Lavender Field in Reno, the Perfect Garden for a Wedding

I just returned from a few days in Reno, Nevada, spending time with family. While there I visited a few gardens even though the temperature at times rose to 102 degrees.

A garden that took me by surprise was Lavender Ridge, a field of almost an acre covered in lavender, growing in straight rows. Though the blue flowers were just coming out, they will bloom till the end of August.

The garden sits on the edge of the city, with the hills of Reno as a backdrop. The owners have made the garden an ideal setting for weddings. The garden includes an area of chairs for the guests, a rock garden with a waterfall, and tables for the dinner following the ceremony.

It is however the sight of the rows of lavender that draws your attention.

I thought how people have used lavender in so many ways over the centuries.

In her book Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants 1640-1940 Denise Wiles Adams mentions the early use of lavender on the west coast in the mission gardens. Lavender, she writes, also served as an edging plant in nineteenth century American gardens.

An article in Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick’s 1881 issue of his Vick’s Illustrated Monthly said, “In Olean, Cattaraugus County, in the State of New York, I recently saw the finest plants of Lavender I think in America. They were in pots in the window-real beauties-as good as they are in Sussex, England…The Lavender is of ancient race and holds its rank in spite of all the new plebian beauties that have come in vogue.”

Even Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan in the 1880 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly  included an article entitled, “A Plea for the Old-Fashioned Lavender.” The writer said, “I remember a garden I visited frequently while I was in Southern Europe, and to me, one of the sweetest, prettiest things in it, was a hedge tenderly guarding the flower beds, a hedge, all silver and purple, of modest, old-fashioned Lavender.”

Then as if to remind his readers of how important lavender is in the garden, Meehan writes in the same issue, “Let us honor our gardens with this ancient patrician plant that stands in its simple suit of silver and purple, and claims a place among flowers that gold and scarlet can never fill.”

Lavender comes from the mint family and gardeners have long considered it both an herb and a shrub. Its blue colored spiked flowers provide aromatic oil. The gift shop at Lavender Ridge offered both lavender oil and soap for sale. The dried flowers are also fragrant.

A gardener needs to ensure certain growing conditions for lavender to succeed. Reno provides that setting because the plants in the garden looked quite healthy. Lavender thrives in full sun with sandy alkaline soil. The son of the owner told us an irrigation system helps at Lavender Ridge. There is not much to do in the garden, he said,  except cut the plants back in the fall and keep the rows weeded in the summer.

I think what is so beautiful about lavender is to see it planted in rows or as a hedge. The Lavender Ridge Garden in Reno grows its lavender in that way. No surprise that the afternoon we visited a wedding was about to take place.

Lavender Garden in Reno

Lavender Ridge in Reno

 

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The Myth of the Cottage Garden Inspired the Perennial Border in Victorian America

Something about the expression ‘cottage garden’ creates a warm feeling and even a sense of nostalgia among gardeners.

Cottage gardens became popular in both England and America when late nineteenth century writer and horticulturist William Robinson and landscape designer Gertrude Jekyll wrote that cottage gardens provided a sensible way to garden in a small space.  Gardeners, they concluded, could learn from the cottage garden style.

Allison Kyle Leopold in her book The Victorian Garden writes: “Cottage gardens seemed enchantingly simple, their colors soothing rather than stirring, their only structure a hedge, a picket fence, a tumbledown stone wall, along which randomly planted borders of blooms and vines grew in seductive fashion.”

Growing your favorite plants in a small space seemed the essence of the English cottage garden.

But then Leopold wonders whether the cottage garden was not really a myth.

She writes, “Of  course the romantically untidy cottage gardens for which 19th century Americans longed, while popular in England, were little more than a fantasy…Beginning in the 1870s, however, nostalgia for sentimentalized cottage gardens that never really existed helped reintroduce late Victorians to the charms of the herbaceous borders.”

It was, after all, Robinson who complained that planting annuals in carpet beds was a waste of time. Gardeners ought to plant perennials and thus avoid the maintenance of such carpet beds that each year needed to be set in the lawn.

And so after the 1870s once again perennial borders played an important role in the garden first in England and later in America.  Such borders had been popular once as New York seedsman Peter Henderson wrote in his book Gardening for Pleasure, published in 1883, “The old-fashioned mixed borders of four or six feet wide along the walks of the fruit or vegetable garden, were usually planted with hardy herbaceous plants, the tall growing at the back, with the lower growing sorts in the front…But the more modern style of flower borders has quite displaced such collections. and they are now but little seen.”

The cottage garden ideal provided a renewed interest in the perennial border.

Today a garden near the nursery at White Flower Farm in Connecticut provides a wonderful example of an English border of perennials [below]. Notice the variety of plants with the short in the front and the tall in the back.

The perennial border at White Flower Farm in Litchfield, Conn.

The perennial border at White Flower Farm in Litchfield, Conn.

 

 

 

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Old Fashioned Hellebore Appears at Spring Flower Show

The early spring array of flowers for the garden includes the Hellebore, a perennial from Europe and Western Asia. Today the plant enjoys a spot in the American garden as well.

It was therefore no surprise that the Hellebore appeared this spring in landscape designs at the Flower and Garden Show in Hartford, Boston and Chicago.

Nineteenth century English garden periodicals as well as an early American garden book wrote about the plant and how best to grow it in the garden.

In England’s Gardeners’ Chronicle an article by Thomas Moore appeared in the April 5, 1879 issue. Moore wrote “The present paper originated in a boxful of Hellebore flowers… These being supplemented by specimens from Mr. Barr, led to a visit to Mr. Barr’s bulb grounds at Tooting, where probably is to be found the most complete collection of Hellebores which at present exists, since it contains all that can be purchased both at home and abroad, or obtained from the most likely sources by other means.”

Since it was the variety called Helleborus viridis that appeared at the Spring Flower Shows, I was most interested in Moore’s comments about that plant. Here is a photo of the plant from the Boston Show. Notice its light green flowers.  [below]

Helleborus viridis at this springs's Boston Flower and Garden Show

Helleborus viridis at this spring’s Boston Flower and Garden Show

Moore wrote, “Leaving Helleborus niger, the Christmas Rose, in its several forms out of the question, the only Hellebores which are of much importance for the ornamentation of flower gardens are the forms – species or varieties it matters not – which are associated together as the respective representations of H. orientalis, H. viridis, and H. foetidus.”

H. viridis, an old variety of the Hellebore, can still provide color to the early spring garden.

Helleborus viridis

Helleborus viridis

Philadelphia seedsman Bernard McMahon wrote in his  book American Gardener, published in 1806, that the best time to transplant Helleborus viridis is in September.   Since his book is based largely on English garden authors from the eighteenth century, English gardeners grew H. viridis well before 1800.  Thus it has had a long garden tradition, first in the English garden and then later in the American garden.

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A Primrose Steeped in Garden History

You never know what you will find at a spring Flower and Garden Show. For sure the Show  always offers a relief from winter, and that’s well worth it.

Sometimes however you find a surprise.

As I walked the aisles of the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show in Hartford last week, I came across a primrose in the designed landscape by Comets to Koi.

The variety was  Primula Elatior ‘Gold Lace’, with its popular name Victorian Lace Primrose. [below]

Connecticut Flower and Gaden Show 2015

Connecticut Flower and Garden Show 2015

This is an old variety of primrose that was popular in the English garden both in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  But it also became part of American gardens as well.

Rudy and Joy Putnam Favretti mention this plant in their book Landscapes and Gardens for Historic Buildings. They list it among the annuals and perennials in the United States that appeared in gardens between 1776 to 1850.

Philadelphia seedsman Bernard McMahon also gave planting instructions for this tiny flower  in his book American Gardener, written in 1806.

According to seedaholic.com, “In 1822, cultural details were described in great detail in the monumental work of the ‘Encyclopedia of Gardening’ for Victorian gardeners.” The English writer and gardener John Claudius Loudon had published the Encyclopedia as a resource for gardeners.

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818=1882)  included the primrose in his seed catalog of 1874. [below]

 

Primrose from Vick 1874

Primrose from Vick’s seed catalog of 1874

This tiny hierloom plant, the primrose, on display at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, links a visitor to English garden history, American garden tradition,  as well as the seed industry in this country.

 

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Island Beds Became Popular in Victorian Gardens

The Victorian garden took many forms during the nineteenth century, but one thing for sure was that if a particular garden style happened in England, it was sure to appear on American shores as well.

Carpet bedding and the wild garden were two garden fashions in the Victorian garden of that period.  American received both with enthusiasm and energy.

Another garden fashion became the island garden in the landscape.

Anne Jennings in her book Victorian Gardens presents both a history of the island garden and then includes  instructions so the gardener today might incorporate such a design.

She writes about the island garden in these words: “Choose tall, substantial plants for the back of borders or in the centre of island beds. These will also provide a structural element to the planting scheme…For flowering plants try canna, rheum, or datura, and for foliage use banana, castor oil plant, thus or Chusan palm.’

After I read those words I realized that in my own garden this summer I had planted an island bed with a banana in the  center. [below]

The plants round the banana included Sedum ‘Matrona’, hosta, and annuals like red petunia and white verbena.

Banana plant in island bed

This summer’s island bed in my garden included a Banana plant at the center.

This bed appears on the front lawn, as you can see.

A bit of Victorian garden design still proves worth incorporating today as well.

 

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No Garden without Shade

You have probably visited many shade gardens over the years, sometimes with a group and other times alone.  Perhaps you cultivate your own shade garden as well.

The special feature in the shade garden is that the gardener has chosen plants that will tolerate shade to a greater or lesser degree.

We know what plants will survive in that environment and if we don’t, we soon learn. That is part of the experience of gardening.

Recently I came across early English landscape gardener Batty Langley’s book New Principles of Gardening (1728). Langley (1696-1751)  rose to become an advocate for landscape gardening in the early eighteenth century.  His practical garden writing inspired both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson here in the United States.

In the book Langley wrote, “There is nothing more agreeable in a Garden than good Shade, and without it a Garden is nothing.”

It may seem he is going overboard in his love for shade, but stop and think. There is something soothing about plants in shade. Cool, green, refreshing are words that come to mind.

This photo [below] from my garden illustrates the variety of plants you can incorporate in a shady area.

A red Japanese maple stands at the center of a shady area in my garden.

A red Japanese maple stands at the center of my shade garden.

This garden includes a red Japanese maple as the center, surrounded by spireas, hostas, hydrangeas, and daylilies.

Even tiny red roses blossom in the area on the lower right where a bit of sun appears now and then.

There is something so peaceful about a shade garden.

 

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Aruncus Offers Unique Beauty in the Garden

Recently the Newsletter from the Somerville Garden Club included an article about Aruncus dioicus or Goat’s Beard.

When I read the article, I thought of this plant in my own garden.  I planted a row of them at the back of the perennial bed over twenty years ago.

This is truly an old-fashioned perennial that was once called Spirea Aruncus.  It loves shade so I chose it for my garden where minimal sunshine appears.

I wondered too what nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries wrote about this plant.

In 1885 Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan included an article from the weekly English garden journal Gardener’s Chronicle in his magazine called Gardener’s Monthly.  The title of the article was “The Aruncus offers unique beauty in the garden.” I loved the title and made it the title of this post.

The article said, “A grand plant, not by any means so abundant as it should be in our gardens, owing to its very distinct and effective appearance.  Of course there are positions in the garden where it would be out of place, but there are many others to which it would give additional beauty. We have yet much to learn and appreciate in the arrangement of hardy plants.”

Then the author, whose name was simply noted at the end of the artilce by ‘T,’ described the plant. He said, “I may say, for the benefit of those unacquainted with the plant, that it grows from 3 to 4 feet high, with large divided foliage, and immense plumes of white flowers, forming when established most conspicuous objects.  I lately saw several masses 3 and 4 feet in diameter, and as much high, and nothing could surpass their unique beauty.”

A row of Aruncus in bloom takes center stage in my garden in NH.

Recently a back row of Aruncus in bloom took center stage in this perrenial bed in my NH garden.

Because this plant is so big, it is probably better to position it in the back of the perennial bed or border. Garden books often advocate for planting Aruncus in a damp or moist area, but I grow it in dry soil with no problem.

The garden journal called Vick’s Illustrated Monthly Magazine in 1897 said, “Spirea Aruncus is popularly known as the ‘Goats Beard.’ It is a very effective species and one of the best of border plants. It is a native of England, grows from three to four feet in height, and blooms during the months of June and July. The foliage is very handsome, the leaves being of pinnate form and of a light green color. Flowers are a creamy white and borne in large branched panicles.”

The two nineteenth century garden magazines certainly give high praise to this plant.

Aruncus is one of our native plants even though Vick’s magazine said it was native to England.  The American Beauties Native Series offers it for the gardener among its collection of plants.

Aruncus dioicus is an easy plant to grow and does not take over an area.  I like that about it.

No surprise that it deserves a spot in anyone’s shade garden.

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Twelth Century Nun Inspires Herb Garden at Spring Flower Show

Last Saturday  I spent an afternoon at the Rhode Island Spring Flower and Garden Show in Providence, RI.

The temperature for the day reached 50 which provided a sense of warmth in the air, an ideal time to drive down to visit the Show.

The theme of the Show centered on gardens with classic cars. An exhibit of  a medicinal garden called “The Healing Garden”  took second place. It was my favorite exhibit.

The exhibit featured Benedictine nun Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) who encouraged the well-being of soul, body, and mind, with herbs from the garden providing for health needs.  She recently became beatified, the first step to sainthood in the Catholic Church.

A wagon filled with straw stood at the front of the exhibit. Nearby several herbs including valerian and rosemary grew in the small garden area.  Hildegard wrote about the two hundred herbs she used in her medicinal work.  She helped both members of the Order and people from the community as well.  She wrote several books on eating healthy and using natural healing methods. In fact, there is renewed interest in her legacy, especially in Germany.

The back wall of the exhibit showed a five by eighteen foot mural of the cloister of the Benedictine nuns of that century as they worked in the fields of herbs [below].

RI Flower Show Exhibit

Mural at the Rhode Island Flower and Garden  Show exhibit “The Healing Garden”

What impressed me the most however was that the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy sponsored the exhibit.  Senior gardener and designer J. Peter Morgan said, “The resurgence in popularity of holistic medicine prompted us to exhibit the many healing plants within the College of Pharmacy’s Youngken Garden.”

If there is any place for emphazising herbs as medicine, the Pharmacy program at the University ought to be front and center in that effort.  So it is with URI.

The College of Pharmacy chose to exhibit its healing garden with the shining example of  the Benedictine nun Hildegard von Bingen.

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Gardeners Still Await the Annual Catalogs

My past few posts here have centered on a look at the roots of American consumer culture.

I have written mainly about how advertising at the end of the ninteenth century became the major tool which motivated people to buy the goods that were being mass produced.  The garden industry was at the forefront of that movement as we can see from the size of catalogs, filled with seeds, plants, vases, and other assorted garden products including the lawnmower.

This Sunday’s Boston Globe featured a column called “Checking out our consumer culture” in which writer Katherine Whittemore examines six books about advertising, including William Leach’s Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture.

What I liked about her review was that she constructs a line of argument through the books she mentions which is that  advertisng and marketing somehow or other get us to buy things we may not really need.

"Brandwashed", one of the books Whittemore writes about

“Brandwashed”, one of the books Whittemore writes about

In gardening that may be a difficult concept to swallow since we all seem to want the latest plant or the newest fad in our garden.

Now that it is Chrsitmas time I am once again confronted with the question of what new material possession do I need. I again hit the wall because I really don’t need anything. I have enough things. We have enough.

Yet the ad industry continues to push forward the glitter of ever new products.

It is hard to resist advertising and marketing. Whittemore, for example, writes that Whole Foods places its flower section right by the doors, so we are unconsciously ready to associate the store with freshness.

The late nineteenth century seed and nursery companies structured their catalog in a particular way. First, an introductory essay, then columns on gardening and the landscape, followed by the list of seeds and plants for sale, and finally ads.  There was a reason for that order, and that, of course, was to motivate the gardener to make a purchase.

This year, since December 1, I have already received several  garden catalogs, some  of substantial size.

In this holiday season, as both a gardener and one interested in the study of advertising, marketing, and public relations, I must say that the consumer culture is alive and well.

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Post Office Became More Commercial by the end of the Nineteenth Century

Vick Receipt for an order of seeds 18xx

America was built on the principle of free expression of ideas.

From the beginning of the country newspapers operated with the assurance of a free press.

As a result of the Post Office Act of 1792, a new form of the post office became a vital communication link for the nation, carrying not just private correspondence, but also newspapers, which were allowed in the mails at a low rate to promote the spread of information across the states.

The post office service then made accessible newspapers and magazines that expressed political ideas that might indeed diverge from one another.

By 1900 everything changed and the post office became the major vehicle to sell products.

In his book Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture historian William Leach said, “In the nineteenth century, the goal of the U. S. Postal Service was to make ‘knowledge and truth’ available to more and more people. By the end of the World War I, this goal had been altered; the greatest use of the mails was now American business.”

The nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries used the post office service to send their garden catalogs to their customers who were scattered around the country.

As the country moved to a more of a consumer culture by the end of century, the post office too took on the role of a provider of information of new products and services.Vick Receipt for an order of seeds 18xx

The James Vick Seed Company in Rochester, New York mailed several catalogs yearly in hopes of  seed orders. Like all companies at that time, the post office was an important tool for their business.

Rural Free  Delivery became available in 1896 which  meant that every home in America could receive mail.

That year was a boom for any company that used a catalog to sell its products.

Vaughn Seed 1891

Vaughn Seed Catalog 1891

The Vaughan Seed Company from Chicago began its catalog seed sales after winning awards for its flower displays at the Chicago Exhibition in 1893 and the passage of the Rural Free Delivery Act.

Mail delivery proved a valuable asset to their business.

The mail order business also provided the inspiration for a new warehouse for Maule’s Seeds, located in Philadelphia. In his 1889 catalog  Maule wrote, “Three years ago I had especially built for me the finest warehouse in America for conducting the mail-order business. I have devoted my entire attention to furnishing the gardens of America with my seeds direct, with the aim of doing the largest mail-order business on the continent.”

In 1898 the Childs Seed Company catalog said it was not uncommon during the busy months of the business “for Mr. Childs to receive as high as eight to ten thousand letters in a single day, including hundreds of Registered letters and thousands containing Money Orders.”

The mail delivery of seeds was so successful for the seed trade because the seed companies had learned that the seed packet, originally developed as a marketing strategy, made it easy to ship seeds around the country.

The garden business was truly a modern, efficient enterprise, thanks to the post office.

 

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