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Garden Advertising as well as Garden Writing Reflect Social Class

Gardening, like food and fashion, is tied into what is important to a particular time and place.

Today we read articles and books and also see ads promoting the use of native plants in the landscape and decreasing the size of the lawn with native grasses.

Garden ads as well as garden books and articles tell us what role gardening plays in social class. When you see any garden advertising, even the cover of a garden catalog, it is quite common to situate the garden product with some kind of social class.

In his book The Story of Gardening: From the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the Hanging Gardens of New York, Richardson Wright discusses the beginnings of the English natural style of landscape gardening [design] in the early eighteenth century.  This style distinguished itself by claiming it’s informal, natural look, rather than a symmetrical and formal approach.

Mainly the aristocracy however accepted this new form of landscape design, not the laborer or the middle class. Wright says, “By no means did these naturalists have things all their own way, nor did they influence all classes. The titled and upper gentry, as in all ages, took up the new fashion; the ordinary folk clung to their little formal gardens.”

So it was that for most of the eighteenth century, the garden of the laborer and the middle class had little written about it because their gardens were not designed in the modern, or new style. The upper class considered the gardens of the lower classes old-fashioned and not in touch with modern design.

Writing about the garden at that time implied the modern or natural garden. Garden books and articles extolled the modern garden as the important design.

It would however not be long before that kind of garden would also become important to the middle class, especially through the writing of English horticulturist John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) at the start of the nineteenth century. His landscape design style, called the gardenesque, borrowed much from the naturalistic view of the landscape.

Novelist Edith Wharton (1862-1937) designed her home and garden in Lenox, Massachusetts where she lived for ten years. In a book compiled from the talks at a conference about her in 2006 called Edith Wharton and the American Garden,  architect Hugh Hardy wrote in his article, “It is not surprising that the horticultural accomplishments of the wealthy continue to exert a powerful influence on suburban garden design. Since the sixteenth century, well-heeled patrons have funded garden designs that now appear in reduced form in suburban backyards.”

Peter Henderson in his seed catalog of 1892 included an image of a middle class woman on the cover. She seems to be clipping daffodils for the table. [below]  Her dress and the setting of the house portray a middle class woman.

Henderson catalog cover of 1899
Peter Henderson seed catalog cover of 1892

Since gardening is tied into fashion and style, it is no surprise that an appeal to or reference to social class often accompanies the words and images in garden writing and advertising.



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