Vick’s Nineteenth Century Dahlia Field

Last weekend  I drove to North Kingston, Rhode Island for a dahlia show, sponsored by the Rhode Island Dahlia Society. This is an annual late summer event that I thoroughly enjoy.

Here is one of the flowers I saw that afternoon. This dahlia’s called ‘Merluza’. [below]

Dahlia ‘Merluza’ at Rhode Island Dahlia Society’s Dahlia Show, held last weekend

The beautiful show of dahlia blooms there reminded me of nineteenth century seed company owner James Vick’s love for dahlias.

In providing seeds for his customers, spread around the country, Vick cultivated acres of various flowers and vegetables, including dahlias.

You would have found his field of dahlias about five miles north of the Rochester city limits.  [below]

Vick’s Seed House and Mill at his trial farm, located north of Rochester, New York. History of Monroe County, New York, 1877

Once the editor of the Illustrated Christian Weekly visited Vick’s dahlia field and wrote an article about his visit.

The editor’s article appeared in Vick’s Illustrated Monthly  of September 1879.

He wrote, “Mr. James Vick, of Rochester, N. Y., was the pioneer in the systematic growing of flower seeds, and without doubt the most extensive grower in America.”

That was quite the praise for Mr. Vick at a time when the seed and nursery business was growing around the country.

Then the editor raved about the blooms of the many dahlias he saw in the rows devoted to this flower at Vick’s seed farm.

He said, “Perhaps the largest field devoted entirely to one kind of flowers, at the time of our visit, was one filled with Dahlias, and containing six or more acres. It was supposed to include every variety known of real merit, and the display was gorgeous.”

What a sight that must have been – to see six acres of nothing but dahlias.

The Rhode Island Dahlia Society’s Show expressed that variety in what growers had on display. I was especially impressed with the prize winners.

In a room off the central area you could see dahlia flower arrangements.

This is the where you could experience the creativity demanded in flower arranging. The top winner for the category called the ‘Dining Room’  deserved the prize. [below]

Notice the brilliance of the dahlias in this table design.

First place in the category ‘Dining Room’ arrangement.

Vick grew many dahlias. As the editor stated in his letter, Vick cultivated almost every variety known at that time.

Today there are thousands of dahlia varieties available on the market. The Rhode Island Dahlia Society’s show last week offered just a few of them.  Many however were new to me.

I am sure that Mr. Vick himself would have been proud to attend the Rhode Island event.

 

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Annuals Make Summer’s End Special

Annuals make summer’s end special.

Annuals become an important part of the garden at the end of the summer.

When so many perennials have gone by, annuals continue to supply color and structure to the garden.

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) wrote about annuals and their appeal even to the end of summer.

In his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1879 Vick wrote,  “The seeds of Annuals are sown in the spring, either in nicely prepared beds in the garden, or in boxes in the house, by those who have no better or more costly arrangements; the plants arrive at maturity in the summer, bud, blossom, ripen their seeds and die in the autumn, having performed their entire mission.”

“To the Annuals, we are indebted mainly for our brightest and best flowers in the late summer and autumn months.”

Right now you will find annuals shining in all their glory in Prescott Park in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. [below]

Prescott Park garden, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Perennials form part of this garden at Prescott Park, but it is the continued blooming of annuals that makes this scene at the end of the summer so special.

Vick taught his readers to love flowers, including annuals.

In a piece on annuals in his magazine Vick wrote, “While writing this article we received a communication from the wife of one of the leading editors of America, describing her success with Annuals, and their wonderful beauty during the autumn months.”

Then Vick quotes her.

She said, “I never had much success with Annuals until I became acquainted with your Guide, and learned about good seed and how to grow them, and now I never fail. My garden is beautiful all the fall with lovely brilliant flowers.”

She mentions some Victorian favorites, still popular today. Her list includes pansies, petunia, phlox, amaranth,and nasturtium.

The color in her garden at the end of summer she attributed to Vick’s guidance.

She promised Vick, “I intend to do wonders this year, and exhibit my flowers at our State Fair, and if I take a prize I will let you know.”

As in Vick’s day, annuals continue even to the end of summer to provide a joyous color just like you can see right now at Prescott Park.

 

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Victorians Reignited Tulip Interest

Victorians reignited tulip interest.

Tulips have been popular flowers for the gardens of Europe and America since the seventeenth century.

After tulip mania, when the cost of a single tulip might equal the price of a house, tulips became common and soon gardeners lost interest.

In the late Victorian period once again tulips took off as important garden plants.

Garden historian Ruthanne C. Rogers’ article “The Man who loved Tulips ” appeared in the Journal of the New England Garden History Society. She wrote, “Although interest in tulips waned in the early nineteenth century, the Victorian period brought about a revival in this country.”

The seed companies and nurseries of the late nineteenth century fed that new interest though articles and illustrations in their catalogs. Of course such garden businesses also provided the latest tulip bulbs.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in 1879, “Nothing in the floral world can equal the dazzling brilliance and gorgeousness of a bed of good Tulips.”

Vick often included illustrations in his catalog. Tulips surround the metal bird bath in this garden scene from one of his catalogs. [below]

Bulbs in the Garden, Vick’s Floral Guide,1880

 

An illustration from another Vick catalog showed a whole bed of tulips.

The Bulb Garden. Vick’s Floral Guide, 1874

 

Vick often invited visitors to see the flowers, including tulips, that he had planted at his own home in Rochester. [below]

Vick’s Rochester home on the south side of East Avenue. History of Monroe County, New York. 1877

In his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly Vick included this colorful chromolithograph of several popular tulips.

 

Tulips, Vick’s Illustrated Monthly 1879

 

Merchant Alexander Hamilton Ladd (1815-1900), a passionate gardener in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, planted sixty thousand tulips every year.  In his garden journal he recorded both the work and the enjoyment from such a massive planting.

He certainly embodied the Victorian love of tulips.

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Exotic Vine Once Considered Ornamental, Now Invasive

Exotic Vine Once Considered Ornamental, Now Invasive

Recently I noticed what appeared to be an invasive vine in my garden.

The vine Celastrus orbiculatus, or Oriental bittersweet, had climbed up a lovely white birch tree, practically strangling it. [below]

 Oriental bittersweet [ New England Wild Flower Society]

I cut and pulled as much of the vine off the tree as I could. I was not able to reach the top of the tree, but I can now see the leaves, cut from their stem, drying up.

Oriental bittersweet came to the US in 1886 from Japan as an ornamental vine for the home landscape. That year it was first offered in the New York Kissena Nurseries catalog.

According to Peter del Tredici’s 2014 article “Untangling the twisted tale of oriental bittersweet” in Arnoldia magazine it was the Arnold Arboretum in Boston that popularised this vine for American gardens.

Today it is considered invasive here in the Northeast.

In the New Hampshire Landscape Association Newsletter horticulturist Michael Bald calls it a “most-alarming terrestrial plant species” in his article “Three Invasive Plant Species to Really Watch Out For.”

Climbers were coveted in the late nineteenth century Victorian garden.

Rochester, New York seed coompany owner James Vick (1818-1882) praised such vines in his catalog of 1874. He wrote, “The climbers furnish us with nature’s drapery, and nothing produced by art can equal their elegant grace. As the Lilies surpass in beauty all that wealth or power can procure, or man produce, so these tender Climbers surpass all the producing of the decorator’s skill.”

Vick included the native bittersweet, Celastrus scandens, in the section of his 1889 catalog called ‘Climbers.’

By 1893 imported bittersweet Celastrus orbiculatus was found in many gardens in the United States, according to del Tredici.

Michael Dirr writes in his useful reference book for gardeners Manual of Woody Landscape Plants that today Celastrus scandens has hybridized with C. orbiculatus and so can also be considered an invasive vine.

It may seem hard to imagine that what was once considered a desirable ornamental plant is anything but that for today’s garden.

Celastrus orbiculatus is only one among many exotics that have now become invasive.

Can you name others?

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Strawflower Became Victorian Favorite

Strawflower became Victorian favorite

Lately I have devoted some time to consider what annuals I want to plant whether in containers or beds.

For that research I visited a local big box store.

In the large greenhouse area there I found the Licorice plant or Helichrysum petiolare, a low silvery green trailing plant with heart-shaped leaves. It is a native of South Africa.  You grow it more for its leaves than its flower.

Helichrysum is a genus that contains five hundred species of annuals, perennials, and shrubs.

What surprised me was that in the genus you once found the old-fashioned annual called strawflower, Helichrysum bracteatum. Today the strawflower however is listed as Xerochrysum bracteatum, formerly Bracteantha bracteata. [below]

Strawflowers [Courtesy of Selkie Island]

The strawflower was a favorite in Victorian times.

Ippolito Pizzetti and Henry Cocker write in their wonderfully helpful two-volume garden book Flowers: A Guide for Your Garden, “They are the classic Victorian everlasting flowers, used frequently during that period to make wreaths for cemeteries – an arrangement of the dried flowers often protected under glass. They were also used for decoration inside during the winter.”

A comment from the authors about the flower itself caught my eye. They write that the strawflower was an annual “whose flowers have the dubious distinction of being equally attractive dead or alive.”

James Vick (1818-1882) who owned a sizable seed company in Rochester, New York in the late nineteenth century included in his catalog of 1880 a section called “Everlastings.”

He said “The Everlastings, or Eternal Flowers, as they are sometimes called, have of late attracted a good deal of attention in all parts of the world.

“They  retain both form and color for years, and make excellent bouquets, wreaths, and every other desirable winter ornaments, and there is no prettier work.”

In the section he offered Helichrysum in colors of white, yellow, and red “of very many brownish shades.” Then he concluded it was “one of the best Everlastings.”

Vick was both echoing the importance of this flower and at the same creating it as a necessary part of every truly Victorian garden.

 

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Late Nineteenth Century Increased Marketing Images

Late nineteenth century increased marketing images.

Today we think nothing of the images for products and services that come before our eyes daily.

Most of the time they appear uninvited as advertising or emails selling something.

To think of a time when illustrations for products and services first began to appear is not an easy thing to imagine, but they had to start some time.

In the late nineteenth century newer technologies in printing appeared along with a decrease in the price of paper.

In that kind of situation the country also witnessed an increase in colored marketing illustrations.

Such images sold everything from needles to buggies.

Thomas Schelereth writes in his book Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life 1876-1915, “In 1884 Charles Congdon, writing in the North American Review, called his age one of ‘over-illustrations,’ so filled was it with visual stimuli.”

By then chromolithographs appeared in advertising. The art form provided a lithograph “printed in colors using two or more lithograph printing stones” as Schelereth describes the process.

At the same time dahlias were experiencing an upsurge of interest among gardeners, as Ms. Lippencourt recognized in her seed company catalog in 1902. She said, “Within the past two years interest has been revived in these beautiful flowers. We offer a small selection of the very best out of a collection of 600 sorts, embracing all sorts in commerce.”

Perhaps the interest in dahlias was revived because of the stunning illustrations of dahlias that appeared on the covers of the catalog that came from seed companies and nurseries of that time.

Here is the cover on the 1894 catalog from the Maule Seed Company in Philadelphia. The pink and white of these dahlias said it all. [below]. Product illustrations in color could sell anything.

 

Here are two other catalog covers of that same time period, another from Maule and the other from Dreer who also sold dahlias with stunning illustrations. [below]

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Flower Shows Share Long Tradition

Flower Shows share long tradition

Recently I attended the Boston Flower and Garden Show.

Though it was a cold day and remnants of a recent storm of wind, rain, and snow lingered on, it was a wonderful morning.

Such shows teach gardeners about new plants and provide ideas for this summer’s garden.

I had the opportunity to see many excellent landscape designs spread throughout Boston’s World Trade Center where the show took place.

The awarding winning exhibit by Miskovsky Landscape deserved the acclaim it received. It proved the top winner with seven awards, including Best of Show. [below]

The award-winning Miskovsky exhibit at the recent Boston Flower and Garden Show

Flower Shows have been an important part of American gardening from at least the early nineteenth century.

Philadelphia seed company owner Robert Buist introduced dahlias at the Pennsvylvania Horticultural Society flower show in the mid 1830s.

Of course the Massachusetts Horticultural Society sponsored its own flower shows in what was then called Horticultural Hall on Massachusetts Avenue, right across from Symphony Hall.

Though Mass Hort has now relocated to the suburbs. the words over the building’s entry “Horticultural Hall” make it clear that this red brick structure was once home to fabulous flower shows.

The English of course have a long tradition of such shows with the annual Chelsea Flower Show in May now the grand dame of them all.

Rochester seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) once received a letter from a reader who was traveling in England,

Vick included the letter in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in November 1878.

His reader wrote, “I went to a Flower Show the other week, at a place called Quarndon, a beautiful little village, situated on a hill, overlooking a magnificent country. The show was held in a tent in a field, and was largely attended.

“The center tables were filled with plants, loaned by several ‘Lords’ and ‘Squires,’ and were of a high order – I mean the plants.

“The side tables held the articles for competition. Dracaenas. Caladiums, and some luxurious tropical plants, were interspersed with Coleus, Ferns of all descriptions, Fuchsias, Abutilons, Balsams, Cockscombs, etc.”

He described several of these plants in great detail.

It was obvious that this flower show gave him a great deal of pleasure. He simply wanted to share that with Mr. Vick.

That’s another reason we go to a Flower Show.  It should provide a bit of pleasure for a gardener.

That only seems right especially because spring has arrived.

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Nineteenth Century Gardeners Needed Seed Companies

Nineteenth century gardeners needed seed companies.

The nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries played an important role in what gardeners planted.

Many new plants were coming into Europe and America from plant collectors traveling the world in search of new garden plants. Sometimes a nursery would sponsor such a trip.

The seed companies made available the seeds from these new plants.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) offered dozens of flower seeds in the various Departments of his catalog. [below]

Thus he made the newest plants available to Victorian America.

1873 list of seeds for sale in Vick’s catalog

Edward Hyams writes in his book English Cottage Gardens, “Plant collectors might have braved the Himalayan and Andean snows in vain, and the work of the plant breeder all ars gratis Artis had it not been for the coincident growth of the nursery trade to propagate and distribute the new garden plants.”

Thus Vick could display this illustration of a tranquil landscape filled with garden annuals from his collection of seeds in the Department he called ‘Annuals.’

In this scene from Vick’s  catalog of 1874 the parents stood on a summer deck to admire their landscape and take in the joy it brought their children, playing down below on the lawn. [below]

Vick Floral Guide 1874

The garden industry, to this very day, is instrumental in spreading the knowledge of new plants to the home gardener.

Hyams writes, “During the eighteenth century about 500 new plant species were introduced into English gardens; in the next century the newcomers were counted in the thousands.”

 

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Victorians Encouraged Winter Houseplants

Victorians encouraged winter houseplants.

It is the dead of winter and the house interior seems to provide nothing but dry air.

For this time of year the Victorians encouraged indoor plants.

Harriet Beecher Stowe in her book cowritten with her sister Catherine Esther Beecher The American Woman’s Home in 1869 recommended growing house plants to help bring humidity to the dry winter air in the house.

This black and white illustration appeared in the book, showing the detail of window and plants. [below]

From The American Woman’s Home by Catherine Esther Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe

The nineteenth century garden industry provided decorative flower pots, hanging baskets and even miniature greenhouses, according to Thomas Schlereth’s Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915.

In 1873 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick wrote in his catalog, “A bay window connected with a warm room, especially if facing South or East, makes an excellent place for keeping plants in winter.

“Few plants can endure the high temperature and dry atmosphere of most of our living rooms. The temperature should not be allowed to go above seventy in the day time, and not above forty-five in the night.”

Vick frequently shared instructions for taking care of the plants.

He said, “The main thing in keeping house plants in health is to secure an even temperature, a moist atmosphere, and freedom from dust. Sprinkle the leaves occasionally, and when water is needed, use it freely.”

Besides offering some leverage against indoor dry conditions, plants are also fun to see. It is a bit of the garden indoors.

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1876 Centennial Exhibition Featured Conservatories

The 1876 Centennial Exhibition featured conservatories.

The Victorian gardener in the late nineteenth century sought exotic plants that displayed color and form whether in the garden or in the house.

The 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia showcased the love of such plants, especially in the windows of the house and in the glass houses or conservatories that many homes could then afford.

Schlereth Victorian AmericaThomas J. Schlereth writes in his book Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life 1876-1915, “The horticultural hall [at the Exhibition in Philadelphia] represented the Victorian love of exotic gardens in glass conservatories.”

The Victorian conservatory became an extension of the house.

Such greenhouses served an important role in the life and work of the nineteenth century gardener.

When glass became less expensive in the late 1830s, the middle class plant lover could afford to have such a conservatory or greenhouse.

In 1892 the Parker and Wood Seed Company in Boston issued a seed catalog with a black and white drawing of an upper middle class house. Two men and two women were playing badminton on the front lawn. (below)

You also can see  a large conservatory attached to the house at the left. The conservatory provided a setting for tropical plants that the owner could cultivate and perhaps during the warm months position outdoors so the plant could enjoy the season’s warmth and rain.

A potted plant like a palm or lemon tree also added an exotic touch to the garden.

Conservatory as part of the house in this 1892 Parker and Wood Seed Catalog

Attached conservatory in Parker and Wood Seed Catalog of 1892 [Mass Hort]

The Victorian conservatory, attached to the house, appeared both in England and America, assuring hours of gardening pleasure for its owner.

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