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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Garden Company Name Influences Customers

The garden company name influences customers in choosing products.

The public relations journal called Public Relations Tactics arrives on my desk every month.

This journal provides articles on what’s new and current in public relations practice.

A recent article called “Understanding Brands and Influencer Relations” caught my attention.

Since the Public Relations Society of America publishes this journal, I generally feel confident about the quality of its articles.

The word ‘influencer’ in the title made me curious. 

Influencers happen to be individuals who can persuade others, like their readers if the person were a journalist or blogger, to notice and perhaps choose a certain brand of a product.

The author Heather Sliwinski says, “Think of bloggers, and other social influencers, as brand ambassadors.”

My thoughts, of course, went back to the nineteenth century garden industry. Were there influencers back then?

Seed company owners like W. Atlee Burpee, Peter Henderson, John Childs, and James Vick became brand ambassadors for the nineteenth century garden industry.

Their audience was the middle class woman who loved gardening.

If Vick or Henderson said or wrote something, it was common for consumers to take notice.

Henderson placed this ad in Harper’s magazine. [below]

Peter Henderson Seed Company ad in Harper's

Peter Henderson Seed Company ad in Harper’s magazine

You see illustrated the ideal customer: a middle class woman who liked gardening, and was in the search of the newest. Here Henderson wrote in the ad, “Sensational Flower Seed Novelty.”  A new variety of hollyhocks was available for this gardener.

A nineteenth century seedsman, like Vick, sometimes approached a newspaper editor, also an influencer, with press material to promote Vick’s seed company.  If a story ran, Vick would send the editor packets of seeds in gratitude.

Like today, the influencer has a following. That’s how he or she received that name.

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Nineteenth Century Targeted Garden Advertising

Nineteenth century targeted garden advertising.

Public relations and advertising professionals often need an index of available promotional sources. Such an index would include information like the circulation numbers of a media outlet.

They need to know, for example, how many people receive a particular magazine.

Since the late 19th century, advertising companies have put out directories of media available for a business considering placing an ad.

Such directories gave advertising more precision in reaching its audience.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) researched such directories for his own garden advertising.

Thus he showed an awareness of the latest in advertising as a science, as they called it then.

Vick wrote in his garden magazine of 1881 Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “There are over ten thousand different publications in America, and with all those we have more or less correspondence during the year. In this  work we are much aided by the excellent publications of the leading advertising agents, such as Geo. P. Rowell & Co., of New York, and N. W. Ayer & Son, of Philadelphia [the first US advertising firm].”

Vick continues, ” These books not only give the names, location, and character of the newspapers, magazines, etc., but, in most cases, the circulation.”

This magazine ad [below] appeared in American Agriculturist, a popular journal whose audience was middle to upper class homeowners who would buy a mower for that perfect lawn.

An ad in the magazine American Agriculruist May 1888

An ad in the magazine American Agriculturist May 1888

So nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries needed to know what publications their consumers read.

Then through a particular publication they could target its audience.

Ever since moden advertising, born in the nineteenth century, has used what we now call media directories like Cision to appeal to their consumers.

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Garden Advertising Sometimes Exaggerates

Garden Advertising Sometimes Exaggerates

Advertising in America as an industry began with the N. W. Ayer & Son Company in Philadelphia in 1867.

From that point on advertisers through the media of the day sought to persuade a consumer to buy a particular brand of a product.

Lydia Pinkham was among the first to use such advertising to market her patent medicine, a remedy for female complaints. She combined vegetable compound laced with nineteen per cent alcohol to make up her medicinal beverage.

The garden industry of course through the seed companies and nurseries did not shy away from ads to promote their wares as well.

You would think that today, one hundred fifty years later, we are smart enough to reject false claims in advertising.

Not true.

Sometimes, even today, garden advertising exaggerates what the company promises.

A ‘garden in a box’ seems to imply you simply plant something like the company’s seed strips and wallah, you have a garden.

Mike Lizotte from American Meadows said, “We’ve all seen the ‘meadow in a can’ seed products at our

Wildflower mix from Aerican Meadows

Wildflower mix from American Meadows

favorite big box store. Don’t be fooled by the nice packaging.”

There is always something left out in advertising in order that the ad can make its point.

In the ‘garden in a box’ that something happens to be the work it takes to maintain a garden, and see it through to its flowering.

Also, the product may be inferior. There may be fewer seeds than promised.

Garden advertising is really like any advertising. The buyer has to be aware of the kind of promises made by the seller.

Adrian Higgins, garden writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote an article entitled “Growing wild – by design.”

He said, “A few years ago, there was the notion that meadows were so eager to sprout that

American Meadows

American Meadows

you could buy a can full of wildflower seed, sprinkle the contents on a piece of cleared land and you would have a floriferous meadow in perpetuity. But there is no meadow genie in the can.”

Though we need to proceed cautiously with ads, advertising for the garden at the same time it tries to sell something also informs the consumer about new products.

Nineteenth century New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) recognized that part of advertising.

Vick wrote in 1880 in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly “Those desiring reliable information upon horticultural subjects will find much that is valuable in these [advertising] pages.”

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Victorian Seedsman Encouraged Advertising

Victorian seedsman encouraged advertising.

New York seedsman Peter Henderson (1822-1890) wrote several popular garden books in the late nineteenth century.

He also believed in the power of advertising for his company.

In 1884 Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan included in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly a speech that Henderson had given that year at the Chicago Convention of Nurserymen.  He quotes Henderson as saying, “Advertising is rapidly becoming a fine art, and the more it advances as a fine art, the more advertising will be done and the more profit will result from it.”

As a business, the seed industry had its share of competition.  The amount of advertising sometimes distinguished one company from another.

Henderson catalog 1885

For example, this chromolithograph cover [above] from Henderson’s seed catalog of 1885 promoted the company as modern and progressive, but still classic. The company promised to fill every need a gardener may have.

Meehan wrote the following in another issue of his magazine from that same year, “Perhaps in no other country is the press so liberally patronized by seedsmen, florists, and nurserymen as in the United States. In their advertising seasons, which cover most of the months of the year, we can rarely pick up a periodical that does not contain some of their advertisements.”

Henderson was not alone among his Brothers of the Spade, fellow garden merchants.  He believed in advertising for any modern business to succeed, including the garden industry.

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Nineteenth Century Ads Included Factory Images

Nineteenth Century Ads Included Factory Images

Recently I traveled to the Boston Athenaeum to see a new Exhibit they had promoted.

The exhibit, called Collecting for the Boston Athenaeum in the 21st Century, included prints and photographs.

Without doubt this was one of my favorite exhibits because it included chromolithographs of factories from the nineteenth century. Then it was a common practice, especially after 1850, for companies to promote their business with an illustration of their factory or headquarters.  These illustrations would appear in trolleys, stores, and on buildings.

My favorite was the 1891 chromo of the Boston Belting Co. [below]

Boston Rubber Company 1890 [Boston Aethaneum]

Boston Rubber Company 1890 [Boston Athenaeum]

The nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries scattered across the country followed suit.

They wanted customers to know they were dealing with a substantial company and so a chromo of their warehouse and seed company, even their box company, was not uncommon.

Here is a chomolithograph of the D. M. Ferry Seed Co in Detroit from 1897. [below] Notice the size of the buildings.

Ferry Buildings 1887 small

D. M. Ferry and Son Company, 1897 [Courtesy Cornell University]

At the same time the chromo of the company’s factory and  warehouse formed a bit of advertising.

The customer thought, of course, that such a big company must have a worthwhile product to sell.

Why would he or she not order seeds from such an establishment as Ferry?  After all, the company could afford this factory and warehouse.

A new exhibition called Art on Tap at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend, Wisconsin includes this poster made from an early chromolithograph by the Miller Brewing Company. [Below]

Even the nineteenth century beer giants advertised with images of their factories.

Miller Brewing Co. Factory Scene, self-framed lithograph on tin, The H.D. Beach Co., 1905, From the collection of Robert and Debra Markiewicz

Miller Brewing Co. Factory Scene, self-framed lithograph on tin, the H.D. Beach Co., 1905. From the collection of Robert and Debra Markiewicz.

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18th Century England Collected American Plants

18th century England collected American plants

It is June and the flowers of the rhododendron seem to be putting on an extraordinary show this year.

In fact wherever I see rhodies right now, the flowers are stunning.

At one time the English garden included a special area called the “American garden” where such plants as our rhododendrons took center stage. The English loved them.

American plants filled this garden.

Mark Laird writes in the book Flora Illustrata, “[From the eighteenth century] the impact on gardening in Rhododentron, Mountain AmericanEngland was profound and led, among other things, to shrubberies – eventually called ‘American gardens.’ These were ‘theatres’ or display plantations of acclimatized woodsy plants, especially ericaceous plants such as Rhododendron and Kalmia.”

In both the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries the English sent plant collectors around the world in search of plants for their gardens.

Ships sailed to South America, Africa, Asia, and of course, North America carrying horticultural collectors in search of new and unusual plants.

Two rhododendrons blooming in my garden

Two rhododendrons blooming in my garden

Laird writes that the exchange of plants with England effected the nursery business in this country. If the English liked the plant, it was more likely to appear in the nursery trade here.

He said, “The introduction of American plants to Europe changed the nature of landscape gardening in England, with explorations having an equally profound effect on the nursery trade and horticultural activities in the early Republic.”

Though the English loved and knew our plants, that was not the case with American gardeners.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in the June issue of 1870: “It has often been a source of wonder, that the idea that the most beautiful of all American ornamental plants – the Rhododendron – could not be grown in its native country, should ever prevail; yet so universal is this belief, that though persistent efforts have been made by enthusiast nurserymen, like Parsons of Flushing, and Hovey of Boston, to introduce it to public notice, and to show that they can be as well grown as any other plant, only a few yet realize the fact; and thousands of our readers do not know what a rhododendron is.”

So you might say that at one time American plants were treasured more by the English than the American gardener.

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Victorian Flower Fascination Continues

Victorian flower fascination continues.

Victorians loved their flowers. The showier, the brighter, the better.

So argues Nicolette Scourse in her book The Victorians and their Flowers.

The basis of that devotion to flowers stems from the view that flowers express a link to the Creator.

Scourse writes, “It had been an accepted  fact ‘that the most highly adorned productions of Flora’s kingdom were called into existence’ only at the appearance of man and his intellect capable of contemplating floral beauty.”

Now that we have begun our summer adventure in the garden which, of course, includes cultivating flowers, whether perennial or annual, you see how important a role flowers play in the garden.

Victorian Flowers

Victorian Flowers from the Burpee Seed Catalog of 1887

We love our flowers today as much as the Victorians.

Scourse writes, “In some aspects we still view flowers and nature in very much the same way as the Victorians: we thrill at the exotic, the macabre and the concept of wilderness (still in the comfort of an armchair, albeit via a different medium). Sentimental renderings of rustic cottage gardens, ‘laughing streams, and flower-bedecked fields,’ harvest mice and pastel-tinted, honeysuckle hedgerows still abound, together with nostalgia for a pre-Industrial lifestyle.”

Right now garden centers and nurseries abound in colorful selections of flowers, eager to go home with us.

Flowers still impact your eyes, your nose, and even your touch.

The Victorian fascination with flowers continues.

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Victorian Flowers Decorate Forever Stamps

Victorian flowers decorate forever stamps.

Recently I bought first class stamps at our local post office, something I have done many times.

This batch of stamps however surprised me. Victorian flowers decorated each stamp in the packet I received.

Each stamp looked like a work of art. That’s what they were: botanical art from the late nineteenth century.

The U.S. Post Office used chromolithographs of flowers from the seed and nursery catalogs from the 1880s into the twentieth century for these new stamps, just issued in January.

stamps 2016

Depicted on the stamps, top row from left:corn lilies, tulips, stocks, roses and petunias. Pictured bottom row from left: tulips, dahlias, japanese Iris, tulips and daffodils and jonquils. [Courtesy of the US Postal Service]

The late nineteenth century was a time when many businesses used chromolithographs to promote their products in ads, catalog covers, trade cards, and posters. The garden industry was no different, including in the catalog brightly colored chromos, as they were called, depicting their flowers. Often the artist responsible for these images was never named.

The images on these stamps come from the seed and nursery catalog collection at the New York Botanical Garden, one of the largest such archives in the country.

Botanical art on stams 2016

An example of the botanical art on new first class stamps, issued in January 2016.

No surprise that I have been using the stamps for the past few weeks.

These stamps provide a lesson in garden history by focusing on the botanical art used to sell flowers in Victorian America.

We now have them thanks to the U.S. Post Office.

U.S. Post Office

U.S. Post Office

 

 

 

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