American Gardening Has Long Imitated English Style

American gardening has long imitated the English style

At breakfast this morning I glanced at the label on the marmalade jar.

I read the words ‘An English Classic.’ Who knew my marmalade belonged to a long line of English jams and jellies?

Here I have often written about America’s dependence on English gardening fashion.

Recently I came across a reference to that relationship.

Historian Robert H. Wiebe wrote the book The Search for Order 1877-1920.

Wiebe says, “For more than a century… Americans’ freedom and their democracy, their heritage and their culture, all acquired meaning through a comparison, explicit or implicit, with the British model.”

In the early 1900s Chicago horticulturist and landscape designer Wilhelm Miller spelled out that relationship as it concerned gardening in his book What England Can Teach Us about Gardening. (below)

Miller made the point that since the English have been gardening for so long, we needed to look to them as a guide for what we ought to do here in America.

To a certain extent his argument was true.

How often did garden writers in the nineteenth century compare an emerging American style of gardening to that of the traditional English garden?

Dahlias

Boston nurseryman Charles Mason Hovey wrote in his Magazine of Horticulture in 1838 about the English love for dahlias.

He said,“The dahlia has done more, in England, than all other plants together, toward the dissemination of a taste for gardening.”

Then he wrote how our dahlia gardens here in America might soon resemble the quality of the English.

Hovey said “I believe the time is at hand when our gardens will produce dahlias equaling the English.”

Today we Americans subscribe to the magazine The English Garden. Each spring Americans flock to visit the Chelsea Flower Show. English garden tours remain popular in this country.

American gardening, like so much here, has long imitated the English.

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When Annuals Lost Their Appeal

When annuals lost their appeal

From the mid nineteenth century England encouraged gardening with beds of annuals.

The arrival of glorious summer plants from warmer climates like Africa, Asia, and South America had encouraged that fashion.

In the 1870s however garden writer William Robinson criticized the practice. He advocated for perennials and native plants in the summer garden.

The cost of growing in the greenhouse the necessary dozens of annuals became expensive.

Another issue became  the maintenance to keep the annual beds weed-free and trimmed to the proper height and width.

Perennials would reward the gardener with bloom year after year, Robinson wrote.

Growing  native plants would also reduce the expense of the annuals since they are readily available in local fields, mountains, and woods.

Tom Carter in his book The Victorian Garden writes about the inevitability of the demise of the extensive growing and maintaining of beds of annuals.

William Robinson

Robinson himself had once been an advocate of annuals but no longer.

He wrote the book The Wild Garden in which he proposed plants other than annuals for the summer garden.

Carter says, “The movement away from the true Victorian style during the last decade of the century reflected in, and partly brought about by Robinson, … was inevitable.

 “It has been maintained that bedding, with its emphasis on annuals and a limited number of perennials, caused gardeners to disregard old-fashioned plants, bringing some of them close to extinction.”

Today we continue to preach the gospel of native plants. 

It’s not that we can’t grow annuals. It’s that we also have beautiful native plants.

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Nineteenth Century Style of Planting Shrubs

Nineteenth century style of planting shrubs

Soon the Weigela rosea [below] will burst with spring color in my New England garden.

This shrub came to America in 1848 from England. Three years earlier British plant hunter Robert Fortune had found it in China. He introduced it to the English garden.

This Weigela grows right outside my front door. [photo by Ralph Morang]

Walter Elder, a nineteenth century Philadelphia horticulturalist, wrote many articles for nurseryman Thomas Meehan’s popular magazine Gardener’s Monthly, published in the same city.

In the 1865 issue of GM, Elder wrote about shrubs in the landscape.

He said ”The modern is the most  admirable and ennobling mode of embellishing large grounds with flowering shrubbery, namely massing them in groups of various dimensions and forms. All sharp points are avoided. Even at the junction of two roads or paths, sharp, projecting points are rounded and made blunt, if a group of shrubbery is to be planted there.”

He continues, “Where there is a fine view in the distance to be seen from the mansion, it would not do to plant trees to hide it, but the lawn can be ornamented with groups of shrubs.”

Seed company and nursery owners in their catalogs, books, and magazines taught America landscape principles.

In this case they instructed home gardeners on how to plant shrubs in the English picturesque or gardenesque, or as they called it, the ‘modern’ style.

 

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When Cottage Gardens Became Fashion

When cottage gardens became fashion, thanks to Gertrude Jekyll.

In the early nineteenth century English garden writer John Claudius Loudon first recognized the cottage garden as an important form of gardening.

He was attempting to reach gardeners wherever they were.

It was not until English garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) appeared on the scene however that we had people replicating the cottage garden in what was then called the ‘stylized’ cottage garden.

Edward Hyams writes in his book English Cottage Gardens, “From the old cottage garden Gertrude Jekyll borrowed the charm of natural simplicity and from it she produced a garden style. The deliberate practice of ‘natural’ simplicity in gardening, including rock gardening, at last made the cottage garden self-conscious.”

What is important here is that Jekyll became the artist who gave form to a garden she called the cottage garden.

it was her interpretation of the cottage garden for the middle class.

Thus the cottage garden became a ‘style’ of gardening, or as Hyams writes, a stylized garden.

Welford on Avon, Warwickshire

Hyams writes, “The designer of a stylized cottage garden in the old manner must begin by putting aside curvilinear layout – derived at many removes from the serpentine designs of Capability Brown – in the shaping of paths, lawn-edges and the edges of borders, and go back to straight-line geometry and hard edges.”

The style was anything but the long flowing lawns of Brown that had distinguished the English garden in the later part of the eighteenth century.

This much smaller garden included climbers like clematis and roses, perennials like lily of the valley and phlox, lavender as hedges, annuals, peonies, and roses like ‘York and Lancaster.’

We witness here the birth of a garden fashion.

It has lasted to this day.

We still think of the cottage garden as an old familiar relative.

We know it well. It seems to have been around forever.

It is in reality the interpretation of Gertrude Jekyll that we share in its ‘stylized’ form.

Hyams writes, “The great gardener, borrowing sweet disorder from the cottager’s garden, returned it to him enriched with new plants, but stylized.”

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Cottage Gardens Finally Recognized

Cottage gardens finally recognized.

Everybody loves the cottage garden. It holds a mystique of a garden, limited in space, but with plants galore, mostly flowers.

There were cottage gardens in England for centuries.  If you define the term as the garden of the worker, at the time of the monastery garden in the Middle Ages, for example, the townspeople who knew the monks probably received plants from them for their own gardens. That was a cottage garden.

During the time of the landscape revolution in eighteenth century England, it was only the garden of the aristocrat, or wealthy landowner, that was discussed in poetry, articles, and books.

The term ‘English garden’ meant at that time the landscape of the gentry.

It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that the cottage garden began to be seen as an essential form of garden.

Edward Hyams writes in his book English Cottage Gardens  that the two garden writers “John Claudius Loudon and his wife Jane can fairly be said to have created the nineteenth century suburban garden which, in the long run, influenced the shape and planting of the country cottage garden too.”

When the Loudons recognized in their writing the importance of gardens other than those owned by the wealthy, the cottage garden became an important topic in garden literature.

The Loudons opened the door to an appreciation for gardening by social classes other than the aristocracy.

Hyams says, “The Loudons, the horticultural press, and the horticultural societies brought the cottager gardener into the modern age of gardening.”

It was no surprise then that the magazine Cottage Garden began in 1848.

It was when the Loudons wrote for suburban gardeners and cottage gardeners that gardening changed forever.

Garden writers learned from all styles of gardening including the middle class and the worker.

They wrote for anybody who gardened.

Cottage gardens finally became an important topic.

 

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Walled Garden Origin Spands Centuries

Walled garden origin spands centuries.

Recently I have been reading about the connection between culture and flowers.

What I have discovered is that flowers have played a different role in cultures around the world over the centuries.

Some countires, like Africa, once had little little interest in flowers, probably because their main concern about plants centered on agriculture for such a long time.

In the process I also discovered a history of the walled garden, which developed over centuries and contact with various cultures.

My source has been Jack Goody’s book simply called The Culture of Flowers.

 

Goody writes, “The enclosed garden or hortus conclusus of twelfth-century Europe looked back to Biblical sources but was modeled in part upon Eastern, and ultimately Persian, examples revealed to the West during the Crusades as well as travelers in Sicily, North Africa, and Spain.”

When I visited the historic gardens of England, like Rousham from the 18th century, I saw an enclosed garden. [below]

 

Rousham’s Walled Garden

When I was in the walled garden, I felt like I was in another age and time.  The enclosed feeling meant relief and escape, as well as privacy.

Goody writes, “While the walled garden of Europe had other roots, Islamic models in southern Spain, Sicily and the Mediterranean were important for the revival of the culture of flowers in its form, its contents and in its attitudes towards their use.”

Many classical English gardens built such a walled garden, often to grow vegetables and herbs.  Flowers were eventually added to this garden as well.

Even George Washington’s home in Virginia, Mount Vernon, included a walled garden.

Washington admired the modern English garden, often featuring a walled garden, long a tradition by then.

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Landscape Painting Inspired Eighteenth Century English Garden

Landscape painting inspired eighteenth century English garden.

The English garden took a new direction in the early 1700s.

The landscape became an expression of art, fashioned with materials like land form, plants, stone, and water. The aristocratic landowners, who fostered this new garden style, claimed it offered a more natural look, rather than one based on formality and symmetry.

Landscape painting became the inspiration for this new landscape garden.

The landscape painting most influential included mountains, trees, various images of sunlight, clouds, water, pathways, and sometimes classic structures like temples.

In the process the English garden, expressed in eighteenth century landscapes like Stowe, Rousham, and Stourhead, became a work of art.

In his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden Tim Richardson says           “[During the late 1730s and 1740s] the political charge of landscape design did not exactly diminish, but it was challenged by a fashionable new aesthetic sensibility with regard to outdoor scene-making that was largely derived from painting.

“The landscape garden was now beginning to be viewed as much as an artform as it was a vehicle for political self-expression.”

It was landscape painting that motivated this new English garden.

Edward Hyams writes in  The English Garden that Henry Hoare in his garden at Stourhead had carried out in nature’s own materials the landscape on canvas of Claude, Salvator Rosa and Zuccarelli.

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English Landscape Garden Reflected Baroque Tradition

English landscape garden reflected baroque tradition.

In landscape history it is important to note the influence on a particular period’s garden design or style.

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

It is the Dutch that gave us the word ‘landscape’ but they also influenced the English landscape garden of the early 1700s.

Tim Richardson writes in his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden: “It could be argued that the landscape movement was not primarily a reaction at all, but grew organically out of the tradition of the baroque formal garden, particularly the ‘Dutch’ elements of it, and in so doing retained many of its features.”

The landscape garden borrowed features from the baroque garden, like the formal and symmetrical French design that one could see at Versailles with its grand formality, straight lines, elaborate parterres,  and symmetry.  The landscape of Louise XIV’s summer palace designed by Andre LeNotre illustrated a sense of  human domination over nature.  Nature is to be subservient to man, according to the philosophy of the baroque period. Religious sentiment too supported that view by interpreting the garden of Eden story with God’s command for human dominion over all of nature. 

Hampton Court in the late 1600s illustrated that baroque look as well. [below]

Notice the straight lines in the design but also the use of water.  All the plantings filling in each partere surrounding the fountain illustrate the formal look of the design.

Hampton Court Palace’s grand garden was laid out in baroque style. [Courtesy: News Team International]

The grand view with a lawn would become the signature look of the landscape garden, but it was also part of the baroque style  at Versailles where the lawns swept down from the Palace. 

The English borrowed the very name of this art form of using plants, stone, and water to create an outdoor scene of natural beauty. Richardson writes, “The word ‘landskip’ was a term derived from the Dutch landscape or ‘land shape’, which was used exclusively to describe landscape paintings.”

It was both the Dutch and French influence in landscape design that the new English landscape garden of the early 1700s reflected.

 

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Capability Brown’s Abbey Landscape Receives Funding

Capability Brown’s Abbey landscape receives funding.

We just finished celebrating the three-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783).

I have enjoyed reading the posts about the celebration in England that included many events during the year and even a video.

You can find news about the year-long celebration of Brown’s anniversary on the website simply called CapabilityBrown.com.

Brown influenced the development of the landscape garden in the mid-eighteenth century.

Tim Richardson in his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden writes that a bit of formality in the garden initially marked the emerging new eighteenth century garden. He says, “An element of formality remained an important ingredient in even the most fashionable gardens until well into the 1730s.”

That lasted until the touch of Brown appeared on the scene.

Richardson says, “It was only in the second half of the century, and the advent of ‘Capability’ Brown, that the landscape of rolling pasture and naturalistic lakes became the norm.”

Brown emerged as the most signficant English landscape gardener at that time.

It was his lawn that became the mark of his work on any given landscape.

Milton Abbey, landscape designed by Capability Brown in the eighteenth century

The fourteenth century Milton Abbey near Blandford Forum in Dorset rests on a Capability Brown landscape apparently nicknamed “The Great Stare” by the great landscape architect himself. [above]

Recently the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the Abbey over a million pound grant to repair the buildings, improve facilities for visitors, and enhance the connections between the Abbey and the five hundred acre landscape designed by Capability Brown.

Today the Abbey continues in the great Benedictine tradition of hospitality to all visitors. The grant will help the Abbey, its staff and volunteers to extend their welcome, and ensure that the Abbey and its  landscape are restored for the inspiration and enjoyment of generations to come.

The grant will support the rediscovery of historic walks, drives, and viewpoints in the landscape designed by Brown between 1763-83.

Brown’s historic landscape at Milton Abbey will continue as a living example of the English landscape garden of the mid-eighteenth century.

 

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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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