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Perennials Took Back Seat in Nineteenth Century American Gardens

Today the question of perennials in the garden hinges on what variety of a perennial does one include.  Should it be native or exotic?

In the nineteenth century the issue of perennials in the garden played like a pingpong ball.

Lily of the Valley. Photo from Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery.

Sometimes the practice was encouraged, and other times deemed not important.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in March of 1883:

“As to hardy herbaceous plants being recommended for general cultivation, I think that day is past. There seems to be a craving in human nature for that which we have not. Rarities, new forms and colors and exotics are more appreciated than those hardy things. But all are good in their place.”

The lily of the valley, a popular nineteenth century shade perennial, was included in the Moffatt-Ladd garden of the 1880s in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.   Alexander H. Ladd (1815-1900)  recorded so in his garden journal, discovered only a few years ago.

He thought perennials formed an essential part of the garden. The fact that plants like the lily of the valley were not native did not bother him.

Nineteenth century gardeners like American gardeners today just looked for new plants, and often chose annuals rather than the faithful perennial.


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Tom,
    Now that Nuala, and Jenny and I are home from the Amalfi coast trip, I have some time to do some reading. Read through your blog quickly, and found it interesting. Wil read more when I have time. Have been working on my patio gardens for some time and some of the most beautuful are those I got from other people’s gardens. We have six acres of woods beyond it that can’t be built upon so it makes a nice backdrop. We don’t own it or pay taxes on it which is even better.

    Hoping to have a cookout in west wood with some of the trip participants. Will let you know when that is.

    Hope you’re both rested after that long flight.

    Tom barner

    1. The time change is still something Rita Mae and I are both dealing with at the moment. We still are tired at times. Many memories of the Amalfi experience. Have a great weekend.

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