When Annuals Lost Their Appeal

When annuals lost their appeal

From the mid nineteenth century England encouraged gardening with beds of annuals.

The arrival of glorious summer plants from warmer climates like Africa, Asia, and South America had encouraged that fashion.

In the 1870s however garden writer William Robinson criticized the practice. He advocated for perennials and native plants in the summer garden.

The cost of growing in the greenhouse the necessary dozens of annuals became expensive.

Another issue became  the maintenance to keep the annual beds weed-free and trimmed to the proper height and width.

Perennials would reward the gardener with bloom year after year, Robinson wrote.

Growing  native plants would also reduce the expense of the annuals since they are readily available in local fields, mountains, and woods.

Tom Carter in his book The Victorian Garden writes about the inevitability of the demise of the extensive growing and maintaining of beds of annuals.

William Robinson

Robinson himself had once been an advocate of annuals but no longer.

He wrote the book The Wild Garden in which he proposed plants other than annuals for the summer garden.

Carter says, “The movement away from the true Victorian style during the last decade of the century reflected in, and partly brought about by Robinson, … was inevitable.

 “It has been maintained that bedding, with its emphasis on annuals and a limited number of perennials, caused gardeners to disregard old-fashioned plants, bringing some of them close to extinction.”

Today we continue to preach the gospel of native plants. 

It’s not that we can’t grow annuals. It’s that we also have beautiful native plants.

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Victorians Loved Cut Flowers

Victorians loved cut flowers

The Victorian period in the nineteenth century ushered in a love for cut flowers from the garden.

Here is a beautiful chromolithograph from William Rawson’s seed catalog of 1888 called ‘Gems from the Wild Garden.’ The image visualizes what a glorious choice of flowers for tea and lunch were available to the Victorians. [below]

Rawson Seed Company, Boston

In his book The Victorian Garden Tom Carter calls this love of cut flowers from that period ‘floristry.’

He writes, “Competition was the essence of floristry, and the spring and summer months were filled with shows held all over the country.”

The flower shows proved an outlet to show off flowers like roses and dahlias.

I remember on ‘Downton Abbey’ when Maggie Smith’s character said,
“My yellow rose won top prize at the county fair.”

Even in the cities Victorian gardeners took pride in floristry.

Carter writes, “Workers in the industrial towns took to floristry as about the only form of gardening open to them in the restricted spaces of urban living.”

Whether in country or city, Victorians encouraged floristry and so they enjoyed their cut flowers.

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Victorian Garden Book

Victorian garden book

Last week I attended a meeting of the New England Hosta Society, a group I joined many years ago.

The meeting included a wonderful speaker who owns a local nursery.

The highlight of the meeting, however, was the item I won in the raffle.

To my surprise I won Tom Carter’s book The Victorian Garden.

I was familiar with this title when I placed my red ticket in the cup to bid on the book.

The bibliography and illustrations in the book indicate the English origin of the book. 

The book, however, was first published by Salem House, a member of the Merrimack Publishers Circle, Salem, New Hampshire in 1985.  R. J. Acford, Chichester, Sussex printed this edition.

The book details the development of the English Victorian garden in the nineteenth century.

Carter writes, “The range of plants available in nineteenth century Britain was constantly increasing as more and more specimens were sent home from abroad, and as colonial territories were opened up.”

The plants would include of course varieties from Asia and North America.

Look forward to reading this book during the cold weeks of winter still to come.

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English Garden Style May Not Work

English garden style may not work

Landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. came from a long line of horticulturists. His family owned a popular late nineteenth century nursery in New York.

According to the American Architects Biographies, Parsons was a landscape architect who died February 3, 1923 in New York City. He was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1845. A former park commissioner, he was largely responsible for the development of Central Park and Riverside Drive in New York City. He also designed a 1,400 acre park in San Diego, California.

Parsons gives some sound gardening advice in his book Landscape Gardening (1891)

He warns about simply following a certain garden style, like the English.

Parsons writes, “We are learning that because an English or Scotch gardener tells us we should have a particular tree which has grown successfully in England, we are not necessarily to assume that horticultural skill, whether Scotch, or English, or French, must be able to conpass, in some occult way, its successful employment on American lawns.”

He was a great advocate for the classic lawn, sweeping down from the house.

No surprise that the lawns in Central Park took on that green beauty that Parsons orchestrated in his job as Superintendent of Parks in New York.

Parsons offered this advice in 1891.

Still makes sense today.

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Ordering Dalia Tubers

Ordering dahlia tubers –

Right now I am receiving garden catalogs, many with dahlias to sell.

In the past I have searched both on-line sources and catalogs to find a particular dahlia tuber that I wanted to plant.

Often no luck.

It seems to me it is better to choose from the selection offered than spend time looking for a particular variety. There are, after all, over 10,000 registered dahlias.

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

Dahlia History

American gardeners have been ordering dahlias since the early 1800s.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) had over 500 dahlia varieties in his trial fields.

He sold named varieties and his own hybrids for that time.

The flower has had its ups and downs since the beginning.

Now you might say there is a Renaissance of interest in growing dahlias. We like everything about this flower. 

If the popular dahlia shows in September are any indicator, there are a lot of people today who love dahlias.

Price

The price of a dahlia tuber can vary quite a bit.

Take ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ as an example. With its dark leaves and bright red flowers, it is one of my favorite dahlias.

The least expensive online price for one tuber is $3.25, and the most expensive $11.95.

Quite a difference.

Vick offered ‘White Aster’  in his catalog of 1880 for 25 cents.

You can still buy ‘White Aster’ today, but, of course, at the current rate.

I can see why Vick wrote in his seed catalog: “The Dahlia is the grandest Autumn Flower we have.”

 

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Nineteenth Century Style of Planting Shrubs

Nineteenth century style of planting shrubs

Soon the Weigela rosea [below] will burst with spring color in my New England garden.

This shrub came to America in 1848 from England. Three years earlier British plant hunter Robert Fortune had found it in China. He introduced it to the English garden.

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

Walter Elder, a nineteenth century Philadelphia horticulturalist, wrote many articles for nurseryman Thomas Meehan’s popular magazine Gardener’s Monthly, published in the same city.

In the 1865 issue of GM, Elder wrote about shrubs in the landscape.

He said ”The modern is the most  admirable and ennobling mode of embellishing large grounds with flowering shrubbery, namely massing them in groups of various dimensions and forms. All sharp points are avoided. Even at the junction of two roads or paths, sharp, projecting points are rounded and made blunt, if a group of shrubbery is to be planted there.”

He continues, “Where there is a fine view in the distance to be seen from the mansion, it would not do to plant trees to hide it, but the lawn can be ornamented with groups of shrubs.”

Seed company and nursery owners in their catalogs, books, and magazines taught America landscape principles.

In this case they instructed home gardeners on how to plant shrubs in the English picturesque or gardenesque, or as they called it, the ‘modern’ style.

 

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James Vick Offered New Year Advice

James Vick offered New Year advice –

Rochester, New York horticulturist James Vick (1818-1882) owned a successful seed company in the late nineteenth century.

His mail order business included customers from around the world.

Vick published a monthly garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

James Vick (1818-1882)

He offered various kinds of advice in the magazine.

In 1879 he offered this advice for the New Year:

“At the commencement of a New Year people make a pretense of looking for their faults, with a view to making corrections, so as to start the year fair;

“and they sometimes manage to find a few small ones that their friends have not noticed but never discover those large blots that are disagreeably apparent to everybody but themselves.

“So they conclude, being so nearly perfect, certainly so much more so than their neighbors, that it is hardly necessary to trouble themselves about a change, while, of course, anything like reformation is out of the question.

“The years pass away and the ‘beams’ grow larger, and all others see them, but we never ‘see ourselves as others see us.”

And for the Gardener

“Every one knows what sad mistakes Mr. Smith made in laying out his grounds, and what miserable taste was exercised in its planting, except Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

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

Happy New Year!

 

 

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Newport Mansions Feature Christmas Poinsettias

Newport mansions feature Christmas poinsettias.

Everyone knows that Newport, Rhode Island is home to the east coast grand mansions of America’s Gilded Age.

Right now four of the mansions have taken on a festive holiday look.

Four Mansions

Until January 1 you can visit these four Newport mansions, The Breakers, The Elms, Rosecliff, and Marble House, decked out in lights and the holiday colors of red, green, and gold. The Preservation Society of Newport County, the group that oversees eleven historical properties in Newport, has made this holiday display at the mansions available to visitors for more than twenty-five years.

Decorated Christmas trees dot the rooms of the mansions. The trees sometimes surprise you when you turn a corner and see a tall evergreen decked in gold and red as in the Gothic Room of Marble House.

The dining room tables are set with period silver and china, and individual white candles illuminate the windows. Christmas wreaths and evergreens decorate walls.

Poinsettias

Three thousand poinsettias add color to the rooms of the four houses. The plants, grown in the Preservation Society’s own greenhouse,

Pointsettias in the Greenhouse at The Breakers

Poinsettias in the Greenhouse at The Breakers

are removed and replaced several times during the holiday season to ensure the displays remain fresh.

The poinsettias at The Breakers  provide a stunning show of the season’s colors.

Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed The Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, built in 1895, for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, President and Chairman of the New York Central Railroad.

Its interior includes rich marble, mosaic tile floors and ceilings, and open-air terraces with magnificent ocean views.

The Breakers

Right now in the Grand Hall of The Breakers stands a 15-foot tree made of red poinsettias. The room with its walls of yellow stone and a 50-foot high ceiling that seems to go up forever shines with the red color of the poinsettia.

The Grand Hall at The Breakers with its fifteen foot Christmas Tree to the left

The Grand Hall at The Breakers with its fifteen foot Christmas tree, made of poinsettias, to the left

When The Breakers was built, the poinsettia, originally from Mexico, was beginning its journey as the holidays’ most popular decorative plant.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Robert Buist, who introduced the poinsettia to the garden industry, once said that it was “truly the most magnificent of all the tropical plants we have ever seen.”

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan included an article about the poinsettia in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in May of 1876.

Meehan said that this plant “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.”

And that is truly what you find at The Breakers. The blossoms of the poinsettias brighten up this mansion and three others in a holiday spirit.

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19th Century Advertising Featured People as Vegetables

19th Century advertising featured people as vegetables

Tower Hill, near Worcester, Massachusetts, ranks high on my list of favorite public gardens.

On a recent visit I saw their newest exhibit.

The exhibit featured several trade cards from the nineteenth century garden industry.

In their effort to market vegetable seeds, companies used trade cards that included people as the vegetable.  This trade card from Jerome B. Rice and Company promoted beet seeds. [below]

Jerome B. Rice and Company sold beet seeds with this colorful chromolithograph, copyrighted in 1885.

Notice the phrase beneath the beet-man. It says, “I AM FREQUENTLY MISTAKEN FOR A DEAD BEET.” The lettering appears all in uppercase for greater emphasis.

It was not uncommon for several seed companies to share the same image, changing only the name at the bottom of the card.

The Tower Hill exhibit used this same beet image with another seed company’s name. The name ‘John B. Varick Company of Manchester, New Hampshire,’ appears at the bottom of the card.

Trade Cards

In her book  The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880s to 1910s  cultural historian Ellen Gruber Garvey writes about the history of trade cards.

She says, “Beginning in the 1880s, trade cards dominated advertising for national distributed products, until they were largely supplanted by national magazine advertising during the 1890s.

“Manufacturers had put colorful advertising trade cards into the hands of thousands but nationally circulated magazines were a more efficient tool.”

By the 1890s national magazine advertising had outpaced the effectiveness of the trade card.

At one time these small cards, some with people as vegetables, proved popular both for businesses and customers around the country.

Some people even turned to collecting them as a form of amusement.

The Tower Hill seed trade card exhibit in the library will be up for only a few more days.

 

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Opium Enriched Nineteenth Century Boston Merchant

Opium enriched nineteenth century Boston merchant –

Nineteenth century Boston merchant Thomas H. Perkins (1764-1854) cultivated a landscape at his country estate in Brookline, Massachusetts in the English landscape style.

This portrait of Perkins by Thomas Sully today hangs in the large first floor meeting room  of the downtown Boston Athenaeum. [below]

Boston Athenaeum’s portrait of Thomas Handasayd Perkins

Perkins became one of America’s first millionaires.

To increase his sale of goods to China Perkins found himself in the opium trade.

In 1815 he opened an office in Afghanistan in order to buy opium there to sell to China.

Stephen Harris wrote a great book called Planting Paradise: Cultivating the Garden 1500-1900, which covers the history of gardening.

Harris writes, “Ultimately, tea transformed English society, was a driver of the Industrial Revolution in the early nineteenth century, maintained the opium trade with China and became a new crop for colonial India.”

He draws a link between the sale of tea and the sale of opium in the nineteenth century. Both made certain people quite wealthy.

Perkins’ Fortune

Perkins built his fortune by selling opium more than any other product.

At the same time he offered substantial financial assistance to local institutions like the Boston Athenaeum and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Today these institutions as well as Perkins School for the Blind, another of his charities,  have had to respond to this part of their history. People inquire how they could have accepted money made from selling opium.

In their book Merchant Prince of Boston: Colonel T. H. Perkins, 1764-1854 Carol Seaburg and Stanley Peterson write, “They cheerfully rationalized that the opium habit was not nearly so debilitating as the habit of drink.”

I don’t know what the word ‘cheerfully’ means here. I would say they saw opium as a business. It was, after all, legal in America at that time.

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