Victorians Loved Flower Arranging

Victorians loved flower arranging.

Today people send flower arrangements quite easily through several online vendors.

Flower arranging as an art form took hold in the Victorian period.

After 1850 the seed and nursery catalogs moved from selling mostly vegetables to flowers.  Gardeners wanted flowers

Flowers became a Victorian passion. Flower arranging appeared everywhere.

David Stuart writes in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “Flower arranging seems to have been an innovation of the Victorian period.”

Cut flowers added beauty to home decoration.

Stuart writes, “The decoration of rooms with cut flowers became increasingly important in the nineteenth century and gave rise, by mid-century, to all sorts of appliances to hold flowers and keep them fresh.”

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) offered many flower containers in the pages of his seed catalog. He featured wooden, metal, and even ceramic vases.

Vick also included this chromolithograph of cut flowers in a vase that his customers could frame and adorn the walls of the parlor or living room.  [below]

Vick chromo of 1873

The Victorian home needed flower arrangements for many occasions. Stuart writes, “The need for ladies to be accomplished flower arrangers extended to almost all aspects of both life and death.”

The magazine The English Garden recently posted an article called “Arranging cut flowers – secrets of a top London florist” about the English florist Vic Brotherson who recently designed the flower arrangements for Kate Moss’ wedding in London.

The flowers listed in the article included Victorian favorites like foxglove, allium, cosmos, roses, and dahlias.

The Victorians not only loved flower arranging. They taught it so well that today we still use the same Victorian flowers for such arrangements.

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Oliver Plunkett’s Birthplace Includes Garden

Oliver Plunkett’s birthplace includes garden.

I just finished reading a biography of Oliver Plunkett, an Archbishop in Ireland who died in 1681 as a martyr for his Catholic faith.

Four priests and five laymen, paid to testify against him, betrayed him at his trial in London. They convinced the court that Plunkett planned to invade England with the help of the

Oliver Plunkett

French.

The witnesses also claimed that Plunkett wanted England under the control of the Pope.

Plunkett never received a chance to bring his own witnesses to the trial. The case has over the centuries been studied as an example of the poorest of judicial practice.

Plunkett’s life amounted to a witness for his faith, amidst the harshest of hatred and bigotry. It is the story of a courageous man who only tried to heal and bring people together in the name of faith.

While in Ireland recently, I visited the early home and church of Plunkett in Loughcrew in county Meath, one hour from Dublin.

There I found a beautiful garden, built in the nineteenth century.

The garden included a wall with a border of perennials, too many to count. [below]

 

Oliver Plunkett's border, along a wall in his birthplace

The perennial border along the red brick wall in Oliver Plunkett’s birthplace

This border represents the garden fashion in the late nineteenth century encouraged by Irish garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935).  He proposed perennials rather than the traditional annuals for flowerbeds.

What was amazing as I walked the property at Loughcrew that day was the thought that from this spot came a giant in Irish history, the man of faith known today as St. Oliver Plunkett.

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Portland Celebrates Victorian Christmas

Portland Celebrates Victorian Christmas

The Victorians knew how to celebrate the Christmas Holidays.

The Victorian period in America from 1840 to 1900 gave us the Christmas we have today, which includes candles, ribbons, flowers, and of course, the evergreen tree.  Decorating the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine at this time of year only continues that tradition.

Located in a hilly residential area near downtown, Victoria Mansion now captures the spirit of a Victorian Holiday with its extensive interior decorations.

The Victoria Mansion hosts its special Christmas celebration for the thirty-third year. The special six-week exhibit called  “Christmas at Victoria Mansion” runs until January 8.

Black Hat Tree

The parlor’s black hat tree, designed by Harmon’s and Barton’s, a local florist.

The Victoria Mansion, a brownstone built in 1860 in the Italian villa style, is preserved today as a Victorian home for visitors to enjoy a bit of nineteenth century Victorian fashion and style.

Designers

Holiday lights, flowers, greens, and ribbons fill the house during the Christmas season. Eight volunteer designers include florists, gift shop owners, and interior decorators who donate their time and also the materials to fashion each room.

This year they created each room’s decor with the theme “A Currier and Ives Christmas.”  Designers took their inspiration from the winter holiday images produced by the nineteenth century’s most popular printmaking firm.

Harmon’s and Barton’s, a Portland florist, used a black hat theme to decorate  the parlor. [above]

Mantel in Victoria Mansion

Mantel in Victoria Mansion’s red bedroom by Dan Gifford.

Dan Gifford of Portland decorated the mantel piece in the red bedroom with an array of Holiday colors, including the traditional red berries. [above]

Interior designer Karen Cole, here for her first time at the Mansion, chose a white, red, and green theme for the green bedroom.

Cole chose to create a bodice Christmas tree that stands in the bedroom. [below]

Christmas Tree in the Main Bedroom

Christmas Tree Bodice in the Master Bedroom by Karen Cole

The Mansion has become a special Holiday destination for many. Associate Director Tim Brosnihan says, “Part of the appeal of our Christmas celebration is that it has become a tradition for families.”  Each year many visitors return to see what this year’s designers have come up with for the rooms of the mansion.  He says, “It’s different every year.”

Last year almost ten thousand people walked through the front door of the Mansion to see the decorations.

The Victoria Mansion’s special Holiday decorations only make the house that much more inviting.

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Canna Became Popular Victorian Plant

Canna became popular Victorian plant.

I remember on my trip to Amalfi that cannas grew in flower beds that lined the main road of a small town we visited. You could tell they come up every year.  That climate was probably ideal for them.

Cannas originate in sub-tropical and tropical America and Asia.

Since the canna was a popular Victorian plant, I searched out comments in my garden history archives about it from the Victorian period.

In 1900 Cornell University Professor of Horticulture L. H. Bailey edited his classic garden resource The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture which said “Cannas are commonly used only in formal beds, but most excellent effects may be secured by scattering clumps in the hardy border or amongst shrubbery. “

The color of a canna with dark leaves offers a contrast for other plants in the garden. Even the flowers can offer a certain look. The SCH says, “Against a heavy background of green, the gaudy flowers show to their best, and the ragged effect of the dying flowers is not noticed.”

Some people did not partcilarly find the flowers attractive, but the structure of this large plant met with approval.  The SCH says, “As individual blooms, the flowers are not usually attractive, but they are showy and interesting in a mass and at a distance.”

On my deck this summer I potted the Canna called ‘Sangria’, part of the Cabana Canna Collection from J. Berry Nursery. It looked fine and did well the whole summer. [below]

canna on deck

Canna ‘Sangria’ from the Cabana Canna Collection growing in a container on my deck

Bailey does not mention the use of canna in a container.

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  does however recommend it as the center plant in a large container.  It is showy and people would see it from a distance.

Bailey seems to recommend it for beds. His book says, “Popular tall ornamental plants, prized for their stately habit, strong foliage and showy flowers; much used in bedding.”

Today we still enjoy this showy plant, whether in a container or in beds.

 

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England’s Amazon Water Lily Made History

England’s Amazon water lily made history.

No one knew that a single flower, found in the Amazon by a plant collector, could create such a fury in nineteenth century England, but it did. That fury appeared with elements of desire, intrigue, competition, secrecy, pride, and even jealousy.

That flower was the Amazon lily, also called Victoria Regia, and now called Victoria amazonica, or giant waterlily.

All the important botanists in England wanted to grow it.

Robert Schomburgk, while charting the territory of Guiana for the Royal Geographical Society, found the flower in 1837 and named it after Queen Victoria.

Flower of EmpireTatiana Holway tells the story of this lily in her book The Flower of Empire. Sometimes the book reads like a novel. She has included many characters who encountered this flower, including, of course, the Queen herself.

Plant collectors were common in nineteenth century England. Many plants we enjoy in the garden today come from such exploration.

But nobody had ever seen anything like the Amazon lily whose flower was measured, not in inches, but in feet. Its leaves alone measured eight feet wide.

Holway writes, “The Queen’s flower [Victoria Regia] was the centerpiece of her colony [British Guiana] and rendered it the very epitome of Britain’s imperial destiny.”

Several horticulturists in the first half of the nineteenth century tried to grow the seeds from the plant. Schombruk had promised seeds to Joseph Paxton, head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire in Chatsworth, after the Queen.

Paxton succeeded in growing the plant. He even built a special greenhouse for the lily.

That greenhouse served as the model for the Crystal Palace, which he designed in 1851 for the Great Exhibition in London.

So the lily is not only important because no one in England had ever seen anything like it but also because its greenhouse inspired the design of the Crystal Palace.

from Victoria Regia, treatise by John Fisk Allen, illustrations by William Sharp Plate © The University of Kansas Spencer Museum of Art

From Victoria Regia, treatise by John Fisk Allen, illustrations by William Sharp
Plate © The University of Kansas Spencer Museum of Art

Here in America John Fisk Allen from Salem, Mass. grew seeds of this lily in 1853. Shortly after that he wrote a description of the slow growth of the plant, which eventually did flower for him.

This chromolithograph by artist William Sharp appeared in Allen’s work. [above]

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Victorian England Loved US Native Plants

Victorian England loved US native plants.

During the nineteenth century, the English sometimes included a garden called the ‘American Garden’, an area in the landscape filled with American native shrubs and perennials.

The English loved American native plants, like Rudbeckia or Black-eyed Susan, Baptisia australis or False blue indigo, and Phlox.

Here is a Baptisia australis growing in my garden. [below] The plant is a beautiful addition to the garden, and almost care-free.

Baptista Australis, garden of Thomas Mickey, Rye, NH. Photograph by Ralph Morang

Baptisia australis, in my garden [Photograph by Ralph Morang]

New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly  in November 1880, “Our readers would be surprised if they could know how great a variety of hardy plants from all parts of the world are brought under cultivation for ornament in Great Britain and Europe. Some of the plants of our fields and prairies that we should consider least likely to be so employed find favor in the yards of our trans-atlantic cousins.”

The rhododendron from America enjoyed the reputation of an exceptional plant for the Victorian English garden while at the time America knew little about the plant.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly wrote in 1870, “It has often been a source of wonder, that the idea that the most beautiful of all American ornamental plants – the Rhododendron – could not be grown in its native country, should ever prevail; yet so universal is this belief, that though persistent efforts have been made by enthusiast nurserymen, like Parsons of Flushing, and Hovey of Boston, to introduce it to public notice, and to show that they can be as well grown as any other plant, only a few yet realize the fact; and thousands of our readers do not know what a rhododendron is.”

The Harlan P. Kelsey Company, a nursery in Boston, said in its company catalog of 1892, “While the whole earth outside the United States has been searched and explored to obtain the choicest trees and plants for beautifying our American parks, lawns, cemeteries, and gardens, yet the more beautiful American plants are rarely seen in cultivation, and, as a rule, are unknown to Americans.”

Today things have changed. Across the country gardeners everywhere cultivate native plants.

It seems like it took us a long time to accept the fact that native plants can contribute a great deal to the garden.

 

 

Fall River’s Victorian Christmas Trees Shine

At the Fall River Historical Society in Fall River, Mass. you can see four Christmas trees decked out like you have never seen a tree decorated. Until December 30 the FRHS holds its annual holiday event called “Deck the Halls.”

Last year one of the event’s trees received a second place award for the Christmas Tree Design Competition held annually by the Holiday and Decorative Association.

"Revelry in Red and Gold" theme for this Christmas tree at the Fall River Historical Society

“Revelry in Red and Gold” theme for this Christmas tree at the Fall River Historical Society

The FRHS is located in a hilly residential section of Fall River, at the corner of Maple and Rock, in a granite Greek Revival mansion, built in 1843 for Andrew Robeson Jr., a prominent businessman. Gold lettering on the front gray exterior tells you this impressive structure now houses the Historical Society.

With the assistance of a guide I recently toured the interior of the house, which is not very large compared to the size of today’s houses. We went from room to room on the first level and then upstairs. What I remember most are, of course, the four Christmas trees, scattered around the house.

Museum Curator Michael Martins and Dennis Binette, Assistant Curator, both designed the trees, and now with the help of several volunteers who put in weeks of work, the trees shine in lights, fabrics of all sorts, shells, and ribbons. Each tree embodies a theme.

The glory of the Baroque period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries inspired the 13-foot tree decorated as “Revelry in Red and Gold.”

The tree, illuminated with 6,000 white lights, emerges from a cloud of gold lame and hundreds of yards of white and gold fabric. The tree is studded with rich cut-velvet poinsettias, gilt-trimmed greens and berries, cascading berry sprays, Queen Anne’s lace in glitter and gilt, and laurel and holly sprays.

Seventy yards of gold metallic backed red velvet ribbon finish the tree. The nearby mantelpiece and portraits are also decorated.

Down the hall in another room you will find on a table an upside down 8-foot Christmas tree, with the theme “Carnival in Venice.” The annual Italian festival at Venice called Carnevale, famous for its elaborate handcrafted masks, inspired this design. Thus this tree includes a mask at its base.

Fall River society of the nineteenth century serves as the inspiration for the 9-foot tree called “Lady de Winter,” located in the dining room. The tree is decked out as the torso of a woman who belonged to the city’s elite in the late nineteenth century. The evening dress is made of leaves of a pewter fabric, steel-blue velvet poinsettias, silver leaf sprays, and pearls.

The final tree called “Greeting from Krampus” you will find in the second floor hallway. The tree’s theme hinges on the Santa Claus legend that a child who has behaved badly during the past year receives coal, not from Santa Claus, but from Krampus. So at the bottom of the 7-foot tree you can see chunks of coal, intended for that child who was anything but good.

Victorian Christmas trees truly shine in Fall River.

Victorian Gardens Required Coleus

You already know that the leaves of the coleus give color and form to any bed or container. 

According to Allison Kyle Leopold’s The Victorian Garden, the coleus, native to Africa, was introduced to the United States during the second half of the 19th century.

Victorian gardens, both in England and America, required the coleus.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan’s magazine Gardener’s Monthly said in 1861: “Coleus Blumei mixed or edged with Perilla Nankinensis will make a fine bed, the latter if used for edging should be frequently stopped or pegged down, and not allowed to bloom.”

Burpee catalog of 1893

A chromolithograph of the coleus from the Burpee Seed Company catalog of 1893

Eventually more mention of the coleus and its varieties appeared in the garden catalogs.

The James Vick Seed Company catalog of the 1870s does not list the coleus among the plant offerings, but in the company magazine of 1887, after the elder Vick’s death, a column appears about how to propagate the coleus. The writer said, “My practice is to grow fine healthy plants this summer, and in August or September, before frost, take cuttings for my winter stock.”

The Dingee and Conard catalog of 1892 offered a series of coleus plants called Success Coleus. “Everybody admires gorgeous summer bedding coleus, and every flower grower wants a bed, border, or edging of them. In fact, they are indispensable for bright bedding effects. We offer for the first time a special selection of coleus seed that will produce vigorous and fine plants, showing the most perfect markings and colors, in a short season.”

Leopold writes that the two major gardening sites, beds and borders, helped define the color and shape of Victorian gardens.

The coleus played no small role among the plant choices to fill that bed or border both in English and American gardens.