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Perennials Take Back Seat in Nineteenth Century Gardens

A gardener in the Victorian era, from 1850 til the end of the century, treasured annuals that provided color to the landscape.  The bolder and bigger, the better.  Coleus, petunias, cannas were just a few of the choices used in beds to decorate the lawn.

Unfortunately, perennials did not assume an important role til much later in the century.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in the 1873 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly: “The evil which accompanied [flowerbeds, ribbon beds, and carpet beds] was in nearly banishing from culturation the beautiful and interesting tribe known as hardy herbaceous plants. From early spring til late in the fall some of them were in bloom.”

A flowerbed in the pages of Vick's magazine, Illustrated Monthly in 1878.

Rochester seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) encouraged elaborate flowerbeds. He even offered engravings of that design in his catalog and magazine.  Vick fostered the Victorian style in word and image.  Landscape designer Jennifer Grace Hanna wrote in her thesis Ornamental Garden Design: “James Vick was extremely influential in the development of American landscape design during the later half of the nineteenth century.”

Thus Vick, like other seedsmen and nursery owners, fostered an English style of garden design, where in the Victorian period perennials often took second place.

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