Empress Josephine Introduced Dahlias

Empress Josephine introduced dahlias.

It is spring and time to think about planting dahlia tubers.

Down in my basement I have containers of dahlias that I stored there right after last Thanksgiving. They now sit, wrapped in newspapers, in large plastic containers

Within the next few weeks I will take them outdoors, inspect each, and plant them for that unbeatable fall color that dahlias provide in the garden.

From its home in Mexico the dahlia has been on a long journey to become a gardener’s favorite.

In the early 1800s Empress Josephine introduced the French to dahlias.

English garden writer Penelope Hobhouse says in her book Plants in Garden History, “Josephine was one of the earliest to develop dahlias (already by 1789 cultivated as varieties in the botanic garden in Madrid), obtaining new seeds of species through the botanical explorers Aim Bonpland and Friedrich Humbolt direct from Mexico.”

Josephine cultivated her dahlias in the gardens at Malmaison, her summer palace.

Napoleon liked the formal garden style that one could enjoy at the grand garden of Versailles.  Malmaison, however, took on the design that Josephine preferred, the more natural look of the English garden, with its lawns and scattered trees. [below

View of the Park at Malmaison [Artist, Auguste Simon Garneray]

Josephine loved gardening, and developed her garden as plant collections, including roses, begonias, cape heaths, and dahlias, according to English garden writer David Stuart’s book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens.

Dahlia historian Martin Krahl agrees.

He writes in his fascinating study called Of Dahlia Myths and Aztec Mythology: The Dahlia in History  “The Empress was single-handedly responsible for introducing many exotic plants to Europe.”

After Josephine received some of the earliest dahlia seeds in France, her love of dahlias would spread.

Around the same time that she was growing dahlias in her garden, England and other European countries, then America, also adopted the dahlia.

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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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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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Victorians Loved Flower Arranging

Victorians loved flower arranging.

Today people send flower arrangements quite easily through several online vendors.

Flower arranging as an art form took hold in the Victorian period.

After 1850 the seed and nursery catalogs moved from selling mostly vegetables to flowers.  Gardeners wanted flowers

Flowers became a Victorian passion. Flower arranging appeared everywhere.

David Stuart writes in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “Flower arranging seems to have been an innovation of the Victorian period.”

Cut flowers added beauty to home decoration.

Stuart writes, “The decoration of rooms with cut flowers became increasingly important in the nineteenth century and gave rise, by mid-century, to all sorts of appliances to hold flowers and keep them fresh.”

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) offered many flower containers in the pages of his seed catalog. He featured wooden, metal, and even ceramic vases.

Vick also included this chromolithograph of cut flowers in a vase that his customers could frame and adorn the walls of the parlor or living room.  [below]

Vick chromo of 1873

The Victorian home needed flower arrangements for many occasions. Stuart writes, “The need for ladies to be accomplished flower arrangers extended to almost all aspects of both life and death.”

The magazine The English Garden recently posted an article called “Arranging cut flowers – secrets of a top London florist” about the English florist Vic Brotherson who recently designed the flower arrangements for Kate Moss’ wedding in London.

The flowers listed in the article included Victorian favorites like foxglove, allium, cosmos, roses, and dahlias.

The Victorians not only loved flower arranging. They taught it so well that today we still use the same Victorian flowers for such arrangements.

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Gardeners Can’t Control Nature

Gardeners Can’t Control Nature.

Plants not only provide food.  They can also become a source of pleasure when used in the landscape.

We even refer to landscape as an art form in which plants provide an important element of the design.

Gardeners however cannot control plants in the landscape.  Nature has its own ways.

Recently Sheera Stern, who gardens in Metuchen, New Jersey, wrote a guest post called “On the Industrialization of Gardening” on the blog called Garden Rant, one of my favorite blog sites.

She writes, “As fall segues into winter, we are all relieved that the whine of the gas-powered leaf-blower has finally ceased.”  Stern cannot understand the attempt of the homeowner to remove every single leave that obstructs the clean surface of the lawn.

She makes the case that trying to remove them with the newest machinery, or manicuring every shrub to perfection, seems beyond the demands of enjoying a landscape.

It seems like our attempt to control nature.

That is nothing new.

We have been involved in trying to control nature since the first garden. We use nature for our own purposes.

Richard Bushman in his book The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities writes, “Nature had been smoothed and decorated as assiduously as walls and paneling inside the house.”

Then he says, “Besides refining the environment for polite company, the plantings functioned just as pictures, ceramics, or books did – that is, as subjects of conversation”

So we use nature – in the form of plants in the landscape – for a mixture of purposes that reflect social needs and social status.

One of the strongest examples of attempting to control nature has to be the use of plants in a design in topiary like the one here. [below]

Topiary image

The image clearly illustrates the careful choice and maintenance of plants to create this bridge effect over water.  It clearly shows how we can, in certain circumstances, use plants, as a form of nature, for the sake of creating a beautiful scene.

The  nineteenth century garden industry knew that to sell seeds and plants a seed company or nursery had to promise some benefit to gardening.

In 1884 the Vick Seed Company from Rochester, New York wrote in its garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “What we do in the gardening way is done for the appearance, the respectability of the thing, done for the same reason that we have a coat of paint put on the house, or renew the wall-hangings.”

That view of nature continues.

We use landscape for all kinds of reasons, including for personal and social needs, just like anything else in our daily lives.

Stern concludes her post with these words, “As we move ever farther away from our agrarian roots, not only do we know less as a culture about how the natural world works, but we also have less curiosity.”

 

 

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Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Artwork

Atlanta Botanical Garden’s artwork.

Recently while in Atlanta I had a chance to visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

The artist Dale Chihuly still had his sculptors in blown glass there on display.

What impressed me was how art like this fits in so well with the garden. It was as if the two were meant to be together in one burst of nature and color.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote about art and the garden in 1861 in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly.  He said: “To regard a garden otherwise than as a work of art, would tend to a radical perversion of its nature. A garden is for comfort and convenience, luxury and use, as well as for making a beautiful picture. It is to express civilization, and care, and design, and refinement. It is a blending of art with nature.”

Garden and Art

Certainly the many sculptures by Chihuly contributed to that blend of art with nature. [below]

Atlanta Botanical Garden art

Dale Chihuly’s artwork called ‘Fern Dell Paintbrushes’ at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

What I sometimes find difficult is how much art to include in the landscape as well as where to place it.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden spread Chihuly’s twenty works throughout the garden in such a way you could enjoy the garden as well as his artwork.

The Chihuly exhibit has now gone to Denver after its three months at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

I was happy to see this artwork contribute to a special Garden which by itself is a work of a art.

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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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Atlanta History Center Includes Swan House

Atlanta History Center includes Swan House.

The Garden Writers Association’s recent conference in Atlanta included a visit to the Atlanta History Center.

The Center offers many sights for the visitor, including a garden history fan such as yours truly.

The historic home called the Swan House caught my eye immediately.

Though it required a bit of a walk, I made my way to see this historic home and garden first.

It did not disappoint.

The Swan House dates to the early twentieth century, with a garden now covered in heavy shade from the growth of its tall trees over the years. The center fountain as well as the rows of trimmed boxwood still offer a bit of Italian formality to the garden.

Here is the garden which is to the side of the house. [below]

Swan House garden

Swan House formal garden

It was the front of the house with its Great Gatsby car that added that bit of extra to this visit. Loved the car.

Swan House in the Front with the car

This car stands out front at the door to the Swan House.

After touring the Swan House I visited the Swan Coach House Restaurant, not far away.

The restaurant once served as the garage and servants’ quarters for the Swan House.

I wanted a cup of coffee.  The only seat was in the formal dining room where a bit of formality with linen table clothes, silver, and fine china awaited the visitor.

In that setting I certainly enjoyed the coffee, even adding a piece of wonderful mint julep pie just to extend my time there.

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Garden Advertising Sometimes Exaggerates

Garden Advertising Sometimes Exaggerates

Advertising in America as an industry began with the N. W. Ayer & Son Company in Philadelphia in 1867.

From that point on advertisers through the media of the day sought to persuade a consumer to buy a particular brand of a product.

Lydia Pinkham was among the first to use such advertising to market her patent medicine, a remedy for female complaints. She combined vegetable compound laced with nineteen per cent alcohol to make up her medicinal beverage.

The garden industry of course through the seed companies and nurseries did not shy away from ads to promote their wares as well.

You would think that today, one hundred fifty years later, we are smart enough to reject false claims in advertising.

Not true.

Sometimes, even today, garden advertising exaggerates what the company promises.

A ‘garden in a box’ seems to imply you simply plant something like the company’s seed strips and wallah, you have a garden.

Mike Lizotte from American Meadows said, “We’ve all seen the ‘meadow in a can’ seed products at our

Wildflower mix from Aerican Meadows

Wildflower mix from American Meadows

favorite big box store. Don’t be fooled by the nice packaging.”

There is always something left out in advertising in order that the ad can make its point.

In the ‘garden in a box’ that something happens to be the work it takes to maintain a garden, and see it through to its flowering.

Also, the product may be inferior. There may be fewer seeds than promised.

Garden advertising is really like any advertising. The buyer has to be aware of the kind of promises made by the seller.

Adrian Higgins, garden writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote an article entitled “Growing wild – by design.”

He said, “A few years ago, there was the notion that meadows were so eager to sprout that

American Meadows

American Meadows

you could buy a can full of wildflower seed, sprinkle the contents on a piece of cleared land and you would have a floriferous meadow in perpetuity. But there is no meadow genie in the can.”

Though we need to proceed cautiously with ads, advertising for the garden at the same time it tries to sell something also informs the consumer about new products.

Nineteenth century New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) recognized that part of advertising.

Vick wrote in 1880 in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly “Those desiring reliable information upon horticultural subjects will find much that is valuable in these [advertising] pages.”

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Victorian Seedsman Encouraged Advertising

Victorian seedsman encouraged advertising.

New York seedsman Peter Henderson (1822-1890) wrote several popular garden books in the late nineteenth century.

He also believed in the power of advertising for his company.

In 1884 Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan included in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly a speech that Henderson had given that year at the Chicago Convention of Nurserymen.  He quotes Henderson as saying, “Advertising is rapidly becoming a fine art, and the more it advances as a fine art, the more advertising will be done and the more profit will result from it.”

As a business, the seed industry had its share of competition.  The amount of advertising sometimes distinguished one company from another.

Henderson catalog 1885

For example, this chromolithograph cover [above] from Henderson’s seed catalog of 1885 promoted the company as modern and progressive, but still classic. The company promised to fill every need a gardener may have.

Meehan wrote the following in another issue of his magazine from that same year, “Perhaps in no other country is the press so liberally patronized by seedsmen, florists, and nurserymen as in the United States. In their advertising seasons, which cover most of the months of the year, we can rarely pick up a periodical that does not contain some of their advertisements.”

Henderson was not alone among his Brothers of the Spade, fellow garden merchants.  He believed in advertising for any modern business to succeed, including the garden industry.

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