Victorian Home Landscape Required Lawn

Victorian home landscape required lawn.

The lawn became an important part of the American home landscape in the nineteenth century.

The seed and nursery catalogs often featured a lawn in illustrations and offered the best method of laying out and cultivating a lawn.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  was no different. He often wrote about the lawn.

In his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in August of 1878 he referred to the lawn as a jewel, an emerald.

He said, “A well kept lawn, with a few beautiful trees and a belt or group or two of shrubbery on the border, needs but little other adornment. A few beds of foliage plants or flowers, or vases, are like diamonds set in emerald, and the latter, especially, impact a graceful elegance which nothing else can give. They are infinitely superior to the most costly statuary, which is better suited to the hall than the garden, and quite out of place in such simple, unpretentious places as are most of the private gardens of this country.”

This illustration of ‘Home Grounds’ appeared in his magazine in 1880. [below] Notice the lines of the flowing lawn.

Home Grounds. Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, 1880 [Courtesy of the Five Colleges Depository at the University of Massachusetts]

It was the homeower’s duty to provide the lawn because it alone was the important setting for the home.

In February of 1879 Vick wrote, “Those who do not make home beautiful and happy are morally or intellectually inferior, generally both, but not always.”

It was as if there were a moral imperative to cultivate a lawn to demonstrate a homeowner had taste.

A  customer from Nebraska wrote Mr. Vick in 1880 and asked, “What is the best Grass for lawns, and also the best ornamental and shade trees for lawns? If convenient, will you give the plan of a lawn?”

 Every Victorian home needed a lawn.

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Lawn Became Essential Landscape Feature

Lawn Became Essential Landscape Feature

Beginning in 1859, and for the next twenty-nine years,  Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan published a magazine called Gardener’s Monthly

In the first pages of each issue he provided advice on taking care of the lawn, thus reinforcing its importance in the home landscape for the reader.

He considered the lawn an essential feature for the home landscape, no matter what size.

Built in 1904 the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, Massachusetts now forms part of the house and garden list of the Trustees of Reservations

Lawn surrounds the red brick house, giving the landscape that English garden look from the end of the nineteenth century.  [below]

bradley-estate-canton-small

The back garden at the Bradley Estate in Canton, Mass.

Meehan wrote in the magazine’s 1860 issue: “The rarest flowers-the choicest fruits-the nicest arrangement of all things on the most scientific principles, are lost to us, if they are not crowned by a perfect lawn.  To the lawn we bow; and as a subject of horticulture, offer to the lawn our strongest allegiance.”

In February 1869 Meehan wrote in his magazine that the lawn meant more to Americans than to the English: “Much as the lawn plays a part in English gardening, it is of much more account with us. Our heats render the grass particularly refreshing.”

It is little wonder that the pursuit of the perfect lawn, the signature feature of the English garden, has a long history for the American homeowner.

Nineteenth century nurserymen like Meehan considered the lawn essential in the landscape.

Tree and Lawn at the Bradley Estate

Tree and Lawn at the front of the Bradley Estate

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19th Century Garden Catalog Was Advertising

19th Century Garden Catalog Was Advertising

The seed and nursery catalog covers from the nineteenth century appealed to so many people because they offered a sense of color, design, and feel for that period.  Even today we love their look.

They are also ads.

The nineteenth century American style of landscape followed the English model not only in newspapers but in magazines, and, of course, the garden catalog, as New York seedsman Peter Henderson did on this 1897 seed catalog cover. [below]

Anthropologist Grant McCracken in an article about advertising in the Journal of Consumer Research says, “Cultures segment the flora, fauna, and landscape of natural and supernatural worlds into categories.”

Advertising in a culture defines class, gender, and fashion, including gardening.

So in the nineteenth century American seed and nursery businesses said the English garden style, sometimes picturesque, sometimes naturalistic, sometimes gardenesque. was the preferable form for the gardener.

McCracken says, “Advertising works as a potential method of meaning transfer by bringing the consumer good [like a plant or seed] and representation of the culturally constituted world together within the frame of a particular advertisement.”

Since the catalog from the seed and nursery industries was often called an advertisement, we can certainly refer to the cover as such, since the colorful illustrations were so carefully chosen by the company owner to give a particular message.

In this Henderson catalog it is the English garden style that he represented, especially in the lawn.

Think how advertising works.  We never just buy a product, like a plant or seed, we buy the dream in the image connected with the product. How the flower might look, how the garden might turn out. 

In Henderson’s cover home owners could envision a lush and green lawn like the one illustrated on the cover.

The cover sold the English garden with its lawn.

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1890s Lawn Seed Ad Linked to Public Garden

By the 1890s modern advertising sought to motivate the buyer by an emotional appeal.

Recently I spent an afternoon examining nineteenth century seed catalogs at the library of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

A grass seed ad in a catalog from 1889 caught my attention.

The Parker and Wood Seed Company in Boston used the Public Garden which borders the Boston Common as an illustration to sell its grass seed. Created in 1837, the Public Garden was the first public botanical garden in America. From the begnning decorative and flowery, it featured meandering pathways for strolling. Today its famous duck boats bring tourists to its lagoon in the summer.

Both the Public Garden and the Boston Common, begun in 1634, extend for several city blocks.  Recently I drove by at night to see their Christmas lights. Quite impressive.

an ad for grass seed in Park & Wood Catalog 1889

An ad for grass seed in this 1889 Park & Wood Catalog featured Boston’s Public Garden.

By late  nineteenth century the lawn had become an important part of the home landscape.

This advertising told the reader that if the grass seed was good enough for Boston’s Public Garden, it certainly would be fine in your home landscape as well.

An appeal in this case to sell something by associating it with something or someone that people treasure is what we still do today in marketing, advertising, and public relations.

By the late nineteenth century advertising meant not simply giving information about a product, but motivating a buyer to choose a particular product.  In this ad the Company referred to its particular variety of grass seed  called ‘Boston Lawn Seed.’  You can see the product name in the lower right corner of the ad. [above]

Connecting the grass seed with this established public green space was an example of that kind of modern advertising.

By linking the lawn seed to the Public Garden, for people across the country this nineteenth century ad also sold the importance of the lawn in the landscape.

 

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