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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Victorian Homes Needed Lawn

Victorian homes needed lawn.

The lawn marked the landscape as contemporary in nineteenth century America.

Every Victorian house needed the lawn.

David Stuart writes in his book Garden of Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “The front garden, except in the poorest examples, became the site of another piece of competitive gardening: the lawn.

“Of course the great eighteenth-century gardens had lawns, often vast, though these were either cropped by the park’s inhabitants such as fallow deer, rare breeds of sheep and cattle, or kept scythed by the garden staff.

“Soon, every Victorian house had a square of lawn, even if this was scarcely large enough to lie upon outstretched and could be cut with a few sweeps of the scythe.”

A beautiful illustration of a Victorian home with a lawn appears on the cover image from Clifford Edward Clark, Jr.’s  book The American Family Home 1800-1960. [below]

Eventually taking care of lawn became an important household task for the middle class.

As Frank Scott in 1870 argued so well in his book The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds, a homeowner took care of the lawn for the view, for what the neighbor would see.

Thus it was important, he wrote, to keep it cut and looking attractive.

And so Scott set the stage in the nineteenth century for all the stress homeowners feel in the need not only to cultivate a lawn, but to spend hours manicuring it so that it has that certain look.

Victorian homeowners needed a lawn, but a certain kind of lawn, with a certain look.

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Growing Orchids Reflected Social Status

Growing orchids reflected social status.

As material culture, plants can contribute to a person’s social status.

Certain plants often become connected to a higher social class.

That is the case with the orchid from the beginning of its introduction into eighteenth century England.

David Stuart in his book The Garden Triumphant writes, “Orchids of the tropical kind, mostly needed both jungle heat and humidity, were considerable status symbols from the moment of their introduction.”

As tropical plants, orchids demanded the comfort of a greenhouse or conservatory.

“By 1839 the glasshouses at Chatsworth were packed with orchids, many collected specifically for the Duke of Devonshire,” writes Stuart.

On a garden tour in southern Florida last year I came across this blue orchid growing on a tree. [below]

In this Florida front yard you can see orchids on a tree.

The flowers had the perfect combination of heat and moisture to survive on the tree trunk.

Really a beautiful sight.

It never occured to me to judge the social status of the owner of the house and garden.

Though the orchid provided many hours of pleasure to gardeners in nineteenth century America who could afford both the greenhouse and a garden staff to tend to them, today things have changed.

Victoria Zemlan in her article “By Hook by Crook: The Plunder of Orchids for the New World” says “Now, we can buy inexpensive orchids in almost any nursery, home improvement center, or grocery store, but 19th century orchids were an extravagance reserved for the nobility.”

Tom Carter, author of  The Victorian Garden which covers nineteenth century gardening,  says, “Orchids were another class of plants needing special arrangements, and only experienced gardeners attempted them.

“Even though orchids were beyond the scope of most gardeners, they appealed strongly to a curious public, and nurserymen vied to produce the showiest and most exotic specimens.”

Eventually nineteenth century nurseries in both England and America made orchids available to anyone who wanted them. They no longer belonged only to the wealthy.

Today any gardener may grow them.

Zemlan says, “Orchids haven’t lost their allure — Americans now spend more on orchids each year than on any other houseplant.”

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Victorians Loved Flower Arranging

Victorians loved flower arranging.

Today people send flower arrangements quite easily through several online vendors.

Flower arranging as an art form took hold in the Victorian period.

After 1850 the seed and nursery catalogs moved from selling mostly vegetables to flowers.  Gardeners wanted flowers

Flowers became a Victorian passion. Flower arranging appeared everywhere.

David Stuart writes in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “Flower arranging seems to have been an innovation of the Victorian period.”

Cut flowers added beauty to home decoration.

Stuart writes, “The decoration of rooms with cut flowers became increasingly important in the nineteenth century and gave rise, by mid-century, to all sorts of appliances to hold flowers and keep them fresh.”

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) offered many flower containers in the pages of his seed catalog. He featured wooden, metal, and even ceramic vases.

Vick also included this chromolithograph of cut flowers in a vase that his customers could frame and adorn the walls of the parlor or living room.  [below]

Vick chromo of 1873

The Victorian home needed flower arrangements for many occasions. Stuart writes, “The need for ladies to be accomplished flower arrangers extended to almost all aspects of both life and death.”

The magazine The English Garden recently posted an article called “Arranging cut flowers – secrets of a top London florist” about the English florist Vic Brotherson who recently designed the flower arrangements for Kate Moss’ wedding in London.

The flowers listed in the article included Victorian favorites like foxglove, allium, cosmos, roses, and dahlias.

The Victorians not only loved flower arranging. They taught it so well that today we still use the same Victorian flowers for such arrangements.

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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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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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