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. 

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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.

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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.’

 

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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.

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Coastal Wilderness Marks 1920s South Florida Garden

Coastal wilderness marks 1920s south Florida garden.

I recently went back in time along the coast of South Florida to visit an island garden from the 1920s.

In Fort Lauderdale Frederic Clay Barrett and his wife Helen built the house with its garden called Bonnet House on Birch Street. The street is named after Hugh Taylor Birch, Mrs. Barrett’s father who gave the thirty-five acres as a wedding gift.

Bonnet House is situated on a coastal barrier island with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west.

Barrier islands protect the mainland from the impact of the ocean tides and currents and also provide a habitat for many kinds of wildlife.

The gardens at the Bonnet House present a visitor with several areas of both desert and tropical plants.

Barrett planted a desert garden near the main house. The garden measures three-fourths’ of an acre and serves as a transition area for the natural barrier island habitat to the south and the main house to the north.

Main House

The house was built in southern plantation style. [below]

Main house at Bonnet House

A near-by lily pond features the bonnet lily, after which the house was named, and provides a respite for the visitor.

Mrs. Barrett collected orchids and housed them in the Orchid House, also not far from the main house.

An alley of palm trees [below] ends up at a fountain, designed and built by Barrett, who, along with his wife, was an artist.

An alley of trees

The beach path leads you right up to a black iron fence separating the property from the beach. Many trees and shrubs line the path, holding in the soil but also teaching a visitor what the land looked like before the commercial development in the area.

Near the house six tall Hibiscus shrubs have become a dense screen of green leaves with orange and red flowers which were in bloom during my visit. [below]

A group of Hibiscus shrubs near the house

Visiting this garden is a trip back in time. Bonnet House also lets you see what the Florida coast looked like before the many condos and hotels lined Fort Lauderdale’s beach.

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Dahlias Still Enchant Gardeners

Dahlias still enchant gardeners.

I love dahlias. What can I say?

But then gardeners have loved this plant since it was first introduced from Mexico into Europe in the eighteenth century.

We treasured them so much that both in England and in America the early nineteenth century witnessed a ‘dahlia mania.’  Gardeners coveted the newest dahlia.

Head gardener at Chatsworth Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) wrote a book called A practical treatise on the cultivation of the dahlia (1838).

In the book Paxton said “The state of perfection to which [the dahlia] has already attained is absolutely unparalleled in the history of any other plant or tribe of plants at present known to our collections; and perhaps I shall not be guilty of a departure from truth when I say, that it is at present by far the most interesting, beautiful and popular autumnal-flowering plant, of which the gardens of this country can boast.

“It is conjectured, that the number of named sorts of varieties of this plant now in cultivation, exceeds one thousand.” It was the 1830s and already gardeners could choose from one thousand varieties of the dahlia.

Dahlias continue to enchant gardeners to this day.

Recently I received a notice from Longfield Gardens about its offer for a selection of ‘border’ dahlias. That is a terrific idea. 

Why not plant dahlias as a border?

Border dahlia called ‘Gloria Pablo’ [Courtesy Longfield Gardens]

Dahlias are a terrific flower for containers, beds, as well as borders.

Paxton wrote “No plant, or tribe of plants, of the most acknowledged beauty, or the most extensive variety of form and colour, has ever excited so much interest and attention, or been so successfully and universally cultivated by British florists and horticulturists, as the one here noticed.”

English horticulturist Neil Kingsbury said in his new book Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants in Your Garden that today there are fifty-seven thousand varieties of dahlias on the market.

Surely that number is more than enough for that dahlia enchantment so many of us feel.

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Politics Influenced Modern English Garden

Politics influenced modern English garden.

One would think that politics is the farthest thing from any sort of garden style or fashion.

A garden is, after all, about the design of a piece of land with plants.

Tim Richardson in his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden makes the point that the English garden change called the ‘landscape garden’ in the early 1700s was linked to the political environment in England.

At that time the English garden developed a ‘modern’ style that changed the English garden forever. The style included a more natural look, less tied to the precise pruning of the Dutch contribution to landscape at that time.

The poet Alexander Pope, the nurseryman Thomas Switzer, and others sought to express a new form of landscape design.

The new English landscape had the opposition between the Tories and Whigs to thank for its emergence.

Richardson says, “[In the 1680s and 1690s]  those in favor of a Protestant succession to the throne – and the businesslike ordering of national affairs that came with it – realized that the treatment of the land itself, including gardens, could be assumed as a powerful emotional and economic argument in favor of Whig ideas of progress and patriotism.”

More creative, intellectual British aristocrats considered the earlier formal, symmetrical garden design of an ‘Anglo-Dutch’ manner that preceded the early 1700s, unsuitable to a modern nation.

This group of new landscapers, led by Pope, sought to express themselves in redesigning the garden.

Richardson writes, “Pope’s ideas were to shape the form of the landscape garden in decades to come.”

“The landscape garden did not arise out of a progression of Taste, as the Whigs would have us believe, but out of an explosion of intellectual creativity,” says Richardson.

If Richardson’s argument is accepted, and in the book he presents evidence to make that point, we have much to be grateful for in the struggle between the two political factions of England in the early 1700s.

The elements of surprise and variety also became the qualities that accompanied the new landscape garden.  The artist William Kent emerged as a major force in designing properties with the new landscape garden look.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both preferred this new landscape garden style on their properties in Virginia.

 

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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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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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