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Instructions on an Outdoor Victorian Vase

Where there was an extensive lawn in the garden plan, New York horticulturist James Vick (1818-1882) encouraged a large, well-filled vase be placed in the center of each side of the lawn.

Tall flowers and plants with ornamental foliage were best for such a vase. He also provided certain guidelines for the choice of plants and their care.

He wanted the reader to know the protocol for such containers in the landscape. [below]

Vick’s Illustrated. Monthly, 1880

Vick wrote, “The most popular ornament of the lawn is the vase; and when judiciously planted and well cared for, nothing can be more desirable. We often see several small vases scattered over the lawn, but the effect is bad. It is best to have one or two that command attention by their size and beauty.”

The container, vase, or urn could be made of cast iron, considered more affordable for the middle class gardener. Vases of marble or granite were too costly for general use among the middle class. Many vases, however, of equally beautiful forms, were also manufactured of artificial stone or of fine pottery, as well as cast iron, which gave the same effect, and were of nearly equal durability as more expensive garden decorations. 

The vase was to sit on a pedestal and not directly on the lawn. Thus, more people could see it.  The recommended number of vases to be displayed was two, to be positioned on either side of the front entrance to the house. 

Vick wrote, “Nothing is more effective than a well-filled and well-kept vase.”  He described this vase as simply “a well-cared-for container,” and bemoaned the fact that sometimes gardeners neglected the container and during the hot summer months the plants dried up simply for lack of attention. In 1874, he wrote “Last year we published an article on the proper treatment of Baskets and Vases, showing that many failed simply because the plants were famished, destroyed entirely, or condemned to a miserable struggle for existence simply for want of water.”


I heard a speaker once at the Boston Flower Show refer to three types of plants for a big outdoor vase.

First, the Thriller is the plant in the center. It is big and bold, lik a canna.

Seocnd, came the Filler which added flowers and leaves to the area around the Thriller. This could be a geranium.

Third, the Spiller, a plant that trailed donw from the top of the vase to the ground. It was never to touch the ground.

Sound familiar? The advice dates to Vick’s Victorian period here in the United States.

Vick’s Rochester Seed House, 1880, included two vases on the front lawn.

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