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Nineteenth Century Garden Catalogs Recommended Only a Couple Outdoor Vases

Yesterday I drove by a house with a rather large collection of pots out front. There must have been two dozen plant containers, mostly plastic, outside the front door, on the steps, and along the walkway. The number seemed out of scale for the property.

That scene made me wonder just how many vases or urns should you have out front during the summer.

The nineteenth century seed and nursery companies did not hesitate to tell you how many garden containers were appropriate.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  recommended in his seed catalog Floral Guide in 1873 that on the lawn the home owner ought to place two vases, filled usually with annuals:  “We often see several small vases scattered over the lawn, but the effect is bad. It is best to have one or two that command attention by their size and beauty.”

Thus it is quite clear that any lawn decoration with urns ought to include only one or two of a substantial size and filled with flowers and colorful leaves.

[below] This container of coleus ‘Neptune’s Net’ from last summer stood tall on my lawn for several months.  I wanted to see the effect of using only one plant in a container.

Who knows, perhaps Vick had some influence on my decision.

Coleus xxx
A blue stone vase with Coleus ‘Neptune’s Net’ on my front lawn


In 1856 the English horticulturist Shirley Hibberd in his book  Rustic Adornments for Homes of Taste wrote: “Wherever the occasion will admit of large vases of very simple design, a few of such will be preferable to any number of smaller examples, even if the the latter are ornamented in the most costly manner.”

Vick seems to echo the same sentiment in his suggestion, twenty-years later.

Hibberd concludes, “A poverty of ornament is as miserable as an excess is ostentatious.”

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