In a recent letter to the editor in the Boston Globe Jeffrey Collins, director at…
We can learn a great deal about gardening by looking at garden history.
A new book Iowa Gardens of the Past by Beth Cody takes the reader on a journey of gardening in Iowa since 1850.
In the process of looking at gardens over a century and a half the reader also learns about the changing American garden asesthetic. You see how the garden continues to be a work of art.
What was happening in Iowa was also happening around the country. The book describes the evolution of the American garden.
Landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing, (1815-1852) proposed a lawn with few trees as the basis of the landscape. A flower garden could be included behind the house as well.
His designed look you might call the Romantic English park aesthetic.
Cody writes, “Only the wealthy could afford a house and landscape in the style Downing proposed.”
During the high Victorian era of the 1880s and 1890s the market for annuals, perennials,and bulbs grew with the demand of home gardeners. New bright and showy species of new plants came from Asia, Africa, and South America.
Then home owners had more leisure time to plan, grow, and maintain gardens in an ornamental style. They did so with flowers like roses and dahlias.
The images in the book are not only of mansions or large houses, but often, especially in postcards, you will see an ordinary house and garden.
The World Expositions held in 1876 in Philadelphia and 1893 in Chicago introduced American gardeners to Japanese gardens.
Americans fell in love with the Japanese style, so after 1900 even in Iowa you could find a Japanese-inspired landscape.
In the early twentieth century the next important aesthetic was the movement to include naturalistic plants in the garden.
Even during the Depression of the 1930s people gardened. Cody writes, “Despite the economic challenges of the decade, more Iowans than ever gardened enthusiastically.”
In 1930 Theodore E. Sexier, from Ames, Iowa, planted the rose called ‘New Dawn,” the first plant ever patented.
Today I grow ‘New Dawn’ in my garden and it is truly a beautiful flower.
In the 1940s during war time seventy percent of Iowa households grew Victory Gardens.
Cody writes, “During the 1950s, there was a noticeable trend of men becoming more interested in oramental gardening, not just growing vegebtables.”
Photos and Illustrations
Cody includes in the book wonderful illustrations and photos of gardens big and small. She has assembled a truly amazing collection of two hundred and fifty photos and illustrations, each filled with a bit of garden history. [below – the back of the book]
After the 1950s the garden became an outside room where the family could gather to entertain.
The formal garden had disappeared and more informal flower beds and containers of plants for the deck or patio became popular.
As it evolved, the American garden aesthetic became sometimes formal and sometimes natural with on occasion a combination of the two styles.
And Beth Cody found it all in Iowa gardens.