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California Gardens in 1877 Resembled an East Coast Landscape

You may think that the popular English garden style in the nineteenth century was limited to the Atlantic coast.

Not true.

California garden historian Thomas Brown wrote that in the nineteenth century California planted gardens in both the English gardenesque style as well as the Italian landscape design.

Plant pedlers used this illustration in their books to sell plants

In 1877 Phildelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly included a letter from California.  The writer detailed a San Francisco garden whose description read much like a landscape of a wealthy East coast gardener.

“It is a superb collection [of plants] for any place, and is the largest in variety and extent of any on the coast. At great expense a rockery was hauled by ox teams to the grounds..An artificial stream plays over the rocks and a pond for gold fish of some extent, receives the water….There were glades and clumps of wide shrubbery, rural walks and rustic bridges and seats and arbors…flower-beds in mathematical shapes, and roses by the thousands. Box trees, hollies, cork trees, and an infinite variety of familiar and unfamiliar plants that would fill a gardener’s catalogue to enumerate.”

The Californai nurseries had done their job well, supplying the  plants popular on the East coast to this California gardener.

In one sense it is no surprise to see a garden in California just like one on the East coast.  That’s what happens when advertising and marketing create a uniform message, in this case, how a garden should look.

Like the before and after image above, the landscape looked the same from coast to coast.  This is an illustration in a plant peddler’s book.  The English gardenesque style is clear.

The nineteenth century nursery catalogs around the country promoted such a garden and sold the plants to fill it.

Meehan’s California garden serves as an example of America’s love for garden fashion, sold in advertising, garden magazines,  garden books, and, of course, the catalog.



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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thomas, I’m afraid my garden is more like the ‘Unpleasant’ version shown above. I must seek out the tree dealers. In the letter above, the writer mentions “Box trees.” Is this Boxwood?

    1. I would think the term means boxwood, just as you do. Gardening is never ‘done’, as you know. Just finished some pruning, and may need some more in a few days after I think about other plants.

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