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.

 

 

Share

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.

 

Share

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.

 

 

Share

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.

Share

Americans Introduced Foundation Planting

Americans introduced foundation planting.

We have all seen a foundation planting that has grown out of bounds.

It might be a rhododendrum that now reaches to the second floor window. Though planted with good intentions, the shrub now grows beyond its original purpose.

Foundation plantings appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is an American garden feature.

Lee Somerville writes in her book Vernacular Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Garden Making, “An interesting development that reflected national changes is seen in the gradual recommendation for foundation plantings – that is, the planting of a border close to the foundation of the house.”

The magazine Garden and Forest first mentioned foundation plantings in 1891, a point that Somerville notes from the work of garden historian Denise Wiles Adams in her book Restoring American Gardens.

Somerville quotes the Boston landscape architect Charles Eliot who suggested in the article connecting the house with the grounds “by massing shrubs along the bases of walls or piazzas.”

Thus foundation planting began and it looks like it will be around for a long time.

Here is a garden in Reno, Nevada that I visited last summer. [Below] Note the plants near the window.

This front yard in Reno, Nevada includes foundation planting.

Somerville writes, “At the 1902 Wisconsin State Horticultural Society meeting, F. E. Pease supported the idea [of foundation planting], suggesting that shrubs and plantings not cover the entire house or foundations but soften them.”

The WSHS discussed shrubs as well as perennial planting along the foundation.

The goal was simply to soften the look of the straight lines of the house to blend in with the contours of the landscape.

A worthy enough goal.

Much has happened with foundation planting since that early time when the idea was first proposed.

Today it is quite common to include foundation plantings in a residential design. It is however up to the homeowner to maintain them which usually means pruning to avoid that over-grown look.

Somerville notes that Wisconsin gardeners were way ahead in the inclusion of foundation plantings in the landscape.

She writes,”A review of the WSHS literature includes Wisconsin horticulturists may have been ahead of the national trend. The first mention of foundation planting at WSHS meetings by Charles Ramsdell in 1900, ten years before [Liberty Hyde] Bailey and nearly twenty years before the rest of the nation took notice.”

 

 

Share

Verbena Essential Victorian Flower

Verbena essential Victorian flower.

What is good about annuals is that they continue to bloom until the Fall, or even til the first frost.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) defined them as “those plants that live but one season.”

In the nineteenth century when colorful flowers became an essential in every garden, the verbena rose to become an important addition to the garden. Vick called it “one of the most showy and valuable plants of the garden.”

English horticulturist David Stuart wrote in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens, “The verbena was acknowledged, even by contemporaries, as central to the whole bedding movement.”

Bedding meant a design on the lawn, often a diamond, a circle, or a half-moon. Flowers and plants with colorful leaves made up the design. Weekly trimming and weeding followed for the season.

Vick, in an article called “Bedding Plants” wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in November, 1881: “The term, bedding plants, has long been in use, and is applied to all those tender plants that, preserved through the winter under glass, are there propagated and raised, and finally planted in beds in the spring to serve for the decoration of the garden for one season. Such plants are Geraniums, Heliotropes, Verbenas, Lantanas, and a multitude of other flowering plants.”

Today verbenas continue to be an important summer flower for the garden.

The plant grower Proven Winners offers a hybrid variety of verbena called dark blue superbena. [below]

Proven Winners dark blue superbena variety of verbena.

Though today we may not include carpet bedding in the landscape because of its high maintenance, in Victorian times bedding always depended on a well-trimmed lawn.

Vick offered a bit of caution to his readers about the lawn. He wrote,”This style of gardening [bedding] is admissible only with grounds kept in elegant condition; otherwise it would be like jewels in a swine’s snout.”

Even though we do not cultivate carpet bedding, we can still enjoy the Victorian summer flower called the verbena.

 

Share

Nineteenth Century Bedding Plants Included Popular Geranium

Nineteenth century bedding plants included popular geranium.

In the nineteenth century planting annuals in beds on the lawn became a popular fashion.

Plant collectors had introduced tropical and sub-tropical plants and gardeners wanted to display them in the landscape.

Among the new plants gardeners fell in love with was the geranium or pelargonium as it was called.

Stuart writes in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens, “The great bedding genera of mid-nineteenth century gardens – Calceolaria, Petunia, Verbena and Geranium (Pelargonium) – were popular not only because they were brilliantly colorful, assuaging the contemporary taste for gaudy and intense effects, but also because, being from the sub-tropics, they were ‘seasonless’.  As soon as the plants were growing, they also began to flower.”

It was the pelargonium that become the most popular flower for the summer garden.

Stuart says, “The bedding garden owed much of its popularity and ubiquitous appeal to the pelargonium that Masson had collected in South Africa.”

Plant collector from Kew Francis Masson died on one of his plant hunting trips in Montreal in 1805.

Today growers continue to hybridize Pelargoniums. A variety ‘Vancouver Centennial’ celebrates the one-hundreth  anniversary of the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. [below]

Pelargonium ‘Vancouver Centennial’ [Courtesy of White Flower Farm]

In 1883 the English garden writer William Robinson wrote in his book The English Flower Garden  that pelargoniums were either from the southern hemisphere or bred by European growers.

Today we see few of the varieties from the nineteenth century. Stuart writes, “As with verbenas and calceolarias, most of the geranium varieties are lost.”

Nonetheless we still fill our summer flower beds with the newest and most popular annual geraniums. 

Share

Conflicting Eighteenth Century Lawn Advice

Conflicting eighteenth century lawn advice.

It is spring and that mean’s it’s time to look at your grass and figure out what level of maintenance it needs after the winter.

The lawn played an essential role in the landscape design of mid eighteenth century English landscape gardener Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783).

By the end of the century another landscape gardener, Humphry Repton (1752-1818), looked at the lawn a bit differently.

The eighteenth century witnessed conflicting advice on the spot where the lawn begins in the landscape.

In his book The English Garden Edward Hyams, writes, “It was Brown’s rules to bring the lawns or at all events grass which might be rather meadow than lawn, right up to the house itself so that the house stood in a sea of grass and the first incidents in the landscape were at some distance.”

Then he writes about Repton’s idea of the lawn. Hyams says, “Instead of bringing the grass up to the house, Repton designed terraces, often with balustrades of stone piers or with urns carrying flowers, to link the house to the garden or park.”

Though both encouraged the lawn, it seemed more an issue of how close the lawn came to the house.

As happens in style and fashion, the Repton view continued into the nineteenth century and terraces became an integral part of the house architecture.

The lawn would come right up to the balustrades.

By the end of the nineteenth century seed company owners usually encouraged lawns. It was not a question of how close to the house, just as long as there was a lawn.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick wrote in his seed catalog of 1872, “The space in front of the house, and generally the sides exposed to view from the street, should be in grass. No arrangement of beds, or borders of box, or anything else, will look so neat and tasteful as a well kept piece of grass.”

The lawn by then had become an integral part of residential landscape design, which across America followed the English garden tradition.

In his 1873 company catalog Vick wrote, “A place can never look well unless the lawn and walks are in perfect order.”

By that time the differing views of the lawn from the eighteenth century were long forgotten.

Share

Boston Flower Show Honors Capability Brown

Boston Flower Show honors Capability Brown.

Last week the Boston Flower and Garden Show honored England’s eighteenth century gardener to the King, Lancelot Capability Brown.

For months Brown has been in the news quite a bit because 2016 was his three hundredth birthday anniversary.

At the Flower Show Joseph Gray Stonework teamed up with  the plant grower Proven Winners to create an exhibit with Brown as the inspiration.

Together they envisioned the Show’s theme “Superheroes of the Garden” in the person of Capability Brown.

Brown designed over two hundred gardens in England including Warwick Castle, which has a mythical connection to the legend of King Arthur.

Gray said, “My garden is a fantasy design of the Warwick Castle grounds and the hidden lair of Merlin the Magician.”

The exhibit featured this nine-foot high granite fountain of Merlin’s face. [below]

Proven Winners from Pleasant View Gardens in Loudon, New Hampshire provided the many flowers that filled five hundred square feet throughout the exhibit.

Colors like pink in large swathes made a memorable impression on any visitor to this exhibit.

The heavy stone with the delicate looking blooms created a pleasant contrast in this award-winning exhibit and tribute to England’s Capabiity Brown, a true ‘Superhero in the Garden.’

 

Share

Remember Gardens Speak

Remember gardens speak.

Visiting gardens can open the door to ideas you might express in your own garden.

It is not a passive experience when you step into someone else’s garden to see what the owner has done.

It’s quite the opposite. The garden speaks to you.

A garden can connect with a visitor in a special way.

Just think of a garden that you have visited.

Like time spent with a friend you have not seen for a while, you find you could have stayed there for hours.

In his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden Tim Richardson says , “Landscape gardens are not passive; they speak to us, and as we progress around we communicate back with our actions, and later with our memories.,”

His reference point is the extensive garden of the aristocrats that date to the seventeenth century. His book reveals the inspiration and the work of installing such gardens like Stowe and Rousham that still open their doors to visitors .

But I think you can use his thought and apply it to any visit to a garden.

As spring and summer approach, you know you will seek out gardens to visit.

The garden at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Connecticut is now on my list. I prefer gardens of the late nineteenth century, whether Victorian, Arts and Craft, formal, or natural. That period, when the seed and nursery industries became so important to gardeners, reveals the role of the garden industry in the style and fashion of American gardens.

I remember visiting the Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakdast in New Hampshire. A row of ferns, rose astilbes, and yellow ‘Stella de Oro’ daylilies just stopped me in my tracks. [below]

Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakfast in New Hampshire

Rochester, New York’s James Vick spent time visiting gardens as part of his role of owner of a seed company in the nineteenth century.  He traveled in both America and Europe and always mentioned the gardens he had seen.

In 1878 Vick wrote about the English Ivy he had seen on his visit to England. He said, “Those who have visited the Ivy-clad cottages and palaces and ruins of the Old World, will never forget the admiration with which they first beheld this wonderful plant.”

The memories of gardens visited continue for a long time.

Share