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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Portland Celebrates Victorian Christmas

Portland Celebrates Victorian Christmas

The Victorians knew how to celebrate the Christmas Holidays.

The Victorian period in America from 1840 to 1900 gave us the Christmas we have today, which includes candles, ribbons, flowers, and of course, the evergreen tree.  Decorating the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine at this time of year only continues that tradition.

Located in a hilly residential area near downtown, Victoria Mansion now captures the spirit of a Victorian Holiday with its extensive interior decorations.

The Victoria Mansion hosts its special Christmas celebration for the thirty-third year. The special six-week exhibit called  “Christmas at Victoria Mansion” runs until January 8.

Black Hat Tree

The parlor’s black hat tree, designed by Harmon’s and Barton’s, a local florist.

The Victoria Mansion, a brownstone built in 1860 in the Italian villa style, is preserved today as a Victorian home for visitors to enjoy a bit of nineteenth century Victorian fashion and style.

Designers

Holiday lights, flowers, greens, and ribbons fill the house during the Christmas season. Eight volunteer designers include florists, gift shop owners, and interior decorators who donate their time and also the materials to fashion each room.

This year they created each room’s decor with the theme “A Currier and Ives Christmas.”  Designers took their inspiration from the winter holiday images produced by the nineteenth century’s most popular printmaking firm.

Harmon’s and Barton’s, a Portland florist, used a black hat theme to decorate  the parlor. [above]

Mantel in Victoria Mansion

Mantel in Victoria Mansion’s red bedroom by Dan Gifford.

Dan Gifford of Portland decorated the mantel piece in the red bedroom with an array of Holiday colors, including the traditional red berries. [above]

Interior designer Karen Cole, here for her first time at the Mansion, chose a white, red, and green theme for the green bedroom.

Cole chose to create a bodice Christmas tree that stands in the bedroom. [below]

Christmas Tree in the Main Bedroom

Christmas Tree Bodice in the Master Bedroom by Karen Cole

The Mansion has become a special Holiday destination for many. Associate Director Tim Brosnihan says, “Part of the appeal of our Christmas celebration is that it has become a tradition for families.”  Each year many visitors return to see what this year’s designers have come up with for the rooms of the mansion.  He says, “It’s different every year.”

Last year almost ten thousand people walked through the front door of the Mansion to see the decorations.

The Victoria Mansion’s special Holiday decorations only make the house that much more inviting.

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Lawn – Still Essential Landscape Feature

Lawn – Still Essential Landscape Feature

In his garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1881 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick wrote, “What can be prettier than a well-kept emerald lawn illuminated by a few beds of bright flowers, or elegantly colored foliage, kept right and in perfect order from June to October.”

The lawn has long played a central role in the home landscape.

The lawn is still important to homeowners. Matt Nichols, owner of M. J. Nichols Landscaping in Quincy, Mass. says, “People still very much want a lawn.”

Nichols considers the lawn the easiest planting to maintain, once installed, especially for new homeowners.

According to a survey conducted by researcher Bruce Butterfield at GardenResearch.com, last year consumers spent $10.9 billion on do it yourself lawn care, spending on such items as power equipment, seed, sod, fertilizer, and even irrigation. Lawn care sales have increased at a compound annual growth rate of seven per cent from 2010 to 2015. He says, “People continue to spend on the lawn.”

The lawn has been an important part of the home landscape since the beginning of the country. The English landscape of the eighteenth century called ‘modern’ included a lawn. Even our founding fathers, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, wanted that modern landscape with its lawn.

It was no surprise that in the early nineteenth century homeowners who lived in wealthy suburban areas around Boston like Brookline and Milton included a lawn in their landscape.

Title: Catalogue of Seeds. Source: Front Cover, Nursery catalogue, Richard Smith & Co. 1898 Description: Front cover of the nursery catalogue of Richard Smith and Co of Worcester, depicting a posy of cut flowers and a garden scene. Date: 1898.

 Front Cover, Nursery catalog, Richard Smith & Co. 1898

Later in the century when middle-class suburban homes began to appear, the lot for a new house often included an area in the front for a lawn.

A lawn thus demonstrated a bit of social status.

This 1898 catalog cover from the Smith Seed Company in Worcester, Mass. illustrated the classic lawn for the home landscape. [left]

The lawn also presents an attractive environment for simply situating the house. Nichols says, “Grass helps with curb appeal.”

Butterfield expresses a similar sentiment. He says, “People are only interested in keeping up the lawn for appearance.”

In the 1880s the Vick Seed Company wrote: “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.”

Homeowners still want a green lawn. The recent drought was merely a bump along the way to that dream of a sea of green.

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Atlanta Gardens Feature Victorian Caladium

Atlanta gardens feature Victorian caladium.

The recent Garden Writers Association annual meeting in Atlanta featured several garden tours.

Caladium beds appeared in a few of the gardens.

Since I just started growing caladium in my New England garden the last couple of years, I was quite interested in seeing how these shade loving plants grew in Atlanta.

Wherever we saw them, I found them to be healthy and vigorous, showing the best of color with their fabulous leaves of green, white, and red.

Here is one garden with its bed of caladium. [below]

Caladium at Atlanta

Caladium bed in an Atlanta garden

The caladium has appeared in gardens since the Victorian period.  Then they naturally ranked among the choicest plants for the garden because of their large, colorful leaves.

Rochester seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) sold it in his catalog of 1880. The plant however does not appear in his catalog of the early 1870s.

He wrote, “The Caladium is one of the handsomest of the ornamental-leaved plants. Roots obtained in the spring will make good plants in the summer.”

In his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1879 he wrote instructions on winter care for the caladium.  A customer from Newfield, New York wrote that the previous year he had lost the caladium that he had stored in the basement.

Vick responded in the magazine, “They should be kept in a cool, dry place, and in sand.  A good, well-drained cellar usually offers a suitable place, but they should be stored on shelves, and not on the cellar botton.”

This is certainly timely advice, since we are now in the midst of the month of October, time to think about over-wintering such tender tubers.

Vick offers timely advice.

If protected over the winter, next spring the caladium tuber will be ready to plant in the garden.

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Garden Company Name Influences Customers

The garden company name influences customers in choosing products.

The public relations journal called Public Relations Tactics arrives on my desk every month.

This journal provides articles on what’s new and current in public relations practice.

A recent article called “Understanding Brands and Influencer Relations” caught my attention.

Since the Public Relations Society of America publishes this journal, I generally feel confident about the quality of its articles.

The word ‘influencer’ in the title made me curious. 

Influencers happen to be individuals who can persuade others, like their readers if the person were a journalist or blogger, to notice and perhaps choose a certain brand of a product.

The author Heather Sliwinski says, “Think of bloggers, and other social influencers, as brand ambassadors.”

My thoughts, of course, went back to the nineteenth century garden industry. Were there influencers back then?

Seed company owners like W. Atlee Burpee, Peter Henderson, John Childs, and James Vick became brand ambassadors for the nineteenth century garden industry.

Their audience was the middle class woman who loved gardening.

If Vick or Henderson said or wrote something, it was common for consumers to take notice.

Henderson placed this ad in Harper’s magazine. [below]

Peter Henderson Seed Company ad in Harper's

Peter Henderson Seed Company ad in Harper’s magazine

You see illustrated the ideal customer: a middle class woman who liked gardening, and was in the search of the newest. Here Henderson wrote in the ad, “Sensational Flower Seed Novelty.”  A new variety of hollyhocks was available for this gardener.

A nineteenth century seedsman, like Vick, sometimes approached a newspaper editor, also an influencer, with press material to promote Vick’s seed company.  If a story ran, Vick would send the editor packets of seeds in gratitude.

Like today, the influencer has a following. That’s how he or she received that name.

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Nineteenth Century Targeted Garden Advertising

Nineteenth century targeted garden advertising.

Public relations and advertising professionals often need an index of available promotional sources. Such an index would include information like the circulation numbers of a media outlet.

They need to know, for example, how many people receive a particular magazine.

Since the late 19th century, advertising companies have put out directories of media available for a business considering placing an ad.

Such directories gave advertising more precision in reaching its audience.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) researched such directories for his own garden advertising.

Thus he showed an awareness of the latest in advertising as a science, as they called it then.

Vick wrote in his garden magazine of 1881 Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “There are over ten thousand different publications in America, and with all those we have more or less correspondence during the year. In this  work we are much aided by the excellent publications of the leading advertising agents, such as Geo. P. Rowell & Co., of New York, and N. W. Ayer & Son, of Philadelphia [the first US advertising firm].”

Vick continues, ” These books not only give the names, location, and character of the newspapers, magazines, etc., but, in most cases, the circulation.”

This magazine ad [below] appeared in American Agriculturist, a popular journal whose audience was middle to upper class homeowners who would buy a mower for that perfect lawn.

An ad in the magazine American Agriculruist May 1888

An ad in the magazine American Agriculturist May 1888

So nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries needed to know what publications their consumers read.

Then through a particular publication they could target its audience.

Ever since moden advertising, born in the nineteenth century, has used what we now call media directories like Cision to appeal to their consumers.

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Victorian England Imported Popular Rosa Rugosa

Victorian England imported popular rosa rugosa.

New Englanders have made rosa rugosa a favorite seaside shrub.

As you drive along the beach road, you see these shrubs everywhere.

The rosa rugosa however is native to Asia.

David Stuart wrote in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “In 1849 Robert Fortune found the now immensely popular Rosa rugosa in Shanghai.”

The plants Fortune (1812-1880) sent back to England from his journeys made him a major influence on the Victorian garden in the nineteenth century.

A plant hunter like Fortune traveled to parts of the world from where rich English horticulturists like the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth as well as nurseries and even Kew wanted to have the newest plant to display in their gardens.

Fortune played a major role in bringing plants from China back to the West.

He sometimes used the Wardian case, a recent invention, to transport the plants across the sea. The case sealed the plant and at the same time provided it moisture, thus preventing the demise of a delicate specimen.

Julia Brittain writes in her book The Plant Lover’s Companion: Plants, People and Places  the Horticultural Society’s garden at Chiswick in London asked Fortune to find plants in China.

She says, “His annual pay was to be 100 pounds – poor recompense for three years of danger and discomfort.”

In his search for plants Fortune came across rosa rugosa.

Rosa rugosa would of course make its way to American gardens as well in the nineteenth century. [below]

Rosa rugosa, courtesy of TripAdviser

Rosa rugosa grows along this fence near the ocean. [Courtesy of TripAdviser]

Today we enjoy this rose.  We seem to accept it as if it were almost native because we have grown it for so many decades.

We owe Fortune a note of thanks for this plant and many others like the hosta and the weigela that he introduced to our gardens.

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Exhibit Showcases Celia Thaxter’s Salon

Exhibit Showcases Celia Thaxter’s Salon

This must be the summer of all things Celia Thaxter (1835-1894).

Earlier this summer I posted here about her biography that I had just read.

Then I wrote about the wonderful Childe Hassan (1859-1935) exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. Recently I saw another exhibit about Celia in the same city.

The Salem Athenaeum is hosting a free exhibit called “Celia’s Salon: America’s First Artists’ and Writers‘ Colony.”  The exhibit runs through September 23.

This is a  beautiful collection of materials that illustrate the richness of Celia’s salon at her family’s hotel on Appledore Island, off the coast of Rye, New Hampshire.

She invited hotel guests who also happened to be artists, musicians, and writers to spend either the morning or the evening in her salon. Some would bring their art work, musicians would play, and Celia would read at times.

Childe Hassan was the leader of the American Impressionists and the most prolific and successful artist working in that style. Celia became his friend from the start of his yearly visits. Illustrations of his work also form part of this exhibit.

In the collection there is a photograph of Celia, sitting in her salon. The extremely cluttered room is filled with tables covered in doilies, pictures, drawings, china artwork, even a music stand.  There seems to be no room for anything else.

This painting at Appledore, used in the promotion of this exhibit, highlights the sea and the flowers that Celia grew in her famous garden. [below]

xxxx

Scene of Appledore Island used in promotion of the Exhibit at the Salem Athenaeum.

The artist William Morris Hunt gave Celia lessons. She had taken up painting of pieces of china like cups, saucers, and flower vases, some of which appear here in a glass case.  At that time when literati and artists filled Celia’s salon, people were also writing her, requesting her china artwork.

This exhibit offers a glimpse into the life of this famous American poet and gardener from the late nineteenth century.

Fletcher Steele’s Naumkeag Design Restored

Fletcher Steele’s Naumkeag Design Restored

A few weeks ago I visited Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

The house and garden date to the first half of the twentieth century, reflecting a bit of the period of the grand Gilded Age mansions and gardens. This iron chair from the afternoon garden on the side of the house reflects that time. [below]

The chair in the afternoon garden

The blue chair in the afternoon garden

The glory of the day had to be to walk around and see the restored Fletcher Steele garden.

New York landscape architect Steele (1885-1971), along with the owner Mabel Choate, provided Naumkeag’s modernist garden design over a thirty-year period.

Unfortunately, the garden had become overgrown.

Now at a cost of 2.6 million dollars the Trustees of Reservations, owner of the house and garden, has restored the forty-four room house and its eight acres of gardens.

Steele’s famous blue steps bordered with white birch trees had become overgrown.  In the last couple of years fifty new birch trees replaced the original line of trees. [below]

Blue steps

Fletcher Steel’s Blue Steps, the most famous piece of his design at Naumkeag.

The Chinese garden, with its Moongate entrance installed in 1955,  took twenty years to build. This garden began with two stone Chinese dogs.

In the renovation of the Chinese garden over two hundred trees that had become overgrown were removed.

Steele’s landscape includes several gardens like the Tree Peony Terrace and the Rose Garden. Both have been given a new look as well.

A linden allee has been installed off one side of the house, not far from the animal cemetery.[below]

Linden allee

This allee of linden trees is part of the restoration.

Naumkeag today is worth a visit, or revisit, to see the restored work of one of the most famous of American landscape architects.

Edith Wharton’s Mount Features Shade Garden

Edith Wharton’s Mount features shade garden.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) wrote not only fiction, but her interest in house and garden design inspired both books and articles as well.

She wrote 40 books in 40 years.

Wharton named her house in Lenox, Mass. The Mount. There in the Berkshires she felt inspired to write some of her best work.

In 1902 Wharton designed both the house and the garden at The Mount.

Over the past several years the garden has been carefully restored to its original design.

That design follows a formal Italian look, made of straight lines and symmetry.

At one end of garden you see the formal flowerbeds with the Italianate fountain in all its formal glory in the center.

At the other end of the garden, which you arrive at by walking a tree-lined stone path, she positioned the ‘walled garden.’

When she designed the walled garden, the trees and shrubs she installed were small. Then there was plenty of light.

Today you encounter in that same garden a deep shade since everything has grown to such a height.

Thus the gardeners who maintain the area have now planted hosta, astilbe, and ferns.

This is the view out from the walled garden to the back of the property where you can just catch a glimpse of a body of water in the distance. [below]

shade garden at the Mount

The walled garden is now this shade garden at The Mount in Lenox.

The design of Edith’s garden is formal, but now also includes this garden of shade.

In the early twentieth century when renewed interest in the formal garden appeared both in England and America, Edith Wharton captured the popularity of that design in her own garden.

Today the restored garden at The Mount offers the visitor a chance to capture a sense of that moment in the history of American gardening.

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