Nurseries Made Dahlias Popular

Nurseries Made Dahlias Popular.

Plants enter our gardens usually through the portal of the green industry like seed companies, nurseries, and growers.

That was the case with the dahlia.

Originally from Mexico, the dahlias appeared in Spain in the eighteenth century.

The dahlia reached England in 1803, and America a few years later.

Boston nurseryman Charles Mason Hovey (1810-1887) became an early advocate for the dahlia. In his publication Magazine of Horticulture in 1835 he called the dahlia the “King of Flowers.”

In 1838 he wrote, “They [dahlias] have become one of the greatest and most valuable ornaments of the garden.”

Then he also said, “We believe the time is at hand when our own gardens will produce dahlias equalling the English.”

Hovey won Best in Class I for his twenty-five dissimilar dahlia blooms at the Flower Show sponsored by  the Massachusetts Horticultural Society on Saturday, October 1, 1842.

Thus his writing about the plant and also growing it, and, of course, selling it contributed to gardeners planting it in the garden.

Hovey was only one of the early nurserymen to encourage the dahlia.

Today we have a company like American Meadows which still encourages gardeners to grow dahlias.

This image [below] is from the AM company website.

American Meadows dahlia image

Dahlias  [courtesy of American Meadows]

Hovey wrote in 1840, “Some seedling dahlias have been raised, which equal the best productions of the English garden.”

American dahlia growers can stand up to the best.

Today there are 57,000 varieties of the dahlia. This flower has come a long way, with no small thanks to the American nursery business.

 

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Oliver Plunkett’s Garden Features Grotto

Oliver Plunkett’s garden features grotto.

During my recent visit in Ireland when I saw the early home of St. Oliver Plunkett (1629-1681) in Loughcrew, something else in the garden there surprised me.

At the end of the border of perennials you find a grotto. You can see that the grotto was made with rocks simply cemented to other rocks to form a sort of shelter of a few feet in height. A tiny pool of water appears at the base.

Such a grotto, made of rocks, formed an important part of English garden history.

David Stuart in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens writes about the history of this garden decoration.

He says, “Rockeries were, at first, pure theater. From the middle of the eighteenth century, artificial grottos and mock ruins became fashionable adjuncts in any garden large enough to pretend to ‘landscape’.”

The Plunkett property includes this grotto or rock garden, also referred to as a folly, in that garden tradition. [below]

Grotto at Loughcrew, home of Oliver Plunkett

Elizabeth I (1533-1603) created the Loughcrew Estate, making it one of the greatest estates in Ireland. The property, originally 180,000 acres, became a classic landscape from its beginning. Over the centuries landscape designers and architects have contributed to these beautiful grounds.

Near the old stone walls of the church a line of yew trees stand tall even today, after four hundred years.

Gardens, woods, arboreta, and pleasure walks make this remarkable landscape at Loughcrew in county Meath an Irish treasure.

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Victorian Garden Fashion Reappears

Victorian garden fashion reappears.

Gardening has always been a mix of fashion and style.

A recent article in The English Garden called “Gardening features: the bedding display”  demonstrates renewed interest in the bedding out fashion, popular in the nineteenth century.

The magazine traces the history of this Victorian garden practice.

The article says, “Seed merchants sold special bedding plant seeds, which could be sent direct to gardeners using the newly available postal and railway network. By the 1880s, this ‘bedding boom’ had reached even the small suburban garden, with loud displays in island beds proudly placed right in the middle of lawns. These beds came in a variety of forms, all of which – bar the circle – were equally ridiculous. Who in their right mind would choose a star, crescent, heart, butterfly or ‘tadpole’ as a shape for a bed?”

The answer for that period was that many gardeners did, because it was the garden fashion of the day.

The article includes this fabulous photo as well. [below]  The scene looks like something out of the nineteenth century garden catalogs.

Some gardens, such as Lyme Park in Cheshire, are reintroducing or reinterpreting old bedding schemes. Credit: NPTL/Stephen Robson

Some gardens, such as Lyme Park in Cheshire, are reintroducing or reinterpreting old bedding schemes. Credit: NPTL/Stephen Robson. [Courtesy of The English Garden magazine]

When the author raises the question about who would do it, all I could think of is how often this idea appeared in the nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs.

Peter Henderson, for example, the seed merchant from New York not only encouraged this practice but included an illustration of it on his catalog cover several times.

What is garden fashion at one time may seem strange at a later date.

That is what is happening here.

The idea of bedding out demands not only a lot of plants, but also a great amount of time in maintaining such a bed on the lawn.

I can see why people do not want to garden this way today.

When you see it, however, the first emotion is how beautiful it is, but then you think of the many hours it took to create this colorful design on the lawn.

At the high point of this garden fashion in the nineteenth century American landscape designer Frank J. Scott wrote his famous landscape handbook Suburban Home Grounds (1870).

He said, “To keep a great number of small beds filled through the summer with low blooming flowers and their edges well cut is expensive.

“If they are also planned so that the grass strips  between them must be cut with a sickle, few gentlemen of  moderate means will long have the patience to keep them with the nice care essential to their good effect.”

The cost of the plants and also the labor made him wonder if the practice was worth it.

Today the issues for bedding out still remain, thus making a gardener hesitate to cultivate such a bedding out scheme of planting.

That does not however stop gardeners from continuing this Victorian fashion.

The article from TEG magazine ends with these words, “It seems many private gardeners still believe in bedding, with bedding plants currently representing a third of UK consumers’ spending on garden plants.”

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Flower Beds Revolutionized English Garden

Flower beds revolutionized English garden.

We take flower beds for granted, but at one time they became revolutionary, making a statement against the current garden fashion.

The story began in early nineteenth century England when gardeners needed room for the unusual plants coming into the country from Asia, Africa, and America.

Plant collectors risked dangers and even death to provide the unusual and unknown flora from around the world.  English gardeners could not get enough of such plants.

The question became ‘Where do I plant them?’ for many gardeners.  After decades of stately lawns in front of and behind the house, there seemed little space to showcase these latest garden novelties.

stuart-plants-and-gardens-2David Stuart in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens writes, “When Lady Grenville, in exasperation [about where she would plant the new flowers coming into England from around the world], cut some large circles of the lawn in front of her drawing-room windows, and filled them with scarlet bergamots, blue salvias or yellow cosmos, she broke a century’s taboo, and started a colossal new movement.”

That was 1825. The garden has not been its old eighteenth century version since.

Here a simple act by Lady Grenville, or rather by her gardener, changed gardening.

Late eighteenth century landscape gardener Humpry Repton (1752-1818) had encouraged flowers in the landscape, even suggesting a rosarium for a rose collection. Flowers were not new. What was new was where they were planted in the landscape.

Flower beds on the lawn then became common practice both in England and America.

By 1880 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  took flower beds for granted. The beds on the lawn, he advised, needed to include annuals that bloom for the entire season. 

He wrote, “A few flower beds may be made, and usually near the borders, or opposite windows, and they should be of simple, graceful forms, and look well the whole summer, and every day and all day.”

Lady Grenville’s example illustrates how sometimes what we take for granted in gardening has a history.

Why we garden in a particular way and with certain plants expresses the culture of a particular time and place.

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Ireland Trip Illustrates Similar Plant Palette

Ireland trip illustrates similar plant palette.

My recent trip to Ireland taught me a lesson about marketing the garden.

While near Dublin, I visited the classic Victorian garden and estate called Powerscourt in the town of Enniskerry, County Wicklow.

There at the gift shop and greenhouse, near the visitor’s parking lot, I saw trays of pansies for sale. [below]

pansies-at-powerscourt

Pansies for sale outside the greenhouse at Powerscourt

The pansy has long been a gardener’s favorite. Since the nineteenth century pansies have played a central role in providing color for garden beds here in America.

When I saw the Powerscourt pansies, it was as if I was at home. We sell the same pansies here in the States.

What that means to me is that the power of marketing communication today makes a plant variety easily recognizable, perhaps even around the world, and that becomes the plant that people want to grow.

Mass marketing of the garden only began in the later part of the nineteenth century when communication innovations like the typewriter and increased speed in printing along with increased advertising became common.

A customer from Iowa wrote a letter to Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) about pansies.  Vick included these words from the letter in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878, “We never had such flowers before; you ought to have seen our Pansies. We have every color you can think of, and lots of them that you cannot think of. We have one or two roots of them that have not had anything but double Pansies, and they were very beautiful.”

Vick, of course, encouraged the growing of pansies.  That advice has continued to this day.

So in one sense it is no surprise to see the same annuals for sale in Ireland even though the growers may be local.

Since the late nineteenth century American gardening has been intimately connected with the mass marketing of plants and garden products.

The effect is that our palette of plants has become quite similar from region to region around the country, and even from country to country.

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Nineteenth Century America’s Swept Yard

Nineteenth century America’s swept yard

As I walked around the extensive Atlanta History Center grounds a few weeks ago, I came across a farm-house from the mid 1800s.  Barns for various animals surrounded the structure.

The house had a wooden fence along part of its perimeter, probably to keep the animals from roaming too close to the house.

The house was called the Tallie Smith House, a rural home preserved from the mid-nineteenth century. A variety of activities such as spinning, weaving, and preparing food would have taken place on its large front porch. [below]

The Tallie Smith House on the propraty of the Atlanta History Center.

The Tallie Smith House at the Atlanta History Center

Then I noticed that there was no front lawn, but rather a swept area of soil outside the front door, along the front, and on each side of the house as well.

Information on a near-by post said, “No garden form is more strongly tied to the South in the 1800s than the rural, grass-free swept yard.”  The swept yard was, it said, probably African in origin. [below]

Swept yard at the Tallie Smith Hosue

Swept yard at the Tallie Smith House at the Atlanta History Center

The fact that no lawn surrounded the house caught my attention. This landscape represented a certain time period in American garden history.

The word ‘yard’ has had a series of meanings for the landscape over the centuries. Here it includes the area that surrounds the front of a nineteenth century rural house.

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Garden Learning Never Stops

Garden learning never stops.

Sometimes newer gardeners appear to be unfamiliar with the most common of plants.

Perhaps it is because there seems to be so much to learn about gardening.

That problem is not new.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick  (1818-1882) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in August of 1881: “A correspondent of one of the London journals declares that some of the best of our annuals, those common in our gardens, and familiar to all gardeners twenty years ago, are now unknown to young gardeners, and that one would be puzzled to pick a lady a bouquet of flowers from positively good gardens, that was not mainly composed of Pelargoniums, Verbenas, and other plants commonly used for bedding.”

He recognized that gardeners needed to keep up with the newest in garden fashion but also not to forget the older plants.

Vick continued, “This is true, and much more true of English gardeners and gardens than of American.” Thus he seemed to put a bit of blame on English gardeners, but praised Americans who were eager to learn about gardening.

His conclusion could have been based on his experience with his seed business. He received hundreds of letters every year from his customers, asking questions about plants and gardening.

Vick was happy to respond to such questions in both his catalogue and magazine.

Today there are dozens of new plants that come on the market every year. Who can keep track of all of them?

One solution might be to continue to learn about gardening through garden visits, garden books, and garden social media like blogs.

Recently I came upon an old fashioned flower, unknown to me for many years.

While in Ireland a couple of weeks ago, I toured the site of the Battle of the Boyne, which took place in 1690 on the River Boyne near the town of Drogheda.

A beautiful Victorian garden is now included in the back of the site’s visitor center.

There I saw one of my favorite flowers, which I learned about only a year or two ago.

A bunch of calendula flowers appeared in this container along the wall near the greenhouse. [below]

Calendula at the Garden at the Battle of Boyne site in Ireland

Calendula in the garden of the Battle of the Boyne site in Ireland

 

 

 

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Dahlia Book Highlights Numerous Plant Varieties

Dahlia book highlights numerous plant varieties.

It’s fall and time to think about how much dahlias add to the garden. They bloom till Thanksgiving here in New England.

Leaning about dahlias has just become easier, thanks to a new book, The Plant Lover’s Guide to Dahlias.

plant-lovers-guide-to-dahlias-coverAuthor Andy Vernon takes the reader on a journey of dahlia history and growing dahlias, and then fills the rest of the book with photographs of dozens of dahlias in all their glorious color. Vernon, a BBC TV garden show producer and horticulturist, has been growing dahlias for fifteen years.

He says, “I love propagating dahlias, growing them, collecting new varieties and giving friends excess plants I’ve grown from seed.”

This book is part of the series from Timber Press called “The Plant Lover’s Guide To”, and in this case, it’s dahlias. It is published in cooperation with Kew, England’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

That origin tells the reader that there will be lots of information here about England’s fascination with the dahlia. The reader is not disappointed.

We read about dahlias at Great Dixter House and Gardens, where the modern craze in dahlias originated in the 1990s with Christopher Llyod’s display of the dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff.’ [below]

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' [Courtesy of White Flower Farm]

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ [Courtesy of White Flower Farm]

Then there are nurseries in England as well as Vernon’s own garden to provide various dahlia varieties. Of course the Hampton Court Flower Show and the Chelsea Flower Show also receive credit for their annual exhibits of dahlias.

Many novice dahlia gardeners hesitate to plant dahlias because of the fear of having to dig them up and store them for the winter. Vernon provides clear, simple advice here.

England’s Victorian and Edwardian eras used the dahlia extensively whether in a garden bed or in a container.

In the nineteenth century there were dozens of varieties of dahlias on the market. Mid century England experienced a dahlia mania, which Vernon compares to the tulip mania of the sixteenth century. Gardeners could not get enough of this flower.

Vernon provides a clear description of the various forms of the dahlia flower, which can be confusing sometimes. He lists them simply as anemone, collerette, ball, pompom, and cactus.

As anyone who grows dahlias will admit, there are hundreds of dahlias on the market. They are improving. Vernon says, “Times have changed, and dahlias are being re-invented for more modern gardens and tastes.”

Whether you plant dahlias in beds or containers, you will find much value in this book. Vernon even includes a list of forty-eight perennials and biennials that grow well with dahlias.

At the end of the book he includes a list of nurseries where you can purchase dahlias. The majority in the US are located in Oregon and Washington.

Vernon’s enthusiasm for this flower comes through from the very first page. For anyone seeking to learn about the dahlia and how easy it is to grow, and see dozens that are on the market, this book will provide the roadmap. He says, “It really is an exciting time to discover these plants.”

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dahlia-ketsup-and-mustard

This red and yellow dahlia flower of ‘Ketchup and Mustard’, I saw at September’s Rhode Island Dahlia Society’s annual show in Wickford, R.I. It was only one of dozens of old favorites on display at the show which is also a chance to see the newest in the world of dahlias.

 

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New England Drought Affects Hostas

New England drought affects hostas in my garden.

Here in New England I found that the drought we experienced this summer had an impact on some perennials.

At a Master Gardener meeting last week I heard a talk about the drought and its impact on the garden.

During that session I asked the speaker if the drought could cause problems for perennials.

He assured me that it certainly could.

Then I thought of my large hostas that looked anything but large this summer.

I am referring to Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ which is known for its breath-taking size. In the past this variety grew five feet high and six feet across in my garden. This summer it was clearly not itself. The size was about one-quarter what it usually would have been.

Several plants of ‘Sum and Substance’ are located along my driveway and are planted in areas of ledge. I planted them at least twenty years ago.

The second large plant is Hosta ‘Sagae,’ an award-winning variety with its blue-green leaves edged with a bit of cream color. This is truly an outstanding large hosta variety.

This year the leaves were quite small. The plant became almost a dwarf of its former self.

The ‘Sagae’ grows also along my driveway, right near a bit of ledge.  I planted it over twenty-five years ago. There are several of them in that spot. Normally they too would grow to five feet high and the same dimension in width.

Close to the house and near my water spigot, I found this blue Hosta, possibly ‘Love Pat’ which is one of my favorites. [below]

Blue hosta in my garden

This blue hosta, probably ‘Love Pat,’  grew in my garden this summer. It looks terrific.

It did not seem to suffer from the drought at all. It grew to this wonderful shape and size, with its stunning cupped leaves of blue.

I could attribute that its location near the water spicket, that I often used this summer.

How did your garden survive the drought?

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Canna Became Popular Victorian Plant

Canna became popular Victorian plant.

I remember on my trip to Amalfi that cannas grew in flower beds that lined the main road of a small town we visited. You could tell they come up every year.  That climate was probably ideal for them.

Cannas originate in sub-tropical and tropical America and Asia.

Since the canna was a popular Victorian plant, I searched out comments in my garden history archives about it from the Victorian period.

In 1900 Cornell University Professor of Horticulture L. H. Bailey edited his classic garden resource The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture which said “Cannas are commonly used only in formal beds, but most excellent effects may be secured by scattering clumps in the hardy border or amongst shrubbery. “

The color of a canna with dark leaves offers a contrast for other plants in the garden. Even the flowers can offer a certain look. The SCH says, “Against a heavy background of green, the gaudy flowers show to their best, and the ragged effect of the dying flowers is not noticed.”

Some people did not partcilarly find the flowers attractive, but the structure of this large plant met with approval.  The SCH says, “As individual blooms, the flowers are not usually attractive, but they are showy and interesting in a mass and at a distance.”

On my deck this summer I potted the Canna called ‘Sangria’, part of the Cabana Canna Collection from J. Berry Nursery. It looked fine and did well the whole summer. [below]

canna on deck

Canna ‘Sangria’ from the Cabana Canna Collection growing in a container on my deck

Bailey does not mention the use of canna in a container.

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  does however recommend it as the center plant in a large container.  It is showy and people would see it from a distance.

Bailey seems to recommend it for beds. His book says, “Popular tall ornamental plants, prized for their stately habit, strong foliage and showy flowers; much used in bedding.”

Today we still enjoy this showy plant, whether in a container or in beds.

 

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