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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America’s Most Beautiful Lawns 

America’s most beautiful lawns

[I often write about the lawn. I am grateful to Australian lawn care professional Mark Richmond who contributed the following post about some beautiful lawns here in the US. Most of them are open to the public.]

The United States is the land of the free and the home of the… beautiful lawn? Across the country, there are endless swaths of lush and healthy lawns. The pristine green landscapes are the proud features of many college universities, residential homes, and historical buildings. While there are certainly some stunning landscapes to be celebrated in each of the fifty states, here are a few of the most beautiful lawns that the United States has to offer.

Bloedel Reserve

Bloedel lawn, Washington State

 This Washington-state public garden is a breathtaking example of horticultural excellence. The flowing lawns have been maintained without herbicides and are bordered by the commanding presence of tall pines. One popular area of the reserve features a Checkerboard lawn — concrete squares placed intricately amongst the healthy grass.

The South Lawn at the White House

 The striking contrast between the white of the presidential home along with the rich green color of the healthy lawn has made for a beautiful backdrop for millions of annual photos. The lawn has held many famous historical events, and currently provides an area for many political and social functions. With its design dating back several decades, the beautiful lawn has, and most likely will continue to be, one of the most well-known horticultural masterpieces.

Central Park Sheep Meadow and Great Lawn

 Central Park — the colloquial American lawn and one of the most famous green spaces in the entire world. The great lawn covers 55 acres and is comprised of a healthy mix of high-quality fescue and bluegrass. The smaller 15 acre Sheep Meadow preserve is a popular area for picnickers, sunbathers, kite flyers, and anyone else who wants to revel in the sights of the fine green grass surrounded by the New York City skyline.

Manchester Farm

 The rolling green landscape of this Kentucky farm could be considered the epitome of beautiful American lawns. The rich and healthy Kentucky bluegrass covers over 120 acres of the farm’s property and could easily be incorporated into a picture-perfect postcard.

The Lawn at the University of Virginia

This famous green space was designed by the founder of the University Thomas Jefferson and reflects his interest in Neoclassical and Palladian architecture. The well looked after grassy expanse is considered to be a U.S. National Historic Landmark District and the symbolic center of the University.

Biltmore Estate

 The perfect lush lawn is typically where the eye falls upon when viewing the Biltmore House. This North Carolina estate features a front lawn with what could easily be considered the greenest grass in the country — a mix of tall fescue and bluegrass. The perfectly symmetrical stripes of the lawn makes for a luxurious focal point in a view of the grand mansion itself.

Chanticleer Garden

 Located just outside of Philadelphia in the town of Wayne, this 48 acre botanical garden is a picturesque place for walking and picnics. Not only are there many gardens to explore, but there are also several formal areas of lush lawn. The sleek appearance of the bluegrass and fescue mix is due in part to the always changing mowing patterns that keep the soil healthy and loose. The famous Serpentine area of the pleasure garden features a variety of aesthetically-pleasing crops — as well as comfy chairs to take in the breathtaking sights.

Longwood Gardens Cow Lot

 As the name suggests, the former pasture land is a breathtaking aspect of this Pennsylvanian public garden. The sprawling grassy area is peaceful and serene — a perfect place for a walk or just to gaze at the lush vegetation.

Filoli Lawn

 Just south of San Francisco, this Californian country house boasts over 16 acres of gorgeously stunning gardens and lawns. Considered a historical landmark, the well-maintained lawns accompany reflecting pools and rose gardens and perfectly exemplify the blending of the Anglo-American gardening style.

Middleton Place

 An aerial view of this South Carolina plantation is the best way to see its magnificent lawn. As one of America’s oldest and most famous landscapes, it still boasts the turf terraces that were initially carved in 1741. The rich mixture of Charleston and centipede grass makes for beautiful shades of green that aren’t found elsewhere.

Kykuit

Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller built this spectacular Hudson River Valley, New York property in the early 1900’s. It has retained its splendor ever since. The gardens and lawns are considered to be some of the best in the world, bringing great fame to their designer. The front lawn is manicured to perfection and is one of the many highlights of the National Trust estate.

When one thinks of traditional American landscapes, a lush and well maintained lawn is usually part of the scene. As you can see, there are many such examples across the country that show what the lawn can do for the landscape.

For more articles about the lawn and garden from Mark, check out the Company’s blog.

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White House Featured Newest Garden Fashion

White House featured newest garden fashion.

Fashion drives much of the commercial world with gardening a prime example.

People want the newest tomato, the latest dahlia hybrid, and the popular shrub that everyone says is easy to maintain.

The White House landscape serves as an enduring example of how gardeners made decisions on what to plant and not to plant, depending on what was in style.

From the beginning White House gardeners followed the latest fashion.

Marta McDowell describes throughout her book All the Presidents’ Gardens how the White House became a beacon for the newest in garden style and fashion.

The West Wing we see today was once the site of several greenhouses.

The greenhouses were there for decades, keeping safe from winter’s chill among other plants the bay trees that decorated the porticoes and terraces in the summer,

In 1902 the greenhouses were demolished to make room for a Colonial Revival garden. The Washington Post wrote at the time, “Landscape gardeners have noticed the tendency to return to colonial flowers to harmonize with the colonial style of architecture which has become so popular.”

Solidago rugosa or golden rod became popular in the early 1900s in the White House garden.

The old-fashioned plant golden rod became one of the more desirable plants to include in the garden. “What has been termed ‘old-fashioned’ flowers will be given places of honor in the new gardens because of their beauty and hardy nature,'” wrote The Washington Post.

President Theodore Roosevelt and his family enjoyed this new Colonial Revival garden.

In 1913 a new First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson had more modern ideas for the garden.

She arranged for the American landscape gardener Beatrix Jones to design and install an Italianate garden. The garden was simple and symmetrical.

Inspiration from the Italian garden had become the latest in fashion.

In modern times we saw Michelle Obama plant a vegetable garden. Often children worked with her in the garden which people called a victory garden.

Her gardening inspired people around the country to grow their own vegetables.

It was no coincidence that the popular farm to table movement was happening at the same tine.

Growing your own vegetables had become the latest garden fashion. Everybody wanted to do it.

Thanks to McDowell’s book we see that we need go no further than the White House to encounter the newest garden style.

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How Much Lawn is Too Much?

How much lawn is too much?

Near us sits a house surrounded by lawn with no trees or shrubs to mar its green covering.

I remember visiting Pittsburgh where I saw a lawn made of gravel. No green grass there at all. [below]

Gravel lawn in Pittsburgh

The question then is how much lawn do we need?

There is much discussion today about decreasing the amount of lawn in the home landscape.

The reasons are many including preserving water and offering plant diversity in the landscape to encourage pollinators.

At the end of the nineteenth century it seemed there could never be too much lawn.

In 1899 the Boston landscape architect Warren H. Manning  who had worked previously for

Landscape gardener Warren Manning (1860-1938)

the Olmsted firm wrote A Handbook for Planning and Planting Small Home Grounds.

In the book he said that there should be “the largest available central lawn space, in which there should be but few single specimens of shrubs and trees and no formal beds of flowers.”

Thus he encouraged as much lawn as possible.

He cautioned not to spoil the look of the expansive lawn with too many trees and shrubs, and discouraged formal beds of flowers.

The lawn therefore became the central feature in the landscape.

Today you can find an array of different opinions about the lawn.

Since at the same time Manning supported the lawn he also encouraged the wild garden and using native plants, today he might look at the lawn quite differently.

He was the son of Jacob Warren Manning who owned a nursery in North Reading, a town outside of Boston.  Warren, in fact, worked at the nursery for his father for several years.  Therefore he knew a lot about plants

As homeowners graple with what to do with the lawn, there are many options.

No question the lawn still plays an important role in the home landscape.

The issue revolves around the questions of  how much of a lawn do we want and for what reasons.

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Defining the English Garden

Defining the English garden

The sweeping lawn of the English landscape garden developed in the 

Lancelot Capability Brown 

eighteenth century under the inspiration of gardener to the King Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783).

Tim Richardson writes in his book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden, “The Brown brand resulted in a green monotony across England, and even across much of Europe and parts of America; it was primarily Brown’s example which inspired the nineteenth-century phenomenon of the ‘English garden’.”

So we have Brown to thank for the lawn which has long defined the English garden both in Europe and in America.

Today the term ‘English garden’ is full of so many meanings.

When we use words that have multiple meanings, we tend to be on a higher level of the ladder of abstraction because we are not clear.

Academic and Senator Samuel I. Hayakawa, in his book Language in Thought and Action, described what he called the ladder of abstraction, a concept used to illustrate how language and reasoning evolve from concrete to abstract.

Thus, for example, the more you want to confuse your audience, the more likely you are to use words that do not have a clear meaning.

You could say that such is the case with the expression ‘English garden’.  Because of its history it has so many meanings.

Which English garden do you mean?  From what period?

One thing we do know however is that the lawn has been an integral part of the English garden since the eighteenth century.

Here is Chatsworth, north of London, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Derbyshire. [below]

England’s Chatsworth 

Over the centuries several landscape gardeners provided its design, but it was Brown that installed the extensive lawn in the eighteenth century.

Today Chatsworth stands as one of his most famous English gardens, marked by his signature lawn.

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Public Relations Campaign Attacks Clover

Public relations campaign attacks clover.

The lawn has been a part of the home landscape since the eighteenth century.

Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both treasured the English lawn, the inspiration for all lawns American.

Clover in the lawn. [Courtesy of Today’s Homeowner]

Clover, the tiny four leafed plant we all love, has been a part of the lawn for decades as much as bluegrass.

Then in the 1950s a chemical company, to advance a weed killer, used a public relations campaign to declare white clover a weed.

Warren Schultz tells the story in his book The Chemical-Free Lawn. He writes that in the 1950s “a major producer of grass seed and chemicals launched a public relations campaign disparaging clover. Clover is a weed, the company declared. It doesn’t belong in the modern lawn.”

The goal of the campaign was to sell a chemical to kill lawn weeds, including clover.

Schultz says, “Its point of view carried the day, and now homeowners spend a lot of time and money trying to get rid of this once-popular plant, blind to its fine qualities.”

Clover has long been a part of lawn seed mixes. 

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote about the value of clover in 1878 in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

Vick said, “Kentucky Blue Grass, with a little White Clover, about a pound to the acre, and a few ounces of Sweet Vernal Grass, will make a good lawn.”

In 1936 Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening also noted the value of clover.

Under the name, white clover, or Trifolium repens, Taylor’s says, “It is the chief clover in grass mixtures and makes a valuable constituent of lawns.”

In the past garden books and magazines often said that clover was valuable for the lawn.

More recently in Pennsylvania the Lehigh Valley Master Gardeners wrote in their blog, “Clover is a legume, like soybeans, and it has the ability to fix nitrogen out of the atmosphere and convert it to a form readily available to plants, including the grass it shares soil with.  People liked clover for this reason and it lessened the need for fertilizing the lawn.”

The public relations campaign in the 1950s was succesful. Today it is common for companies selling herbicides to consider white clover a weed.

In this time of frequent draught and renewed interest in native plants, why not reconsider the case of the clover, and even, as many people are doing, welcome it as an integral component of the lawn?

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Victorian Home Landscape Required Lawn

Victorian home landscape required lawn.

The lawn became an important part of the American home landscape in the nineteenth century.

The seed and nursery catalogs often featured a lawn in illustrations and offered the best method of laying out and cultivating a lawn.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  was no different. He often wrote about the lawn.

In his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in August of 1878 he referred to the lawn as a jewel, an emerald.

He said, “A well kept lawn, with a few beautiful trees and a belt or group or two of shrubbery on the border, needs but little other adornment. A few beds of foliage plants or flowers, or vases, are like diamonds set in emerald, and the latter, especially, impact a graceful elegance which nothing else can give. They are infinitely superior to the most costly statuary, which is better suited to the hall than the garden, and quite out of place in such simple, unpretentious places as are most of the private gardens of this country.”

This illustration of ‘Home Grounds’ appeared in his magazine in 1880. [below] Notice the lines of the flowing lawn.

Home Grounds. Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, 1880 [Courtesy of the Five Colleges Depository at the University of Massachusetts]

It was the homeower’s duty to provide the lawn because it alone was the important setting for the home.

In February of 1879 Vick wrote, “Those who do not make home beautiful and happy are morally or intellectually inferior, generally both, but not always.”

It was as if there were a moral imperative to cultivate a lawn to demonstrate a homeowner had taste.

A  customer from Nebraska wrote Mr. Vick in 1880 and asked, “What is the best Grass for lawns, and also the best ornamental and shade trees for lawns? If convenient, will you give the plan of a lawn?”

 Every Victorian home needed a lawn.

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Today Homeowners Face Two Lawn Options

Today homeowners face two lawn options.

Last year we celebrated the three hundredth birthday of the eighteenth century English landscape gardener Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783).

There were events throughout the year in his honor in various locations throughout England, including several at the landscapes he designed.

Brown gave the English garden its extensive lawn. 

Since America became eager to garden in all ways English, it was no surprise that the lawn would appear across America, beginning in earnest in the mid nineteenth century.

Today however we face a dilemma with the lawn.

In various parts of America droughts threaten cities and towns.

In that situation how can we continue to cultivate an extensive lawn?

The book Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony gives us some insights.

It  includes a quote from Frederick Law Olmsted that seems to justify the lawn.  “For Olmsted, the front lawn of a house in a suburb unified the whole residential composition into one neighborhood, giving a sense of ampleness, greenness, and community.”

He pinpoints the purpose for the lawn quite clearly.

The authors F. Herbert Bormann, Diana Balmori, and Gordon T. Geballe, however, aware of the problems with the modern lawn, provide two kinds of lawn we need to consider: the industrial lawn and the freedom lawn.

The characteristics of the industrial lawn include gas-powered lawn mowers, chemicals to maintain the lawn and exclude any weeds, and, of course, regular watering.

The freedom lawn offers another way to look at the lawn.

Rather than a monoculture of grass, this lawn would allow clover and other plants to grow in the lawn. The lawn would be mowed regularly but by a lawn mower that does not demand gas.

Chemicals would be avoided.

Watering would be at a minimum.

Perhaps sections of the lawn would be replaced by beds of perennials or ornamental grasses.

The second approach to the lawn, the freedom lawn, certainly speaks to the need to conserve energy and water, and also decrease the burning of carbon in fossil fuel. 

The authors present a valid argument.

We homeowners, however, need to decide what route we will take with our lawns.

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Verbena Essential Victorian Flower

Verbena essential Victorian flower.

What is good about annuals is that they continue to bloom until the Fall, or even til the first frost.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) defined them as “those plants that live but one season.”

In the nineteenth century when colorful flowers became an essential in every garden, the verbena rose to become an important addition to the garden. Vick called it “one of the most showy and valuable plants of the garden.”

English horticulturist David Stuart wrote in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens, “The verbena was acknowledged, even by contemporaries, as central to the whole bedding movement.”

Bedding meant a design on the lawn, often a diamond, a circle, or a half-moon. Flowers and plants with colorful leaves made up the design. Weekly trimming and weeding followed for the season.

Vick, in an article called “Bedding Plants” wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in November, 1881: “The term, bedding plants, has long been in use, and is applied to all those tender plants that, preserved through the winter under glass, are there propagated and raised, and finally planted in beds in the spring to serve for the decoration of the garden for one season. Such plants are Geraniums, Heliotropes, Verbenas, Lantanas, and a multitude of other flowering plants.”

Today verbenas continue to be an important summer flower for the garden.

The plant grower Proven Winners offers a hybrid variety of verbena called dark blue superbena. [below]

Proven Winners dark blue superbena variety of verbena.

Though today we may not include carpet bedding in the landscape because of its high maintenance, in Victorian times bedding always depended on a well-trimmed lawn.

Vick offered a bit of caution to his readers about the lawn. He wrote,”This style of gardening [bedding] is admissible only with grounds kept in elegant condition; otherwise it would be like jewels in a swine’s snout.”

Even though we do not cultivate carpet bedding, we can still enjoy the Victorian summer flower called the verbena.

 

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Lawn Mower Became Essential Nineteenth Century Garden Tool

Lawn mower became essential nineteenth century garden tool.

The lawn continues to be important to many homeowners.

The ‘modern’ design of the English garden, as it was called in the early eighteenth century, included a lawn.

The house was to appear as if  “in a sea of green.”

The gardeners during this period used a scythe to cut the grass.  Eventually the lawn mower appeared on the market, first in England, then by 1850 in America.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) sold lawn mowers in his seed catalog.

Vick wrote in his company catalog of 1875, “Lawn mowers are now a necessity. As a general rule, we may say there can be no good lawn without this useful machine. Not one in ten thousand can use a scythe with sufficient skill to secure a good lawn.”

Buckeye Lawnmower ad 

Vick recommended a lawn mower called the “Charter Oak”. He said, “Its workmanship, and the principles upon which it is constructed, we are disposed to think it is one of the best, if not the best Lawn Mower ever introduced.”

In an ad the manufacturer wrote these words about the ‘Charter Oak’ mower, “The machine is light and easily operated, beautifully and mechanically made and finished, leaving no essential point overlooked; has a three blade solid revolving cutter, preventing any appearance of ribbing on the finest English grass lawn.”

By the end of the nineteenth century the Buckeye lawn mower appeared on the market. [left]

The illustration seems to say “It is so easy to use, even a child could mow the lawn.”

Whatever a homeowner used was not as important as the goal of keeping the lawn in the home landscape trimmed.

Thus the American home owner could boast of a lawn in the long tradition of the English garden.

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