Victorian Home Landscape Demanded Flowerbeds

Victorian home landscape demanded flowerbeds.

Flowers for a home landscape of any size were important in the late nineteenth century.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote that farmers, laborers as well the middle class, anyone, could plant flowers to enjoy.  Flowerbeds belonged not only to the garden of the estate owner.

He made promoting floriculture his life-long goal in his business.

In many ways Vick followed the practices of other seed merchants. His appeal to sell flowers, particularly to women, was what other companies were also doing at that same time.

Seedsman Azell Bowditch from Boston, for example,  wrote in his catalog: “We shall endeavor to keep pace with the ‘Flowery Age’ in which we live, and hope to be able, by attention and care, to supply our patrons with all the valuable varieties of seeds that can be obtained at any other seed establishment in the Union.”

In this illustration from Vick’s 1874 seed catalog you see a family outside their home, enjoying the outdoors. [below]

On the lawn near the house the owner planted flowerbeds, or, as they called then, carpet beds.

Annuals filled three lage beds to bring color to the landscape.

This image introduced Vick’s annual seeds in the catalog.

Thus he illustrated for his customers what the home landcape could look like with beds of colorful flowers.

 

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Nineteenth Century Gardeners Needed Seed Companies

Nineteenth century gardeners needed seed companies.

The nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries played an important role in what gardeners planted.

Many new plants were coming into Europe and America from plant collectors traveling the world in search of new garden plants. Sometimes a nursery would sponsor such a trip.

The seed companies made available the seeds from these new plants.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) offered dozens of flower seeds in the various Departments of his catalog. [below]

Thus he made the newest plants available to Victorian America.

1873 list of seeds for sale in Vick’s catalog

Edward Hyams writes in his book English Cottage Gardens, “Plant collectors might have braved the Himalayan and Andean snows in vain, and the work of the plant breeder all ars gratis Artis had it not been for the coincident growth of the nursery trade to propagate and distribute the new garden plants.”

Thus Vick could display this illustration of a tranquil landscape filled with garden annuals from his collection of seeds in the Department he called ‘Annuals.’

In this scene from Vick’s  catalog of 1874 the parents stood on a summer deck to admire their landscape and take in the joy it brought their children, playing down below on the lawn. [below]

Vick Floral Guide 1874

The garden industry, to this very day, is instrumental in spreading the knowledge of new plants to the home gardener.

Hyams writes, “During the eighteenth century about 500 new plant species were introduced into English gardens; in the next century the newcomers were counted in the thousands.”

 

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Victorians Encouraged Winter Houseplants

Victorians encouraged winter houseplants.

It is the dead of winter and the house interior seems to provide nothing but dry air.

For this time of year the Victorians encouraged indoor plants.

Harriet Beecher Stowe in her book cowritten with her sister Catherine Esther Beecher The American Woman’s Home in 1869 recommended growing house plants to help bring humidity to the dry winter air in the house.

This black and white illustration appeared in the book, showing the detail of window and plants. [below]

From The American Woman’s Home by Catherine Esther Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe

The nineteenth century garden industry provided decorative flower pots, hanging baskets and even miniature greenhouses, according to Thomas Schlereth’s Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915.

In 1873 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick wrote in his catalog, “A bay window connected with a warm room, especially if facing South or East, makes an excellent place for keeping plants in winter.

“Few plants can endure the high temperature and dry atmosphere of most of our living rooms. The temperature should not be allowed to go above seventy in the day time, and not above forty-five in the night.”

Vick frequently shared instructions for taking care of the plants.

He said, “The main thing in keeping house plants in health is to secure an even temperature, a moist atmosphere, and freedom from dust. Sprinkle the leaves occasionally, and when water is needed, use it freely.”

Besides offering some leverage against indoor dry conditions, plants are also fun to see. It is a bit of the garden indoors.

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Gardening Follows Fashion

Gardening follows fashion.

In the 1870s English garden writer and horticulturist William Robinson founded and edited a garden magazine simply called The Garden.

In an article in the magazine dated January 27, 1872 he wrote about American seed company owner Peter Henderson who had his greenhouse and trial garden in New Jersey and his seed company store and warehouse in New York.

Robinson used the writing of Henderson to make the point that all gardening is fashion.

He wrote, “Flowers, or designs in flowers, says Mr. Peter Henderson, like numerous other articles of luxury, unmistakably have their fashions, which originate in large cities and have their run there for a year or two until the particular design or particular flower is supplanted by others.

“Ten years ago graceful hanging baskets were the fashion in New York, but after a year or two they were as common in the tenement of the mechanic as in the palaces of Fifth Avenue, the difference only being in the expense of the materials.

“Under these circumstances they could no longer be fashionable and rapidly gave way to the more expensive rustic stand or Wardian case, which, being less readily imitated by people of limited means, is likely to continue longer fashionable.”

Today gardening is still subject to fashion.

You will now see flowers planted with vegetables when only a few years ago that would have been unheard of in gardening.

It is not uncommon for plant growers to claim one of their own as the latest garden gem.

The old fashioned petunia has evolved through a variety of hybrids over decades.

This summer everyone will want to grow this petunia called ‘Bordeaux’ from Proven Winners who made the flower ‘Annual of the Year.’ [below]

Supertunia ‘Bordeaux’ from the grower Proven Winners

You can see that it is truly a beautiful colored flower of a bright pink with a dark center.

I grew it in my garden this past summer though at the time I did not know that it would become the ‘Annual of the Year.’

I guess that would make me right in line with following the latest garden fashion.

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1876 Centennial Exhibition Featured Conservatories

The 1876 Centennial Exhibition featured conservatories.

The Victorian gardener in the late nineteenth century sought exotic plants that displayed color and form whether in the garden or in the house.

The 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia showcased the love of such plants, especially in the windows of the house and in the glass houses or conservatories that many homes could then afford.

Schlereth Victorian AmericaThomas J. Schlereth writes in his book Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life 1876-1915, “The horticultural hall [at the Exhibition in Philadelphia] represented the Victorian love of exotic gardens in glass conservatories.”

The Victorian conservatory became an extension of the house.

Such greenhouses served an important role in the life and work of the nineteenth century gardener.

When glass became less expensive in the late 1830s, the middle class plant lover could afford to have such a conservatory or greenhouse.

In 1892 the Parker and Wood Seed Company in Boston issued a seed catalog with a black and white drawing of an upper middle class house. Two men and two women were playing badminton on the front lawn. (below)

You also can see  a large conservatory attached to the house at the left. The conservatory provided a setting for tropical plants that the owner could cultivate and perhaps during the warm months position outdoors so the plant could enjoy the season’s warmth and rain.

A potted plant like a palm or lemon tree also added an exotic touch to the garden.

Conservatory as part of the house in this 1892 Parker and Wood Seed Catalog

Attached conservatory in Parker and Wood Seed Catalog of 1892 [Mass Hort]

The Victorian conservatory, attached to the house, appeared both in England and America, assuring hours of gardening pleasure for its owner.

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Early Monasteries Encouraged Flowers

Early monasteries encouraged flowers.

The early monasteries of Europe like that of St. Benedict, founded in the sixth century, included walled gardens.

Benedict is recognized as the founder of Christian monasticism. Today the Benedictine order is one of the largest in the Catholic Church.

Monastery hallway [Thanks to Pexels]

The early monasteries of that period also cultivated flowers for religious decoration.

Jack Goody says in his book The Culture of Flowers, “It was mainly the monastic branch of the church that came to advance horticulture and eventually nourished their production and use.

“Monastic gardens harbored not only fruit, vegetable and shade trees, but plants later to be destined for the decoration of altars on holy days. Many of the early monastic gardens concentrated on flowers for their medicinal properties and the related culinary ones.

“That was a slow process that covered some thousand years.”

Eventually it would become second nature for churches to use flower decorations and displays with other plants like cuttings of evergreens.

The practice of decorating the altar and the sanctuary along with the outside of the church is now an accepted custom.

Now it’s that time of year when churches decorate for Christmas. 

A reader wrote to New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) in 1879 and said,  “We have for years trimmed our church for Christmas, using about twelve hundred feet of Hemlock wreathing.”

During this Christmas season we think nothing of using poinsettias to brighten the church sanctuary.

The poinsettia, introduced in the mid-ninetenth century to the nursery trade, is now a staple of Christmas church decoration.

The Benedictine nun St. Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) encouraged the well-being of soul, body, and mind with the flowers and herbs she grew in her monastery garden.

When you think about it, the accepted practice of cultivating flowers in the garden owes a bit of thanks to these early monasteries of Europe.  

They encouraged flower gardening at a time when many cultures shunned it.

Goody says, “Gradually, through the course of the Middle Ages, Europe experienced a revival of the garden and the garland, as well as of botany and of gardening.”

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Pompeii Treasured Flowers

Pompeii Treasured Flowers

Among the ruins of the city of Pompeii, near Naples, I was impressed with evidence of how people cultivated trees, shrubs, and flowers.

Here is a photo from my visit to Pompeii. [below]

The streets of Pompeii today

What amazed me was that Pompeii, a colony of Rome by the time of its destruction in A. D. 79,  knew and appreciated horticulture quite early.

It was a time when many other cultures avoided even depicting something as simple as a flower because that was what pagans did, they claimed, especially in their rites of idolatry.  Muslims, Christians, and Jews avoided any link to pagan practices.

That seems strange because eventually Christianity adapted pagan rituals and holidays, reinterpreting them for the spread of the faith.  The celebration of Christmas is a good example.

Jack Goody writes in his book The Culture of Flowers: “In antiquity flowers were grown in Pompeii for two main reasons: for garlands (coronae) and for perfume (odor).”

The streets of Pompeii are still there, as well as images of plants in frescoes that I saw in some of the homes.

Plants, including flowers, were important to the various classes of the people of Pompeii

Goody writes, “Cultivated flowers are essentially products of advanced agriculture, of gardening, so we rarely find them under simple hoe agriculture…The growth of the culture of flowers represents a growth of the standard of living of the rich.”

Flowers in Pompeii provided the color in garlands worn on the head, and the scent of perfume for the body.

Cultures over the centuries have used flowers according to the tenets of their moral principles. The Roman use of flowers, as at Pompeii, differed from other contemporary cultures both in the East and the West.

 

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Walled Garden Origin Spands Centuries

Walled garden origin spands centuries.

Recently I have been reading about the connection between culture and flowers.

What I have discovered is that flowers have played a different role in cultures around the world over the centuries.

Some countires, like Africa, once had little little interest in flowers, probably because their main concern about plants centered on agriculture for such a long time.

In the process I also discovered a history of the walled garden, which developed over centuries and contact with various cultures.

My source has been Jack Goody’s book simply called The Culture of Flowers.

 

Goody writes, “The enclosed garden or hortus conclusus of twelfth-century Europe looked back to Biblical sources but was modeled in part upon Eastern, and ultimately Persian, examples revealed to the West during the Crusades as well as travelers in Sicily, North Africa, and Spain.”

When I visited the historic gardens of England, like Rousham from the 18th century, I saw an enclosed garden. [below]

 

Rousham’s Walled Garden

When I was in the walled garden, I felt like I was in another age and time.  The enclosed feeling meant relief and escape, as well as privacy.

Goody writes, “While the walled garden of Europe had other roots, Islamic models in southern Spain, Sicily and the Mediterranean were important for the revival of the culture of flowers in its form, its contents and in its attitudes towards their use.”

Many classical English gardens built such a walled garden, often to grow vegetables and herbs.  Flowers were eventually added to this garden as well.

Even George Washington’s home in Virginia, Mount Vernon, included a walled garden.

Washington admired the modern English garden, often featuring a walled garden, long a tradition by then.

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We Still Grow Popular Nineteenth Century Annuals

We still grow popular nineteenth century annuals.

In 1878 a customer wrote Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick, asking him to name his six favorite annuals.

Vick responded in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly with these words,  “We hardly know what to recommend for six Annuals. Phlox, Striped Petunia, Double Portulaca, Pansy, Aster. Now we have only one more to select: Verbena, Mignonette, Dianthus, Morning Glory, Stock.

“Our readers had better select the last one for themselves, for we can’t find it in our heart to exclude so many good things from our list of six, and perhaps make hard feeling among our favorite flowers.”

The annuals that  Vick listed are the same plants we grow today. The cultivar or hybrid may have changed but the same flowers continue to shine in our gardens.

Today they are the same flowers that appear in the spring at box stores and garden centers around the country.

Chromolithograph from Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, February 1878

Vick grew hundreds of dahlias, including new varieties, in his fields of display gardens both at his home and in his trial farm outside the city.

He was always in seach of a new dahlia hybrid. By the 1870s there were probably hundreds.

Noel Kingsbury writes in his book Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding, “”New versions of familiar plants sell well.”

The marketing of garden plants depends on what the gardener knows about plants.  Old familiar varities attract a customer. Thus we see the same annuals in the garden year after year.

Take as an example, the supertunia, which is the number one annual for Proven Winners.

Vick spent a great deal of time hybridizing the petunia because he considered it a popular annual.

Kingsbury gets the credit as well for this wonderful quote from garden historian Richard Gorer in writing about garden plants. Gorer says, “The hybridizers appear to have gone on breeding the same plants that have been popular for so long…they seem to lack enterprise.”

Kingsbury makes the point too when he says that the hybridizing choices were linked to familiar plants both to the nursery and the gardener.

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Victorian Seed Industry Launched Hybrid Search

Victorian seed Industry launched hybrid search.

At the moment I am reading about the nineteenth century history of garden annuals.

Hybridizing has become an important topic to examine during this period.

Richard Gorer writes in The Development of Garden Flowers that hybridizing was not extensively practiced until the early nineteenth century.

You will find a history of hybridizing in Noel Kingsbury’s book Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding.

Though he covers farming, especially corn, which is so dependent on hybrids to increase the yield quality and stamina, Kingsbury also addresses horticulture and gardening.

When Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) in the 1870s hybridized the petunia by crossing two varieties, he came up with his own double cultivar called ‘Vick’s double fringed.’

In his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly Vick gives an account of how he crossed the petunias.

He filled a room in his greenhouse with single-flowering plants while nearby he filled another room with plants bearing double flowers. He then took a basket of double flowers to the area containing the single petunias. Next he shredded the double flowers in search of pollen and collected it with a camel’s hair brush. This pollen was transferred to the pistils of the single flowers.

This was an expensive way to generate seeds. It was however from this method that Vick added his own petunia cultivar called ‘Vick’s New Fringed.’

Vick joined a long line of nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries who experimented with hybridizing.

The potential of hybridizing for even more new garden plants expanded in the early twentieth century, as Kingsbury notes, with the work of L. H. Bailey in New York and Luther Burbank in California.

Kingsbury recognizes the work of seedsmen like Vick. He writes, “Commercial seedsmen were quite important in the development of many vegetables and flower varieties.”

 

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