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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Fletcher Steele’s Naumkeag Design Restored

Fletcher Steele’s Naumkeag Design Restored

A few weeks ago I visited Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

The house and garden date to the first half of the twentieth century, reflecting a bit of the period of the grand Gilded Age mansions and gardens. This iron chair from the afternoon garden on the side of the house reflects that time. [below]

The chair in the afternoon garden

The blue chair in the afternoon garden

The glory of the day had to be to walk around and see the restored Fletcher Steele garden.

New York landscape architect Steele (1885-1971), along with the owner Mabel Choate, provided Naumkeag’s modernist garden design over a thirty-year period.

Unfortunately, the garden had become overgrown.

Now at a cost of 2.6 million dollars the Trustees of Reservations, owner of the house and garden, has restored the forty-four room house and its eight acres of gardens.

Steele’s famous blue steps bordered with white birch trees had become overgrown.  In the last couple of years fifty new birch trees replaced the original line of trees. [below]

Blue steps

Fletcher Steel’s Blue Steps, the most famous piece of his design at Naumkeag.

The Chinese garden, with its Moongate entrance installed in 1955,  took twenty years to build. This garden began with two stone Chinese dogs.

In the renovation of the Chinese garden over two hundred trees that had become overgrown were removed.

Steele’s landscape includes several gardens like the Tree Peony Terrace and the Rose Garden. Both have been given a new look as well.

A linden allee has been installed off one side of the house, not far from the animal cemetery.[below]

Linden allee

This allee of linden trees is part of the restoration.

Naumkeag today is worth a visit, or revisit, to see the restored work of one of the most famous of American landscape architects.

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Edith Wharton’s Mount Features Shade Garden

Edith Wharton’s Mount features shade garden.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) wrote not only fiction, but her interest in house and garden design inspired both books and articles as well.

She wrote 40 books in 40 years.

Wharton named her house in Lenox, Mass. The Mount. There in the Berkshires she felt inspired to write some of her best work.

In 1902 Wharton designed both the house and the garden at The Mount.

Over the past several years the garden has been carefully restored to its original design.

That design follows a formal Italian look, made of straight lines and symmetry.

At one end of garden you see the formal flowerbeds with the Italianate fountain in all its formal glory in the center.

At the other end of the garden, which you arrive at by walking a tree-lined stone path, she positioned the ‘walled garden.’

When she designed the walled garden, the trees and shrubs she installed were small. Then there was plenty of light.

Today you encounter in that same garden a deep shade since everything has grown to such a height.

Thus the gardeners who maintain the area have now planted hosta, astilbe, and ferns.

This is the view out from the walled garden to the back of the property where you can just catch a glimpse of a body of water in the distance. [below]

shade garden at the Mount

The walled garden is now this shade garden at The Mount in Lenox.

The design of Edith’s garden is formal, but now also includes this garden of shade.

In the early twentieth century when renewed interest in the formal garden appeared both in England and America, Edith Wharton captured the popularity of that design in her own garden.

Today the restored garden at The Mount offers the visitor a chance to capture a sense of that moment in the history of American gardening.

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Rural New Hampshire Features Victorian Garden

Rural New Hampshire Features Victorian Garden

For years people have been telling me about The Fells in the Lake Sunapee area in Newbury, New Hampshire.

John M. Hay, who once served as secretary to President Abraham Lincoln, built a summer house and garden which he then called The Fells.

Last week I drove up to The Fells to check it out for myself.

The Fells history begins in 1891 when Mr. Hay, later Secretary of State, buys the property.

Today the property features a 22-room Colonial Revival House with several gardens.  I loved the gardens because they represent the garden fashion of the late 19th and early 20th centuries

The Old Garden, built in 1909, was the estate’s first signficant garden space, with three formal walled rooms in the woods. [below]. Since this garden grew in shade, I saw plants like ginger, Japanese painted fern, pulmonaria, and ferns.

This garden, built with straight lines and beautiful plants and tall trees, felt peaceful and provided a sense of relaxation.

Fells small formal garden

Boy and turtle fountain in the small formal garden at The Fells.

There were other gardens on the property as well, like the Rose garden near the house that now includes the beautiful lisianthus in several spots in full bloom.

A few feet away I found the rock garden which was planted by the grandson of John M. Hay. This third generation gardener used over 600 species of alpine plants. I walked its rock path to the bottom of the garden. Most enjoyable. The plants are all thriving on that hillside.

A 130-foot perennial border lines the front lawn.  It features a beautiful selection of plants that provide bloom most of the summer and into the fall. Such borders were in fashion at the turn of century, especially since English garden designers Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson recommended them.

Beyond the front wall of the house you see an extensive meadow that is home to birds and monarch butterflies.

The trees that border the property along the shore of Sunapee Lake have grown so high now that it is difficult to see the lake in the background.  At times I was able to snatch a peak.  In the nineteenth century a boat would bring summer residents from the local train station to their homes.

There is a stone parking area behind the house, and on one side, enclosed in a canopy of small trees, you see a white statue of Hebe, cup-bearer of the gods. [below]

Fells white statue

The white statue of the goddess Hebe at The Fells.

The trip was well worth it. What a garden this is. All I heard about The Fells turned out to be true.

This garden today is well maintained and continues as a tribute to the three generations of the Hay family who built it.

 

 

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Maple Tree Honors Scottish Plant Hunter

Maple Tree Honors Scottish Plant Hunter.

In both his catalog and monthly magazine the Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) often mentioned ‘Drummond phlox’ as an ideal annual for the garden.

In his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878 Vick wrote the following: “The Phlox Drummondii was only discovered about forty years ago in Texas, by Mr. Drummond, a botanical collector sent out by the Glasgow Botanical Society, and it was one of the last plants sent home, for soon after he visited Cuba and died.”

Thomas Drummond (1793-1835) was a Scottish botanical collector.

The phlox is not the only plant named after Mr. Drummond.

Recently I visited the Allen C. Haskell Public Gardens in New Bedford, Mass., once a thriving nursery business and now a public garden, operated by the Trustees of Reservations.

Here is one of the beautiful scenes from that garden. [below]

Haskell garden

Allen C. Haskell Gardens in New Bedford, Mass.

While walking around the garden, I came across a Norway maple tree whose name is Acer platanoides ‘Drummondii’, or the Drummond maple.

It also was named after the plant collector Thomas Drummond.

Notice the cream-colored edging on the leaf which makes this tree quite distinctive. [below]

Maple tree at Haskell Garden

Maple tree Acer p. ‘Drummdii’ at the Haskell Gardens

We owe a lot to the English and Scottish plant hunters of the nineteenth century.

Many plants we take for granted in the garden today came from the exploration of such plant hunters. That exploration often involved danger, disease, and sometimes death.

At the Haskell Gardens I learned that Drummond had collected 750 species of plants and 150 specimens of birds.

The maple Drummond that stands out at the Haskell Gardens serves as one way to honor this Scottish plant hunter.

 

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Valerian Became Victorian Garden Favorite

Valerian became Victorian garden favorite.

When we bought our house, almost thirty years ago, we found Valerian growing along the driveway.

There were a lot of tall valerian flowers in spring. I knew cats liked it because I often found a neighbor’s cat sitting on the side of the bed.

I did not know that the valerian was an important flower in the Victorian period.

Jo Ann Gardner says in her book Herbs in Bloom that “For at least 2000 years, preparations from valerian’s roots have been used to treat hysteria, epilepsy, depression, and insomnia.”Herbs in Bloom book cover

The plant grows two to four feet tall with flowers of fragrant pink, white, or lavender clusters.

L. H. Bailey writes in his Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, first published in 1901, “This is one of the characteristic plants of old gardens, being prized for the spicy fragrance of its numerous flowers in spring.”

If he wrote back then that it was a plant from ‘old gardens’ that certainly meant that it had been planted for generations and thus recognizable by many gardeners.

It’s the mass of white flower clusters that appear in spring that I remember so well.

I also remember then that it tends to be invasive. I dug up much of it when it appeared in a spot that was not where I wanted it to grow.

The flowers of the valerian are distinctive looking though. [below]

Valerian, courtesy GardensOnline

Valerian, courtesy GardensOnline

In 1852 Henrietta Dumont wrote in her book The Language of Flowers that the valerian meant an ‘accomodating disposition’.

She said in her book, “The root of the valerian is considered a valuable remedy for many of those ailments which spring from luxurious living. It exerts a peculiar influence on the nervous system, revives the spirit, and strengthens the sight.”

So this flower which welcomed us to our home so many years ago also has a long history, including entry into the Victorian garden.

 

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Garden Accessories Add Charm

Garden Accessories Add Charm

Recently while visiting Reno I took part in a tour of gardens spread around various areas in the city.

In what appeared to be a regular neighborhood I walked up the front pathway along the  lawn of one house in order to enter the backyard garden. What I saw there I could not believe.

Dozens of garden accessories filled the back garden. The view in scanning the garden as I entered it certainly caught my attention. I could not believe what I saw in a small corner, bordered by a wooden fence. There I saw a table and chairs, a metal star, shells, containers with plants, and various sculptures, too many to count. [below]

artifacts in the garden Reno

A visitor discovers accessories like these throughout this Reno garden.

Throughout the garden the owner had installed dozens of glass, wooden, concrete, steel, wire, stone, and ceramic pieces of art in the garden. They included even a giraffe that stood almost 12 feet tall.

As I walked the property, I found one object after another.

It was fun to see what you would discover as you walked the pathways in the garden.

Then I asked myself the question: how many accessories in the garden are enough?

Who knows? Who can answer that?

Gardener’s Supply is one source for such yard and garden artwork. The company offers many items from which to choose for that special look you want for your garden.

I must confess that I did not know there were so many options for a gardener who likes accessories for the yard and garden.

Do you like garden accessories?

 

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Cordyline Offers Victorian Garden Look

Cordyline offers Victorian garden look.

The tropical plant called cordyline, introduced into Europe in the early 1800s, became important during the nineteenth century Victorian period.

English garden writer David Stuart writes in his book The Garden Triumphant: The Victorian Legacy that during Victorian times the cordyline became the ‘dot’ plant which was surrounded by many other flowering plants, whether in a container or in a flower bed.

Today a gardener can choose from among several varieties of the cordyline for a bit of the Victorian look.

You may already be familiar with the cordyline australis called ‘Red Star,’ which usually comes in a quart container. You grow it for its burgundy leaves.  It can easily fill in the back or the center of a planter. Then simply add flowering plants around it. This cordyline makes an outstanding addition to a summer container. It will grow to about 18” tall during the warm season.

There is now also a much larger cordyline becoming popular here in the northeast. It is called cordyline fruticosa, or under its popular name ‘Hawaiian Ti.’ You can find it at both box stores and some nurseries in a gallon and a half container. You may have to look in the indoor plant section of the store. This cordyline is much taller and wider than ‘Red Star.’ In the pot it stands almost two feet high and more than a foot wide. It can fill a large container easily by itself.

In warmer areas of the country like Florida cordyline fruticosa grows outdoors all year. The plant originates in tropical Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Islands.

What is amazing about this cordyline is its long showy, stiff red and burgundy foliage with a hint of green at times. It is the perfect plant choice to add that big lush tropical color to any outdoor summer environment. Easy to care for, it is tolerant of both over and under watering.

You can see it in this planter at the front door of a home in Milton, Mass. whose garden I recently visited on a Sunday afternoon tour. [below]

Cordyline Milton

Red leafed cordyline fruticosa fills the center of this front door container

Other cordylines that you might like are the cordyline called ‘Chocolate Queen’ which Logee’s Greenhouses in Connecticut features. The leaves emerge a variegated green and are heavily striped with cream and white.  As they mature, the leaves take on a tone of chocolate, red, and purple.

This summer in our front door container we planted the cordyline called ‘Torbay Dazzler’. Its long thin foliage shines in colors of green and creamy yellow.

Though the cordyline is a tropical plant, once popular in the Victorian garden, it certainly can still add both color and structure to the summer garden in areas with a warm summer.

 

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