Nineteenth Century Wisconsin Hort Society Encouraged English Garden

Nineteenth century Wisconsin Hort Society encouraged English garden design.

The English garden with its lawn, curved path, trees to line the property and kitchen garden out back had become the fashion on the American east coast throughout the nineteenth century.

In her book Vintage Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Garden Making landscape architect and historian Lee Somerville describes how in the nineteenth century the Wisconsin State Horticultural Society encouraged that same English style for the home landscape.

Somerville writes, “In 1869, as the WSHS was reorganized after the Civil War, President Joseph Hobbins forcefully outlined the prevailing ideals for the vernacular garden in his opening address to the membership.”

In his remarks Hobbins described the look of the modern home landscape.

Somerville writes, “The picture Hobbins painted can be clearly traced to the principles espoused by Andrew Jackson Downing, Jacob Weidenmann, Frank J. Scott, and others.”  

This group of famous nineteenth century landscape gardeners fostered the look of the English garden, with its lawn and trees to line the property.

The homeowner was to plant trees, shrubs, and flower beds to create an ornamental front yard that would enhance “the view from the street and provide a picture for those inside the house.”

Hobbins was familiar with the landscape theory of Downing who wrote of ‘rural art’ that ought to  guide the homeowner, beginning with a lawn.

That design was of course the English garden with its principle feature, the lawn, inherited from the early eighteenth century when the natural or modern English garden first emerged.

Most Wisconsin gardeners would wind up with vernacular gardens that were a blend of the English view along with the emerging mid-west emphasis on native plants in what they called the new prairie landscape design.

Just as had happened on the east coast through the encouragement of seed companies, nurseries, and landscape designers, the nineteenth century recommendation for Wisconsin homeowners also centered on the English garden style.

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Boston Flower Show Honors Capability Brown

Boston Flower Show honors Capability Brown.

Last week the Boston Flower and Garden Show honored England’s eighteenth century gardener to the King, Lancelot Capability Brown.

For months Brown has been in the news quite a bit because 2016 was his three hundredth birthday anniversary.

At the Flower Show Joseph Gray Stonework teamed up with  the plant grower Proven Winners to create an exhibit with Brown as the inspiration.

Together they envisioned the Show’s theme “Superheroes of the Garden” in the person of Capability Brown.

Brown designed over two hundred gardens in England including Warwick Castle, which has a mythical connection to the legend of King Arthur.

Gray said, “My garden is a fantasy design of the Warwick Castle grounds and the hidden lair of Merlin the Magician.”

The exhibit featured this nine-foot high granite fountain of Merlin’s face. [below]

Proven Winners from Pleasant View Gardens in Loudon, New Hampshire provided the many flowers that filled five hundred square feet throughout the exhibit.

Colors like pink in large swathes made a memorable impression on any visitor to this exhibit.

The heavy stone with the delicate looking blooms created a pleasant contrast in this award-winning exhibit and tribute to England’s Capabiity Brown, a true ‘Superhero in the Garden.’

 

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Loudon Befriended Early American Seedsman

Loudon befriended early American seedsman.

Writer and horticulturist John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) influenced the development of the English garden during the first half of the nineteenth century. He is sometimes referred to as the ‘father of the English garden.’

Loudon shared a friendship with New York seedsman Grant Thorborn (1773-1863), both originally from Scotland, and living in England when they met.Loudon and the Landscape

In her book Loudon and the Landscape: From Country Seat to Metropolis Melanie Louise Simo wrote that Loudon and Thorburn enjoyed after dinner conversation together at Loudon’s home.

Thorburn sailed for America in 1794. He settled in New York where he established a seed company in 1802, one of the earliest in the country.

In its 1899 catalog the Thorburn Company [below] laid claim to its longevity as a reason for a customer to send in seed orders. The catalog said, “Our leading business principle has always been to supply only the very highest class of seeds. The fact that we have commanded the leading wholesale and market-gardeners’ trade of this country for nearly a century should justify our claim to the patronage of those who have not yet experienced the advantage of dealing with us.”

1899 Thorburn seed catalog

1899 Thorburn seed catalog

In his writing about the garden in the catalogue, Thorburn liberally quoted from English garden authorities, including the English garden ideas of his friend Loudon.

The Oregon State University website for its wondeful seed catalog collection says, “Thorburn quoted liberally from English gardening authorities including Loudon, but added his own notes on how plants performed in America.”

Through the words of his friend Loudon Thorborn proposed the English garden design to his American customers.

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Cottage Gardens Can Be Found across America

In the late nineteenth century English garden writer William Robinson and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll helped to popularise less formal gardens in their many books and magazine articles.  They sought to encourage the cottage garden style among their many readers.

Thus it was no surprise that by the start of the twentieth century there was a surge of interest in the cottage garden. Both Robinson and Jekyll admired the ability of the cottage gardener to grow so many plants so well in a limited space. They thought that idea would help other gardeners.

Today we have cottage gardens across America.

Margaret Hensel in her book English Cottage Gardening for American Gardens writes, “Over English Cottage Gardens bookthe years I have discovered dozens of the most wonderful cottage gardens here in the United States, every sort from tiny dooryards on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod to Midwestern backyards and San Francisco terraces.”

No matter how small your garden is, you can cultivate a cottage garden.

Hensel writes that the “romantic, slightly overgrown look is so characteristic of cottage gardens.” That’s what she saw across the country.

What is so appealing about the cottage garden is that it can be a garden of any size, even a small back patio area in a city setting.

The cottage garden idea gives a certain inspiration for gardeners with limited space.  It also tells those of us who have an acre or more that we can still garden by using the space well with the careful selection of the number of plants, chosen for their size, color and texture. That might mean perennial beds and borders, and even areas of ornamental grasses.

Here is an example of a border of perennials on a rather small property called Tiffany Gardens Bed and Breakfast in Londonderry, NH which I visited this summer. [below] The size and color of these perenials fit in so well.

Bed of Perennials in Backyard Garden in New Hampshire

Border of Perennials in a New Hampshire Backyard Garden 

Cottage Gardens Can Be Found across America.

 

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Everybody Loves Cottage Gardens

What is it about cottage gardens that we love?

There is a certain sentimentality and at the same time an immediate connection with a cottage garden. Perhaps it’s because cottage gardens display a landscape that is both in a beautiful form and in a small space.

The excellent use of limited space may well be what we find so attractive in cottage gardens. The cottage garden represents an ideal way to deal with limited space for a homeowner.

English cottage gardens for centuries represented the gardening of laborers or cottagers who had little money and a limited outdoor space, but a love of gardening that inspired them.

Margaret Hensel in her book English Cottage Gardening: For American Gardeners says it all when she writes, “The magic is not in having the biggest garden on the block but in making whatever space you do have as beautiful as it possibly can be.”

Then she lists the essential flowers in any cottage garden: delphiniums, roses, hollyhocks, old-fashioned pinks, and oriental poppies.

The blog called gardeninggreen.net offers this image in a post about cottage gardens. [below] The image illustrates so well an English cottage garden that happens to be in England’s Worcestershire.

English cottage garden

English cottage garden in Worcestershire [thanks to the blog Gardening Green]

It is no surprise that to this day we love the English cottage garden.

Hensel dedicates her book “to all of the gardeners whose gardens and love of gardening made it possible.”

What do you think about the cottage garden?

 

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