English Garden Style May Not Work

English garden style may not work

Landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. came from a long line of horticulturists. His family owned a popular late nineteenth century nursery in New York.

According to the American Architects Biographies, Parsons was a landscape architect who died February 3, 1923 in New York City. He was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1845. A former park commissioner, he was largely responsible for the development of Central Park and Riverside Drive in New York City. He also designed a 1,400 acre park in San Diego, California.

Parsons gives some sound gardening advice in his book Landscape Gardening (1891)

He warns about simply following a certain garden style, like the English.

Parsons writes, “We are learning that because an English or Scotch gardener tells us we should have a particular tree which has grown successfully in England, we are not necessarily to assume that horticultural skill, whether Scotch, or English, or French, must be able to conpass, in some occult way, its successful employment on American lawns.”

He was a great advocate for the classic lawn, sweeping down from the house.

No surprise that the lawns in Central Park took on that green beauty that Parsons orchestrated in his job as Superintendent of Parks in New York.

Parsons offered this advice in 1891.

Still makes sense today.

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America’s Enduring Home Landscape Style

America’s enduring home landscape style

Several years ago I owned a house which included two side-by-side rental units.

I thought it would be a a good idea to include plants along the front porch. I planted the old-fashioned spirea prunifolia called ‘BridalWreath.’

Of course at the time I had no idea it could grow to nine feet.

I also planted a young arbor vitae.

Little did I know that I was following the American tradition of foundation planting, or planting along the walls of the front of the house.

In his book From Yard to Garden: The Domestication of America’s Home Grounds landscape arhictect Christopher Grampp  writes about the origin of foundation planting, an American invention for the home landscape.

He says, “By the 1930s, lawns and foundation planting had so firmly established themselves in American front yards that it was rare to see other styles.”

Since then the front home landscape has included the lawn and foundation plantings.

In 1901 the Rawson Seed Company from Boston advertised its grass seed with this image from Quincy, Massachusetts. [below] Notice the front lawn and plantings near the house.

The lawn photo in the 1901 Rawson catalog

The garden industry continued for decades to promote this kind of front yard with its lawn and foundation planting.

Grampp writes, “Nearly all garden design advice in books, newspapers, and magazines were now recommending shrubs against the facade of the house and lawns running to the street.”

No surprise that American homes shared this sameness in landscape from California to Maine – even to this very day.

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Just Enjoy the August Landscape

Just enjoy the August landscape

We have worked hard in the three months of April, May, and June to get the landscape in shape. We planted  trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals.

Late nineteenth century Central Park superintendent Samuel Parsons Jr. (1844-1923) founded the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1899.

He wrote his book Landscape Gardening in 1891.

In it he said that the landscape needs something to sustain us during the hot and steamy months of July and August.

He wrote, “Since we are forced to dwell more or less in the open air in July and August, constrained by fashion and the heat of the weather, it is all the more reasonable to make the extension of the house attractive.”

The past few summer weeks here in the Northeast have been particularly hot and humid.

Who feels like working in the garden in heat and humidity?

Parsons continued in these words: “and to take the opportunity of making this fashion a means of gradually developing a more widespread love of nature.”

Since it is too hot to dig and plant in the garden right now, this is the time we take to enjoy the trees and shrubs and other treasures we have carefully planted either this year or in earlier springs and earlier summers.

Parsons clearly pointed out that the landscape needs a lawn, choice trees, and a few shrubs with color. 

We’ve planted them.

This is the time to enjoy the work we have done.

Parsons gave many recommendations for trees and shrubs that we could enjoy as part of the landscape.

The point he made however was we need to enjoy the landscape now. Just walk around, take it all in, and then sit down for a quiet moment or two.

We’ve worked hard. Now we enjoy.

 

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Nineteenth Century Formal American Landscape

Nineteenth century formal American landscape

Last week I drove to the Hunnewell estate in Wellesley, near Boston. Both Wellesley College, which is adjacent, and the Hunnewell garden overlook beautiful Lake Waban.

Boston financier and horticulturist Horatio Hollis Hunnewell (1810-1902) designed his landscape in the emerging English formal look of the mid-nineteenth century.

In his great garden history book Victorian Gardens Brent Elliott says  “By the 1840s England was entering what has been called ‘the heroic age of gardening.’ England was leaving the natural look of the landscape.”

Writing also about that period Alan Emmet says in her book So Fine a Prospect: Historic New England Gardens “Nature, no longer particularly revered [as in the 18th century], was now considered as merely the canvas upon which human genius could work wonders of artifice.”

In 1865 Hunnewell gave $2000 to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society to encourage the art of landscape gardening. He knew and appreciated landscape design.

Hunnewell improved the landscape of his own property in Wellesley with a formal garden of evergreens.

The Hunnewell Pinetum, as his collection of evergreens was called, still stands today as a symbol of mid-nineteenth century garden design. It reflects the formal English garden of the same time which was expressed in the work of landscape gardener William Andrews Nesfield (1793-1881) and architect Sir Charles Barry.

Hunnewell once said “The laying out and planting of our country places are often the result of chance rather than any well-dedicated plan.” He had a plan, a formal design.

The nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs embraced the natural English garden style, later the gardenesque, and then the more formal design.

The seed company and nursery owners convinced us of the importance of both the natural and the formal landscape style, especially in parks.  Philadelphia garden writer and nursery owner Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine of 1865: “We all wish to see the public grounds of this country equal to those of Europe.”

America followed the English style of landscape both in private homes and in public parks.

Hunnewell contributed to the evolution of  America’s landscape gardening through his emphasis on a formal look in the garden.

Below you can see his garden of pines across the lake. [below]

The Hunnewell Pinetum with blooming azaleas in the background

A close-up view of the Pinetum shows the pruning that continues to this day. [below]

Well-trimmed evergreens still appear in the landscape of the Hunnewell Estate, adjacent to Wellesley College

Emmet says in her book “Hunnewell may have been the first American to follow English prototypes in reviving the formal garden.”

 

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Victorians Flocked to Summer Resorts

Victorians flocked to summer resorts.

In the late nineteenth century hotels along the water or in the mountains became a popular escape in the summer.

Thomas Schlereth writes in his book Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life 1876-1915,  “Victorian resort hotels featured grand verandas, places for viewing, and being viewed”

The resorts became famous sometimes for their gardens and landscape as well.

The Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort near Milwaukee, Wisconsin was one such resort.

Captain Fred Pabst, owner of the world’s largest brewery at that time, built the resort in 1889 on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The pavilion was a wooden structure “built in the resort mode of the day.” The Resort became “famous for its planked whitefish dinners and fine music.”

Words from the dedication of the new resort with its park-like atmosphere claimed that “the north shore area of Milwaukee is indeed the original garden of Eden.”

Whitefish Bay Resort [Thanks to David Zach, Milwaukee]

Harry H. Anderson and Frederick I. Olson wrote in Milwaukee: At the Gathering of the Waters that “Whitefish Bay was incorporated as a village in 1892.

“Its growth was enormously benefited by Captain Fred Pabst’s Whitefish Bay resort, which flourished from 1889 to 1914 by attracting Milwaukeeans escaping from the bustling city.”

The landscape of the Pabst resort which overlooked the bay of Lake Michigan included lawns, special flower beds, trees, and shrubs to make the atmosphere comfortable for a visitor.

Spacious grounds provided the visitors who flocked to the resort especially on Sunday ample room for a stroll along the lake shore.

There were ample seating areas spread throughout the property.

The resort featured both a hotel, a large pavilion, and many tables for eating and drinking outside.

Parks and resorts owned by breweries certainly also helped the business.

The Milwaukee Sentinel wrote in 1887, “The advantage of owning parks is considerable to a brewing company, as then no other beer but its own is brought to tap on the premises.”

While enjoying a Pabst beer, the Victorians who visited the Pabst Whitefish Bay resort, could also relish a wonderful landscape.

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Photography Enters Victorian American Homes

Photography enters Victorian American homes.

By the end of the nineteenth century photography had developed a foothold in advertising but also was slowly becoming part of family life as well.

Thomas Schlereth in his book Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1918 writes, “Photography, part of American life since the work of the daguerreotypists of the 1840s, did not become an average person’s skill until the 1880s.”

Before that time a photographer would take an outdoor family photo with the family members often gathered either on the lawn or on the porch.

Here is an example of a family in Gloucester, Massachusetts in the 1870s captured in this photo. [below]

Notice how hard it is to see the faces of these people.  We cannot tell if they like or dislike the photo experience.

Just a few years later hand-held cameras became the sensation with the arrival of George Eastman’s  Kodak camera in the 1890s.

Then, as Schlereth writes, “Unlike the professional photographer who usually placed his subjects in front of their house, snapshot-camera buffs often favored the backyard for their settings.”

The advertising pitch for Kodak cameras remained constant well into the twentieth century.

Kodak wanted to capture that special moment of family life.  A picture would hold that memory for years to come.  That was a powerful pitch to persuade people to buy cameras. It worked.

The phrase “capturing the Kodak moment” appeared in much of the promotion for Eastman’s camera.

Thus taking family photos became an important cultural practice. An experience was not valuable unless you had photos to show it.  Photos became more precious than the experience they captured.

By the early 1900s Kodak advertised its camera with words like “At Home with the Kodak” and  “Let Kodak Keep the Story.”

The late nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries too changed with the times. Gone were the colored chromolithographs in the catalog, replaced by the ‘more realistic’ photograph of the flower or vegetable.

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Victorians Enjoyed Genteel Lawn Games

Victorians enjoyed genteel lawn games.

Today we accept games on the lawn either in the front or the back of the house without too much question. Such fun often occurs especially when visitors arrive to spend some time.

During much of the eighteenth century the lawn surrounding one’s residence was something people admired. It was not a field for sport.

That all changed in the nineteenth century when middle class families could afford a lawn.

Then it was not uncommon to play games on the lawn. But special games.

Thomas Schlereth in his book Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1918 says, “Three lawn games – croquet, archery, and lawn tennis – influenced middle-class recreation at home. Both sexes played these gentle and genteel sports.”

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick included this illustration in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in August 1878. [below]

Vick’s Illustrated Monthly August, 1878

Two women are playing croquet while a man and woman sit near-by on the summer shade swing.

Boston seed merchant Joseph Breck illustrated in his catalog of 1886 people playing tennis on this extensive lawn. [below]

 

Joseph Breck seed catalog

In the nineteenth century if you had a lawn, your guests expected to participte or at least see lawn games in action.

 

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Victorian Home Landscape Demanded Flowerbeds

Victorian home landscape demanded flowerbeds.

Flowers for a home landscape of any size were important in the late nineteenth century.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote that farmers, laborers as well the middle class, anyone, could plant flowers to enjoy.  Flowerbeds belonged not only to the garden of the estate owner.

He made promoting floriculture his life-long goal in his business.

In many ways Vick followed the practices of other seed merchants. His appeal to sell flowers, particularly to women, was what other companies were also doing at that same time.

Seedsman Azell Bowditch from Boston, for example,  wrote in his catalog: “We shall endeavor to keep pace with the ‘Flowery Age’ in which we live, and hope to be able, by attention and care, to supply our patrons with all the valuable varieties of seeds that can be obtained at any other seed establishment in the Union.”

In this illustration from Vick’s 1874 seed catalog you see a family outside their home, enjoying the outdoors. [below]

On the lawn near the house the owner planted flowerbeds, or, as they called then, carpet beds.

Annuals filled three lage beds to bring color to the landscape.

This image introduced Vick’s annual seeds in the catalog.

Thus he illustrated for his customers what the home landcape could look like with beds of colorful flowers.

 

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NY Italian Garden Reflects Victorian Period

NY Italian garden reflects Victorian period.

A recent visit to the Sonnenberg House and Gardens in Canandaigua, New York revealed a bit of American garden history.

The drive on the New York thruway back to Boston from the Association for Garden Communicators annual conference in Buffalo meant passing the Sonnenberg estate which is not far from Rochester.

There I saw the nine gardens that dot the estate landscape including the Italian garden.

Located in the area directly behind the house the Italian garden is filled with plants, many potted for the summer season. [below]

The Sonnenberg landscape includes this Italian garden behind the house.

In 1900 the owner Mary Clark Thompson, whose father was once the New York governor, hired Boston landscape architect Ernest Bowditch. A couple of years later he designed this Italian garden for Mrs. Thompson.

The center of the Italian garden includes a Fleur-de-lis pattern of flower beds.  The popular ‘carpet bedding’ pattern appears on the lawn.

This garden design reflects the Victorian interest in Italian gardens at that time. In 1904 novelist and garden design enthusiast Edith Wharton, following her trip to Italy, published her book  Italian Villas and their Gardens.

You could define the ‘Italian’ garden as a reflection of the Renaissance garden that later also influenced the landscape of Versailles.

The Sonnenberg garden displayed that grand formal style of design with water features along with straight lines of clipped shrubs and several planters filled with tall, showy tropical plants.

The coleus for the carpet beds in the Italian garden were grown in Sonnenberg’s own Lord and Burnhan greenhouse.

Visiting this grand estate and garden is like a trip into the late Victorian period. 

Sonnenberg House and Gardens, restored and now well maintained, is one of America’s most preserved country estates from that time.

 

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Early 1900s Advertising for White House Lawn Seed

Early 1900s Advertising for White House lawn seed

Since the White House landscape took on the design of the modern English Garden from its begining, it was no surprise that the lawn played an important part in the long history of the White House garden.

According to Marta McDowell’s book All the Presidents’ Gardens, during the Taft administration, the Oval Office was added to the West Wing, nudging Teddy Roosevelt’s tennis court farther out on the South Lawn.

The Michell Seed Company from Philadelphia supplied the lawn seed.

The fact that the White House used its grass seed became a message in Michell’s advertising.

In 1912, as McDowell notes, Michell’s promoted its grass seed with these words “On the White House Grounds in Washington, at all recent National and International Expositions…in the best known public parks, and finest estates.”

Michell’s often included a lawn on its catalog  cover. [below]

A 1904 ad for Michell’s Seed Company [thanks to Pinterest] 

Thus in both word and image the lawn took on an importance from the White House to the average American home to the country estate.

Like the English, early White House gardeners used sheep to control the height of the lawn.

Later a horse drawn mowing machine cut the grass.

Eventually fuel-powered lawn movers became the choice of the White House gardeners.

In 1935 the Frederick Law Olmsted firm from Boston prepared a landscape management plan at the request of the White House.

As Marta notes, in the plan the lawn continued its essential role in the design of the area both north and south of the White House.

 

 

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