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Nineteenth Century American Gardeners Admired the English Garden Style

A common theme in the marketing of the garden from the nineteenth century seed and nursery industries is that gardening in Europe, but particularly in England, surpassed  American gardening.

New York seedsman Peter Henderson (1822-1890) often wrote about that difference.

Henderson admitted that American garden ingenuity outpaced that of England in some areas. He once saw in England twenty men, each using a spade to form a market garden.  He admitted that in America the “plow and harrow will pulverize the soil better”, which is what any garden marketer on Long Island or New Jersey would have done.

This 1889 Henderson seed catalog cover featured the lawn.
This 1889 Henderson seed catalog cover featured the lawn.

But he also pointed out the backwardness  of American gardening.

In the 1880 issue of Thomas Meehan’s Gardener’s Monthly Henderson wrote : “It must be admitted that in some phases of horticultural progress, we are yet far behind Europe, particularly in the ornamentation of our public grounds. We have nothing to compare with the Battersea Park, London; the Jardin des Plantes, of Paris; or the Phoenix Park, Dublin; and when comparison is made of the grounds surrounding the villas in the suburbs of these European cities, with our suburbs here, the comparison is, if possible, more against us, for there it is rare to see a neat cottage without a well-kept lawn, and good taste shown in the planting of its flower beds, its well trimmed fruit trees and neat vegetable grounds. Here as yet, we have hundreds of expensive mansions, particularly in the suburbs of New York, where the so-called garden surroundings tell all too plainly of the mushroom wealth of its shoddy owner.”

So America needed to look to Europe to improve its gardening.

In that same issue of GM Henderson wrote about “coarse taste” in gardening.  He said, “We can excuse the wife of a day laborer planting her seeds of Morning Glorys or Lady’s Slipper in the potato or corn patch; but when the owner of a $10,000 cottage has the vulgarity to invade his flower beds with beets or tomatoes, he is carrying his utilitarian principles beyond the bounds of ordinary good taste.”

Sounds a bit like the homeowner recently who dug up his front lawn and planted vegetables. His neighbors were up in arms.

The standard to measure American gardening in most of the nineteenth century remained European, particularly English.


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I found this article whilst looking for other information on gardening as I am a landscaper by trade. I found it interesting how american landscapers took their views from english landscapers and designers.

    I think a lot of the old traditional landscaping this article talks about is starting to make a come back now.



    1. Carl, thank you for connecting. You are right about landscape ideas of a former time finding a place today as we think about the landscape. William Robinson and the wild garden idea is one example.

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