America’s Landscape Gardening Pioneer

America’s landscape gardening pioneer, Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852)

Andrew Jackson Downing

The English developed a new form of garden design in the early eighteenth century.  They called it ‘modern’, or natural.

This design style included a lawn, trees, curved pathways, water, stone work, and sometimes even beds of flowers.

Eventually America adopted this English garden design, or landscape gardening, especially after 1850 for the middle class home landscape.  Before then it appeared mostly on the estates of the wealthy outside cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and New York.

Boston horticulturist and nursery owner Charles Mason Hovey (1810-1887) published a periodical called Magazine of Horticulture .

In 1840 Hovey wrote in his magazine, “Attention is given to the laying out of gardens, and that small beds of turf are occasionally introduced on which groups of flowers are planted; but, other than this, there has  been no attempt made, that we are aware of, to introduce landscape gardening, even among the many suburban villas, which abound in the vicinity of our large cities.”

Hovey saw few landscapes designed in the English style.

Downing

New York nurseryman turned landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing meanwhile was busy writing his book A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening which first appeared in print in 1841, one year later.

Then in 1844 Hovey wrote in his magazine, “A taste for landscape gardening is gradually extending.”

Hovey does not give the interest in landscape gardening exclusively to Downing, but Downing’s work certainly gave America  an opportunity to understand the importance of English garden design.

Downing wrote articles for Hovey’s magazine, so Hovey certainly knew him and his work.

Andrew Jackson Downing would become the most important proponent by mid nineteenth century America for the modern English garden design.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Share

Victorian Garden Fashion Reappears

Victorian garden fashion reappears.

Gardening has always been a mix of fashion and style.

A recent article in The English Garden called “Gardening features: the bedding display”  demonstrates renewed interest in the bedding out fashion, popular in the nineteenth century.

The magazine traces the history of this Victorian garden practice.

The article says, “Seed merchants sold special bedding plant seeds, which could be sent direct to gardeners using the newly available postal and railway network. By the 1880s, this ‘bedding boom’ had reached even the small suburban garden, with loud displays in island beds proudly placed right in the middle of lawns. These beds came in a variety of forms, all of which – bar the circle – were equally ridiculous. Who in their right mind would choose a star, crescent, heart, butterfly or ‘tadpole’ as a shape for a bed?”

The answer for that period was that many gardeners did, because it was the garden fashion of the day.

The article includes this fabulous photo as well. [below]  The scene looks like something out of the nineteenth century garden catalogs.

Some gardens, such as Lyme Park in Cheshire, are reintroducing or reinterpreting old bedding schemes. Credit: NPTL/Stephen Robson

Some gardens, such as Lyme Park in Cheshire, are reintroducing or reinterpreting old bedding schemes. Credit: NPTL/Stephen Robson. [Courtesy of The English Garden magazine]

When the author raises the question about who would do it, all I could think of is how often this idea appeared in the nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs.

Peter Henderson, for example, the seed merchant from New York not only encouraged this practice but included an illustration of it on his catalog cover several times.

What is garden fashion at one time may seem strange at a later date.

That is what is happening here.

The idea of bedding out demands not only a lot of plants, but also a great amount of time in maintaining such a bed on the lawn.

I can see why people do not want to garden this way today.

When you see it, however, the first emotion is how beautiful it is, but then you think of the many hours it took to create this colorful design on the lawn.

At the high point of this garden fashion in the nineteenth century American landscape designer Frank J. Scott wrote his famous landscape handbook Suburban Home Grounds (1870).

He said, “To keep a great number of small beds filled through the summer with low blooming flowers and their edges well cut is expensive.

“If they are also planned so that the grass strips  between them must be cut with a sickle, few gentlemen of  moderate means will long have the patience to keep them with the nice care essential to their good effect.”

The cost of the plants and also the labor made him wonder if the practice was worth it.

Today the issues for bedding out still remain, thus making a gardener hesitate to cultivate such a bedding out scheme of planting.

That does not however stop gardeners from continuing this Victorian fashion.

The article from TEG magazine ends with these words, “It seems many private gardeners still believe in bedding, with bedding plants currently representing a third of UK consumers’ spending on garden plants.”

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Share

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.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Share

Lawn – Still Essential Landscape Feature

Lawn – Still Essential Landscape Feature

In his garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1881 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick wrote, “What can be prettier than a well-kept emerald lawn illuminated by a few beds of bright flowers, or elegantly colored foliage, kept right and in perfect order from June to October.”

The lawn has long played a central role in the home landscape.

The lawn is still important to homeowners. Matt Nichols, owner of M. J. Nichols Landscaping in Quincy, Mass. says, “People still very much want a lawn.”

Nichols considers the lawn the easiest planting to maintain, once installed, especially for new homeowners.

According to a survey conducted by researcher Bruce Butterfield at GardenResearch.com, last year consumers spent $10.9 billion on do it yourself lawn care, spending on such items as power equipment, seed, sod, fertilizer, and even irrigation. Lawn care sales have increased at a compound annual growth rate of seven per cent from 2010 to 2015. He says, “People continue to spend on the lawn.”

The lawn has been an important part of the home landscape since the beginning of the country. The English landscape of the eighteenth century called ‘modern’ included a lawn. Even our founding fathers, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, wanted that modern landscape with its lawn.

It was no surprise that in the early nineteenth century homeowners who lived in wealthy suburban areas around Boston like Brookline and Milton included a lawn in their landscape.

Title: Catalogue of Seeds. Source: Front Cover, Nursery catalogue, Richard Smith & Co. 1898 Description: Front cover of the nursery catalogue of Richard Smith and Co of Worcester, depicting a posy of cut flowers and a garden scene. Date: 1898.

 Front Cover, Nursery catalog, Richard Smith & Co. 1898

Later in the century when middle-class suburban homes began to appear, the lot for a new house often included an area in the front for a lawn.

A lawn thus demonstrated a bit of social status.

This 1898 catalog cover from the Smith Seed Company in Worcester, Mass. illustrated the classic lawn for the home landscape. [left]

The lawn also presents an attractive environment for simply situating the house. Nichols says, “Grass helps with curb appeal.”

Butterfield expresses a similar sentiment. He says, “People are only interested in keeping up the lawn for appearance.”

In the 1880s the Vick Seed Company wrote: “What we do in the gardening way is done for the appearance, the respectability of the thing, done for the same reason that we have a coat of paint put on the house, or renew the wall-hangings.”

Homeowners still want a green lawn. The recent drought was merely a bump along the way to that dream of a sea of green.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Share

Nineteenth Century America’s Swept Yard

Nineteenth century America’s swept yard

As I walked around the extensive Atlanta History Center grounds a few weeks ago, I came across a farm-house from the mid 1800s.  Barns for various animals surrounded the structure.

The house had a wooden fence along part of its perimeter, probably to keep the animals from roaming too close to the house.

The house was called the Tallie Smith House, a rural home preserved from the mid-nineteenth century. A variety of activities such as spinning, weaving, and preparing food would have taken place on its large front porch. [below]

The Tallie Smith House on the propraty of the Atlanta History Center.

The Tallie Smith House at the Atlanta History Center

Then I noticed that there was no front lawn, but rather a swept area of soil outside the front door, along the front, and on each side of the house as well.

Information on a near-by post said, “No garden form is more strongly tied to the South in the 1800s than the rural, grass-free swept yard.”  The swept yard was, it said, probably African in origin. [below]

Swept yard at the Tallie Smith Hosue

Swept yard at the Tallie Smith House at the Atlanta History Center

The fact that no lawn surrounded the house caught my attention. This landscape represented a certain time period in American garden history.

The word ‘yard’ has had a series of meanings for the landscape over the centuries. Here it includes the area that surrounds the front of a nineteenth century rural house.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Share

Lawn Became Essential Landscape Feature

Lawn Became Essential Landscape Feature

Beginning in 1859, and for the next twenty-nine years,  Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan published a magazine called Gardener’s Monthly

In the first pages of each issue he provided advice on taking care of the lawn, thus reinforcing its importance in the home landscape for the reader.

He considered the lawn an essential feature for the home landscape, no matter what size.

Built in 1904 the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, Massachusetts now forms part of the house and garden list of the Trustees of Reservations

Lawn surrounds the red brick house, giving the landscape that English garden look from the end of the nineteenth century.  [below]

bradley-estate-canton-small

The back garden at the Bradley Estate in Canton, Mass.

Meehan wrote in the magazine’s 1860 issue: “The rarest flowers-the choicest fruits-the nicest arrangement of all things on the most scientific principles, are lost to us, if they are not crowned by a perfect lawn.  To the lawn we bow; and as a subject of horticulture, offer to the lawn our strongest allegiance.”

In February 1869 Meehan wrote in his magazine that the lawn meant more to Americans than to the English: “Much as the lawn plays a part in English gardening, it is of much more account with us. Our heats render the grass particularly refreshing.”

It is little wonder that the pursuit of the perfect lawn, the signature feature of the English garden, has a long history for the American homeowner.

Nineteenth century nurserymen like Meehan considered the lawn essential in the landscape.

Tree and Lawn at the Bradley Estate

Tree and Lawn at the front of the Bradley Estate

Share

Problems with the English Lawn in America

Problems with the English lawn in America.

Time to think about the lawn.

We need to figure out how to help it survive. We need to mow it. Then we need to trim the edge of it as well. They are the chores that we hope will keep the lawn looking perfect.

The lawn remains a reminder of America’s love of the English garden.

English writer and landscape gardener William Robinson, referred to as the father of the English flower garden, wrote in 1870, “The lawn is the heart of the true English Garden.”

Yet Andrew Jackson Downing, America’s premiere nineteenth century landscape gardener, knew that Americans could not cultivate a lawn like the English.

In the new book Flora Illustrata landscape architect Judith Major writes, “Downing admitted in The Horticulturist that the hot, sunny American summer does not favor the type of fine lawns that thrive under British conditions, yet writers on landscape architecture continued to promote the lawn.”

During the nineteenth century garden writers, who were sometimes also seed company or nursery owners as well, sought to sell grass seed. The lawn became the essential planting in the home landscape.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in August, 1878, “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.”

On that same page and above his words appeared this illustration of a house with its required well trimmed front lawn. [Below]

Lawn and House in VIL Monthly 1878, August

Lawn and House in Vick’s Illustrated Monthly 1878, August

Thus he encouraged the lawn both in his words and his magazine illustration.

Here is another Vick black line drawing from his seed catalog of 1880. [below] Notice again the central role the lawn plays.

Vick's Floral Guide 1880

Vick’s Floral Guide 1880

So it was no surprise that Downing had a difficult battle trying to convince Americans that a lawn like the English cultivate was not possible on American soil.

To this day, however, we have not stopped in our quest for that perfect lawn.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Share

Public Garden Reflects Early 20th Century Formal Design

Public garden reflects early 20th century formal design.

Sometimes a treasure close to home receives only a fraction of the attention it deserves.

That’s the case with the public garden at the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, Mass. This garden is so close that I cannot figure out why it took me so long to pay a visit.

Its formal look dates to 1902 when Boston architect Charles Platt built both the house and the garden.

That first decade of the twentieth century was a time for renewed interest in the formal look of the garden. Garden designers were moving away from the more natural look that had dominated the garden for many decades both in England and in America.

Bradley Estate in Canton, Mass.

Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, Mass.

Since 1991 the historic preservation group called Trustees of Reservations has owned the property, with its historic house and garden. The goal of the Trustees, founded by Boston conservationist Charles Eliot in the late nineteenth century, is to preserve the history of exceptional Massachusetts’ houses and gardens for future generations. Here TOR has done a marvelous job of preserving Platt’s formal garden.

A lawn surrounds the house, but behind the house you see the formal garden.   The garden includes four parterres, each enclosed by a highly pruned boxwood hedge two feet tall. Inside the parterres many perennials provide color throughout the summer and into the fall.

Platt promoted the Italian design for the American garden. In the Bradley garden Platt also designed a red brick lattice wall in the Italianate style. The wall, about four feet high, surrounds the entire garden with its lawn, walkways, and flowerbeds. The wall, with its open spaces, provides an effect of filtered light into the garden.

trustees of reservationsThis year happens to be the one hundred twenty-fifth anniversary of the Trustees of Reservations. Thus during the next few months there will be special events at TOR’s 114 special historical places and tracks of land owned by TOR.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Share

Public Garden Reveals Formal Design’s Bare Bones

Public garden reveals formal design’s bare bones.

Recently my wife and I traveled to Spokane where I gave a talk on my book. Our hosts, the Inland Empire Gardeners, gave us a tour of the city of Spokane.

The only place I was really interested in visiting, and the only thing I knew about Spokane, was the formal Duncan Garden at Manito Park.

To my surprise the Park’s Duncan Garden was the first place we visited. You could see the bare bones of the formal garden that attracts so many visitors. [below] It seemed like the beds were just waiting for the day when their plants would arrive.

Manito Park, Spokane

Manito Park, Spokane

There is something magical about a formal garden. It certainly speaks to the artistic skill of the designer to create such forms of color and structure with plants, stone, and soil.

In August of 1881 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1881) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “Although the artificial or geometric style of gardening has passed away, a trace of it is still to be seen in some of the best grounds, where a small space is devoted to flowerbeds made in exact patterns, either cut in the grass or bordered with some low edging plants, with gravel walks between.”

In England that formal design took a back seat in the early 1700s to open the door to a new kind of garden design, called the natural or picturesque. Gardeners wanted a more natural look to the garden.

It would not be long, however, before the English would return to a more formal look in the garden. You can see it below in the Penshurst Place garden in Kent. [below]

Penshurst Place in Tonbridge

Penshurst Place in Tonbridge

The Manito Park formal garden dates to 1904, a time when there was a resurgence of interest in the formal design for the landsape both in England and in America.

Spokane today reflects that tradition in this famous park called Manito and its Duncan Garden with its carpet beds, which were empty when I took the photo above, but soon will be filled with color.  Then people will once again come to visit and enjoy this special garden.

I am grateful to the wonderful people we met in Spokane, especially the members of the Inland Empire Gardeners, who were so kind to make sure we visited Manito Park.

Thanks to Pat Schilling Photography for this photo [below] of what the Duncan Garden will look like in the summer. Amazing beautiful color in this formal design will await the visitor.

Spokane's Duncan Garden [Courtesy of Pat Schilling]

Spokane’s Duncan Garden [Courtesy of Pat Schilling]

Share

New Video Highlights England’s Capability Brown

New video highlights England’s Capability Brown.

In eighteenth century England Capability Brown, royal gardener at Hampton Court, gardener to the King,

C Brown [courtesy of the http blog, austenonly]

Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783) [courtesy of the blog, austenonly.com]

designed over 200 properties in the new landscape style, distinguished by its extensive lawn and natural look.

Many consider Brown among the three most important landscape gardeners in eighteenth century England. The other two are William Kent and Humphry Repton.

Brown designed Highclere Castle’s grounds that you may have seen each week on “Downton Abbey.”  The Castle became the home of Lord and Lady Grantham and their fictional family.

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

To celebrate his birth, an organization has developed in England to make this year Capability Brown’s year.They sponsor lectures, garden tours and other events.

The group has also produced a five-minute video called Capability on Camera. [below]

This is a wonderful way to tell Capability’s story.

I hope you enjoy the video.

 

Brown rose from a simple gardener to a robust self-promoter who convinced many aristocrats that the modern landscape style, including vistas and a park look in the landscape, would define the new English Garden.

If you would like to learn more about the year-long Lancelot Capability Brown events, check out the group’s website at CapabilityBrown.org.

Share