Plant Marketing Drives Garden Design

Plant marketing drives garden design.

Garden architects and garden designers know a limited number of plants when they approach a client.

Some designers tend to use the same plants and similar schemes in the landscape.

One reason for that could well be that nurseries and garden centers can provide only so many plants. Original cost, space for storing them, and their popularity dictate what plants a nursery will carry.

Since inventory is limited, marketing available plants becomes important for a nursery.

It is no surprise that the same plants appear in both the nursery and in the landscape over and over again.

The book The Genius of the Place:The English Landscape Garden 1620-1820 includes a number of readings about the history of the English garden.

The book’s editors John Dixon Hunt and Peter Willis include an article from The Spectator by Joseph Addison, dated June 25, 1712.

The passage from Addison’s article made it clear that a nurseryman’s available stock became integrated into the garden’s design.

That was also a time when nursery owners were often the landscape gardeners, or landscape designers.

Addison wrote, “But as our Modellers of Gardens have their Magazines of Plants to dispose of, it is natural for them to tear up all the Beautiful Plantations of Fruit Trees, and contrive a Plan that may most turn to their own Profit, in taking off their Evergreens, and the like Moveable Plants, with which their Shops are plentifully stocked.”

This was written  in 1712. Have things changed that much?

Profit from available stock is cheaper than ordering plants outside that inventory.

I love this illustration. It says it all. [below]

Joseph Addison, however,  loved the new natural look that was appearing in English gardens at that time.

He wrote, “You must know, Sir, that I look upon the Pleasure which we take in a Garden, as one of the most innocent Delights in humane Life.”

 

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Plant Hunters Still Search for Exotics

Plant hunters still search for exotics.

Traveling around the world in search of plants for the home garden may seem like a dream job.

The plant however sometimes turns out to be more than just a plant.

Sarah Rose’s book For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History tells the story of English plant hunter Robert Fortune (1812-1880).

She traces the  mid-nineteenth century journey of Fortune into China to bring back tea plants. Fortune hoped they would grow in India and thus compete with the Chinese tea market.

Kew Garden

Fortune visited Kew Garden in London, the center of botanical research for the “entire world” as she puts it. Rose writes: “Fortune steps up to a great greenhouse, the Palm House, gloriously situated on a hill.”

That reminded me that when visiting London a couple of years ago it was important that I see the Palm House at Kew. Here is my first view of it that sunny day. [below]

The Palm House, built from 1844-48, at Kew Garden in London to house plants collected abroad.

The size of this shiny structure overpowers you as you approach.  How impressive it must have been in the nineteenth century when greenhouses and conservatories were only available to the wealthy until eventually the price of glass fell.

Plant hunters, like Fortune, represented horticultural institutions such as Kew and the Royal Horticultural Society in their quest for the newest plant varieties for the English garden.

At Kew the plants would find a home in the new Palm House.

In many cases plants like the weigela which Fortune brought back from China in the 1840s eventually became part of the English garden palette.

Nineteenth century American seed companies and nurseries later listed the plant as a garden favorite, and so American gardeners would plant weigela as well.

Rose writes: “Fortune popularised a remarkable variety of flora in the wake of his Chinese travels.” His “discoveries” included the bleeding heart, the white wisteria, twelve species of rhododendron, and the chrysanthemum.

We now know that  when plants from other habitats become part of a new environment, there may be no natural predators.  The result is that such plants can overrun the local landscape.

The interior of the Palm House at Kew.

Rose writes, “Today there is only guarded enthusiasm for the mass globalization of indigenous plant life.”

Nonetheless, plant hunters like Fortune still search the world for exotic plants that will grow in the American garden.

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Carpet Bedding at Nineteenth Century White House

Carpet bedding at nineteenth century White House

Last year on a visit to Miami’s wonderful ocean front villa and garden called Viskaya I saw rows of croton, the popular tropical plant.

Croton which grows outdoors in warmer regions of the country can add color and structure to any garden or bed.

In her book All the Presidents’ Gardens Marta McDowell writes that carpet beds at the White House in 1888 included croton.

Carpet bedding was a Victorian craze that took off towards the end of the nineteenth century.

McDowell writes, “Carpet bedding is the gardening equivalent of elaborate Victorian jewelry, furniture, and fabric.”

It is an ornamental style of garden fashion in which a design of something like a circle, diamond, or triangle is planted on the lawn with colorful flowers and leaves.

It was the idea of a head gardener in mid-nineteenth century England and America adopted the style as well as England.

McDowell says, “It is as ornamental as the Tiffany stained glass screens and light fixtures that had adorned the interior of the White House since the 1880s.”

It was a fashion that the White House gardeners adopted for the end of the century,

She includes in the book a wonderful quote to support that view.

Here it is.

In 1888 the editor of the magazine American Florist wrote, “I saw some excellent examples of carpet bedding in the White House grounds, but I find in my notebook particular reference to two immense beds of crotons that in themselves amply repaid me for my visit. The beds were twenty-five feet in diameter, with about 350 plants in each, seventy-five varieties being represented together.”

Crotons

While in Florida last year, I met representatives from Costa Farms, a Florida and South Carolina grower of tropical plants.

The company sells crotons which for us in the northeast become house plants. [below]

Crotons from Costa Farms

There are dozens of cultivars today.

We can only imagine what a scene the massive carpet beds of crotons must have made in the White House garden of the late 1880s.

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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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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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Bradley Estate Features New Display Garden

Bradley Estate features new display garden

Recently  I visited the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, Massachusetts, a property owned by the Trustees of Reservations.  This is one of the Trustees’ eleven public garden properties.

It was a beautiful spring day, sun shining and temperatures warm, but not hot.

I had heard about the new display garden, and that’s what I wanted to see.

The house which is the Bradley Estate’s main structure dates to 1904. Mrs. Bradley established a formal garden, a large kitchen garden, a rhododendron path, and extensive lawns on this property of 90 acres.

The formal garden takes up the area behind the house. It is composed of a large lawn and several parterres.

The parterres with their new shrubs, perennials, and annuals, just planted, make up the new display garden.

Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate new display garden

What struck me first was that each parterre had the same plants, all in colors of chartreuse and purple.  I found out later that they are the official colors of the Trustees of Reservation as well.

A wonderful brick wall, installed 150 years ago, surrounds this garden. Since the wall dates to the early history of the house, it adds a lot of character to the setting.

As I walked the pathway in this garden, several of the plants that are in the parterre seemed familiar to me. I realized that I grow many of them in my own garden.

Then I found out that the grower Proven Winners offered these shrubs, perennials, and annuals to the Bradley Estate in hopes that the Estate would become in the future a Proven Winners Signature Garden.

A couple of  lectures are planned with Proven Winners this summer in June and July.

This is the first year the Bradley Estate, under the guidance of its horticulturist Jeff Thompson, is working with Proven Winners.

I hope visitors take advantage of this property and enjoy this new display garden in a landscape designed in America’s early 1900s formal period by Boston landscape architect Charles Platt.

 

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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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Exotic Plants Still Treasured

Exotic plants still treasured.

Exotic plants in our gardens have been a standard since seventeenth century plant collectors like John Tradescant the Elder and John Tradescant the Younger from England traveled the world in search of unusual plants.

In his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens David Stuart makes the case that such new plants introduced from other countries have changed the garden forever.

He calls the ‘golden age’ of gardening the time before exotics had burst in through the garden gate.

The reason they change the garden is what progeny may result from these new plants.

Stuart writes, “So many species have arrived in the garden that the genetic potential of the mix has hardly been taped. At any moment, a new plant discovery, or the development of a group of plants by an unknown gardener or nurseryman, may have the potential to transform our gardens all over again.”

A plant grower like Proven Winners travels the world for garden plants like new annuals and shrubs to introduce to the American gardener.

Sometimes  PW finds a new plant variety with a hobby gardener.  If PW sees potential in the plant, the company then tests the plant for several years before it becomes available on the market.

Thus a new plant finds a home in our gardens.

PW works with sixty breeders all over the world. Many are hobbyist breeders in England, France, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Korea, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, and America.

A breeder could be a garden hobbyist who might find a natural mutation or a hybrid in a greenhouse or in the garden.  PW then tests that plant.

The trialing process takes three years.  PW grows thousands of plants to test each year.

I remember when PW’s Euphoria ‘Diamond Frost’ first came on the market.  It won twenty-three  awards at that time. I grew it in my garden in a container and loved it. The tiny white flowers resemble ‘Baby’s Breath.’ 

Today PW offers another Euphorbia called ‘Diamond Delight’ which according to many gardeners is even better than ‘Diamond Frost.’ [below]

 

Euphorbia 'Diamond Delight' [Courtesy of Proven Winners]

The Euphorbia called ‘Diamond Delight’ [Courtesy of Proven Winners]

As in the nineteenth century when the plant business was booming for the middle class gardener, plant hunters still travel the globe to find new plants for the garden.

Today we still depend on exotics in the garden.

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Top Ten Cottage Garden Flowers Include Hollyhock

Top ten cottage garden flowers include hollyhock.

Recently the magazine The English Garden posted online an article entitled “Top Ten Flowers for a Cottage Garden.”

Since I am interested in cottage gardens, I had to have a look at the article.

Of  the group of flowers mentioned in the article I discovered that I grow about half of them in my garden.

The list of ten includes the hollyhock. [below]

Hollyhock [Courtesy of The English Garden article]

I am not surprised at that choice since it is a popular flower, showy, and easy to grow.

Easy for everybody that is but me.

I have tried to grow it many times, but without success. It could be that I have too much shade in my garden.

The hollyhock has a long history, and is not native to Europe or America. 

The Latin name for the plant is Alcea rosea, but sometimes the name Althaea rosea may appear.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) preferred Althaea.

Vick wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878, “The true name of the Hollyhock is Althaea Rosea, and it is supposed to be a native of China, from which country it was introduced into Europe three hundred years ago [1578]. In regard to its origin, however, there seems to be some doubt, some authors claiming Syria as its native land, which an old work on Gardening, in our possession, published a hundred and fifty years since, calls it the Egyptian Hollyhock.”

Horticulturist Noel Kingsbury connects this flower to the cottage garden. In his new book Garden Flora: The Nature and Cultural History of the Plants in Your Garden he writes, “”These are short-lived non-clonal pioneer plants, as can be appreciated by the alacrity with which the cottage garden hollyhock grows in paving.”

He too recognizes the hollyhock’s ideal fit for a cottage garden.

He writes, “By the 18th century the hollyhock had become a cottage garden plant across Europe.”

 

 

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American Seedsman Encouraged Poinsettias

American Seedsman Encouraged Poinsettias

One of my favorite plant stories is how the poinsettia became a popular Christmas flower here in America.

In the nineteenth century it was common for garden magazines or journals to include articles from other garden publications, mostly English.  The source of the orignal story would often appear at the end of the article.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan (1826-1901) included an article about the poinsettia in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in May of 1876 which he took from the English weekly journal called Gardeners’ Chronicle.

The article, simply entitled Poinsettia’ said, “Passing by these old friends, not without a word of hearty welcome be it well understood, we come to another plant which has been of late years an almost indispensable adjunct of Christmas decorations, be they of church or hall–the brilliant Poinsettia pulcherrima, the bright scarlet bracts of which give the head of blossoms a flower-like appearance, and serve admirably to lighten up the somewhat somber masses of evergreen.”

Meehan continued with these words: “Its name commemorates a French traveler, M. Poinsett, by whom the plant was introduced to cultivation.

“He brought specimens to Charleston from Mexico in 1828, whence they were taken to Philadelphia; and specimens sent from the latter place to Edinburgh [Scotland] flowered in 1835, since which date it has become increasingly popular and plentiful in our stores.”

Poinsett had sent the plant to his friend Philadelphia seedsman Robert Buist (1805-1880). Buist in turn mailed a specimen of the plant to his horticulturst friend in Scotland.  Soon after that the poinsettia, native to Mexico, became available to the public.

Today during this season you can see how poinsettias still fill the Grand Hall at The Breakers mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. [below]

Poinsettias in the Grand Hall at The Breakers in Newport, RI. [courtesy]

American gardeners, just like the English, came to treasure the plant as an indispensable part of the Christmas holiday.

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