William Robinson Encouraged Perennial Borders

It is nothing new that gardening is subject to fashion, just like food and clothing.

The nineteenth century English garden went back and forth between borders of perennials and mass planting of annuals, especially in beds on the lawn.

The English garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935), author of the The English Robinson The English Flower GardenFlower Garden,  at first supported mass planting of annuals, but then saw the error in his thinking.

Perennials come back every year, and, by the way, cottage gardens have succeeded on that very principle.

Thus, he along with artist and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll encouraged the herbaceous border.

Nicolette Scourse writes in her book The Victorians and their Flowers, “It was unplanned simplicity [in gardening] which in the 1870s inspired rustic styles which were real and lasting: the woodland garden with naturalized bulbs and herbacous borders.”

Then she mentions the two gardeners who inspired the movement. She writes, “The steering forces were William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll, both of whom were captivated by the wild countryside and cottage gardens as they really were.”

Of course there was a bit of interpretation on their part as to what kind of garden people needed, now based on the cottage garden, but the herbacous border became a trend.

Scourse sums up this new fashion in these words, “The charm of the cottage garden was its lack of contrived design and this was the springboard of Robinson’s garden-making.”

And so it was that Mr. Robinson spread the word about the cottage garden, which had succeeded for generations with its wonderful herbaceous border.

 

Victorians Thought Weeds a Result of Adam’s Fall

Victorians Thought Weeds a Result of Adam’s Fall

You know weeds are a problem for every gardener.

The nineteenth century Victorians who considered cultivating flowers a reflection of the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis had their own view of weeds.

Nicolette Scourse writes in her book The Victorians and their Flowers, “The presence of weeds and other difficulties of cultivation were directly attributable to Man’s disobedience rather than any natural cause favoring weed dispersal.”

That view seems in line with the way Victorians thought about flowers. They were signs of God’s presence among us.  Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote, “Flowers are the symbols of all that are pure and true in this life, and they teach us to hope for Life to come.”

To cultivate a flower garden therefore meant a closeness to God.

This Schegel catalog cover of 1895

This Schegel catalog cover of 1895

Vick once received a letter from one of his customers. The letter said, “Mr. Vick, you say ‘The culture of flowers teaches industry, patience, and faith and hope.’ I think you may add courage and persistency…I do feel ‘better prepared for the duties and responsibilities of life – more fitted to conquer its evils and enjoy its pleasures.”

All of that from growing a few flowers.

That is precisely the point here.

In nineteenth century Victorian times you were not just growing flowers, you were showing a sense of morality and religious sentiment.

The Boston horticulturist Marshall Wilder (1798-1886) once wrote to Vick the following, “Flowers are the very embodiment of beauty; flowers are like angel spirits, ministering to the finest sensibilities of our nature, often inspiring us with thoughts, which like the unexpressed prayer, lie too deep for utterance.”

So it was no surprise that weeds would be considered a result of rejecting God’s love.

The Victorians sought to frame gardening in such a religious context, even calling the rose ‘the curse of Adam’ since, according to Scourse, they were ‘the thornbearers.’

The nineteenth century too inherited the sentiment of an earlier Romantic period in which nature reflected the Divine within its soil, water, stone, and plant.

The idea of using religious langauge to motivate the gardener reminded me of the words of Pope Francis in his recent Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality. He writes, “The ethical principles capable of being apprehended by reason can always appear in different guise and find expression in a variety of languages, including religious langauge.”