Last week I saw a play called Hurricane Diane at the Calderwood Theater in Boston.…
I just finished reading Judith Taylor’s wonderful garden history book Visions of Loveliness: Great Flower Breeders of the Past.
She tells a fascinating tale of nineteenth century plant hunting and breeding that changed the practice of horticulture both in Europe and the United States.
Many people from various countries are listed as the breeders of some of today’s most popular garden plants.
It was also during that time that people suffered from what she calls ‘Flower Fever.’
Taylor writes, “Looking over the field as a whole from a distance, one can clearly see that the nineteenth century fever stemmed from more than one flower.”
So it wasn’t simply dizziness over dahlias. It was several flowers.
Remember that most of these exotic plants were new to gardeners. They were coming to England and the United States from Asia, Africa, and South America.
Most had long ago set roots in tropical areas around the world.
Gardeners in the colder climate of England and the northeast section of the United States had never seen them before.
Taylor lists the flowers that caused all the trouble. “It was not only camellia fever it was azalea fever, rose fever, pelargonium fever, and so many more.” Even orchid fever.
Gardeners could not get enough of these flowers. They were popular because so many homeowners wanted to grow them. They replaced many older familiar flowers like hollyhocks, amaranthus, and nasturtium. Such plants belonged in “grandmother’s garden” and not in a modern garden.
Nursery owners both provided and marketed these new varieties for the gardener. After all they too on occasion enlisted the services of plant hunters and were closely aligned to any government interest in plant breeding.
Plant hunters from England were often searching for garden plants that would first find a home in Kew. Later the home gardener too would be able to cultivate these plants.
Tulip Fever as Well
A recent Boston Globe featured an article entitled “It’s Tulip Time in Boston Parks.”
The story focuses on the Boston Common, a central public park located in downtown Boston in front of the State Capitol. It now features hundreds of tulips in bloom.
Tulips have bloomed in the park since the 1840s.
The article mentions how the Park Director William Dougue in the 1870s fell victim to the craze for new plants.
Current Superintendent for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department Anthony Hennessy Sr. said, “Dougue would go out of his way to find new and exotic plants that really stood out, and get people talking about horticulture.”
Perhaps back then Dougue fell victim to ‘Tulip Fever.’