in topiary like the one here. [below]

Topiary image

The image clearly illustrates the careful choice and maintenance of plants to create this bridge effect over water.  It clearly shows how we can, in certain circumstances, use plants, as a form of nature, for the sake of creating a beautiful scene.

The  nineteenth century garden industry knew that to sell seeds and plants a seed company or nursery had to promise some benefit to gardening.

In 1884 the Vick Seed Company from Rochester, New York wrote in its garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “What we do in the gardening way is done for the appearance, the respectability of the thing, done for the same reason that we have a coat of paint put on the house, or renew the wall-hangings.”

That view of nature continues.

We use landscape for all kinds of reasons, including for personal and social needs, just like anything else in our daily lives.

Stern concludes her post with these words, “As we move ever farther away from our agrarian roots, not only do we know less as a culture about how the natural world works, but we also have less curiosity.”

 

 

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American Seedsman Encouraged Poinsettias

American Seedsman Encouraged Poinsettias

One of my favorite plant stories is how the poinsettia became a popular Christmas flower here in America.

In the nineteenth century it was common for garden magazines or journals to include articles from other garden publications, mostly English.  The source of the orignal story would often appear at the end of the article.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan (1826-1901) included an article about the poinsettia in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in May of 1876 which he took from the English weekly journal called Gardeners’ Chronicle.

The article, simply entitled Poinsettia’ said, “Passing by these old friends, not without a word of hearty welcome be it well understood, we come to another plant which 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.”

Meehan continued with these words: “Its name commemorates a French traveler, M. Poinsett, by whom the plant was introduced to cultivation.

“He brought specimens to Charleston from Mexico in 1828, whence they were taken to Philadelphia; and specimens sent from the latter place to Edinburgh [Scotland] flowered in 1835, since which date it has become increasingly popular and plentiful in our stores.”

Poinsett had sent the plant to his friend Philadelphia seedsman Robert Buist (1805-1880). Buist in turn mailed a specimen of the plant to his horticulturst friend in Scotland.  Soon after that the poinsettia, native to Mexico, became available to the public.

Today during this season you can see how poinsettias still fill the Grand Hall at The Breakers mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. [below]

Poinsettias in the Grand Hall at The Breakers in Newport, RI. [courtesy]

American gardeners, just like the English, came to treasure the plant as an indispensable part of the Christmas holiday.

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America’s Landscape Gardening Pioneer

America’s landscape gardening pioneer, Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852)

Andrew Jackson Downing

The English developed a new form of garden design in the early eighteenth century.  They called it ‘modern’, or natural.

This design style included a lawn, trees, curved pathways, water, stone work, and sometimes even beds of flowers.

Eventually America adopted this English garden design, or landscape gardening, especially after 1850 for the middle class home landscape.  Before then it appeared mostly on the estates of the wealthy outside cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and New York.

Boston horticulturist and nursery owner Charles Mason Hovey (1810-1887) published a periodical called Magazine of Horticulture .

In 1840 Hovey wrote in his magazine, “Attention is given to the laying out of gardens, and that small beds of turf are occasionally introduced on which groups of flowers are planted; but, other than this, there has  been no attempt made, that we are aware of, to introduce landscape gardening, even among the many suburban villas, which abound in the vicinity of our large cities.”

Hovey saw few landscapes designed in the English style.

Downing

New York nurseryman turned landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing meanwhile was busy writing his book A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening which first appeared in print in 1841, one year later.

Then in 1844 Hovey wrote in his magazine, “A taste for landscape gardening is gradually extending.”

Hovey does not give the interest in landscape gardening exclusively to Downing, but Downing’s work certainly gave America  an opportunity to understand the importance of English garden design.

Downing wrote articles for Hovey’s magazine, so Hovey certainly knew him and his work.

Andrew Jackson Downing would become the most important proponent by mid nineteenth century America for the modern English garden design.

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