Defining the English Garden

Defining the English garden

The sweeping lawn of the English landscape garden developed in the 

Lancelot Capability Brown 

eighteenth century under the inspiration of gardener to the King Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783).

Tim Richardson writes in his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden, “The Brown brand resulted in a green monotony across England, and even across much of Europe and parts of America; it was primarily Brown’s example which inspired the nineteenth-century phenomenon of the ‘English garden’.”

So we have Brown to thank for the lawn which has long defined the English garden both in Europe and in America.

Today the term ‘English garden’ is full of so many meanings.

When we use words that have multiple meanings, we tend to be on a higher level of the ladder of abstraction because we are not clear.

Academic and Senator Samuel I. Hayakawa, in his book Language in Thought and Action, described what he called the ladder of abstraction, a concept used to illustrate how language and reasoning evolve from concrete to abstract.

Thus, for example, the more you want to confuse your audience, the more likely you are to use words that do not have a clear meaning.

You could say that such is the case with the expression ‘English garden’.  Because of its history it has so many meanings.

Which English garden do you mean?  From what period?

One thing we do know however is that the lawn has been an integral part of the English garden since the eighteenth century.

Here is Chatsworth, north of London, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Derbyshire. [below]

England’s Chatsworth 

Over the centuries several landscape gardeners provided its design, but it was Brown that installed the extensive lawn in the eighteenth century.

Today Chatsworth stands as one of his most famous English gardens, marked by his signature lawn.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Victorian Carpet Beds

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Victorian carpet beds

A week ago I visited the nineteenth century Harriet Beecher Stowe house and garden in Hartford, Connecticut.  At the same time that Stowe lived there Hartford attracted other artists and writers.

Stowe remains best known as the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Some argue that the book galvanized the issue of abolition and even contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War here in the US.

Her house stands as it did in the nineteenth century.

A Victorian garden still surrounds the house.

Luckily the staff at the Stowe Center provided a guide to her garden. The property is small but includes much of what was important to middle-class gardeners at that tine.

A herb garden, a blue garden, and even a wildflower garden are just some of the expressions of Stowe’s love of gardening.

As I rounded the corner at the front of the house I noticed a large circle of flowers in the lawn.

It was a carpet bed, popular in the Victorian garden of the nineteenth century.

Since this was only mid June, the flowers in the bed were quite small.  The variety of  flowers however caught my attention.

In the center of the bed you could see both a castor oil plant and elephant ears. By summer’s end both of these will be tall plants that will give a sense of height and structure to this round garden.[below]

Carpet bed on the lawn at Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house in Hartford, Conn.

In 1869 Stowe co-wrote the book The American Woman’s Home: Principles of Domestic Science with her sister Catherine Esther Beecher.

The book includes several chapters on the woman’s role in making an ‘economical, healthful, beautiful, and Christian home.’

There is a section in the book about gardening. They write, “In yards which are covered with turf, beds can be cut out of it, and raised for flowers. A trench should be made around, to prevent the grass from running on them.’

A row of red bricks now circles the colorful flowers that I saw. 

They write, “These beds can be made in the shape of crescents, ovals, and other fanciful forms.”

That became, of course, the Victorian obsession with carpet bedding and ribbon bedding.

The staff at the Stowe Center told me that Harriet Beecher Stowe favored flower beds over kitchen gardens.

That was evident as I walked around the house.

 The restored landscape reflects the Victorian style of gardening popular at that time.

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Public Relations Campaign Attacks Clover

Public relations campaign attacks clover.

The lawn has been a part of the home landscape since the eighteenth century.

Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both treasured the English lawn, the inspiration for all lawns American.

Clover in the lawn. [Courtesy of Today’s Homeowner]

Clover, the tiny four leafed plant we all love, has been a part of the lawn for decades as much as bluegrass.

Then in the 1950s a chemical company, to advance a weed killer, used a public relations campaign to declare white clover a weed.

Warren Schultz tells the story in his book The Chemical-Free Lawn. He writes that in the 1950s “a major producer of grass seed and chemicals launched a public relations campaign disparaging clover. Clover is a weed, the company declared. It doesn’t belong in the modern lawn.”

The goal of the campaign was to sell a chemical to kill lawn weeds, including clover.

Schultz says, “Its point of view carried the day, and now homeowners spend a lot of time and money trying to get rid of this once-popular plant, blind to its fine qualities.”

Clover has long been a part of lawn seed mixes. 

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote about the value of clover in 1878 in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

Vick said, “Kentucky Blue Grass, with a little White Clover, about a pound to the acre, and a few ounces of Sweet Vernal Grass, will make a good lawn.”

In 1936 Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening also noted the value of clover.

Under the name, white clover, or Trifolium repens, Taylor’s says, “It is the chief clover in grass mixtures and makes a valuable constituent of lawns.”

In the past garden books and magazines often said that clover was valuable for the lawn.

More recently in Pennsylvania the Lehigh Valley Master Gardeners wrote in their blog, “Clover is a legume, like soybeans, and it has the ability to fix nitrogen out of the atmosphere and convert it to a form readily available to plants, including the grass it shares soil with.  People liked clover for this reason and it lessened the need for fertilizing the lawn.”

The public relations campaign in the 1950s was succesful. Today it is common for companies selling herbicides to consider white clover a weed.

In this time of frequent draught and renewed interest in native plants, why not reconsider the case of the clover, and even, as many people are doing, welcome it as an integral component of the lawn?

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Reno’s Roses Rock

Reno’s roses rock.

Last week I visited family in Reno, Nevada which goes by the name “The Biggest Little City in the World.”

What amazed me was the number of roses I saw in bloom, many at private homes as I drove around the city.

It seemed wherever I went, I saw red, orange, yellow, pink, and white roses.

The premier rose garden in Reno has to be Idlewild Park’s one acre Rose Garden.

Here is the sign that welcomes you to the garden. [below]

 

Reno’s Rose Garden entrance sign

Volunteers have managed the garden for years. There are many award-winning roses on display. Many of them are clearly marked, which gardeners appreciate.

There is a pavilion at one end of the garden that gives a sense of home to the garden. You use this structure as a landmark to find the rose that you like.

You can see the blue roof of the pavilion from anywhere in the garden. [below]

Reno’s Rose Garden pavilion

Though I have visited the garden many times, I never noticed the mosaic at the steps of the entrance. It is a stunning scene of roses in bloom, with a blue background, possibly to reflect the top of the pavilion. [below]

The Rose Garden mosaic at entrance

On another day I visited the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden, which is a gallery of many gardens, including the labyrinth garden, near the parking lot.

In that garden I saw this bright orange rose bush in full bloom. It was a bright sunny morning, the sun caught the color on the blooms. [below]

Roses in the Labyrinth Garden in Reno’s May Botanical Garden

The National Garden Bureau has named 2017 the “Year of the Rose” in honor of this flower’s unique place in gardens throughout the United States and the world.

I have a few rose bushes in my garden, which, here in the northeast, are not in bloom yet.

From my short preview in Reno, I look forward to their bloom in glorious color within a short time.

 

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Bradley Estate Features New Display Garden

Bradley Estate features new display garden

Recently  I visited the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, Massachusetts, a property owned by the Trustees of Reservations.  This is one of the Trustees’ eleven public garden properties.

It was a beautiful spring day, sun shining and temperatures warm, but not hot.

I had heard about the new display garden, and that’s what I wanted to see.

The house which is the Bradley Estate’s main structure dates to 1904. Mrs. Bradley established a formal garden, a large kitchen garden, a rhododendron path, and extensive lawns on this property of 90 acres.

The formal garden takes up the area behind the house. It is composed of a large lawn and several parterres.

The parterres with their new shrubs, perennials, and annuals, just planted, make up the new display garden.

Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate new display garden

What struck me first was that each parterre had the same plants, all in colors of chartreuse and purple.  I found out later that they are the official colors of the Trustees of Reservation as well.

A wonderful brick wall, installed 150 years ago, surrounds this garden. Since the wall dates to the early history of the house, it adds a lot of character to the setting.

As I walked the pathway in this garden, several of the plants that are in the parterre seemed familiar to me. I realized that I grow many of them in my own garden.

Then I found out that the grower Proven Winners offered these shrubs, perennials, and annuals to the Bradley Estate in hopes that the Estate would become in the future a Proven Winners Signature Garden.

A couple of  lectures are planned with Proven Winners this summer in June and July.

This is the first year the Bradley Estate, under the guidance of its horticulturist Jeff Thompson, is working with Proven Winners.

I hope visitors take advantage of this property and enjoy this new display garden in a landscape designed in America’s early 1900s formal period by Boston landscape architect Charles Platt.

 

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Nineteenth Century Victorian Garden Reconstructed

Nineteenth century Victorian garden reconstructed.

Today I volunteer in the nineteenth century Victorian garden of Sarah Parker Rose Goodwin, wife of New Hampshire’s Civil War governor Ichabod Goodwin.

Several years ago the Goodwin house was moved a few blocks, from Islington Street to the historic water district. Its new home is the living museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire called Strawbery Banke.

Located near the downtown area, Stawbery Banke’s cultural landscape traces three centuries of gardening in Portsmouth.

Sarah’s garden notes and diary inspired the reconstruction of her garden.

The garden illustrates the use of flowerbeds, called carpet bedding, that was popular in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Sarah Goodwin loved her garden as author Margaret Whyte Kelly describes in her biography Sarah- Her Story.

Sarah Goodwin’s garden today in Portsmouth, NH includes the popular nineteenth century English garden fashion called carpet bedding.

In her journal Sarah wrote: “I like all the varieties of landscape gardening–I like bedding out.”

Bedding out followed the design of planting  featured in carpet bedding, where the same plant, usually a variety of an annual, was cultivated and kept closely trimmed throughout the summer.

Thus, Sarah’s gardening reflected what English gardeners of that period also enjoyed in the garden: bedding out, carpet bedding, and ribbon beds.

Today visitors to Strawbery Banke have the opportunity to walk the gravel pathways of a nineteenth century Victorian garden.

If you happen to visit the Goodwin House, look around and you might see me in the garden weeding or watering.

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Garden Advertising Creates Sameness Everywhere

Garden advertising creates sameness everywhere.

In search of annuals for my garden I recently visited a couple of box stores in the area.

Of course there were many plants to choose from, but they were the same plants in both places. It is as if to have a garden means we all need to include the same plants.

Fashion and style have always influenced the way we garden.

Certain plants seem to be more acceptable than others.

We know what they are by the advertising about plants for the summer landscape that is going on right now in print, social media, and the many advertising channels.

Communication scholar Hugh Dalziel Duncan said, “In America, cars, clothes, and houses are high communicable symbols of power because they are designed, advertised, and distributed as mass symbols.”

Richard L. Bushman wrote about the link between gardens and social status in his book The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities.  

He said “Colors of the exterior included yellows, browns, and greens to show off the house. Gone were the Colonial days of the bare essentials in house design. Now the shift appeared in what could display the wealth of the homeowner. Colorful houses and gardens contributed to that sense of social status. Nature had been smoothed and decorated as assiduously as walls and paneling inside the house.”

When you see advertising about plants, you tend to see the same plants and garden design from the media.

It should be no surprise that the same garden appears from coast to coast.

The media dictate garden fashion and style, and thus link the garden to social status.

Why is it so difficult to choose different plants?

A big reason may be that most people do not know any plants other than the ones heavily advertised.

 

 

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Dahlia Mania Struck Early Nineteenth Century

Dahlia mania struck early nineteenth century.

This week I will plant dahlia tubers in my garden.

First I will have to unpack and inspect each of the tubers still stored in my basement.

The dahlia happens to be my favorite flower because it provides such wonderful autumn color in the garden. 

At one point gardeners loved this plant so much that there was a frenzy created for the latest hybrid. The craziness over this plant was called ‘dahlia mania’ and it took place in the 1830s both in England and America.

Communication scholar Hugh Dalziel Duncan writes in his book Communication and Social Order, “A style of dress or a taste in furnishings, so affect people that we use the word ‘rage’, in the sense of mania, to define their sudden and overwhelming power.”

Duncan implies that a material object like clothing or furniture could create a ‘rage’ in a particular time and place.

Well, that happened with the dahlia that first arrived in Spain from Mexico in the 1600s. It was not until the late 1700s that the plant appeared in English gardens.

English botanical artist Margaret Meen painted this bouquet of dahlias in 1789. [below]

Margaret Meen “Dahlias (Asteraceae)” (circa 1790) [Courtesy of the Royal Bontanic Gardens, Kew]

The garden interest in the plant however did not take off for a couple of decades.

It was not until after 1804 when Lady Holland re-introduced the dahlia in her garden at Holland House in Kensington, near London, that dahlias became the rage.

A dahlia flower produced many seeds, from which new hydrids could develope.

That is what the dahlia is famous for to this very day: producing many hybrids. 

In 1834 English garden writer and horticulturist John Claudius Loudon, called the ‘Father of the English Garden,’ wrote about the many dahlia varieties already on the market.

He said  “At almost every nursery several hundred sorts [of dahlias] 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.” 

Just a few years later Loudon also wrote about dahlia mania in The Gardener’s Magazine.

He said, “The culture of the dahlia, though it has not attained so extravagant a pitch in England as that to which the tulip is said to have arrived in Holland, is yet now engaged in, in Britain, by a much greater number of persons than ever were possessed by the tulip mania.”

Loudon thus recognized a mania for the newest dahlia even greater than the past rage for tulips.

 

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Early Wisconsin Gardeners Valued Native Plants

Early Wisconsin gardeners valued native plants.

Just read a wonderful story about native plants in Lee Somerville’s book, Vernacular Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Garden Making.

As it happened a homeowner cleared a beautiful little valley full of native plants to prepare it for landscaping. He then called in a landscape architect for advice on how he might improve the area. The owner was surprised when the architect advised the planting of the same kinds that the owner had so thoroughly removed.

Gardeners like Philadelphia’s John Bartram encouraged native plants in the eighteenth century.

Then in the nineteenth century as exotic plants arrived for American gardens from Asia, South America, and Africa, native plants took a back seat in the home landscape.

During that time Wisconsin garden opionion leaders, however, kept recommending native plants for the garden.

Somerville writes in her book that in the publications of the Wisconsin State Horticultural Society “The use of native plants was first suggested in the 1850s as an easy and economical way to improve the look of Wisconsin home grounds.”

In the early 1900s the movement called the midwest Prairie style of landscape design, launched in the midwest by designers Jens Jensen, O. C. Simonds, and Wilhelm Miller, encouraged the use of native plants in the home landscape.

Certainly Wisconsin gardeners knew about this new midwest style of gardening, particularly through the work of WSHS in its articles and lectures.

Somerville says, “In general the varieties of plants in the Wisconsin vernacular garden changed less than did the patterns in which they were planted [from beds to borders]. The exception is in the marked increase of native shrubs and plants after 1900.”

The book’s listing of native perennials, popular in Wisconsin gardens in 1915, includes the columbine, Aquilegia canadensis. [below]  This plant is still worthwhile in the garden.

Columbine Aquilegia canadensis, [courtesy Prairie Nursery, Westfield, Wisconsin.] 

Native plants have traveled a rocky road in American garden history. It is good to see this early emphasis on native plants for Wisconsin gardens.

 

 

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Understanding Nineteenth Century Vernacular Gardens

Understanding nineteenth century vernacular gardens.

I just finished reading Vintage Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Home Gardening.

What made the book so worthwhile was the research that paved the way for the book.

While working on her master’s degree in landscape architecture at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, author Lee Somerville chose to examine nineteenth century vernacular gardens in Wisconsin.

She defines vernacular gardens as the gardens of ordinary people who lived in ordinary homes.

The treasure for her research turned out to be the records of the Wisconsin State Horticultural Society.

Each year from 1869 until 1928 WSHS published the proceedings of its annual meeting,  Two Society journals The Wisconsin Horticulturist (1896-1903) and Wisconsin Horticulture (1910-1967) supplemented the annual report.

With the help of these primary resources, and many secondary resources as well, Somerville sought to understand the vernacular garden of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Wisconsin.

She covers home landscape design, plants, and the lawn for both rural and city properties. She includes landscape drawings, clearly detailing the vernacular garden over this period of time.

At the end of the book she makes recommendations for anyone considering either creating or restoring a vintage garden. She writes, “Photographs, letters, journals, maps and publications usually available at local or regional libraries and historical societies for researching a particular garden can be a starting point for researching any particular garden.”

That is exactly what Lee did in the research and writing of this book.

The book includes many photographs and illustrations. The end of the book features a listing of heirloom plants, including trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials grown in vintage Wisconsin gardens.

Anyone interested in old gardens, but especially the evolution of garden design in this country would  enjoy this book.

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