The Dandelion is both Herb and Weed

I just returned from Milwaukee.

The golf course across from my hotel there showed the most beautiful green hilly contours of a well-kept lawn, but no dandelions.

Whenever I drove around the city neighborhoods, however, I saw dandelions on many home lawns. Even at the local horticultural gem Boerner Botantical Gardens I saw green fields with spotted dandelions.

Dandelions were once considered valuable plants but today are weeds.

Dandelions in the green fields of Borner Botanical

Dandelions shine in these green fields at Boerner Botanical Gardens.

While in Milwaukee I read an article in the Journal Sentinel  by Jill Riggenback called “Weed among garden’s nutrition sources.” Riggenbach writes”Gardeners who are worried about the current plight of bees and other pollinators have another reason for valuing dandelion flowers: They’re a rich source of early-season nectar and pollen.”

The Enclopedia of Organic Gardening says “While the dandelion is frequently rated a nuisance, it is actually quite valuable because of the medicinal and vitamin value of its roots.”

The website Oils and Plants agrees. It says: “Many people think of the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a weed, but herbalists consider it a valuable herb with many culinary and medicinal uses. The dandelion is a rich source of vitamin A, B complex, vitamin C, and vitamin D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Its leaves are often used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots can be found in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make certain wines.”

The little yellow dandelion that traveled from England to America has now naturalized in all temperate climates.

Peterson’s Field Guide to Wildflowers still calls it a weed.

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The Hosta, Native to Asia, Traveled from Europe to America

Over the years I have found the hosta a superb plant for the shade. Today I grow over one hundred varieties in my garden.

Since in a couple of weeks I am talking about my book to the New England Hosta Society, a group which I joined in 1989, I decided to research the history of this plant.

In the nineteenth century the name for the plant was funkia, plantain lily, Japan lily, and even day lily.Vick’s seed catalog of 1889, called Vick’s Floral Guide, wrote this about the hosta: “The Funkia, called the Day Lily, is a very superb autumn flower, very desirable for planting on the side of a lawn or at the edge of shrubbery. It will increase in size and beauty every year. The plant has very showy foliage, prettily veined.”

According to plant historian Denise Wiles Adams the hosta first came to England in 1784.  In her book Restoring American Gardens she writes that the first American reference to hosta plantaginea appears in  the Landreth Seed Company catalog in 1828 in Philadelphia.

The plants are native to China and Japan.  Sometimes they traveled, with the help of plant collectors,  to England and then to America, but also directly to America, notably with the New York nurseryman Thomas Hogg (1819-1892)  in the 1880s.

According to  W. George Schmid’s book The Genus Hosta Hogg, whose father had once held the position of head gardener to English landscape gardener William Kent, imported hostas from his travels to Japan.  But Schmid claims, with the exception of the Hogg plants, all of the hostas in the United States around 1900 originated from European stock.

English garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935) wrote about the hosta in his book The Wild Garden.  He said: “The Plantain Lilies [or Hosta] are plants for the wild garden.”

An illustration from The Wild Garden, 1870

Groups of Siebold’s Plantain Lily, an illustration from The Wild Garden, 1870 [reissued by Timber Press]

The Missouri Botanical Garden plant directory gives the origin of the name ‘Hosta’  It says, “Genus name of Hosta, in honor of Austrian botanist Nicholas Thomas Host (1761-1834), was first established in 1812. The genus was subsequently renamed in 1817 as Funkia in honor of botanist Heinrich Christian Funk under the belief at that time that Hosta was an invalid name. Hosta was finally reinstated as the genus name in 1905 by the International Botanical Congress.”

Today hundreds of cultivars, or varieties of hosta, are available.  Many of them in fact resemble one another.

Though certainly not a native plant, the hosta continues to play a role in American gardens.

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Solidago Transformed from a Weed to an Ornamental

From before colonial times and well into the nineteenth century the English have shown a fondness for American native plants.

One such variety was the weed called Solidago or goldenrod.

The Englishman William Cobbett (1763-1835) in his book The American Gardener once wrote about a border of goldenrod at Hampton Court in London that was thirty feet wide and a half-mile long.  People referred to it as “the most magnificent walk in Europe.”

I found that  reference in Peter Hatch’s new award-winning book on Thomas Jefferson’s garden called A Rich Spot of Earth: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello.

Hatch also mentions the gardener Jeremiah Simple who wrote in the early journal American Farmer, “What we most despise here as more than useless, is cultivated with care in Europe, and our most noxious plants are returned to us as treasures.”

Solidago virgaurea [Courtesy Wikipedia]

Solidago virgaurea [Courtesy Wikipedia]

Nineteenth century seedsmen and nursery owners often complained in their catalogs and other publications that American gardeners did not consider native plants important.

For example, in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan (1826-1901) wrote that American gardeners would not know a rhododendron if they saw one, whereas the English found them ideal in the garden.

More recently in her book Herbs in Bloom garden writer Jo Ann Gardner first saw goldenrod in a garden at the Newfoundland Botanical Garden.  She wrote after that for her “No longer was goldenrod an unwanted field weed, but a desirable ornamental.”

I have solidago in my garden where it just seems to appear in September, often with one of my favorites, the New England aster.  I must admit solidago looks good at that time of the season with its bright yellow color.

What do you think of solidago?

 

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Trade Cards Became Popular in the Late Nineteenth Century

With the rise of chromolithography in advertising in nineteenth century America it was no surprise that the garden industry joined the ranks of those who used such chromos in their business.

The Boston Athenaeum houses a collection of nineteenth century chromos.  Last week I attended a lecture there, given by Catharina Slautterback, the curator of the Athenaeum’s chromo collection.

Catharina first discussed show cards, which sometimes  measured 2 by 3 feet and appeared from the mid nineteenth century, as ads for a company.  Such chromos were framed and hung in public areas to attract business.  In the later part of the century trade cards came on the scene.  Trade cards as ads  measured roughly 3 inches by 5 1/2 inches.

Trade card of 1898

Trade card of 1898

Here [above]  is a chromo trade card from 1898 that the Charlton Nursery in Rochester, New York distributed.

The image is of the rose ‘Crimson Rambler’ which came from England and swept the country, appearing in many seed and nursery catalogs of that period.  The rose was referred to as the ‘grandest rose of the century’.

The ‘Crimson Rambler’ was sold well into the 1930s, when more dependable varieties appeared.

Like every business, the garden industry used chromolithography to promote its product, seeds and plants.  In the process it gave the world such stunning trade cards as this example from the Charlton Nursery.

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Burpee Believed in Advertising

In 1890 W. Atlee Burpee launched a contest that invited his seed catalog readers to come up with the best advertising slogan for his company.

The second place winner proposed “Burpee’s Seeds Grow” which has remained the trademark phrase for Burpee ever since.

Burpee was a firm believer in the need to advertise.

Burpee’s 1899 Seed Catalog

Advertising in American magazines and catalogs changed at the end of the nineteenth century.

No longer was the ad simply information about a product.

Catalogs had always been a form of advertising, but changed because of the mass printing made possible by new presses and  cheaper paper in a consumer-driven society.

Illustrations, often in color as the 1899  Burpee catalog cover shows [above], jumped out at the reader as if  to say “Buy me. You need me.”

Notice  the  sweet peas are as tall as the building that housed Burpee’s business.

At that time in American gardening, sweet peas had become the garden sensation, just as in England.

Burpee called his catalog the “Silent Salesman” because its primary duty was to sell the company’s seeds.

By 1915, the year of his death,  the Burpee Seed Company was sending out over a million catalogs a year.

After his death, the trade journal, Who’s Who in Advertising, included an article about Burpee.

The article said that Burpee  “had become a seed company leader, all the while embracing modern advertising.”

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Boston Ivy Featured in Nineteenth Century Garden Magazine

To add a vertical dimension to the garden, nineteenth century gardeners treasured vines.

In 1884 American landscape architect Elias A. Long wrote in his book Ornamental Gardening for Americans: “As growing wild, the hard-wooded climbers and trailers afford some of the most delightful bits of natural scenery to met be with. Many of these serve valuable purposes for embellishments in ornamental gardening.”

The dilemma. of course, for any gardener, then and today as well, is to choose one plant rather than another. Which vine was a gardener to grow?

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan gave some direction when he included the Boston Ivy in an illustration for his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in 1886 [below].

Long wrote in his book that this vine, “from Japan, possesses great merit as a hardy climber, and particularly for covering brick and stone walls.”

Boston Ivy covers the walls of this house in Gardener's Monthly of 1886

In 1869, the old Veitch Nursery Company, in London, introduced the Boston Ivy. The plant came from Japan, a country that had just opened its doors to the West. It was a time when English botanical gardens and botanical societies supported plant collectors, some sent also by the Veitch Nursery, who traveled to Asia as well as the United States to provide new plants.

As it turns out, Boston Ivy is also the vine I chose to cover a stone wall in my own garden. Below is an image of that wall as it now appears, after several years.

 

Our house is built on a hill, divided into two level plateaus at the front. The house is on the top level.  This stonewall ten feet in height and about forty feet in length holds up the upper level.  Several years ago, my sister-in-law suggested I plant something on that stone wall. Shortly after, I planted a small pot of Boston Ivy from a local nursery.  Today that Ivy covers the wall.

Vines were popular in the nineteenth century for the Victorian garden, and particularly the Boston Ivy.

Even today this vine proves a worthwhile cover for a wall.

 

 

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Nineteenth Century Communication Inventions Encouraged a Media-Driven Garden

The story goes that a few years ago right after Martha Stewart wrote about hydrangeas in her magazine, garden centers around the country couldn’t keep the plant in stock.

Garden fashion according to the media inspired those gardeners who wanted that hydrangea.

The media-generated garden is a product of late nineteenth century America. Seed and nursery catalogs were printed in the hundreds of thousands.  The audience  became a national readership.

Clifford Edward Clark, Jr. author of the book The American Family Home, 1800-1960 wrote : “The inventions of the typewriter, linotype, photoengraving, and the sextuple printing press led to a revolution in communications at the turn of the century.”

More people could receive the catalog and read about new plants.  Garden magazines featured new plants as well.  More books on gardening appeared than ever before.

All made possible by the new media technology emerging in the late nineteenth century.

Gardening would never be the same: seeds, plants, lawn mowers, tools, urns, sprinklers, rollers, statuary – to name just a few of the products  sold to the modern American gardener right before 1900.

A media-generated garden appeared for the first time.  People gardened according to what the media told them was important. And they bought garden products.

Today’s scenario for the gardener continues although with more information than ever. We read books, magazines, newspaper articles, and catalogs. We watch HGTV. We search online for garden information and even garden blogs.  All so that we can learn the latest and the newest in gardening.

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A Book on the Victorian English Garden Reflects Nineteenth Century America

In my quest to learn more about the Victorian garden, I just finished reading a book with that very name, Tom Carter’s The Victorian Garden.

What I liked about it was the connection of  text with sidebars on almost every page.  Carter introduced long passages from garden writers of the day quite regularly.

England’s cultural and scientific life influenced what was happening in horticulture at that time, like the availability of cheaper glass made greenhouses and conservatories essential too for the middle class.

Plant collectors who traveled the world for Botanic Gardens like Kew brought back plants that often found a place in a home garden.  Also England opened up colonial territories at that time. Thus more plants became available to the English gardener.

The upsurge of science encouraged  new hybrids for vegetables.  Carter wrote: “The increased availability of vegetables resulted in part from the breeding and sale of more productive strains with a longer cropping season.”

The increase in the number of garden publications made gardening a more familiar topic.  According to Carter,  Gardener’s Chronicle, edited by John Lindley, proved to be the most influential horticultural journal for mass circulation, appealing to an increasingly affluent middle class.

Annual flowers in the landscape took off in the second half of the century, especially in the form of carpet bedding on the lawn.

The Victorian period began in the late 1830s, lasting til the end of the century, and of course had its expression in the United States. American gardening took on a Victorian look with the lawn, carpet beds, urns, vines climbing up the porch, rock gardens, and flowering shrubs.

In reading Carter’s book I thought of the many parallels  happening here in the United States at that time.

The lawn, of course, was an essential ingredient of the English garden, and also for American gardening.  Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly of 1883: “Much as the lawn plays a part in English gardening, it is of more account with us.”

We saw ourselves more Victorian than the Victorians.

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Nineteenth Century California Nursery Appealed to Plant Collectors

Garden historian Thomas A.Brown published a wonderful collection of California nurseries from the nineteenth century .

The seed and nusery business began on the West Coast right after  California joined  the United States in 1850 .

To meet the increase in population that now wanted a garden, the San Jose Nursery published the first nursery catalog in 1853.

I spent a year at the Smithsonian, researching my book Seduction of the English Garden, and while there, came across a bibliography of the seed and nursery industry, which is now online [image below].  Though there were few women in the business. the collection includes California nuserywoman  Theodosia B. Shepherd.

The following is from the SI Bibliography on Shepherd: “Mrs. Shepherd was born in Keosauqua, Iowa.  She married W. E. Shepherd of Oskaloosa, Iowa, on September 9, 1866.  They had four children, a son and three daughters.  The family moved to California for Mrs. Shepherd’s health in 1873.  For financial reasons, she began to sell objects she had collected in the California woods, including sea mosses, shells, birds, etc.  In 1881, she sent a package of curiosities to the seedsman Peter Henderson.  He encouraged her to start growing some seeds, because he saw California as a great seed and bulb growing area.  In 1884 Mrs. Shepherd began her career as a professional seed and bulb grower.  In 1892, she had eight acres under cultivation.  Her chief customers were Eastern seedsmen.  Some of her specialties were begonias, Smilax, Calla lilies, Cobaea scandans, Mexican orchids, and cacti.  In 1902, she incorporated her business.  She died on September 6, 1906 at age sixty one.”

She consulted with a famous East coast seedsman Peter Henderson.

In her catalog of 1885 Theodosia wrote: “To all flower lovers who may receive this catalogue I send greeting, with the hope that they may find in its pages many things they desire to add to their collections.

I have greatly increased my stock of Cacti and Rare Succulent Plants.”

Notice she referred to gardeners  as collectors.  Like the English had done for decades, nineteenth century American gardeners too collected plants.  The newer, the better.

Not much has changed today.  When I visit a garden, new plants often take center stage as I walk around the garden.

Though California developed an impressive seed and plant industry in the nineteenth century. the model for the business was based on what owners of seed companies and nurseries did on the  East coast. The catalog became the salesman. The hunt for newer plants went on in every company whether located on the Atlantic or the Pacific.

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Nineteenth Century American Garden Catalogs Offered Native Plants

The argument that it is essential to use native plants in the garden has a long history in this country.

In the nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in the July 1875 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly: “It has been the habit to overlook our beautiful native plants, until some European florist told us they were beautiful, when we would send to Europe for seeds of our own productions.  This is being changed.  Our own seedsmen get them for us direct from their native places.  Vick’s catalogue offers many rare California beauties for the first time.”

Meehan recognized Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick’s offerings in his catalog as a step toward making native plants available to the American gardener.

It would not be the last time we would hear the need to grow our native plants.

Certainly early on Philadelphia naturalist John Bartram (1699-1777) saw native plants as essential for the American garden because of their ease of care and beauty, but especially because they were available.

Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. Schwartz have written a new book called The Midwestern Native Garden that repeats the argument: grow native plants.

Why is it people keep singing the same song?

Maybe we need to hear it over and over again so that it becomes familiar, a message that will motivate us in our gardens.

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