Verbena Essential Victorian Flower

Verbena essential Victorian flower.

What is good about annuals is that they continue to bloom until the Fall, or even til the first frost.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) defined them as “those plants that live but one season.”

In the nineteenth century when colorful flowers became an essential in every garden, the verbena rose to become an important addition to the garden. Vick called it “one of the most showy and valuable plants of the garden.”

English horticulturist David Stuart wrote in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens, “The verbena was acknowledged, even by contemporaries, as central to the whole bedding movement.”

Bedding meant a design on the lawn, often a diamond, a circle, or a half-moon. Flowers and plants with colorful leaves made up the design. Weekly trimming and weeding followed for the season.

Vick, in an article called “Bedding Plants” wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in November, 1881: “The term, bedding plants, has long been in use, and is applied to all those tender plants that, preserved through the winter under glass, are there propagated and raised, and finally planted in beds in the spring to serve for the decoration of the garden for one season. Such plants are Geraniums, Heliotropes, Verbenas, Lantanas, and a multitude of other flowering plants.”

Today verbenas continue to be an important summer flower for the garden.

The plant grower Proven Winners offers a hybrid variety of verbena called dark blue superbena. [below]

Proven Winners dark blue superbena variety of verbena.

Though today we may not include carpet bedding in the landscape because of its high maintenance, in Victorian times bedding always depended on a well-trimmed lawn.

Vick offered a bit of caution to his readers about the lawn. He wrote,”This style of gardening [bedding] is admissible only with grounds kept in elegant condition; otherwise it would be like jewels in a swine’s snout.”

Even though we do not cultivate carpet bedding, we can still enjoy the Victorian summer flower called the verbena.

 

Lawn Mower Became Essential Nineteenth Century Garden Tool

Lawn mower became essential nineteenth century garden tool.

The lawn continues to be important to many homeowners.

The ‘modern’ design of the English garden, as it was called in the early eighteenth century, included a lawn.

The house was to appear as if  “in a sea of green.”

The gardeners during this period used a scythe to cut the grass.  Eventually the lawn mower appeared on the market, first in England, then by 1850 in America.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) sold lawn mowers in his seed catalog.

Vick wrote in his company catalog of 1875, “Lawn mowers are now a necessity. As a general rule, we may say there can be no good lawn without this useful machine. Not one in ten thousand can use a scythe with sufficient skill to secure a good lawn.”

Buckeye Lawnmower ad 

Vick recommended a lawn mower called the “Charter Oak”. He said, “Its workmanship, and the principles upon which it is constructed, we are disposed to think it is one of the best, if not the best Lawn Mower ever introduced.”

In an ad the manufacturer wrote these words about the ‘Charter Oak’ mower, “The machine is light and easily operated, beautifully and mechanically made and finished, leaving no essential point overlooked; has a three blade solid revolving cutter, preventing any appearance of ribbing on the finest English grass lawn.”

By the end of the nineteenth century the Buckeye lawn mower appeared on the market. [left]

The illustration seems to say “It is so easy to use, even a child could mow the lawn.”

Whatever a homeowner used was not as important as the goal of keeping the lawn in the home landscape trimmed.

Thus the American home owner could boast of a lawn in the long tradition of the English garden.

Conflicting Eighteenth Century Lawn Advice

Conflicting eighteenth century lawn advice.

It is spring and that mean’s it’s time to look at your grass and figure out what level of maintenance it needs after the winter.

The lawn played an essential role in the landscape design of mid eighteenth century English landscape gardener Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783).

By the end of the century another landscape gardener, Humphry Repton (1752-1818), looked at the lawn a bit differently.

The eighteenth century witnessed conflicting advice on the spot where the lawn begins in the landscape.

In his book The English Garden Edward Hyams, writes, “It was Brown’s rules to bring the lawns or at all events grass which might be rather meadow than lawn, right up to the house itself so that the house stood in a sea of grass and the first incidents in the landscape were at some distance.”

Then he writes about Repton’s idea of the lawn. Hyams says, “Instead of bringing the grass up to the house, Repton designed terraces, often with balustrades of stone piers or with urns carrying flowers, to link the house to the garden or park.”

Though both encouraged the lawn, it seemed more an issue of how close the lawn came to the house.

As happens in style and fashion, the Repton view continued into the nineteenth century and terraces became an integral part of the house architecture.

The lawn would come right up to the balustrades.

By the end of the nineteenth century seed company owners usually encouraged lawns. It was not a question of how close to the house, just as long as there was a lawn.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick wrote in his seed catalog of 1872, “The space in front of the house, and generally the sides exposed to view from the street, should be in grass. No arrangement of beds, or borders of box, or anything else, will look so neat and tasteful as a well kept piece of grass.”

The lawn by then had become an integral part of residential landscape design, which across America followed the English garden tradition.

In his 1873 company catalog Vick wrote, “A place can never look well unless the lawn and walks are in perfect order.”

By that time the differing views of the lawn from the eighteenth century were long forgotten.

Top Ten Cottage Garden Flowers Include Hollyhock

Top ten cottage garden flowers include hollyhock.

Recently the magazine The English Garden posted online an article entitled “Top Ten Flowers for a Cottage Garden.”

Since I am interested in cottage gardens, I had to have a look at the article.

Of  the group of flowers mentioned in the article I discovered that I grow about half of them in my garden.

The list of ten includes the hollyhock. [below]

Hollyhock [Courtesy of The English Garden article]

I am not surprised at that choice since it is a popular flower, showy, and easy to grow.

Easy for everybody that is but me.

I have tried to grow it many times, but without success. It could be that I have too much shade in my garden.

The hollyhock has a long history, and is not native to Europe or America. 

The Latin name for the plant is Alcea rosea, but sometimes the name Althaea rosea may appear.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) preferred Althaea.

Vick wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878, “The true name of the Hollyhock is Althaea Rosea, and it is supposed to be a native of China, from which country it was introduced into Europe three hundred years ago [1578]. In regard to its origin, however, there seems to be some doubt, some authors claiming Syria as its native land, which an old work on Gardening, in our possession, published a hundred and fifty years since, calls it the Egyptian Hollyhock.”

Horticulturist Noel Kingsbury connects this flower to the cottage garden. In his new book Garden Flora: The Nature and Cultural History of the Plants in Your Garden he writes, “”These are short-lived non-clonal pioneer plants, as can be appreciated by the alacrity with which the cottage garden hollyhock grows in paving.”

He too recognizes the hollyhock’s ideal fit for a cottage garden.

He writes, “By the 18th century the hollyhock had become a cottage garden plant across Europe.”

 

 

National Garden Bureau Honors Pansy

National Garden Bureau honors pansy.

Who doesn’t like the pansy?

The National Garden Bureau  loves it so much that it just declared 2017 the Year of the Pansy.

This tiny plant has a long history in our gardens. It became popular in the Victorian era of the nineteenth century.

Until then most people considered it a weed.

Today pansies are a hybrid plant cultivated from wildflowers in Europe and western Asia. Much of the collection and cultivation of pansies can be attributed to horticulturists in the UK and Europe more than two hundred years ago.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) often wrote about the pansy, and also received letters about this flower from his customers.

He wrote, “The Pansy is a popular flower with both florists and amateurs, giving abundance of bloom until after severe frosts, enduring our hard winters with safety, and greeting us in the earliest spring with a profusion of bright blossoms.”

It was the smiley face on this plant that Vick and his customers loved.

Pansy ‘Delta Premium Marina’ [Thanks to the National Garden Bureau]

Garden pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) are a mixture of several species, including Viola tricolor. Oftentimes the names “pansy”, “viola”, and “violet” are interchangeable.

The American Violet Society classifies modern pansies as having large-flowered blooms with two slightly overlapping upper petals, two side petals, and a single bottom petal, with a slight beard in its center.

Pansies are considered annual bedding plants, used for garden decoration during cooler planting seasons.

According to the NGB, “Pansies come in a rainbow of colors: from crisp white to almost black, and most all colors in between. They are also a great addition to your spring or fall vegetable garden as they are edible and pair well with lettuces. They can also be candied and used to decorate sweets or other dishes.”

Vick wrote in 1874, “The Pansies make such a beautiful bed, and are so interesting as flowers that we are anxious all should succeed with them.”

Then he wrote about the flower’s likeness to a human face. He said, “No flower is so companionable and life-like. It requires no very great stretch of the imagination to cause one to believe that they see and move, and acknowledge your admiration in a very pretty knowing way.”

Did he mean that these plants know you love them?

 

 

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Victorian Gardeners Treasured Castor Oil Plant

Victorian gardeners treasured castor oil plant.

The ricinus, or castor oil plant, can offer both a showy color and tall structure for the garden.

It was a popular Victorian plant for both the outdoor vase and garden beds.

Tom Carter writes in his book The Victorian Garden “[William] Robinson lists as indispensable to the subtropical enthusiast ricinus (castor-oil plant), canna, polymnia, colocasia, uhdea, wigandia, ferdinanda, yucca, draceana, and palms.”

In his catalogs and garden magazine Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) often recommended ricinus.

Vick wrote in his magazine in 1878, “This class of plants [sub-tropical] is becoming very popular,

Tall ricinus fills the center of this flowerbed. [Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, 1878]

and are used in what is known as sub-tropical gardening, that is, gardens furnished with plants of a tropical, or sub-tropical, origin, such as Century Plant, Agaves, Cannas, Caladiums, Ricinus, Yucca, Wigandia, Tritoma, Pampas Grass, etc.”

Vick kept up with the latest fashion and trends in gardening for his customers. He wanted them to know and appreciate flowers from various parts of the world like the exotic sub-tropicals.

One customer wrote to Vick in 1868 about her ricinus seeds. She said, “Many thanks for the fine Ricinus seed I got from you last Spring. I have two of the finest specimens of the giant species, ‘Giganteus’, one sixteen feet four inches high, and one thirteen feet.”

Ricinus fit the Victorian flair for bold and beautiful in the garden. It can grow several feet high with leaves that can measure three feet or more.

You can still find ricinus at garden centers in the spring and early summer.

Who knows? Maybe this old-fashioned Victorian annual might fit the bill for that center spot in a container or that flower bed where you need just that look.

 

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Nineteenth Century Garden Writers Encouraged Vegetables

Nineteenth century garden writers encouraged vegetables.

Garden writers influence consumers.

Readers look to such sources to learn what to plant, what tools to buy, and what’s popular garden fashion.

The garden world enjoys it own share of garden media celebrities on whose every word eager fans depend.

So it is no surprise that in the nineteenth century historians note that at one point garden writers focused on growing vegetables rather than cultivating a flower garden.

Perhaps the emphasis on vegetable growing may have been related to the simple need to survive.  Vegetable growing and farming consumed the early decades of the country. Once we had food on the table, we could worry about a flower garden.

In his book The Victorian Garden Tom Carter writes, “Until the middle of the century gardening writers dismissed flowers in favour of useful vegetable products.”

In the 1860s and 1870s seed company owners like Rochester, New York’s James Vick still featured growing vegetables.

Here in an illustration from Vick’s catalog. Vegetables almost surround the house. [below]

Vick wrote much about flowers and spreading the love of floriculture around the country.

One customer wrote to Vick, “No other florist has done so much to create a love of flowers.”

In 1874 he wrote in his seed catalog that gardeners could have almost as much fun in growing vegetables as in cultivating flowers.

In the catalog Vick wrote, “There is almost as much pleasure in growing a choice vegetable well, in bringing it to the highest possible state of perfection, as there is in producing a beautiful flower.”

Then Vick mentioned the lowly cauliflower, pictured in the left of the illustration. [above]

He wrote, “Indeed, some think with Dr. Johnson, that a Cauliflower is the handsomest flower that grows.”

Vick’s advice became important to his customers, so I am sure they followed his guidance even in growing vegetables.

 

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Gardeners Can’t Control Nature

Gardeners Can’t Control Nature.

Plants not only provide food.  They can also become a source of pleasure when used in the landscape.

We even refer to landscape as an art form in which plants provide an important element of the design.

Gardeners however cannot control plants in the landscape.  Nature has its own ways.

Recently Sheera Stern, who gardens in Metuchen, New Jersey, wrote a guest post called “On the Industrialization of Gardening” on the blog called Garden Rant, one of my favorite blog sites.

She writes, “As fall segues into winter, we are all relieved that the whine of the gas-powered leaf-blower has finally ceased.”  Stern cannot understand the attempt of the homeowner to remove every single leave that obstructs the clean surface of the lawn.

She makes the case that trying to remove them with the newest machinery, or manicuring every shrub to perfection, seems beyond the demands of enjoying a landscape.

It seems like our attempt to control nature.

That is nothing new.

We have been involved in trying to control nature since the first garden. We use nature for our own purposes.

Richard Bushman in his book The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities writes, “Nature had been smoothed and decorated as assiduously as walls and paneling inside the house.”

Then he says, “Besides refining the environment for polite company, the plantings functioned just as pictures, ceramics, or books did – that is, as subjects of conversation”

So we use nature – in the form of plants in the landscape – for a mixture of purposes that reflect social needs and social status.

One of the strongest examples of attempting to control nature has to be the use of plants in a design in topiary like the one here. [below]

Topiary image

The image clearly illustrates the careful choice and maintenance of plants to create this bridge effect over water.  It clearly shows how we can, in certain circumstances, use plants, as a form of nature, for the sake of creating a beautiful scene.

The  nineteenth century garden industry knew that to sell seeds and plants a seed company or nursery had to promise some benefit to gardening.

In 1884 the Vick Seed Company from Rochester, New York wrote in its garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “What we do in the gardening way is done for the appearance, the respectability of the thing, done for the same reason that we have a coat of paint put on the house, or renew the wall-hangings.”

That view of nature continues.

We use landscape for all kinds of reasons, including for personal and social needs, just like anything else in our daily lives.

Stern concludes her post with these words, “As we move ever farther away from our agrarian roots, not only do we know less as a culture about how the natural world works, but we also have less curiosity.”

 

 

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American Seedsman Encouraged Poinsettias

American Seedsman Encouraged Poinsettias

One of my favorite plant stories is how the poinsettia became a popular Christmas flower here in America.

In the nineteenth century it was common for garden magazines or journals to include articles from other garden publications, mostly English.  The source of the orignal story would often appear at the end of the article.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan (1826-1901) included an article about the poinsettia in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in May of 1876 which he took from the English weekly journal called Gardeners’ Chronicle.

The article, simply entitled Poinsettia’ said, “Passing by these old friends, not without a word of hearty welcome be it well understood, we come to another plant which has been of late years an almost indispensable adjunct of Christmas decorations, be they of church or hall–the brilliant Poinsettia pulcherrima, the bright scarlet bracts of which give the head of blossoms a flower-like appearance, and serve admirably to lighten up the somewhat somber masses of evergreen.”

Meehan continued with these words: “Its name commemorates a French traveler, M. Poinsett, by whom the plant was introduced to cultivation.

“He brought specimens to Charleston from Mexico in 1828, whence they were taken to Philadelphia; and specimens sent from the latter place to Edinburgh [Scotland] flowered in 1835, since which date it has become increasingly popular and plentiful in our stores.”

Poinsett had sent the plant to his friend Philadelphia seedsman Robert Buist (1805-1880). Buist in turn mailed a specimen of the plant to his horticulturst friend in Scotland.  Soon after that the poinsettia, native to Mexico, became available to the public.

Today during this season you can see how poinsettias still fill the Grand Hall at The Breakers mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. [below]

Poinsettias in the Grand Hall at The Breakers in Newport, RI. [courtesy]

American gardeners, just like the English, came to treasure the plant as an indispensable part of the Christmas holiday.

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Victorian Garden Fashion Reappears

Victorian garden fashion reappears.

Gardening has always been a mix of fashion and style.

A recent article in The English Garden called “Gardening features: the bedding display”  demonstrates renewed interest in the bedding out fashion, popular in the nineteenth century.

The magazine traces the history of this Victorian garden practice.

The article says, “Seed merchants sold special bedding plant seeds, which could be sent direct to gardeners using the newly available postal and railway network. By the 1880s, this ‘bedding boom’ had reached even the small suburban garden, with loud displays in island beds proudly placed right in the middle of lawns. These beds came in a variety of forms, all of which – bar the circle – were equally ridiculous. Who in their right mind would choose a star, crescent, heart, butterfly or ‘tadpole’ as a shape for a bed?”

The answer for that period was that many gardeners did, because it was the garden fashion of the day.

The article includes this fabulous photo as well. [below]  The scene looks like something out of the nineteenth century garden catalogs.

Some gardens, such as Lyme Park in Cheshire, are reintroducing or reinterpreting old bedding schemes. Credit: NPTL/Stephen Robson

Some gardens, such as Lyme Park in Cheshire, are reintroducing or reinterpreting old bedding schemes. Credit: NPTL/Stephen Robson. [Courtesy of The English Garden magazine]

When the author raises the question about who would do it, all I could think of is how often this idea appeared in the nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs.

Peter Henderson, for example, the seed merchant from New York not only encouraged this practice but included an illustration of it on his catalog cover several times.

What is garden fashion at one time may seem strange at a later date.

That is what is happening here.

The idea of bedding out demands not only a lot of plants, but also a great amount of time in maintaining such a bed on the lawn.

I can see why people do not want to garden this way today.

When you see it, however, the first emotion is how beautiful it is, but then you think of the many hours it took to create this colorful design on the lawn.

At the high point of this garden fashion in the nineteenth century American landscape designer Frank J. Scott wrote his famous landscape handbook Suburban Home Grounds (1870).

He said, “To keep a great number of small beds filled through the summer with low blooming flowers and their edges well cut is expensive.

“If they are also planned so that the grass strips  between them must be cut with a sickle, few gentlemen of  moderate means will long have the patience to keep them with the nice care essential to their good effect.”

The cost of the plants and also the labor made him wonder if the practice was worth it.

Today the issues for bedding out still remain, thus making a gardener hesitate to cultivate such a bedding out scheme of planting.

That does not however stop gardeners from continuing this Victorian fashion.

The article from TEG magazine ends with these words, “It seems many private gardeners still believe in bedding, with bedding plants currently representing a third of UK consumers’ spending on garden plants.”

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