Nineteenth Century Commercial Botanical Artist: Dellon Marcus Dewey

To sell seeds and plants in the nineteenth century the garden industry had to rely on botanical art to persaude a customer.

The commercial botanical artist like Dellon Marcus Dewey (1819-1889) provided colorful illustrations for the plant sales person.

When the customer saw the image of beautiful flowers or shrubs in the plant peddler’s book of illustrations, it was just a matter of time before he (or possibly she) decided to purchase.

Nineteenth Century Rochester, NY

Rochester, New York had received the name ‘Flower City’ in the mid nineteenth century because of its number of garden companies that sold seeds and plants.

The botanical artist played a key role in selling them.

Rochester’s D. M. Dewey was one such artist.

Historian and librarian Karl Kabelac wrote an article for the University of Rochester Library Bulletin called “Nineteeth Century Rochester Fruit and Flower Plates.”

Kabelac writes “His [Dewey’s] premises in the Reynolds Arcade [in downtown Rochester] were spacious and convenient.

“Here not less than thirty artists and others are employed in making drawings, paintings, etchings, photographs, etc.

“And in reproducing the same either for the trade regularly, or to fill special orders from Nurserymen or Horticultural Societies.”

Dewey had already painted 275 plates by 1859, when he began his own business.

Twenty years later he offered over 2300 plates including this pear. [below]

Dewey plate 1860. Courtesy of U of Rochester

Dewey’s Book

In 1872 Dewey published a book of his botanical art work with the title: The Nurseryman’s Pocket Specimen Book, Colored from Nature. Fruits, Flowers, Ornamental Trees, Shrubs, Roses, etc.

Cultural historian Charles Van Ravenswaay in his book about the art work of Joseph Prestele Drawn from Nature praised Dewey.

Van Ravenswaay wrote, “Dewey used several different techniques, including his distinctive hand-painted work, to produce a popular art of more than average quality.

“This tireless man with his fertile, inventive mind, exploited to its full potential the nurseryman’s plate business and dominated it throughout its best years.”

Dewey proved to be an extraordinary artist who helped people see the potential of improving the home landscape with just the right plant.

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How about a Talk on My New Book?

Right now I am looking for opportunities to talk about my new book All about Flowers: James Vick’s Nineteenth-Century Seed Company.

The book will be out in late April.

Ohio University Press will publish the book just in time for spring gardening.

Here is a flyer on my talk “Favorite Victorian Flowers.” [below]

James Vick

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) sold the garden flowers that we still grow today. He truly filled the role of a Victorian horticulturist.

His great passion was his love for flowers. He spent his life helping people garden and develop a love for floriculture.

The flowers for the garden, many annuals, that he sold we still grow and love today.

The Talk

Do you have a group that would like to hear a garden talk called “Favorite Victorian Flowers?” The talk is based on my new book, and filled with flowers from Vick’s catalogs and magazine.

If you want me to give a talk, on Zoom if you prefer, please let me know.

Look forward to hearing from you soon.

   

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Can’t We Just Enjoy Gardening

Lately I have been reading about gardening in the nineteenth century.

By the 1870s the garden Industry witnessed more seed companies and nurseries spreading across the country.

Every homeowner wanted a landscape with a garden.

The seed houses and nurseries, however, had as their goal the ‘selling of the garden.’

They felt it was their job to sell the consumer ways to make money off the garden. Therefore they wrote about ways one could succeed in harvesting a crop, selling flowers, and joining an outside market to peddle your goods.

We are talking about gardening, and love of gardening, or are we?

Garden Writing

Cheryl Lyon-Jenness, author of For Shade and For Comfort, wrote an article called “Planting a Seed: The Nineteenth-Century Horticultural Boom in America.”

She points out the heavy commercializing of gardening in the nineteenth century.

Lyon-Jenness then adds that there was not a surge to profit from gardening from every voice, though.

In 1872 the Pomological Society of Michigan cautioned against the onrush in garden writing about the financial gain found in gardening .

The Society published an article called “Floriculture for the Million.”

It said, “It is time that some improvement should be taking place in our horticultural literature; we have, I think, enough books like some recently published: ‘Money in the Garden,’ ‘Gardening for Profit.’ ‘Practical Floriculture,’ teaching mainly how to grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers to sell.

“Let us have something like ‘The delight of Horticulture,’ ‘The moral use of flowers,’ and books of that character, and it will be the commencement of better times in horticulture.”

I never thought of it that way.

We don’t always have to make money from gardening, or see gardening in dollar signs.

Sometimes, can’t we just enjoy gardening?

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Update on the Book

Publishing a book during a pandemic has several unique differences from earlier times.

One is that everyone in the publisher’s office is probably working from home.

Another is that it seems to take longer for decisions to be made.

That appears to be the case with my new book All about Flowers: James Vick’s Nineteenth-Century Seed Company.

I want to give you an update on the book.

Ohio University Press, 2001

The publisher just informed me that the publication date has now changed to the end of April.

The original publication date was late September, then January, and now April.

But what can I do?

I am writing about it here because the publication of this book is an important event for me, following several years of research and writing.

Talks on the Book

I plan to give a few talks about the book.

Today is the first such talk to the Garden Club of Harvard in Harvard, Massachusetts. Of course I will use Zoom. After several weeks writing, editing, and choosing the right image, my slides ‘are ready for their close-up’, i.e. for Screen Share.

I have also been offered some other opportunities to speak about the book on Zoom during the coming year.

Book Launch

I will probably have the launch of the book on Zoom as well.

The format is still undecided but there will be a host for the event. Not sure if a bookstore or another venue will sponsor it.

Editing

Meanwhile I continue to edit the manuscript. The publisher sends me chapters in an email, I edit them, and return them via email. Pretty efficient.

Do keep tuned.

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Public relations and the late nineteenth century garden industry

In the late nineteenth century the practice of public relations emerged though it was not called by that name.

AT&T created a monopoly for its telephone.

The one company owned all the other phone companies scattered around the country.

In its public relations effort AT&T convinced the government that the best way to serve the public was with a monoply.

It worked. For decades that is how AT&T operated.

Karen Russell tells the story in her new book Promoting Monopoly: AT&T and the Politics of Public Relations, 1876-1941.

She writes, “Many people were working to develop communication strategies and tactics long before there was a formal vocation of publicity or public relations.”

The words ‘publicity’ and ‘public opinion’ became important for AT&T.

Taking the pulse of public opinion became essential for the company.

Even the use of advertising, buying space in a paper or magazine, to tell the company’s story, became a form of public relations by AT&T.

By the end of the nineteenth century words like publicity, public opinion and communication strategies were used in AT&T’s company documents and press releases.

The goal was to maintain public support.

Garden Industry

Certainly by the end of the nineteenth century the garden industry too had to confront the same tasks in its dealing with the public.

The consumer was simply not going to accept a seed packet, a plant, fertilizer, or a garden tool without seeing evidence of how well they performed.

The company needed to be trusted for a gardener to make a purchase

No longer could a company spokesperson say or write anything to sell a product.

This truly was the begnning of public relations as a company’s responsibility.

Russell mentions how the American Newspaper Publishers Association in the late 1880s sought to change certain practices of newspapers. It was then that some editors wrote glowingly about a company because that same company bought advertising space in their papers.

We were beginning to see the rise of a serious look at how a garden-related company goes about promoting its product by creating an image of a company that understood and supported the gardener.

Since the late nineteenth century garden related companies were relatively small, compared to AT&T, nonetheless we recognize their effort to create communication strategies and tactics that fostered good will between the customer and the company. We now know such a company was ahead of most other businesses.

A strategy that took hold in the lat 1890s was an increase in paid advertising.

It was no coincidence that Philadelphia seedsman W. Atlee Burpee (1858-1915)  once said, “No business can succeed without advertising.” He wrote his own advertising copy, which sold both seeds and garden fashion.

Burpee Catalog Cover of 1899

The trade journal Printers Ink wrote about Burpee in its June 17, 1915 issue in these words: “Starting with a modest business in 1876, the House of Burpee has grown into the greatest mail order seed house in the world. Like many other Philadelphia enterprises this establishment is of international importance. Mr. Burpee will tell you that he has built up this great business by advertising, and to a great extent that is so, but back of it all has been the integrity and the enthusiasm of the founder of the House of Burpee.”

The public had trust in Burpee. Promoting strong public opinion in his favor became crucial for him and his seed business.

Burpee provides an example of successful public relations practice in the late nineteenth century garden industry.

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Early 19th Century Farm Journal Fostered Garden Writers

We can learn a great deal about gardening by looking at garden magazines.

At the begining of the nineteenth century there was more interest and energy put into farming than cultivating a garden.

Nineteenth century garden writers sometimes began their writing career in a farm journal where horticulture played but a minor role.

This was a new country and people had to eat. Supplying food to feed the country took center stage.

The Genesee Farmer [below] from Rochester, New York was a publication, begun in 1831, directed at farmers, but also included a section on gardening.

The goal of the magazine was to keep the farmer informed of the newest methods and machinery necessary for farming.

Farming was serious business. The farmer had to keep up with the latest, especially how he could get the most for his crops. The Genesee Farmer filled that role.

Patrick Barry, co-owner of the early Rochester nursery Ellwanger and Barry, was both a great writer and knowledgable about plants, especially fruit trees. He wrote an important book on fruit trees, simply called Fruit Garden.

His section called ‘Horticulture’ in the Genesee Farmer addressed new plants, pests, fertilizer, pruning – all the topics a gardener needed to know.

Vick on Writing

Seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) was associated with the paper as a writer and editor from 1849 to 1855 when he became owner and publisher as well.

Vick brought his own editorial style to the publication.

Harriett Julia Taylor wrote an article called “Rochester’s Agricultural Press” for the Rochester Historial Society Publication.

She wrote, “While James Vick was editor of the Farmer, the circulation mounted rapidly and the paper assumed a more elegant air than it had ever known.”

A year later, in order to devote his entire time to the seed business he was beginning, Vick sold the magazine to Joseph Harris.

Vick then started his own publication called Rural Annual and Horticultural Directory, the first part of which was a sort of glorified seed catalog and the second part a list of nursery owners.

Vick would go on to start his own successful monthly magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878.

Vick’s career as a writer, editor, and publisher owed a great deal to Genesee Farmer, the early farm magazine.

Even though the emphasis was on farming, Vick found it also gave him the opportunity to learn about the publishing business so that one day he could devote himself to the business of writing about the garden and its flowers.

A farmers’ journal gave both Barry and Vick the start to an illustrious garden writing career of many years.

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Sweet Pea Became Popular Annual for the Garden in Late Nineteenth Century

The sweet pea has long been a garden favorite.

We owe its popularity to the seed trade from the late nineteenth century.

James Vick (1818-1882), seed merchant from Rochester, New York, was reponsible for putting the sweet pea into the hands of many gardeners.

Peggy Cornett Newcomb wrote in her book Popular Annuals of Eastern North America 1865-1914, “James Vick took a special interest in sweet peas and kept abreast of all the new introductions from England.”

The seed merchants introduced newer varieties of many flowers. They made the sweet pea a popular choice for gardeners.

Cornett Newcomb said that Vick “was probably one of the first to introduce Blue Hybrid and Scarlet Invincible into the American trade.”

Sweet Pea Chromo

Vick included a beatiful choromolithograph of the sweet pea in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1882.

University of Rochester Special Collections librarian Karl Kabelac wrote an article called “Ninetheenth-Century Rochester Fruit and Flower Plates” in the University of Rochester Library Bulletin.

Kabelac writes about William Karle and Anton Rahn who owned a Rochester litographic company called Karle and Co. in the late 1880s.

In 1880 Karle and Co. provided a lithograph of the sweet pea for Vick’s seed catalog called Vick’s Floral Guide. [below]

The image remains to this day a splendid manifestation of the value and importance of the sweet pea.

Cornett Newcomb writes about sweet pea varieties of the time. She says, “Prominent annuals of the 1880s recognized by horticultural societies include the Eckford and Laxton Sweet Pea.”

In his book The Flower and Vegetable Garden (1875) Vick wrote, “The Flowering Peas are among the most useful and beautiful of all the hardy annuals.”

Victorians Loved the Sweet Pea

Horticulturist and garden historian Barbara Medera writes a wonderful garden history blog called Harvesting History, founded in 2016.

Barbara once gave a talk about Victorian gardening at the Boston and Flower Garden Show.

In the talk she said, “If there is a flower of the Victorian period, it would have to the sweet pea.”

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Plants as Commodity

It wasn’t always the case that a plant had a certain dollar value.

Sometimes people planted what was available, what they loved, or what they could find.

There was no question about the cost of the plant.

Just because a plant is now for sale, however, does not mean it is worth growing.

Commercial Plant Business

In 1990 Julie S. Higginbotham wrote the article “Four Centuries of Planting and Progress” for the trade journal American Nurseryman.

She said, “America’s commercial nursery trade was born on Long Island, where the first major nursery was founded in 1737.”

Nursery Trade

Of course, the search for new plants to sell in the nursery began around that time as well.

Thank God we don’t have too many periods of tulip mania or dahlia mania as we did in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries respectively. There gardeners/investors lost fortunes in pursuit of the ‘must have’ plant.

One thing we do know about buying plants.

Noel Kingsbury says it so well in his book Hybrid: “New versions of familiar plants sell well.”

There is ample evidence from the lists of top selling plants for growers like Proven Winners.

Each year the same plants seem to make the list.

Maybe Kingsbury is on to something here.

Why is it that every year people buy plants like verbenas, geraniums, petunias, and begonias in such numbers?

It could be that gardeners know them and trust they will do fine in the garden.

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Hosta Grows in Granite

This past week the gospel reading at Sunday Mass included instructions known to every gardener.

The story Jesus told was that without adequate soil a seed will not flourish.

Jesus said, “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 

 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Here is a story about a seed that found a home in granite.

House Built on Granite

My house is built on granite so stone surrounds us.

It is not easy to garden on this property which is three quarters of an acre.

When the house was built in 1948 the contractor brought in plenty of soil, especially for the front and back lawn. [below]

Front of the house with lawn, shrubs, and perennial beds.

The rock is mostly on the side of the house and along the driveway.

Over the years I have gardened with great success and much happiness.

Red maple, planted in the granite’s pocket of soil. Nearby red roses, spirea, sedum, blue sedge grass, and epimedium add color as well.

Hosta ‘Black Beauty’

Recently I identified a large dark green hosta, with rippled leaves. It has grown over the years right in an area of granite.

The Hosta, a seedling of Hosta ‘Black Beauty’, is gorgeous in the granite. [below]

Hosta ‘Black Beauty’ seedling

You can see the granite fron the low mid point to the far right.

The plant sits right in the middle.

Over time this large hosta variety becomes a large plant, measuring forty-eight by thirty inches.

It is close to that size now.

Hosta ‘Black Beauty‘ comes to us from Kate Carpenter (1984).

I have a small patch of this variety quite near this ledge.

Evidently, many years ago, one of its seeds found a great home, right in the ledge.

Today it still grows there. It found enough soil to become such a marvelous treat for the eyes of the gardener and any visitor.

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Wave Petunia Celebrates 25 Years

The petunia, first brought from Argentina to England in 1831, provides a powerful example of the importance of hybridizing in the garden industry.

We continue to grow petunias, and, in fact, they are among the top sellers each spring.

It is the same petunia from the nineteenth century, but hybridizers have had a field day with this flower.

In 1894 Boston seed company owner W. W. Rawson wrote about the petunia in his catalog. 

Rawson wrote, “The brilliancy and variety of their colors, combined with the duration of their blooming period, render them invaluable.” 

Today the petunia comes in many colors, and the flowers are either single and funnel shaped, ruffled, or doubled.

Wave Petunia

The Ball Horticultural Company brought the Wave petunia (Petunia x hybrida) to America in 1995. 

Since the Wave petunia first appeared, the petunia world has not been the same.

This year is Wave petunia’s twenty-fifth anniversary.

Wave Petunia

According to Wave’s blog, a Japanese brewery bred the first Wave petunia.

“Beer and wine companies often employ horticulturists who grow plants for the many flavors and components that go into making their products. Back in the 1990s, this particular company was exploring opportunities for wine-grape breeding when it uncovered a vigorous spreading petunia growing wild just like a weed. “

And so the Wave petunia was born.

The little white flower from South America took the English garden world of the nineteenth century by storm

It continues to do so to this day.

Rawson once said, “It was only a few years ago that they were comparatively unknown, and now no garden is considered complete without them.”

The latest All-American Selections winner is Wave ‘Carmine Velour.’ [below]. The shape of the flower and its color say it all.

Wave ‘Carmine Velour’

The Wave petunia continues to be a stunning flower for both a container and a garden bed.

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