Victorian Dahlia ‘White Aster’ Still Shines

Victorian dahlia ‘White Aster’ still shines.

The online garden business called Old House Gardens works with twenty-one growers in fifteen states to provide its tubers and  bulbs.

The Sun Moon Farm in Rindge, New Hampshire supplies some of it’s dahlia tubers.

Recently I drove to Rindge to check out Sun Moon Farm, and, of course, see its dahlia field.

No fancy sign welcomes you to this CSA working farm. During the growing season the farm supplies vegetables to households in NH as well as Cambridge, Massachusetts.

At Sun Moon I found many dahlias in bloom.

The rows of dahlias seemed to go on forever. [below]

Rows of dahlias at Sun Moon Farm

A dahlia I was in search of was the dahlia ‘White Aster,’ first offered for sale in 1879.

That makes it, according to the Old House Gardens’ catalog, “the world’s oldest surviving garden dahlia.”

I was amazzed at the long row of ‘White Asters’ I saw that morning. Magnificent. [below]

Sun Moon’s dahlia ‘White Aster’ filled its own row in the field with its cheery white flower.

This dahlia shines with its hundreds of small, ivory globes, making it a treasured pompon type which just might add that white color you need in a late summer bouquet.

A letter about white dahlias appeared in Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick’s magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1879.

A customer wrote, “For four years I have grown dahlias in my garden…

“Last spring I wanted a white one and mother bought me a root for twenty-five cents. When it had flowers in September, it was the prettiest thing I ever saw.

“The flowers were not half as large as my old ones, just as pretty as could be, and didn’t look much like Dahlias, but more like Asters.

“This plant was the nicest plant I had, for there were, I guess, hundreds of flowers”

In response Vick wrote the following: “There are plenty of the small Dahlias, and of all colors that can be desired, except the long sought blue.

“There are two very good white sorts White Aster and Little Snowball.

“This class of Dahlias is called Pompon or Bouguet, and bears great numbers of flowers, from one to two inches in diameter.”

Vick recommended ‘White Aster’ but also recognized the importance of dahlias for the fall garden.

He wrote, “The dahlia is our best autumn flower. We can depend upon it until frost, no matter how long delayed.”

 

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Victorian England Imported Popular Rosa Rugosa

Victorian England imported popular rosa rugosa.

New Englanders have made rosa rugosa a favorite seaside shrub.

As you drive along the beach road, you see these shrubs everywhere.

The rosa rugosa however is native to Asia.

David Stuart wrote in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “In 1849 Robert Fortune found the now immensely popular Rosa rugosa in Shanghai.”

The plants Fortune (1812-1880) sent back to England from his journeys made him a major influence on the Victorian garden in the nineteenth century.

A plant hunter like Fortune traveled to parts of the world from where rich English horticulturists like the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth as well as nurseries and even Kew wanted to have the newest plant to display in their gardens.

Fortune played a major role in bringing plants from China back to the West.

He sometimes used the Wardian case, a recent invention, to transport the plants across the sea. The case sealed the plant and at the same time provided it moisture, thus preventing the demise of a delicate specimen.

Julia Brittain writes in her book The Plant Lover’s Companion: Plants, People and Places  the Horticultural Society’s garden at Chiswick in London asked Fortune to find plants in China.

She says, “His annual pay was to be 100 pounds – poor recompense for three years of danger and discomfort.”

In his search for plants Fortune came across rosa rugosa.

Rosa rugosa would of course make its way to American gardens as well in the nineteenth century. [below]

Rosa rugosa, courtesy of TripAdviser

Rosa rugosa grows along this fence near the ocean. [Courtesy of TripAdviser]

Today we enjoy this rose.  We seem to accept it as if it were almost native because we have grown it for so many decades.

We owe Fortune a note of thanks for this plant and many others like the hosta and the weigela that he introduced to our gardens.

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Maple Tree Honors Scottish Plant Hunter

Maple Tree Honors Scottish Plant Hunter.

In both his catalog and monthly magazine the Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) often mentioned ‘Drummond phlox’ as an ideal annual for the garden.

In his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878 Vick wrote the following: “The Phlox Drummondii was only discovered about forty years ago in Texas, by Mr. Drummond, a botanical collector sent out by the Glasgow Botanical Society, and it was one of the last plants sent home, for soon after he visited Cuba and died.”

Thomas Drummond (1793-1835) was a Scottish botanical collector.

The phlox is not the only plant named after Mr. Drummond.

Recently I visited the Allen C. Haskell Public Gardens in New Bedford, Mass., once a thriving nursery business and now a public garden, operated by the Trustees of Reservations.

Here is one of the beautiful scenes from that garden. [below]

Haskell garden

Allen C. Haskell Gardens in New Bedford, Mass.

While walking around the garden, I came across a Norway maple tree whose name is Acer platanoides ‘Drummondii’, or the Drummond maple.

It also was named after the plant collector Thomas Drummond.

Notice the cream-colored edging on the leaf which makes this tree quite distinctive. [below]

Maple tree at Haskell Garden

Maple tree Acer p. ‘Drummdii’ at the Haskell Gardens

We owe a lot to the English and Scottish plant hunters of the nineteenth century.

Many plants we take for granted in the garden today came from the exploration of such plant hunters. That exploration often involved danger, disease, and sometimes death.

At the Haskell Gardens I learned that Drummond had collected 750 species of plants and 150 specimens of birds.

The maple Drummond that stands out at the Haskell Gardens serves as one way to honor this Scottish plant hunter.

 

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William Robinson Encouraged Perennial Borders

It is nothing new that gardening is subject to fashion, just like food and clothing.

The nineteenth century English garden went back and forth between borders of perennials and mass planting of annuals, especially in beds on the lawn.

The English garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935), author of the The English Robinson The English Flower GardenFlower Garden,  at first supported mass planting of annuals, but then saw the error in his thinking.

Perennials come back every year, and, by the way, cottage gardens have succeeded on that very principle.

Thus, he along with artist and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll encouraged the herbaceous border.

Nicolette Scourse writes in her book The Victorians and their Flowers, “It was unplanned simplicity [in gardening] which in the 1870s inspired rustic styles which were real and lasting: the woodland garden with naturalized bulbs and herbacous borders.”

Then she mentions the two gardeners who inspired the movement. She writes, “The steering forces were William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll, both of whom were captivated by the wild countryside and cottage gardens as they really were.”

Of course there was a bit of interpretation on their part as to what kind of garden people needed, now based on the cottage garden, but the herbacous border became a trend.

Scourse sums up this new fashion in these words, “The charm of the cottage garden was its lack of contrived design and this was the springboard of Robinson’s garden-making.”

And so it was that Mr. Robinson spread the word about the cottage garden, which had succeeded for generations with its wonderful herbaceous border.

 

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Paxton Garden Reflected Victorian Garden Fashion

Head gardener Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) sought to provide his employer the Duke of Devonshire with the latest plants.

The Duke enjoyed such botanical treasures, sometimes including Paxton in his own travels to seek out new plants.

The plant everyone wanted and everyone coveted was the large water lily named Victoria amazonica or Victoria Regia. Paxton succeeded in bringing it into flower at Chatsworth where in 1849 in order to prove the strength of the leaves of the plant, Paxton’s daughter Annie stood on one of the leaves of the plant. [below]

At Chatsworth Paxton built a special lily house for the plant.

 

Paxton's daugher on the water lily

‘Annie on Lily Leaf’ Illustrated London News (November 17, 1849)

Years later at his own home outside of London called Rockhills, Paxton showed that he still pursued the latest garden fashion. There he lived in an elegant Victorian house on the corner of the Crystal Palace park. 

The landscape reflected the garden style of Victorian England of that period.

On the porch climbers like wisteria, passion flowers, and jasmine ran up the trellises. A gravel walk led a visitor to the house door.  On the lawn circular beds with flowering shrubs brought color while smaller beds were filled with the newest geraniums. Carpet beds and ribbon beds, the fashion of the day, also made up the garden.

His garden illustrated the latest Victorian fashion, all of it labour intensive.

In her extraordinary biography of Paxton, A Thing in Disguise: The Visionary Life of Joseph Paxton, Kate Colquhoun writes,”In this garden, as he had at Chatsworth, Paxton proved himself the greatest garden authority of his time.”

Thus, Paxton did not just garden, but gardened, as we all do, in the latest fashion and style for that time and place. In his case that happened to be Victorian England.

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In the late 1890s Advertising Created Demand for the World’s Most Famous Rose

Before 1850 magazines survived only on sales and subscriptions.

Norma R. Fryatt wrote the book Sarah Josepha Hale: The Life and Times of a Nineteenth Century Career Woman. In the 1830s Hale had become the editor of the magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, a publication filled with stories, poems, and essays, directed to women. Fryatt wrote “Publisher Louis E. Godey was walking a financial tightrope, for there were few advertisements in magazines of that day; all profits had to come from sales or subscriptions.”

By the 1890s ads appeared in national magazines like Ladies Home Journal, providing most of the money to support the publication.

It was at that time that ads in national magazines as well as ads in seed and nursery catalogs that were mailed across the country told the gardener about the new climbing rose, ‘Crimson Rambler’, imported from England in 1893.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in 1898 about this popular rose. He said, “This wonderful climbing rose is now so well known that we feel it unnecessary to comment particularly upon it. Everyone who saw a plant of it in bloom this year will not feel satisfied until he possesses one or more plants of it.”

At that time the ‘Crimson Rambler’ rose appeared in almost every garden catalog as well as in various forms of advertising like this trade card from the Charlton Nursery in Rochester,NY.  [below]

Tradecard for the Crimson Rambrle Rose

1898 Tradecard for the Crimson Rambler Rose

Advertising seeds and plants became big business by 1900, and in the process gardeners across America bought the new rose called ‘Crimson Rambler.’

 

 

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Rosa Rugosa Came from China to England then to America

Along the seacoast here in the northeast you will find Rosa Rugosa, that shrub rose with the bright red flowers and round fruit.  It has in fact over many decades found its way along much of the ocean roadside.

British plant explorer Robert Fortune brought it to England from China in 1845.

Soon this rose became popular for American gardeners as well.

Newton, Mass. nurseryman William Kenrick in his 1832 catalog for his nursery plants does not list Rosa Rugosa among the dozens of roses he offered for sale.  Surely Kenrick, whose nursery some referred to at the time as the ‘largest in New England,’ would have offered Rosa Rogosa if by then it had made its way to America.

Rosa rugosa, courtesy of TripAdviser

Rosa rugosa on Cape Cod [courtesy of TripAdvisor]

In the 1885 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly Phildelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan included a letter from Rose Terry Cooke. She wrote, “What is there about Rosa rugosa to make it desirable? I paid a dollar for one, on the recommendation of catalogues, and I think any of our wild roses more beautiful than this bristling, single blossomed, coarse-leaved bud.”

By then garden catalogs were selling Rosa Rugosa and gardeners, or at least some, wanted this new rose.

American Gardening magazine wrote in 1897, “And what garden is complete without a Rosa Rugosa? None. A rose garden without a representative is the play of ‘Hamlet’ without the moody Dane.”

That line says it all, don’t you think?  Every garden needed a Rosa Rugosa.

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The Gardenesque Style Appeared in Victorian Gardens

In the early nineteenth century English landscape gardener and author John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) first wrote about the gardenesque style as a landscape style quite different from the prevailing picturesque view. Its signature feature included a collection of plants, isolated in the garden in groups or singly by themselves and planted so they did not touch other plants.   Thus visitors could view them as in an arboretum or public garden.

That style also became an expression of the Victorian garden.  That was a time when plant collecting forced gardeners to rethink the prevailing picturesque or natural landscape view.  Gardeners coveted plants coming from Africa, Asia, and America.  They also wanted to show off these plants in the garden.

Caroline Ikin writes in her book The Victorian Garden: “The gardenesque style was embraced by Victorian botanic gardens and arboreta where collections of plants and trees were displayed to encourage individual study and appreciation.”

In 1866  near Boston in the town of Wellesley Horatio Hollis Hunnewell opened his garden and called it a Pinetum, where he could show off his collection of evergreens. [below] One might call his garden style ‘gardnesque’ therefore.

Hunnewell purchased hundreds of trees, many from England, and assembled them in this Pinetum.

He labeled the trees as well.

Hunnewell pinetum in Wellesley, Mass. built in 1843

Hunnewell Pinetum in Wellesley, Mass., built in 1866

English garden writer William Robinson visited the Pinetum in 1870 and heaped praise on its collection of trees and shrubs.[from the book So Fine a Prospect: Historic New England Gardens.]

At a time when the two defining styles of gardening, the formal and picturesque, had dominated, Loudon introduced a new way to use plants in the landscape and called it gardnesque.  Gardeners both in England and America embraced this fashion.

 

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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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Queen Anne’s Lace Sold among Cut Flowers at Local Supermarket

Just came from a supermarket where I saw among the containers of cut flowers for sale one stem of Queen Anne’s Lace with a price tag of $2.29.

Pretty good money for a weed, isn’t it?

Queen Anne’s Lace, or daucus carota, is a weed but to some people it is a wildflower. The plant, also called wild carrot, is in the carrot family with ts delicate parsley-like leaves and a long root

Queen Anne's Lace growing along a fence

Queen Anne’s Lace growing along a fence

This is however an aggressive plant that you do not want to encourage. It is on the plant invasive list for many states around the country for a reason.

Well known horticulturists refer to Queen Anne’s Lace as a wildflower. It is in the classic volume on recognizing wildflowers called A Field Guide to Wildflowers by Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny.

Rick Darke in his updated edition of William Robinson’s The Wild Garden (originally published in 1870) refers to Queen Anne’s Lace as a wildflower.  Darke says in his Introduction: “Wildflowers are usually perceived as pretty, but always as innocuous: they do no harm and give no offence. Weeds are unwanted wildflowers.”

The plant was introduced into this country during colonial times. It probably came across the ocean in sacks of grain, perhaps with the Pilgrims and is now established in every state.

It might be a beautiful wildflower in a meadow setting but I don’t know about growing it in your garden.

What do you think?

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