Women Gardeners in Late 19th Century

You might easily associate the flower garden with the work of women.

After all, isn’t that how people thought about flowers in the garden?

Is it still true that men take care of the lawn and the vegetable patch and leave the flowers to women?

That’s an example of how gender has been linked to certain forms of gardening for centuries.

I found a pattern of the portrayal of women in garden advertising when I looked at dozens of seed catalogs from the late nineteenth century.

Women were alwayts dressed neatly, representing the upper middle class, the audience for the catalog.

In this catalog cover froim Peter Henderson in 1892 notice how prim and proper the woman presents herself. [below] She is cutting daffodils for tea or lunch, but certainly not working in the garden.

Henderson 1892 Catalog Cover

In fact, I did not see any women in the catalog illustrations actually working in the garden though I often saw them in the garden.

They may have been interested but did not, or perhaps could not, work in the garden.

Caroline Ikin wrote the book The Victorian Garden.

She writes, “The role of women in the garden was changing during the late Victorian era.”

We know that working class women gardened in the mid to late nineteenth century. They formed the major customer base for seed company owners like James Vick (1818-1882)

Vick wrote in 1878, “It is but a few years since woman was permitted to grace the festive board of agricultural and horticultural exhibitions. Now no occasion of this kind is deemed complete without her presence.”

Garden Club Movement

It was in the early 1900s that the Garden Club movement began in the United States. It was a formal way of recognizing woman’s role in the garden as designer and, if needed, both as planter and as weeder.

Then several books for women gardeners appeared on the market.

Women could not only enjoy looking at the garden, but could now more freely work in the garden, learn about botany, and even try landscape design.

Ikin writes, “With more middle-class women turning to gardening as a pastime and a means of self-improvement, a market was created for gardening books aimed specifically at women, as well as for tools and gadgets designed for female use.”

By the early 1900s the Garden Club movement here in the United States became the source of empowering women to garden, encourage native plants, and advocate for landscape design.

The late Victorian culture recognized women as gardeners.

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Darwin and Vick, Famed 19th Century Horticulturists

Who knew that one day history would link Charles Darwin and James Vick in the same memorial?

In England Charles Darwin conducted his research on plants and called it the struggle for life.

In his book Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory the author James T. Costa writes about Darwin’s many experiments with plants.

Costa says, “When we observe nature we often miss the struggle, seeing only peace and harmony, and mistake this for the natural condition of the living world.”

The garden is a place where plants struggle to survive. Some make it while others do not.

Darwin studied that struggle through his research of many years on plants. [below]

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) – National Portrait Gallery

In America James Vick owned an important seed business in the second half of the nineteenth century.

At one point he received three thousand letters a day from his customers, seeking seeds of course, but also his advice. To them Vick was a trusted source on all things horticultural.

Here is the photo Vick included in his seed catalog after many of his customers requested a photo. [below]

James Vick (1818-1882)

Both Darwin and Vick died in 1882.

Memorial

Last week I came across a link between the two.

In 1883 at the annual meeting of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society its President mentioned both Darwin and Vick in a speech.

He said, “I have to record the names of two men, whose labors have been largely for the benefit of farmers and horticulturists, Charles Darwin and James Vick.

“Charles Darwin, who died at the ripe age of seventy-four, was considered the greatest horticulturist of the age. He was the author of many valuable works…

“James Vick, who died at Rochester, N.Y. May 16, was aged about 64 years. At the time of his death he was at the head of one of the largest seed establishments in America, and his Floral Guide [Catalog] had a circulation of over 200,000. His success has been marvelous. His labors are finished, but the good he has done will endure forever.”

Darwin and Vick, famed 19th century horticulturists

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Garden as Tapestry

Are you a plant collector? Or is your garden based on a strict landscape design that you cannot disturb by adding plants, willy, nilly?

However you garden, you need to select the plants.

The plants can come from anywhere.

When you assemble them, you are making your garden a tapestry.

Stephen Harris wrote in his book Planting Paradise: Cultivating the Garden 1500-1900, “Any garden is a tapestry of botanical histories. Some plants are native, some have been introduced, and others evolved in the garden.”

When I think of a tapestry, I think of a mix of things, not just one item.

This garden [below] in a photo I took on the Almalfi coast is an example of nineteenth century carpet bedding with designs in colorful flowers and leaves. It aslo reminds me of a tapestry, or mixture of various plants.

Flowerbeds on the Amalfi coast

In 1973 noted horticulturist Donald Wyman from Boston’s Arnold Arboretum wrote a wonderful article in Arnoldia called “The History of Ornamental Horticulture in America.”

He said, “It is of interest to note that in gardens and landscape plantings of a general nature in the northern United States, half of the plants used are of oriental origin, a quarter are native to Europe and only a quarter are native to America.”

He was also making the point that our gardens are a collection of plants both exotic and native.

You might call it a tapestry.

What kind of tapestry is your garden?

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No Garden without Nasturtiums

I recently ordered five packets of nasturtium seeds.

The varieties are both the climbing or spreading variety and the clumping kind of flowers.

Every garden needs to have nasturtiurms.

The main reason is they are so easy to grow. No potting inside weeks before the ground warms up. This seed you can plant right in the ground or in an outdoor container.

The Garden Museum in London sent me this beautiful illustration of ‘Empress of India’ nasturtiums by British artist Hannah McVicar.

‘Express of India’ Nasturtium by artist Hannah McVicar

Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening says this about the humble Nasturtium: “The common garden nasturtium comprises the genus Tropaeolum, the only one of the family Tropaeolaceae…They are native of the cooler parts of South America.”

James Vick, the nineteenth century Rochester, New York seed company owner, included Nasturtiums in his catalog, magazine, and his book as well.

He wrote, “Flowers of all the different shades of yellow, orange, and red….They are very desirable.”

In his seed catalog of 1873 Vick said, “This flower has of late been much improved, the blossoms being larger and more showy.”

How can we loose? Nasturtiums show superb qualities for the gardener: easy to grow, with splendid flower color, and ever so dependable.

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Two Ways to Reproduce a Plant

Annuals play an important role in the summer garden.

How do so many annuals make it to your garden center in the spring?

The major methods to reproduce a plant are through a seed or a cutting.

The new plants you see at the garden center probably came there as a cutting.

This is how it works.

A cutting is planted in a small container of soil or medium. Growers call that small container a plug.

Richard Craig, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, wrote the article “Creating a More Beautiful World: A Century of Progress in the Breeding of Floral and Nursery Plants.”

The article appeared in the scientific journal HortScience.

Craig recognizes the importance of the plug in the business of propagation.

He says, “I believe that the development of plug-culture technology was one of the most important developments of the century.”

Pleasant View Garden

Pleasant View Garden in Loudon, New Hampshire grows thousands of plants each year for Proven Winners.

Not too long ago I wrote a post here in which I mentioned Pleasant View uses cuttings extensively for its annuals.

The cutting as a plug is then sold to garden centers.

Here is a greenhouse at Pleasant View Garden with hundreds of plugs waiting to find a home in some garden center or nursery. There they will be potted and cared for in hopes in the spring customers will buy them.

Pleasant View Garden, Loudon, New Hampshire.

Stephen Harris in his book Planting Paradise: Cultivating the Garden 1500-1900 also recognizes the importance of cuttings for the garden industry.

He writes, “Traditionally, gardeners have two basic approaches to multiplying the number of a plant: sexual propagation using seed or clonal propagation using some form of cutting.”

It was only at the end of the nineteenth century that through new grower technology cuttings for plugs became the major form of propagation for the garden industry.

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Boston Flower Show Abruptly Ends

Saturday’s Boston Globe had a story about the annual Boston Flower and Garden Show, set for five days this past week.

The headline of the story read, “Spring flower show closing two days early following state ban on gatherings.”

The threat of coronavirus caused Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to ban any gatherings of 250 or more people.

That, of course, meant the Flower Show might have to close.

Luckily I was able to get there Friday morning. I had volunteered to help out at the New England Hosta Society exhibit for a couple of hours.

There were very few people which meant the exhibits would not have crowds gathering around them.

I arrived about 10 a.m., the opening time, and entered with just a few other people. I walked around to take a look at the splendid displays of flowers everywhere.

This exhibit by Proven Winners highlighted PW’s new plants for the spring. [below]

Boston Flower Show 2020

Included in the arrangement were the new Caladiums that PW now offers. The colors, in a series called ‘Heart to Heart,’ were combinations of bright red, pink, green and white. One seemed more beautiful than the next.

Though the Show closed early, I was glad I got to see at least a bit of the Boston Flower and Garden Show, and one of my favorites, Caladium.

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Archives Open A Window on American Gardening

I just finished reading a wonderful new book on the history of the American garden.

The book, Everything for the Garden, is not thick but is filled with many engrossing photos and illustrations.

The book is based on the collection of garden books, catalogues, and related ephemera in Historic New England’s Library and Archives.  The time frame is the nineteenth into the early twentieth century.

Five excellent essays by prominent garden historians, writers, archivists, and designers make up the volume.

Garden historian Judith Tankard writes about our long dependence on the written word, especially garden books.

She says, “Even though today’s information is readily available on the Internet, the old-fashioned pleasures of thumbing through catalogues and how-to-publications still exist.” There is something that still attracts us to the printed word in the form of a garden book or garden magazine. We want to hold it in our hands.

Late nineteenth century catalogues from seed companies included vegetables depicted as humans in an effort to sell their seeds.  That whimsical artwork is still fun to see.

Garden Statues

Any history of the garden must of course include statuary.  Here archivist Richard Nylander reminds the reader how different the gardener’s choice of such statuary can be, depending on the decade. He highlights three such garden ornaments.

The first garden accessory he mentions is the sculpture Bird Girl (1936) which also appeared on the cover of the 1994 book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

 I found his second statue, that of St. Francis, one that I had never thought of but certainly one that I have seen in many gardens. Francis, after all, is now the patron saint of ecology with his love of animals and nature.

 Finally, he reminds the reader of the ever-popular, ever-repulsive, Pink Flamingo craze from the 1950s. What fun.

Garden Fashion

 The idea that the garden is subject to fashion and style appears over and over in the book as the writers discuss the time and place of a particular form of the American garden. For example, the Colonial Revival movement in the early twentieth century stimulated interest in old-fashioned flowers and gardens. It was an interpretation of what people thought the Colonial garden might have looked like.

Alan Emmet includes many images of period gardens like Hunnewell’s in Wellesley, Mass. and Celia Thaxter’s off the coast of New Hampshire.  He admits the difficulty in preserving a garden. Emmet writes, “A garden is probably the most fragile, the most perishable form of art.”

The final essay by Virginia Lopez Begg presents an overview of the Garden Club movement in America.  She spells out the importance of the movement for women. The movement also changed our views of horticulture and landscape design.

The book ends with a listing on the inside of the back cover of some of the many properties, with their fabulous gardens, that Historic New England manages.  Now, as spring approaches, we need to visit these gardens and enjoy them once again in person.

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New Book Cover Arrived

Last week turned out to be extra special for me.

On Monday Ohio Unversity Press sent me the cover for my new book All about Flowers: James Vick’s Nineteenth Century Seed Company.

James Vick (1818-1882) from Rochester, New York, owned one of the largest seed companies in the country.

The book tells Vick’s story, especially his passion to teach people about flowers.

Here is the cover:

The colors jump out at you and ask you to sit down and read Vick’s Victorian-era story..

I am quite happy with the Victorian look and feel of the design. Vick’s seed catalog from 1874 is the back ground, now colored in that brilliant blue.

Don’t expect to see the book until mid to late Fall.

What do you think of the cover?

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New Book Traces Garden Club History

I just finished a wonderful book about American gardening, Everything for the Garden.

Historic New England published it. The organization, whose name before was the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, maintains dozens of historic properties in New England.

The book inlcudes a chapter by landscape historian Virginia Lopez Begg called “An Unexpected Story: Social Revolution and the Garden Club.”

In that chapter Begg details the importance of the garden club movement in America.

She writes, “The garden club movement helped to transform the landscape of America and the women of America.”

In the early twentieth century the garden club gave women a voice in gardening by encouraging women’s civic involvement through gardening.

At a time when women were struggling for their own right to vote, the garden club movement gave women a unified voice in the areas of botany and horticulture.

That voice eventually involved important national issues like highway beautification and the use of native plants.

In 1904 the national movement started with the founding of the Garden Club of Philadelphia.

The Garden Club of America, now the parent organization, published the two-volume book Gardens of Colony and State in the 1930s.

The volume lists in both word and illustration many historic gardens throughout the country, several in New England.

At the turn of the century when women were bonding in various kinds of organizations to claim a voice, it was no surprise that gardening with its emphasis on horticulture and landscape design also became the focus of one such group.

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Japanese Knotweed Jumped the Wall

Did you know that Japanese knotweed jumped the wall?

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries English gardeners hosted exotics.

They took great satisfaction in growing plants that flooded the country from Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Plant hunters then searched the globe for worthwhile garden plants.

There were various kinds of plants, including vines. One such entry was Japanese knotweed.

Unfortunately, Japanese knotweed became an unwanted invasive species.

Garden historian Stephen Harris writes about this vine in his book Planting Paradise: Cultivating the Garden 1500-1900.

Harris says, “Once an exotic plant has ‘jumped the wall’ it can have profound effects and often very difficult to control.”

The example he cites is Japanese knotweed. [below]

[Thanks to: WASHINGTON STATE
Noxious Weed Control Board
]
Polygonum Cuspidata, Japanese Knotweed

Harris says, “Japanese knotweed [is] a species which has now spread over much of the UK following the flurry of interest it aroused in the mid-nineteenth century.”

It is listed by the World Conservation Union as one of the world’s worst invasive species.

Botanical gardens, like Boston’s Arnold Arboretum, still search the world, especially China, for plants that will grow in US gardens.

Today we know a lot more about invasive plants than we did when Japanese knotweed first arrived in England in 1850.

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