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Showy Plants Filled Outdoor Containers in late Nineteenth Century America

It’s spring and time to consider what you will plant in that container in your landscape.

The nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries encouraged planting such outdoor containers or, as they called, vases or baskets.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) had specific instructions for planting a vase to place outside where everyone could see it.

He advised a tall, showy plant in the center like a yucca, banana, or canna. A shorter plant to fill out the mid section like a verbena or petunia. Finally, a hanging plant like an ivy or coleus to droop down the sides of the container, never, of course, to touch the ground, but hanging low nonetheless.

The image below is from his catalog called Vick’s Floral Guide of 1880. [below]  In it he wrote, “Of all the adornments of the lawn, nothing is more effective than a well filled and well kept vase.” Notice that it sat right on the lawn.

74 Vase-Well-Cared-ForVick described this vase as simply ‘a well-cared for container’ and  bemoaned the fact that sometimes gardeners neglected the container and the plants dried up simply for lack of attention.

He wrote in his catalog of 1874 “Last year we published an article on the proper treatment of Baskets and Vases, showing that many failed simply because the plants were famished, destroyed entirely, or condemned to a miserable struggle for existence simply for want of water.”

Then he reminded his readers that his advice is worth taking in these words: “Our friends who treated the vase, last year, so badly, have also profited by our remarks, and we have a drawing as it appears, September 2d. It certainly speaks for itself.” [below] The words below the vases read, “Vase of 1872” and “Vase of 1873”, demonstrating that this particular gardener had learned how to care for container plantings since the prior year.

Vick's Floral Guide 1874
Vick’s Floral Guide 1874

Now that it is spring you have to decide not only what plants to put in the outdoor container, but also to schedule your time for maintaining that container.




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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Thomas, very appropriate article for the season. In a Half-Price Books in San Antonio, I actually ran across an entire book about the history of potted plants in England: “Potted History” by Catherine Horwood. It, like many other fascinating books, lies on my shelf waiting to be read still, but you might find it interesting. Thanks for the interesting drawings! -Beth

  2. How incredible that over 135 years ago the container was established and we still use the same basic formula. I love the drawings they made and the comparison is great….of course the containers they had then are priced antiques now and what I wouldn’t do to have a few of these grand containers.

    1. The containers of the high Victorian period in America were works of art. You are right. You can buy a similar design in other material than stone and that would be cheaper, but not quite the same. I love colorful containers in the summer. Soon…

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