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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Nurseries Made Dahlias Popular

Nurseries Made Dahlias Popular.

Plants enter our gardens usually through the portal of the green industry like seed companies, nurseries, and growers.

That was the case with the dahlia.

Originally from Mexico, the dahlias appeared in Spain in the eighteenth century.

The dahlia reached England in 1803, and America a few years later.

Boston nurseryman Charles Mason Hovey (1810-1887) became an early advocate for the dahlia. In his publication Magazine of Horticulture in 1835 he called the dahlia the “King of Flowers.”

In 1838 he wrote, “They [dahlias] have become one of the greatest and most valuable ornaments of the garden.”

Then he also said, “We believe the time is at hand when our own gardens will produce dahlias equalling the English.”

Hovey won Best in Class I for his twenty-five dissimilar dahlia blooms at the Flower Show sponsored by  the Massachusetts Horticultural Society on Saturday, October 1, 1842.

Thus his writing about the plant and also growing it, and, of course, selling it contributed to gardeners planting it in the garden.

Hovey was only one of the early nurserymen to encourage the dahlia.

Today we have a company like American Meadows which still encourages gardeners to grow dahlias.

This image [below] is from the AM company website.

American Meadows dahlia image

Dahlias  [courtesy of American Meadows]

Hovey wrote in 1840, “Some seedling dahlias have been raised, which equal the best productions of the English garden.”

American dahlia growers can stand up to the best.

Today there are 57,000 varieties of the dahlia. This flower has come a long way, with no small thanks to the American nursery business.

 

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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.”

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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 Trip Illustrates Similar Plant Palette

Ireland trip illustrates similar plant palette.

My recent trip to Ireland taught me a lesson about marketing the garden.

While near Dublin, I visited the classic Victorian garden and estate called Powerscourt in the town of Enniskerry, County Wicklow.

There at the gift shop and greenhouse, near the visitor’s parking lot, I saw trays of pansies for sale. [below]

pansies-at-powerscourt

Pansies for sale outside the greenhouse at Powerscourt

The pansy has long been a gardener’s favorite. Since the nineteenth century pansies have played a central role in providing color for garden beds here in America.

When I saw the Powerscourt pansies, it was as if I was at home. We sell the same pansies here in the States.

What that means to me is that the power of marketing communication today makes a plant variety easily recognizable, perhaps even around the world, and that becomes the plant that people want to grow.

Mass marketing of the garden only began in the later part of the nineteenth century when communication innovations like the typewriter and increased speed in printing along with increased advertising became common.

A customer from Iowa wrote a letter to Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) about pansies.  Vick included these words from the letter in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878, “We never had such flowers before; you ought to have seen our Pansies. We have every color you can think of, and lots of them that you cannot think of. We have one or two roots of them that have not had anything but double Pansies, and they were very beautiful.”

Vick, of course, encouraged the growing of pansies.  That advice has continued to this day.

So in one sense it is no surprise to see the same annuals for sale in Ireland even though the growers may be local.

Since the late nineteenth century American gardening has been intimately connected with the mass marketing of plants and garden products.

The effect is that our palette of plants has become quite similar from region to region around the country, and even from country to country.

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