Darwin Studied Climbing Plants

Darwin studied climbing plants

English scientist Charles Darwin (1808-1882) was able to see a oneness in nature.

For many years that idea motivated both his research and his writing.

He likened climbing plants to animals according to James T. Costa’s book Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory.

Costa writes: “Seemingly animal-like in their powers of movement and sense perception, climbing plants too point to the fundamental unity of plants and animals.”

In my garden I planted a vine of hops along one wall of my garden shed. Each summer the vine reaches out to spread its leaves.

Darwin saw in hops an example of movement by the plant called twining.

Here is a photo of the hop vine in my garden. [below] It is the variety by Proven Winners called ‘Summer Shandy.”

Hop Vine in my garden on the shed wall

Darwin pointed out that these plants have a certain power of movement.

He said, “It has often been vaguely asserted that plants are distinguished from animals by not having the power of movement. It should rather be said that plants acquire and display this power only when it is of some advantage to them.”

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Commercial Grower Prefers Cuttings for New Plants

Commercial grower prefers cuttings for new plants

Recently I visited Pleasant View Gardens in Loudon, New Hampshire, a major grower for the plant brand known as Proven Winners.

What amazed me is each year from December to March the amount of small plants, called liners, that Pleasant View grows from vegetative cuttings.

The liners or small plants are then shipped out to garden centers that repot them and grow them til the spring for sale at the nursery.

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) advised the use of cuttings for new plants in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

Vick proposed the use of a bell glass for small pots, each holding a number of cuttings. [below]

Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, 1879

The glass jar of course controlled light, moisture and temperature for the young plants as they grew.

Pleasant View devotes 700,000 square feet to the many trays of plants in special greenhouses which afford ample control of heat, light, and moisure.

In this way Pleasant View grows millions of young plants to ship out in the spring to garden centers and nurseries, mostly on the east coast.

Here is a photo I took of trays of cells, each of which contains a small plant. Notice how many plants there are in just this small space in one greenhouse. [below]

Small plants in cells, inside a tray, await shipment to a garden center near you.

Vick understood the science of this process of growing plants through vegetative cuttings.

In 1879 he wrote, “The florist and the nurseryman construct propagating houses, with beds heated by pipes with hot water flowing through them, to keep up a steady heat to encourage the production of roots in advance of the growth of the stem.”

Vick knew the importance of vegetative cuttings to reproduce certain plants like many annuals.

Today, Pleasant View does ninety percent of its propagation for Proven Winners with vegetative cuttings which, in this case, are flown in from Central America.

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Darwin Wrote about Plant Struggle for Survival

Darwin wrote about plant struggle for survival

This past June here in the NE provided a great deal of rain. It kept pouring down for what seemed days and days. Little sun appeared.

What grew in the garden, without bounds it seems, were weeds.

I have never seen such a vast number of weeds which took over so much of my garden. I spent what seemed several weeks just weeding.

Dealing with weeds is an important way to understand not only gardening but ecology as well.

In the book Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory the author James T. Costa writes about Darwin’s many experiments with plants.

Weeds like all plants are trying to survive. We humans call these plants ‘weeds’ which legitimizes and encourages treating them like an enemy that must be crushed.

Costa writes, “What seems an exuberance of vegetation with its flitting and creepy-crawly denizens, unruly enough to strike terror into the heart of gardeners whose taste favor the manicured has in fact a certain order or underlying structure in Darwin’s eyes.”

This ‘struggle for existence’ that Darwin explored in his work could well be the story of the weed.

Costa writes, “When we observe nature we often miss the struggle, seeing only peace and harmony, and mistake this for the natural condition of the living world.”

Perhaps that is a lesson that gardeners learn only too quickly. The peace and harmony we search for in the garden is really a state we impose on the garden.

The garden is a place where plants struggle to survive. Some make it while others do not.

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Hardy Plants vs Annuals

Hardy Plants vs Annuals

There has long been a battle between gardeners who prefer hardy plants or perennials and those who would rather plant annuals for the summer garden.

In the nineteenth century the battle soared to its peak.

In his book A Plea for Hardy Plants (1902) the landscape architect from Pittsburg James Wilkinson Elliott (1858-1939) argued that hardy plants were rare in the garden.

Elliott’s book A Plea for Hardy Plants [Courtesy of Biblio.com]

Elliott wrote, “Nine-tenths of the ornamental gardening in America is still done with a few commonplace and uninteresting bedding plants.”

He saw such gardening with annuals as a waste of time and money.

Elliott felt sorry for gardeners who avoided hardy plants.

He wrote “Think of the pity of it, that all this enormous annual expenditure should be wasted – an expenditure that leaves our gardens in the fall exactly as it found them in the spring – bare earth, and nothing in it.”

The beautiful perennial borders of Powerscourt in Ireland illustrate what hardy plants can do for the summer garden. [Below]

Powerscourt’s garden took shape in the early twentieth century when the debate on the use of hardy plants was at its peak both in America and Europe.

Perennial border at Powerscourt in Ireland [courtesy photo]

To us it may seem like there is no issue here at all. Today most gardeners use a combination of perennials and annuals.

For decades, however, especially during the late Victorian period both in England and America, hardy plants took a back seat to showy annuals.

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New Hydrangea Book

New hydrangea book

Late nineteenth century seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) wrote about the hydrangea in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

In 1879 he said, “The hydrangea is an old garden favorite that we are all familiar with.”

Vick was right that the hydrangea has been around for a long time and we all know a lot about it.

However with newer varieties or cultivars appearing each spring, it might be worthwhile to learn more about this famous and important shrub. Vick wrote in his magazine, “This hardy Hydrangea [ H. Paniculata] is the most useful plant that has been introduced for years.”

Now there is a new book to teach us even more about the hydrangea.

Garden writer and lecturer Lorraine Ballato has written a new book called Success with Hydrangeas: A Gardener’s Guide.

Lorraine spells out the varieties or cultivars of the hydrangea along with their different demands of sun, water, fertilizer, and pruning.

The photos in the book are worth its price. They clearly capture the beauty of this popular shurb in so many shapes and forms, planted both in containers and in beds.

I enjoyed the glossary of terms at the end of the book as well as a list of gardens to visit where you can see hydrangeas in bloom.

Vick often wrote about Hydrangea paniculata. He said, “It is superb, with its score of creamy panicles of flowers, some ten inches in length. I introduced this fine shrub here three years, and its greatly admired by every one.”

Lorraine Ballado’s new book provides updated and useful information about today’s hydrangea.

I particulary liked that she focuses on the five most common species: H. macrophylla, H. quercifolia, H. petiolaris, H. arborescens, and, of course, the popular H. paniculata. This helps the reader with more direct examples and illustrations.

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Victorian NY Landscaper Advocated for Parks

Victorian NY landscaper advocated for parks –

To Frederick Law Olmsted we all owe a great deal of debt because he advocated for public green spaces.

The restrictions of city life call for the opportunity for a citizen to walk among trees and observe nature in plants, insects, and animals in a public space like a park.

Landscape architect Samuel Parsons (1844-1923) served as Superintendent of New York parks at the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century.

In his book Landscape Gardening (1891) Parsons outlined the importance of parks, much in the spirit of Olmsted.

He wrote, “The chief and most important office of Central Park is not to furnish agreeable driving territory for the ‘beau monde’, the millionaires, and the lovers of horseflesh.

“It is not a scheme to please and attract the fashionable, but it is playground for the young people, a pleasant open-air breathing space for the mothers and fathers who desire to go into the country and cannot get there.”

Central Park in New York



Thus Parsons follows in the tradition of America’s early environmentalist Olmsted.

Parsons clearly spells out in his writing that his work as director of parks in New York included overseeing the grand design of Olmsted, Central Park.

Central Park came to be for city residents who had little or no recourse to escaping the city for the country.

Children and Nature

Today there is much discussion with signs of activity as well on the topic of children and gardening.

Kids have little experience with nature, for many reasons.

So when children maintain a garden at school, at home, or a plot in a community garden, they can see nature at work.

An organization called Kids Gardening encourages children to garden and offers many suggestions.

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in the late nineteenth century that children who garden learn to appreciate nature.

Parsons contributed to that same tradition in his insistence that kids from the city have an opportunity to experience nature in city parks.

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Early American Gardening Centered on Vegetables

Early American gardening centered on vegetables

In  the first half of the nineteenth century gardeners 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.”

By the 1860s and 1870s seed company owners like Rochester, New York’s James Vick (1818-1882) still featured the importance of growing vegetables.

Here is an illustration from Vick’s catalog. Vegetables surround almost the entire house. [below]

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 in growing vegetables.

By that time gardeners were also enjoying their many flowers as well.

 

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Containers Dominated Boston Flower Show

Containers dominated Boston Flower Show

Last week I took the Silver line train into the Seaport section of Boston for the annual Boston Flower and Garden Show.

The weekday that I attended a moderate amount of visitors filled the Seaport Center. It was easy to navigate the floor.

What took me by surprise was the emphasis on container gardening.

It was captured in the exhibit by Miscovsky Landscaping called “Potlandia.” [below]

Giant terra-cota pots stood out in this exhibit by Miskovsky Landscaping from Falmouth.

The exhibit included three giant planters, each probably ten feet tall.

These pots made of terra-coat were painted in bring, attractive colors.

The plantings in each of them were pretty much the same. The center of the pot included a Japanese maple along with shrubs and perennials. Remember these containers were quite large.

The exhibit won a prize of $2000 for its outstanding forced plant material, including fruit trees.

You could see many bulbs throughout the design.

I took this photo to provide a perspective on the size of the containers. [below]

The exhibit called ‘Potlandia.’

There is no question that the size of the containers made a bold statement about the importance of the container in the landscape.

I got that.

So as I walked around the Show every container after that seemed to be important.

The exhibit by Terrascape Design had wrought iron planters with wonderful brightly colored plants.

A series of window boxes even caught my eye. Many great plants filled each of them.

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CT Flower Show Features Stairway to Heaven

CT Flower Show features stairway to heaven

A few days ago I drove to Hartford, Connecticut for the 38th Annual Connecticut Flower and Garden Show.

It was the best in years.

Outstanding exhibits made the trip worth while.

Aqua Scapes included a nine-foot stairway waterfall that seemed to drift from the clouds. The title of the exhibit “Stairway to Heaven” said it all.

It was truly a heavenly site with its many spring trees, shrubs, bulbs, and perennials.

Large stones filled much of the space. 

In the distance you could see a madonna statue, centered under a Japanese maple and surrounded by a bed of tulips.

A large cage next to the water fall housed a white dove.

All heavenly.

It was no surprise that this exhibit by Aqua Scapes won the Best of Show Award.

Exhibit by Aqua Scapes

 

Cafe des Fleur

Another fine exhibit also deserves mention. The Naugatuck Valley Community College presented a landscape design that transported you to downtown Paris in the spring.

A coffee shop called Cafe des Fleur stood to one side.

The exhibit included many spring flowers like hyacinths, crocus, tulips, and daffodils. Some were in containers while others appeared in beds that bordered the sidewalk. [below]

Cafe des Fleur

Ten Horticulture students designed this  exhibit. They grew the plants in the College’s greenhouse.

An apartment building stood next door to the coffee shop. The building’s entrance included several plants as well.

This beautiful exhibit was a simple statement of how flowers can enliven a sidewalk scene.

My drive was well worth the time it took to reach Hartford.

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Victorians Loved Cut Flowers

Victorians loved cut flowers

The Victorian period in the nineteenth century ushered in a love for cut flowers from the garden.

Here is a beautiful chromolithograph from William Rawson’s seed catalog of 1888 called ‘Gems from the Wild Garden.’ The image visualizes what a glorious choice of flowers for tea and lunch were available to the Victorians. [below]

Rawson Seed Company, Boston

In his book The Victorian Garden Tom Carter calls this love of cut flowers from that period ‘floristry.’

He writes, “Competition was the essence of floristry, and the spring and summer months were filled with shows held all over the country.”

The flower shows proved an outlet to show off flowers like roses and dahlias.

I remember on ‘Downton Abbey’ when Maggie Smith’s character said,
“My yellow rose won top prize at the county fair.”

Even in the cities Victorian gardeners took pride in floristry.

Carter writes, “Workers in the industrial towns took to floristry as about the only form of gardening open to them in the restricted spaces of urban living.”

Whether in country or city, Victorians encouraged floristry and so they enjoyed their cut flowers.

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