Victorian Garden Ads Seldom Depicted Women Working

Victorian garden ads seldom depicted women working.

Recently I received this photo in a press kit to promote a new garden tool. Notice the woman here is raking in the garden while her son observes his mother’s work. [below]

[Courtesy of PR Newswire]

Women depicted as gardeners who were actually working in the garden was something I did not see very often as I read dozens of nineteenth century seed and nursery catalogs in doing research for my book.

I saw many illustrations of women, often cutting flowers to take into the house.  Sometimes women appeared as players in a lawn game like croquet.

Susan Groag Bell wrote an article called “Women create gardens in male landscapes: A revisionist approach to eighteenth-century English garden history.” It appeared in the journal Feminist Studies.

There she said “The discussion of gardening by women in the nineteenth century is not in the landscape books of the period, but rather in their letters, garden notebooks, botanical paintings, and embroideries. From these texts we know that women were actively involved in gardening.”

English writer Jennifer Davies in her book The Victorian Flower Garden does mention Victorian suburban women gardeners as a target audience for garden products.  She says, “Manufacturers were not slow to identify a new market in suburban lady gardeners. Advertisements for lawn mowers appeared with the wording ‘suitable for a Lady’ or with an illustration of a lady pushing a mower.”

Most of the illustrations of women in Victorian American seed and nursery catalogs did not show a woman at work in the garden. Notice the woman in this 1888 catalog illustration from Boston’s Rawson Seed Company. [below]  She’s cutting flowers.

Rawson_1888_garden very small

Illustrations similar to this Rawson image appeared frequently in the catalogs in Victorian America.

Today in selling tools for the garden, women are often depicted as actually working in the garden like digging a hole, weeding, or planting.

The change is not in a woman’s work in the garden, but in the advertiser’s image of woman as gardener.


Public Garden Reveals Formal Design’s Bare Bones

Public garden reveals formal design’s bare bones.

Recently my wife and I traveled to Spokane where I gave a talk on my book. Our hosts, the Inland Empire Gardeners, gave us a tour of the city of Spokane.

The only place I was really interested in visiting, and the only thing I knew about Spokane, was the formal Duncan Garden at Manito Park.

To my surprise the Park’s Duncan Garden was the first place we visited. You could see the bare bones of the formal garden that attracts so many visitors. [below] It seemed like the beds were just waiting for the day when their plants would arrive.

Manito Park, Spokane

Manito Park, Spokane

There is something magical about a formal garden. It certainly speaks to the artistic skill of the designer to create such forms of color and structure with plants, stone, and soil.

In August of 1881 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1881) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “Although the artificial or geometric style of gardening has passed away, a trace of it is still to be seen in some of the best grounds, where a small space is devoted to flowerbeds made in exact patterns, either cut in the grass or bordered with some low edging plants, with gravel walks between.”

In England that formal design took a back seat in the early 1700s to open the door to a new kind of garden design, called the natural or picturesque. Gardeners wanted a more natural look to the garden.

It would not be long, however, before the English would return to a more formal look in the garden. You can see it below in the Penshurst Place garden in Kent. [below]

Penshurst Place in Tonbridge

Penshurst Place in Tonbridge

The Manito Park formal garden dates to 1904, a time when there was a resurgence of interest in the formal design for the landsape both in England and in America.

Spokane today reflects that tradition in this famous park called Manito and its Duncan Garden with its carpet beds, which were empty when I took the photo above, but soon will be filled with color.  Then people will once again come to visit and enjoy this special garden.

I am grateful to the wonderful people we met in Spokane, especially the members of the Inland Empire Gardeners, who were so kind to make sure we visited Manito Park.

Thanks to Pat Schilling Photography for this photo [below] of what the Duncan Garden will look like in the summer. Amazing beautiful color in this formal design will await the visitor.

Spokane's Duncan Garden [Courtesy of Pat Schilling]

Spokane’s Duncan Garden [Courtesy of Pat Schilling]

English Garden Inspired Victorian America

English Garden inspired Victorian America.

The early 1700s in England saw a revolution in landscape design. The design included a more natural look, often with an area called ‘the park’, and of course a lawn and trees along with water as a prominent feature.

This new landcape, embodied in the English garden, rejected the formality of earlier garden design.

Laid out in the mid 1700s Stourhead represented that design. Here you see its palladian bridge that separates two areas of the garden. [below]

Bridge at Stourhead

Palladian Bridge at Stourhead

The landscape was called modern to distinguish it from the older, or ancient design style which was more both formal and symmetrical.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s America also adopted this modern style, especially on the east coast estates of the wealthy.  The sweeping lawn and curved path ways to the house embodied the English garden in its modern look.

The division between ancient and modern landscape style persisted well into the nineteenth century in Victorian America.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in the 1881 issue of his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “What is called the modern or natural style of landscape gardening had its origin in England at the commencement of the eighteenth century. Previously to this time the style of ornamental gardening in Great Britain was similar to that of the other nations of Europe, which, in contradictinction to the natural, is termed the artificial style.”

Vick often wrote about the value of the English landscape in its modern design. His new seedhouse, built in 1880, included a landscape in that modern style. [below]

Vick's seed house 1880

Vick’s seed house 1880

Though the revolution in English garden design began in the 1700s and continued into the 1800s, today we still can experience its impact.

We talk about a return to a more natural look, with the use of native plants, and even naturalizing with bulbs in the landscape, as a way of separating that design from the more formal and symmetrical look.

Plant Old Fashioned Annual Called Calendula

Plant old fashioned annual called Calendula.

From the large family of flowers called the Compositae comes the yellow or orange flower known as Calendula.

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  in his seed catalog of 1880 wrote this about the Calendula, “The Calendula is the fine old and well known Marigold family, which every one knows, but may not recognize by this name.”

Vick made reference also to the flower’s other name, “The old Pot Marigold, much favored for boiled mutton, is C. officinalis.”

From the herbal site called Sunkist Herbal, we read its role in Victorian society: “”The calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a hardy annual with single or double daisy-like blooms of yellow or orange. The 3- to 4-inch flowers open with the sun and close at night, leading the Victorians to believe they could set a clock by the

Calendula [courtesy Burpee Seeds]

Calendula [courtesy Burpee Seeds]

flower. The name ‘calendula’ is from the same Latin word as ‘calendar,’ presumably because the flower was in bloom almost every month of the year.”

The Calendula has a long history in American gardens, appearing in the book Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg. “Typically, the beds are filled with pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis).”

The Encyclopedia of Gardening, first published in 1936, says that the Calendula “is one of the most popular tender annuals.”

In 1880 Vick wrote in the October issue of his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “Every one knows the old yellow Marigold, for it is common as the Sunflower, and has been as long as we can remember. It is called in the books Calendula, but that makes no difference, for it is the same old Marigold that many of us have grown for half a century. That name was given because it was thought some species were in flower every month of the calendar.”

He concluded, “The Calendula will probably never take rank with the best annuals, but we are glad to see it make a bold start for the front after so long a stay in the rear. If its improvement should continue, there is no telling the future of this good old flower.”

Vick seemed to imply there that in 1880 the Calendula was making somewhat of a comeback.

Recently I purchased Calendula seeds. Plan to use this colorful plant in the garden this summer.

Vick would be happy.

Nineteenth Century Seedsman’s Spring Garden Advice

Nineteenth century seedsman’s spring garden advice.

It is spring. What fun it is for a gardener to return to work in the garden at this time.

We know what we have to do in the garden. We can almost taste it.

Nineteenth century Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  offered advice to his readers in the 1881 issue of his  magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

James Vick (1818-1882)

Rochester, NY Seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)

In the May issue of that year he spoke of the need to get back in the garden after a severe winter. He wrote, “At this season the scarcity of vegetation is a pledge of the fruition that we anticipate. With many forebodings have we waited through the dreary winter months.”

We need to look at the grand plans we made during the cold winter months. He said, “We have had time to fully mature all our plans of gardening operations, and should know just what is to be done, and the best way to do it; work, work with a will, is the order of the day.”

It’s spring and after we put our time and energy into the garden now, we know we can expect flowers, vegetables and fruit later in the season.

Vick wrote, “With a promise of the harvest that shall follow the spring-time, we may now respond to nature’s heart-beats of joy.”

What a wonderful way Vick had to inspire his readers.  His words certainly ring true today, over a one hundred and thirty years later.

Tomorrow will find me in the garden. What about you?


Hollyhock Remains Cottage Garden Choice

Hollyhock remains cottage garden choice.

Though I have not had great success in growing hollyhocks in my garden, a recent article in The English Garden magazine about this plant and its role in the cottage garden caught my attention.

England’s traditional cottage garden has long provided an image of a garden of wonder. There is something about the cottage garden that gardeners everywhere love.

Perhaps it is that the image of the cottage garden holds out the promise that you can fill a small space for a garden with color, structure, and eye-catching beauty.

TEG’s Magazine article called Top 10 Cottage Garden Favourites lists ten flowers for a cottage garden.  A photo accompanies each plant suggested.

The plants include old favorites like the hollyhock.

Here is the image of the hollyhock from the article. [below]

Hollyhock, TEG magazine article

Hollyhock, The English Garden magazine article

The hollyhock shares a long history with American gardeners as well.

In this late nineteenth century ad from the Peter Henderson Company in New York we see how important this flower had become for the summer garden. [below]

Peter Henderson Seed Company ad in Harper's

Peter Henderson Seed Company ad in Harper’s

Henderson writes in the ad, “Every garden may now be enriched with this stately Queen of Flowers, grown as easily and flowering as quickly as any garden annual.”

Such words of praise almost makes you want to try the seed.

Maybe that is why the Hollyhock has long been a staple of the cottage garden.  It is easy to grow (for most) as well as stately and  showy in the garden.



New Video Highlights England’s Capability Brown

New video highlights England’s Capability Brown.

In eighteenth century England Capability Brown, royal gardener at Hampton Court, gardener to the King,

C Brown [courtesy of the http blog, austenonly]

Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783) [courtesy of the blog,]

designed over 200 properties in the new landscape style, distinguished by its extensive lawn and natural look.

Many consider Brown among the three most important landscape gardeners in eighteenth century England. The other two are William Kent and Humphry Repton.

Brown designed Highclere Castle’s grounds that you may have seen each week on “Downton Abbey.”  The Castle became the home of Lord and Lady Grantham and their fictional family.

This year is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot Capability Brown (1716-1783).

To celebrate his birth, an organization has developed in England to make this year Capability Brown’s year.They sponsor lectures, garden tours and other events.

The group has also produced a five-minute video called Capability on Camera. [below]

This is a wonderful way to tell Capability’s story.

I hope you enjoy the video.


Brown rose from a simple gardener to a robust self-promoter who convinced many aristocrats that the modern landscape style, including vistas and a park look in the landscape, would define the new English Garden.

If you would like to learn more about the year-long Lancelot Capability Brown events, check out the group’s website at

Victorian England Loved US Native Plants

Victorian England loved US native plants.

During the nineteenth century, the English sometimes included a garden called the ‘American Garden’, an area in the landscape filled with American native shrubs and perennials.

The English loved American native plants, like Rudbeckia or Black-eyed Susan, Baptisia australis or False blue indigo, and Phlox.

Here is a Baptisia australis growing in my garden. [below] The plant is a beautiful addition to the garden, and almost care-free.

Baptista Australis, garden of Thomas Mickey, Rye, NH. Photograph by Ralph Morang

Baptisia australis, in my garden [Photograph by Ralph Morang]

New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly  in November 1880, “Our readers would be surprised if they could know how great a variety of hardy plants from all parts of the world are brought under cultivation for ornament in Great Britain and Europe. Some of the plants of our fields and prairies that we should consider least likely to be so employed find favor in the yards of our trans-atlantic cousins.”

The rhododendron from America enjoyed the reputation of an exceptional plant for the Victorian English garden while at the time America knew little about the plant.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly wrote in 1870, “It has often been a source of wonder, that the idea that the most beautiful of all American ornamental plants – the Rhododendron – could not be grown in its native country, should ever prevail; yet so universal is this belief, that though persistent efforts have been made by enthusiast nurserymen, like Parsons of Flushing, and Hovey of Boston, to introduce it to public notice, and to show that they can be as well grown as any other plant, only a few yet realize the fact; and thousands of our readers do not know what a rhododendron is.”

The Harlan P. Kelsey Company, a nursery in Boston, said in its company catalog of 1892, “While the whole earth outside the United States has been searched and explored to obtain the choicest trees and plants for beautifying our American parks, lawns, cemeteries, and gardens, yet the more beautiful American plants are rarely seen in cultivation, and, as a rule, are unknown to Americans.”

Today things have changed. Across the country gardeners everywhere cultivate native plants.

It seems like it took us a long time to accept the fact that native plants can contribute a great deal to the garden.



Victorian Gardeners Loved Lily Auratum

Victorian gardeners loved lily auratum.

Recently I have been reading about lilies and the frenzy they created in the late nineteenth century, both in England and in America.  Everyone wanted lilies.

Among the popular lilies appeared the plant called lily auratum.

The nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick praised this lily in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.  In 1880 he wrote, “All of our readers have heard about the celebrated Auratum Lily, and it has no doubt been seen by nearly all.”

Then he spoke of its origin.

He wrote, “The lily is a native of Japan and abounds in the mountains, where the bulbs are gathered and shipped to this country in large quantities.”

Nicolette Scourse says in her book The Victorians and their Flowers that the English plant hunter Robert Fortune brought this lily from Japan in 1860 or 1861.

In Restoring American Gardens Denise Wiles Adams claims that the Parsons plant catalog from New York first listed it in 1861.

I went in search to see where this lily might be available today.

I found it in the catalog from White Flower Farm. [below]

The plant’s dotted white flower with yellow lines is as beautiful as Vick wrote about it in the nineteenth century.

Lily auratum var. platyphyllum from White Flower Farm

Lily auratum var. platyphyllum from White Flower Farm

Vick loved the flowers on this plant. He said, “We have received many reports from our readers of plants that have given from ten to thirty blossoms each year for several years.”

Today nurseries still sell this plant, originating in the nineteenth century, thanks to an English plant collector who traveled to Japan to find plants for the English garden.

The Elliott Seed Company catalog of 1891 included this illustration of a child standing next to a lily. [below] Though perhaps not the auratum, the image reveals the importance of the lily to gardeners.

The six-foot lily auratum gave off a strong vanilla fragrance. One of Vick’s customers wrote him and said, “It filled the air with its sweetness.”

Elliott Seed Catalog of 1891

Elliott Seed Catalog of 1891

Based on the frequent mention that Vick gave this lily in his magazine, it remained popular for Victorian gardens for decades.

A reader once wrote Vick, “I hope your customers will try an Auratum.”


Perennials Changed Victorian Gardening

Perennials changed Victorian gardening.

Perennials play an important role in our gardens today. It’s as if we could not garden without them

In the history of the American garden that was not always the case.

As in Victorian England, in the mid nineteenth century annuals became the important plant, especially the bright and colorful varieties imported into the country from Asia, Africa, and South America. Such plants added constant color to the summer garden.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) advocated for the use of perennials in the garden.  He wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1880, “The wealth of beauty presented by the hardy perennials is inexhaustible, and we can only pity those who are content to confine their attention to a few beds of tender plants, however bright and gay they may be while in their best conditions.”

Look at this glorious garden in the landscape of an eighteenth century mansion in Scotland called Carolside. [below] Perennials abound in this garden.


Carolside Garden

The Carolside garden in Scotland

Perennials and annuals can be used together, especially because the flowers of most perennials usually last for only a short length of time.  Annuals, on the other hand, give us their best the whole growing season.

The English recognized a change in gardening that included perennials. In the July 1880 issue of his magazine Vick quoted the English publication called The Gardener, “The flower garden of the present time seems to be undergoing a slow transition. There is a blending of tender with hardy plants which is most desirable; tender and hardy plants appear only to have rival claims until they are placed side by side, when it is found that the attractions of either are about evenly balanced.”

By the end of the nineteenth century when English landscape designer Gertrude Jekyll laid out a garden, she insisted on an array of perennials to give color and structure to the garden.

To this day perennials provide much of the beauty in the garden.