Nineteenth Century Garden Catalogs Sold Lawn

Nineteenth century garden catalogs sold lawn.

Nineteenth century seed company and nursery products guided the kind of home landscape people cultivated.

Landscape designer and garden historian Jennifer Grace Hanna wrote her Cornell master’s thesis called Ornamental Garden Design. 

She discussed mostly nineteenth century Rochester seedsman James Vick (1818-1882), but also covered much garden history from that period, including discussion of the importance of the lawn for the middle class homeowner.

 

henderson-front-yard

 

Hanna writes,  “Nursery owners [in nineteenth century America], the horticultural journal editors, did not accept the wilderness aesthetic completely for it was not good for business.

“Instead they merged this romantic wilderness appreciation with the aesthetic picturesque and developed a form of English landscape garden design that was reliant upon the communal landscape.

“In other words, the new transportation systems of the roads and rail lines and land division of the suburban tracts set up shared views.”

In the cover image [above] from New York seedsman Peter Henderson’s 1899 catalog notice how in the back one property adjoins another with a lawn as their common bond.

No fence separates the properties because the continuity of the lawn was an important landscape principle called ‘shared view.’

The nursery owners encouraged the lawn because it was part of the English landscape garden design aesthetic, but also because it was good for business. That landscape style sold lawn seed and lawn mowers.

And so it was no surprise, according to Hanna, that the English garden with its lawn became the model for the suburban, middle class American home landscape of the nineteenth century.

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Ireland’s Powerscourt Features Perennial Borders

Ireland’s Powerscourt features perennial borders.

My recent trip to Ireland included a visit to Powerscourt, the estate in Enniskerry, County Wicklow, whose long history dates back to the twelve century.

The extensive garden at Powerscourt contains many wonders, including two long perennial borders, that have made it one of Ireland’s treasures.

During the nineteenth century the walled garden’s perennial borders were installed.  They reflect the gardening world’s interest at that time in perennials rather than annuals.

Powerscourt border [courtesy photo]

Perennial borders at Powerscourt in Ireland [courtesy photo]

In the nineteenth century Viscount Powerscourt said,”The planting of the choice plants and shrubs, and seeing them increase year by year in size and beauty has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life.”

When garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935) and later garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) both encouraged gardening with perennials, borders of perennials became popular in the English garden.

Powerscourt includes other areas of nineteenth century garden style like an Italian garden in the terraces that link the house to the lake below. The terraces were constructed between 1843 and 1867.

The design of the garden reflects the desire to create a garden that is part of the wider landscape.  You can view the garden from the upper terrace where you can enjoy the harmony among garden slops, terraces, flower beds, trees, and the lake.

What caught my attention was the extraordinary collection of plants in the walled garden of perennials.

The fact that they are of mature size, well maintained, and number in the hundreds certainly contributes to the spender of the present-day Powerscourt garden.

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Flower Beds Revolutionized English Garden

Flower beds revolutionized English garden.

We take flower beds for granted, but at one time they became revolutionary, making a statement against the current garden fashion.

The story began in early nineteenth century England when gardeners needed room for the unusual plants coming into the country from Asia, Africa, and America.

Plant collectors risked dangers and even death to provide the unusual and unknown flora from around the world.  English gardeners could not get enough of such plants.

The question became ‘Where do I plant them?’ for many gardeners.  After decades of stately lawns in front of and behind the house, there seemed little space to showcase these latest garden novelties.

stuart-plants-and-gardens-2David Stuart in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens writes, “When Lady Grenville, in exasperation [about where she would plant the new flowers coming into England from around the world], cut some large circles of the lawn in front of her drawing-room windows, and filled them with scarlet bergamots, blue salvias or yellow cosmos, she broke a century’s taboo, and started a colossal new movement.”

That was 1825. The garden has not been its old eighteenth century version since.

Here a simple act by Lady Grenville, or rather by her gardener, changed gardening.

Late eighteenth century landscape gardener Humpry Repton (1752-1818) had encouraged flowers in the landscape, even suggesting a rosarium for a rose collection. Flowers were not new. What was new was where they were planted in the landscape.

Flower beds on the lawn then became common practice both in England and America.

By 1880 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  took flower beds for granted. The beds on the lawn, he advised, needed to include annuals that bloom for the entire season. 

He wrote, “A few flower beds may be made, and usually near the borders, or opposite windows, and they should be of simple, graceful forms, and look well the whole summer, and every day and all day.”

Lady Grenville’s example illustrates how sometimes what we take for granted in gardening has a history.

Why we garden in a particular way and with certain plants expresses the culture of a particular time and place.

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Atlanta Garden Includes English Greenhouse

Atlanta garden includes English greenhouse.

I attended the Association for Garden Communicators annual meeting in Atlanta a few weeks ago.

We visited several gardens as part of the busy schedule we kept.

One garden featured a greenhouse, designed and installed by the English firm Hartley Botanic, purveyor of greenhouses, and approved by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. [below]

Greenhouse, Atlanta garden tour

English greenhouse in an Atlanta garden

What struck me immediately was how association with the word ‘English’ in this case makes this greenhouse somehow special.

The choice of an English greenhouse certainly highlights the English workmanship of a greenhouse, but also the history of gardening in England which included a greenhouse tradition.

Wealthy English plant collectors in the eighteenth century built conservatories or what we call greenhouses to protect their tropical plants.

By mid nineteenth century when glass became cheaper, greenhouses also appealed to the English middle class gardener.

Ninteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs listed plants that could overwinter in such a greenhouse.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in July 1879, “With the increase of wealth comes a demand for glass structures of some kind, in which the operations of gardening, in its lighter and ornamental branches, can be pursued at all seasons of the year – regardless of winter’s blasts and storms and summer’s fiercer rays and droughts.”

This Atlanta garden represents the English garden style still relevant, important, and in some sense, the model for American greenhouse gardening.

We continue to look to the English to teach us about gardening.

In 1884 Buffalo, New York landscape designer Elias Long wrote in his book Ornamental Gardening for Americans, “The English possess a much greater love for, and knowledge of, everything pertaining to gardening than do Americans.”

 

 

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Capability Brown Designed Chatsworth’s Landscape

Capability Brown designed Chatsworth’s landscape in the eighteenth century.

This is the 300th jubilee year of the birth of Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783) .

He was the most famous landscape gardener in England from 1750-1780. Some have called him “England’s greatest gardener.”

Among the gardens he designed was Chatsworth, Thomas Jefferson’s favorite English garden.

England formed an organization to provide programs and events during this year to understand and appreciate Brown’s role in the history of the English garden.

On the group’s website a representative of Chatsworth provided an article about Brown’s work there.  You can check it out at this link: Chatsworth.

The 4th Duke of Devonshire (1720-1764) brought Brown to Chatsworth to redesign the landscape in what was then called the ‘modern’ style.

Brown’s associate or foreman, Michael Millican, oversaw an extensive program of earth moving, drainage, levelling and tree planting from the late 1750’s until 1765.

Millican was the ‘man on the ground’ supervising the land forming, drainage and turfing while Brown made visits to inspect and advise.

Chatsworth [courtesy of XXX]

Chatsworth, designed by Lancelot Capability Brown   [courtesy image]

How I remember my visit to Chatsworth on a June summer day.  It seemed more a park than a garden, but then that was an idea included in these extensive gardens. They were often called ‘park.’

Arabella Lennox-Boyd and Clay Perry wrote a wonderful book on English garden history called Traditional English Gardens.

They write, “The eighteenth century landscapes were great works of art, their creators achieving with water, trees, earth and masonry what artists were representing with oil paint.”

English gardens like Chatsworth were considered works of art.

This year 2016 is the time to remember Lancelot Brown, the mid-eighteenth century landscape gardener who inspired that ideal landscape in over 250 sites, including Chatsworth.

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English Garden Design Discouraged Mixed Beds

The English garden design discouraged mixed beds at one time.

Today we often talk about the impact of mass planting which is using many plants of one variety.

The annual conference for the Association for Garden Communicators happened to be in Atlanta this year.

Part of the meeting included visiting local gardens.

In a garden tour there I saw the use of a single variety of plant to create a carpet bed look around a fountain. [below] The clusters of color made of one plant provided a pleasing sight.

Carpet bedding in Atlanta

Carpet bedding in an Atlanta garden

For decades English gardeners looked down on planting more than a single plant of one variety for a bed or border. A mixed variety was then the style.

David Stuart says in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “The old method of planting garden flowers was in a mixture, and flowers had been planted that way certainly since the seventeenth century. It was once believed that to have two flowers of the same sort next to one another was a grave error of taste, and it seems likely that such planting ideas had an even more ancient past.”

To include more than one plant of the same variety was not in style.

Stuart continues, “The idea of grouping flowers, so that only one sort was to be seen in each bed, was as much a major departure from the conventions of history as was the passion for informal landscape gardens of the previous century [the eighteenth].”

The head gardener at Chatsworth Joseph Paxton, Stuart writes, in 1838  recommended no mixed beds with perennials but rather carpet bedding with annuals which became the major garden fashion in the Victorian period.

The mixed bed however did survive.  Stuart says, “The mixed mode of bedding survived in rather specialized areas of gardening until the end of the nineteenth century.”

Carpet bedding became the popular style during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Thus, fashion in gardening is most important to heed.

The poor lonely plant doesn’t know the difference, but we do.

Today we plant in a mass or we plant in a mixed border. Both styles have their appeal.

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Loudon Befriended Early American Seedsman

Loudon befriended early American seedsman.

Writer and horticulturist John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) influenced the development of the English garden during the first half of the nineteenth century. He is sometimes referred to as the ‘father of the English garden.’

Loudon shared a friendship with New York seedsman Grant Thorborn (1773-1863), both originally from Scotland, and living in England when they met.Loudon and the Landscape

In her book Loudon and the Landscape: From Country Seat to Metropolis Melanie Louise Simo wrote that Loudon and Thorburn enjoyed after dinner conversation together at Loudon’s home.

Thorburn sailed for America in 1794. He settled in New York where he established a seed company in 1802, one of the earliest in the country.

In its 1899 catalog the Thorburn Company [below] laid claim to its longevity as a reason for a customer to send in seed orders. The catalog said, “Our leading business principle has always been to supply only the very highest class of seeds. The fact that we have commanded the leading wholesale and market-gardeners’ trade of this country for nearly a century should justify our claim to the patronage of those who have not yet experienced the advantage of dealing with us.”

1899 Thorburn seed catalog

1899 Thorburn seed catalog

In his writing about the garden in the catalogue, Thorburn liberally quoted from English garden authorities, including the English garden ideas of his friend Loudon.

The Oregon State University website for its wondeful seed catalog collection says, “Thorburn quoted liberally from English gardening authorities including Loudon, but added his own notes on how plants performed in America.”

Through the words of his friend Loudon Thorborn proposed the English garden design to his American customers.

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England’s Amazon Water Lily Made History

England’s Amazon water lily made history.

No one knew that a single flower, found in the Amazon by a plant collector, could create such a fury in nineteenth century England, but it did. That fury appeared with elements of desire, intrigue, competition, secrecy, pride, and even jealousy.

That flower was the Amazon lily, also called Victoria Regia, and now called Victoria amazonica, or giant waterlily.

All the important botanists in England wanted to grow it.

Robert Schomburgk, while charting the territory of Guiana for the Royal Geographical Society, found the flower in 1837 and named it after Queen Victoria.

Flower of EmpireTatiana Holway tells the story of this lily in her book The Flower of Empire. Sometimes the book reads like a novel. She has included many characters who encountered this flower, including, of course, the Queen herself.

Plant collectors were common in nineteenth century England. Many plants we enjoy in the garden today come from such exploration.

But nobody had ever seen anything like the Amazon lily whose flower was measured, not in inches, but in feet. Its leaves alone measured eight feet wide.

Holway writes, “The Queen’s flower [Victoria Regia] was the centerpiece of her colony [British Guiana] and rendered it the very epitome of Britain’s imperial destiny.”

Several horticulturists in the first half of the nineteenth century tried to grow the seeds from the plant. Schombruk had promised seeds to Joseph Paxton, head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire in Chatsworth, after the Queen.

Paxton succeeded in growing the plant. He even built a special greenhouse for the lily.

That greenhouse served as the model for the Crystal Palace, which he designed in 1851 for the Great Exhibition in London.

So the lily is not only important because no one in England had ever seen anything like it but also because its greenhouse inspired the design of the Crystal Palace.

from Victoria Regia, treatise by John Fisk Allen, illustrations by William Sharp Plate © The University of Kansas Spencer Museum of Art

From Victoria Regia, treatise by John Fisk Allen, illustrations by William Sharp
Plate © The University of Kansas Spencer Museum of Art

Here in America John Fisk Allen from Salem, Mass. grew seeds of this lily in 1853. Shortly after that he wrote a description of the slow growth of the plant, which eventually did flower for him.

This chromolithograph by artist William Sharp appeared in Allen’s work. [above]

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Victorian Gardens Featured Carpet Bedding

Victorian gardens featured carpet bedding.

Untill 1890 the English garden included a garden fashion called ‘carpet bedding.’

In this style a particular plant provided a color for a design, which might be a diamond or a circle, while a contrasting color came from another plant.

In this Peter Henderson Seed Company catalog cover from 1886 red and white plants provided color for the diamond and the half-moon on the lawn. [below]

Bedding on the front cover of this Peter Henderson Company seed catalog

Bedding out on the front cover of this Peter Henderson Company seed catalog of 1886.

This form of gardening was also referred to as ‘bedding out,’ repeating the same plant in a design to achieve a certain mass color.

Tom Carter wrote about this garden fashion in his book The Victorian Garden. He said, “Without the bedding system, the new style of flower-gardening would not have been possible. Bedding-out, in turn, was a response to the introduction of many plants, many half-hardy annuals in the 1820s and 1830s.”

In the mid-nineteenth century English gardeners welcomed annuals from where ever plant hunters traveled including Asia, Africa, and South America.

Carter wrote, “The bedding-out system was an indispensable part of the high Victorian style of gardening which became first established in the 1850s.”

For example, it was the color of the coleus leaf, or the lobelia flower, or that special tint from the alternanthera that gardeners loved, including that plant in a design on the lawn.

David Stuart wrote an amazing book called The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy.  He said, “”In the early Victorian bedding or grouping system, plant individualities were of no importance, each individual merely yielding the colour of its flowers to the general show…The obsession with ‘show’ with plants merely as a ‘blaze of colours’ was all.”

Below is a modern version of carpet bedding or bedding out that comes from Italy. [below]

Photo: denvilles duo

Gardens in display [Thanks to Denvilles Duo]

So when you garden using a grouping of one plant, remember that the Victorians promoted that form of gardening.

Before that time it was considered a violation of garden etiquette to place one plant next to another of the same color and variety.

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European Gardens Featured Poison Ivy

European gardens featured poison ivy.

We all know that we need to avoid poison ivy when working in the garden.

There was a time, however, when European gardeners cultivated this North American plant.

In the book Flora Illustrata (2014) Elizabeth Eustis and David Andrews write, “Poison Ivy was introduced into European gardens as an ornamental exotic before its less appealing qualities were experienced”

the Poisoned Weed bookIn his book The Poisoned Weed: Plants Toxic to Skin (2004) Donald G. Crosby writes, “Although its description had been recorded in sixth century China, the common English name ‘poison ivy’ was coined by Captain Smith (of Pocahontas fame) at the Virginia colony in 1608-09, and he offered the first glimpse of its effect on his fellow colonists (Smith, 1624).”

Then Crosby notes “Like the Captain, the seventh century Dutch physician Jacques Philippe Cornut (1635) considered it a form of English ivy and named it Edera trifolia canadensis (three-leafed Canadian ivy).”

According to Eustis and Andres in Flora it was in that same year 1635 in the book published in Paris called Canadensium plantarum that the plant was given both its Latin and English name.

In 1886 this magazine engraving of the poison ivy plant shows its leaves and flowers. [Below]

Poison Ivy magazine b/w sketch 1886

Poison ivy b/w sketch in a magazine from 1886

In the 1878 issue of his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly Rochester seedsman James Vick printed a letter from one of his customers. The letter said “The so called Poison Ivy is a very ornamental, but highly dangerous plant.” By then American gardeners were well aware of the problems of this plant.

So when you touch poison ivy in your garden, remember that at one time this plant was considered a desirable addition to the garden.

That may be hard to do however when you are in agony from the redness and itching that this plant has caused.

 

 

 

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