Exotics Not Always Welcomed in 19th Century America

In the nineteenth century it was not always popular to include exotic plants in the landscape.

At the same time some horticulturists called for more native plants.

In her amazing book of garden essays Foreign Trends in American Gardens: A History of Exchange, Adaptation, and Reception Raffaella Fabiani Giannetto brings up the issue.

Eric MacDonald, one of the writers, says,

“By the close of the nineteenth century American gardens seemed increasingly populated by plants whose ancestors had originated in other places.”

Plants like the Nasturtium…

Nasturtium

Many summers I have planted this lovely Nasturtium ‘Butter Cream’ in my garden. [below]. What would my garden be like without it?

Nasturtium ‘Butter Cream’ Courtesy of: National Garden Bureau

The Spanish conquistadors discovered the nasturtium in the seventeenth century.

The flower came to England in 1686.

According to Flowers and Herbs of Early America by Lawrence D. Griffith they also came from the West Indies into Spain then to France and Flanders.

Today it is a common flower in the garden, but it is not native to the United States.

Voice of Opposition

Still there was in the nineteenth century a concern that including too many exotics in the garden was not to be encouraged.

That sentiment came from no-less a prestitious horticultural journal than Garden and Forest.

McDonald writes, “While the editors and other contributors to Garden and Forest cautioned against the use of foreign elements in American landscapes, advertisers and other contributors extolled their virtues.”

Commercial interests were at play in the deluge of exotic plants that came into America.

That voice won out in the long run.

Even though some critics remarked “Efforts to perpetuate freaks of nature, which, had she been left to herself, would never have multiplied in any appreciable extent.”

In Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening you will find a nasturtium, formally referred to as Tropaeolum, as a species called Peregrinum.

The description says, “Flowers pale yellow, 1 in. long. A particularly dainty type used in English cottage gardens. Peru.”

This lovely flower, popular in English and American gardens, came from South America.

Courtesy of London’s Garden Museum
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