How many hybrids of one plant do we need?

I love the weigela shrub.

At the edge of our front lawn the old-fashioned weigela florida has bloomed each spring for many years.

Did you know, according to Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, there are 170 varieties of this shrub available on the market?

Most of them come from Holland and Canada.

My question is: who needs so many varieties of one plant?

In my Garden

I am happy our weigela florida shrub continues to provide color outside the front door. [below]

This Weigela grows right outside my front door. [photo by Ralph Morang]

History of the Weigela

Robert Fortune (1812–1880), the Scottish plant collector, introduced it in 1845 from China to England, where it first grew at the gardens of the Horticultural Society.

This shrub, with its reddish-pink bell-shaped flowers, was named after the German botanist Christian von Weigel.

Soon American nursery catalogs listed it as the newest exotic plant from England.

In 1848, the English garden periodical Curtis’s Botanical Magazine wrote that it grew in the Royal Gardens of Kew and other botanical gardens in Great Britain.

Weigela florida grows four to five feet high and just as wide, and is valued as a specimen or border plant.

The leaves are two to five inches long, and usually have one end narrower than the other, a pointed tip, and a notched edge. The flowers measure an inch and a half in length. The inner envelopes of the flowers are usually a white, pink, or red color.

This shrub does well in most fertile soils, but prefers a moist, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade.

It blossoms in springtime, mostly during May, April, and June.

What I like about it also is that this shrub is easy to grow and maintain.

A question

I need to ask you a question nonetheless.

How many hybrids of one plant do we need?

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A Victorian Christmas Tree

It’s that time of year again.

Time to welcome the Holidays.

I hope the Holidays provide you a sense of an all-embracing tradition of love and understanding.

May the Holiday tree inspire you to see the best in each and every person.

Images of the Season

Here is the greenhouse at the University of New Hampshire, Durham.

This is how it looked a couple of years ago at this time of the winter during the annual Holiday display.

UNH Greenhouse new poinsettia display

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas.

Hope you enjoy this wonderful Victorian Christmas tree.

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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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The Dahlia – in and out of Fashion

You might think that a flower as beautiful as the dahlia has been a garden treasure since explorers first brought it from its home in Mexico to Europe and later to the U.S.

Not true.

The dahlia has had a long history of being in and out of fashion.

When first introduced into England in the early nineteenth century, there was an uproar over this plant.

John Claudius Loudon, Editor of The Gardener’s Magazine, recognized it as a current fashion in the garden.

He wrote, “At almost every nursery several hundred sorts may be procured; but as new sorts are continually coming into fashion, and the old sorts becoming neglected, it would be of little use presenting a list of varieties.”  

Loudon was amazed at the variety in the dahlia’s form and color.

There was even a period of dahlia mania before 1850 both in England and in America.

Then dahlias receeded in popularity.

The dahlia almost became the new hollyhock: perhaps pretty but not in my garden.

Recent Article on the Dahlia

Last week Alan Titchmarsh wrote an online article in Country Life about the dahlia.

The title of the article says it all: “How the dahlia shrugged off its ‘too common to plant’ tag – and thank goodness it did.”

He says, ” It was Country Life’s regular contributor Christopher Lloyd who was instrumental in restoring their respectability, although he would have scoffed at the use of such a word, as snobbery was as alien to Christo as silence and circumspection are to the current President of the US.”

In his own gardening and subsequent writing Lloyd put the dahlia back in the garden.

He particularly liked the wonderful dahlia called ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ which just happens to be my favorite.

Here it is in all its glory:

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ [Courtesy of White Flower Farm]

Who would have thought that the beautiful dahlia would have had such a rocky road in garden fashion?

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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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Victorian Gardener Listed Twelve Best Annuals

This is another list blog post.

I wrote recently about our fasciation with lists like the top five or the top ten.

Yesterday I came across a poem by a Victorian gardener, “L. O.” from Newburgh, New York.

The poem apeared in James Vick’s 1879 garden magazine, Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

The poet gardener presented the twelve best annuals.

Here are the opening lines:

“To those who love flowers, allow me to say,

“I talk of my pet in a familiar way.

“These twelve I will name – forgetting the rest –

“Because I do think they are some of the best.”

Then the twelve annuals he/she listed appeared in this order: pansy, dianthus, stock, phlox drummondii, petunia, balsam, sweet pea, portulaca, aster, alyssum, mignonette, and verbena.

And there you have it.

These Annuals Look Familiar

The poem illustrates how one Victorian judged the value of an annual in the garden.

What is amazing to me is how many of these annuals still remain popular choices for the garden.

Here is a chromolithograph of favorite Victorian flowers that appeared in Vick’s magazine. Recognize any of them?

Vick’s chromo [courtesy of Millicent W. Coggon]

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Top Ten Plants for a Cottage Garden

What is it about top ten lists? We go crazy for the list.

It is as if we will feel we have conquered the world if we but knew the names on that list.

Not all top ten lists of cottage garden plants are equal.

Here is one from 1981 and another from 2020.

What are the differences?

Cottage Garden, the Book

Anne Scott-James in her wonderful book The Cottage Garden, written in 1981, presents her choice of the top ten.

She is quite affirmative about this choice.

She says, “From the hundreds of flowers which qualify [as cottage plants] I have chosen ten as the embodiment of cottage gardening.”

Then she lists them.

Here they are: Lilium candidum, Gilliflowers, Honeysuckle, Mignonette, Primroses, Lavender, Roses, Hollyhock, Hawthorn, and Amaranthus.

Today’s List of Top Ten

Now move the calendar to the year 2020.

Just a few days ago blogger David Domoney wrote a blogpost with the title “My Top 10 Plants for the Modern Cottage Garden Style” .

He of course then proceeds to give his list, with some from the group presented by Scott-James forty years ago.

Here are the names on his list: Rose, Cornflowers, Helenium, Miscanthus, Hollyhock, Penstemon, Foxglove, Poppy, Sweet pea, and Red hot pokers.

Hollyhock [Courtesy of The English Garden]

Domoney says,  “The plants found in a cottage garden will be an invasion on the senses. Strongly fragrant and vibrantly coloured blooms will tangle together amongst lush green foliage, whilst bees can be regularly found bumbling busily amongst the vast array of nectar-rich plants.”

Both lists have similar qualities in the choice of plants.

The flowers are bold, colorful, form clumps, and make a statement in any garden of somewhat limited space.

Whether you chose the list of 1981 or 2020, similarities are there.

Today there is renewed interest in cottage gardens.

What are your favorite cottage garden plants?

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