Victorian Homes Needed Lawn

Victorian homes needed lawn.

The lawn marked the landscape as contemporary in nineteenth century America.

Every Victorian house needed the lawn.

David Stuart writes in his book Garden of Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “The front garden, except in the poorest examples, became the site of another piece of competitive gardening: the lawn.

“Of course the great eighteenth-century gardens had lawns, often vast, though these were either cropped by the park’s inhabitants such as fallow deer, rare breeds of sheep and cattle, or kept scythed by the garden staff.

“Soon, every Victorian house had a square of lawn, even if this was scarcely large enough to lie upon outstretched and could be cut with a few sweeps of the scythe.”

A beautiful illustration of a Victorian home with a lawn appears on the cover image from Clifford Edward Clark, Jr.’s  book The American Family Home 1800-1960. [below]

Eventually taking care of lawn became an important household task for the middle class.

As Frank Scott in 1870 argued so well in his book The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds, a homeowner took care of the lawn for the view, for what the neighbor would see.

Thus it was important, he wrote, to keep it cut and looking attractive.

And so Scott set the stage in the nineteenth century for all the stress homeowners feel in the need not only to cultivate a lawn, but to spend hours manicuring it so that it has that certain look.

Victorian homeowners needed a lawn, but a certain kind of lawn, with a certain look.

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Growing Orchids Reflected Social Status

Growing orchids reflected social status.

As material culture, plants can contribute to a person’s social status.

Certain plants often become connected to a higher social class.

That is the case with the orchid from the beginning of its introduction into eighteenth century England.

David Stuart in his book The Garden Triumphant writes, “Orchids of the tropical kind, mostly needed both jungle heat and humidity, were considerable status symbols from the moment of their introduction.”

As tropical plants, orchids demanded the comfort of a greenhouse or conservatory.

“By 1839 the glasshouses at Chatsworth were packed with orchids, many collected specifically for the Duke of Devonshire,” writes Stuart.

On a garden tour in southern Florida last year I came across this blue orchid growing on a tree. [below]

In this Florida front yard you can see orchids on a tree.

The flowers had the perfect combination of heat and moisture to survive on the tree trunk.

Really a beautiful sight.

It never occured to me to judge the social status of the owner of the house and garden.

Though the orchid provided many hours of pleasure to gardeners in nineteenth century America who could afford both the greenhouse and a garden staff to tend to them, today things have changed.

Victoria Zemlan in her article “By Hook by Crook: The Plunder of Orchids for the New World” says “Now, we can buy inexpensive orchids in almost any nursery, home improvement center, or grocery store, but 19th century orchids were an extravagance reserved for the nobility.”

Tom Carter, author of  The Victorian Garden which covers nineteenth century gardening,  says, “Orchids were another class of plants needing special arrangements, and only experienced gardeners attempted them.

“Even though orchids were beyond the scope of most gardeners, they appealed strongly to a curious public, and nurserymen vied to produce the showiest and most exotic specimens.”

Eventually nineteenth century nurseries in both England and America made orchids available to anyone who wanted them. They no longer belonged only to the wealthy.

Today any gardener may grow them.

Zemlan says, “Orchids haven’t lost their allure — Americans now spend more on orchids each year than on any other houseplant.”

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Victorians Loved Flower Arranging

Victorians loved flower arranging.

Today people send flower arrangements quite easily through several online vendors.

Flower arranging as an art form took hold in the Victorian period.

After 1850 the seed and nursery catalogs moved from selling mostly vegetables to flowers.  Gardeners wanted flowers

Flowers became a Victorian passion. Flower arranging appeared everywhere.

David Stuart writes in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “Flower arranging seems to have been an innovation of the Victorian period.”

Cut flowers added beauty to home decoration.

Stuart writes, “The decoration of rooms with cut flowers became increasingly important in the nineteenth century and gave rise, by mid-century, to all sorts of appliances to hold flowers and keep them fresh.”

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) offered many flower containers in the pages of his seed catalog. He featured wooden, metal, and even ceramic vases.

Vick also included this chromolithograph of cut flowers in a vase that his customers could frame and adorn the walls of the parlor or living room.  [below]

Vick chromo of 1873

The Victorian home needed flower arrangements for many occasions. Stuart writes, “The need for ladies to be accomplished flower arrangers extended to almost all aspects of both life and death.”

The magazine The English Garden recently posted an article called “Arranging cut flowers – secrets of a top London florist” about the English florist Vic Brotherson who recently designed the flower arrangements for Kate Moss’ wedding in London.

The flowers listed in the article included Victorian favorites like foxglove, allium, cosmos, roses, and dahlias.

The Victorians not only loved flower arranging. They taught it so well that today we still use the same Victorian flowers for such arrangements.

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Landscape Garden Lost Appeal

Landscape garden lost appeal.

The English landscape garden, recognized by its informal, natural look of winding pathways and extensive areas of lawn, reached its peak in the mid-eighteenth century.

Shortly after that the style experienced a bit of decline.

The exotic plants arriving from the Americas and Asia caused a loss of interest.  Gardeners needed room to include these coveted plants, and so the extensive lawn areas became spotted with plants from outside the country.

David Stuart writes in his book The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy, “Those who owned them [the newly imported exotic plants], perhaps growing the rarest that could be found, felt that they were as status-full as having a summer-house shaped like the Colosseum, and hankered after a mode of gardening that would allow them to show their wonderful plants to the world.”

Just to grow the new plants was in itself a status symbol.

The cherished landscape garden that marked England’s greatest contribution to garden art was receding into the background to make room for new annuals and shrubs. American rhododendrons and Chinese camellias attracted more attention than the sweeping lawns of Capability Brown.

Stuart says, “Consequently, by the end of the eighteenth century, the landscape garden was clearly doomed.”

Roses too, illustrated here by landscape gardener Humphry Repton, appeared in their own garden called a rosary by 1800. [below]

Humphry Repton’s Rosarium (1813)

And so, as happens in all garden fashion and style, what was once in became no longer desirable.

The classic English natural style would always be important, even into the nineteenth century, but not with the vigor of the early and mid 1700s.

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Gardeners Can’t Control Nature

Gardeners Can’t Control Nature.

Plants not only provide food.  They can also become a source of pleasure when used in the landscape.

We even refer to landscape as an art form in which plants provide an important element of the design.

Gardeners however cannot control plants in the landscape.  Nature has its own ways.

Recently Sheera Stern, who gardens in Metuchen, New Jersey, wrote a guest post called “On the Industrialization of Gardening” on the blog called Garden Rant, one of my favorite blog sites.

She writes, “As fall segues into winter, we are all relieved that the whine of the gas-powered leaf-blower has finally ceased.”  Stern cannot understand the attempt of the homeowner to remove every single leave that obstructs the clean surface of the lawn.

She makes the case that trying to remove them with the newest machinery, or manicuring every shrub to perfection, seems beyond the demands of enjoying a landscape.

It seems like our attempt to control nature.

That is nothing new.

We have been involved in trying to control nature since the first garden. We use nature for our own purposes.

Richard Bushman in his book The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities writes, “Nature had been smoothed and decorated as assiduously as walls and paneling inside the house.”

Then he says, “Besides refining the environment for polite company, the plantings functioned just as pictures, ceramics, or books did – that is, as subjects of conversation”

So we use nature – in the form of plants in the landscape – for a mixture of purposes that reflect social needs and social status.

One of the strongest examples of attempting to control nature has to be the use of plants in a design in topiary like the one here. [below]

Topiary image

The image clearly illustrates the careful choice and maintenance of plants to create this bridge effect over water.  It clearly shows how we can, in certain circumstances, use plants, as a form of nature, for the sake of creating a beautiful scene.

The  nineteenth century garden industry knew that to sell seeds and plants a seed company or nursery had to promise some benefit to gardening.

In 1884 the Vick Seed Company from Rochester, New York wrote in its garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “What we do in the gardening way is done for the appearance, the respectability of the thing, done for the same reason that we have a coat of paint put on the house, or renew the wall-hangings.”

That view of nature continues.

We use landscape for all kinds of reasons, including for personal and social needs, just like anything else in our daily lives.

Stern concludes her post with these words, “As we move ever farther away from our agrarian roots, not only do we know less as a culture about how the natural world works, but we also have less curiosity.”

 

 

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Thomas Jefferson’s English Landscape

Thomas Jefferson’s English Landscape

Thomas Jefferson advocated for the modern, natural, picturesque landscape design at Monticello after his trip with John Adams to tour the estate gardens of England.

In his article “The Picturesque in the American Garden and Landscape Before 1800”  James D. Kornwulf says, “Little documentary, and even less visual, evidence survives to prove that American gardeners followed picturesque principles on a large scale before 1786 when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams made their well-known tour of English (and, for Jefferson, of French) picturesque gardens.”

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello featured the modern style of the English garden called the picturesque.

As his guide for what gardens to visit Jefferson used the  book by English garden writer Thomas Whatley Observations on Modern Gardening.  Some consider the book the best description of picturesque modern gardening, written before landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752 –1818) became England’s most famous landscape gardener in the final third of the century.

Whatley included the garden at Chatsworth, north of London, which became Jefferson’s favorite landscape.  Capability Brown in the mid eighteenth century had redesigned Chatsworth to include extensive lawns.

In a 1917 article in the American magazine Landscape Architecture the architect Fiske Kimball (1888 – 1955) wrote: “Landscape gardening in America as an art, even though not as a profession, may claim as its father the father of American independence itself, a worthy forerunner of Downing, Olmsted, and Eliot.”

Jefferson created his landscape with the principles of the picturesque English style that he had experienced himself.

His friend, Philadelphia seedsman Bernard McMahon, author of the most important early book on gardening American Gardener (1806), also promoted the same style of English landscape gardening.

Jefferson’s picturesque style would continue to influence the American home landscape throughout the nineteenth century, especially in the books and articles coming from the pen of New York nurseryman turned landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing

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Formal Garden Design Dominated Early America

Formal Garden Design Dominated Early America.

The design of the English garden during the 1600s followed a formal design which was a combination of French and Dutch elements of symmetry.

Then in the early 1700s the English took landscape to a new height in creating landscape as an art form, which they called the ‘natural’ or ‘picturesque’ landscape design.

In his article “The Picturesque in the American Garden and Landscape Before 1800”  James D.Kornwulf defines the picturesque “as the aesthetic underlying ‘le jardin anglais’ as the natural, irregular, and deliberately asymmetrical kind of planting.”

Colonial America however in the 1700s continued the formal garden design in properties along the East coast.

Though there were a couple of isolated examples of the picturesque landscape, the formal garden design dominated in eighteenth century America.

The landscape at both Middleton Place  and Drayton Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, probably dating from around 1740, represent the earliest known picturesque gardens in America, according to Kornwulf.

Richard Bushman argued in his book The Refinement of America that “In the eighteenth century informal and picturesque gardens remained subservient to the dominant influence of formal garden principles.”

The formal garden made its first monumental appearance in Colonial America at the College of William and Mary in 1694.

 

Formal garden at the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg

Examples from the eighteenth century of formal garden design include the William Paca landscape in Annapolis, Maryland and the Governor’s Mansion at Williamsburg, Virginia [above].

Kornwulf says, “Without doubt, these gardens were the model for many created in eighteenth-century Virginia.”

Looking to the English for garden inspiration, eighteenth century America followed the older tradition of the more formal English garden.

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American Seedsman Encouraged Poinsettias

American Seedsman Encouraged Poinsettias

One of my favorite plant stories is how the poinsettia became a popular Christmas flower here in America.

In the nineteenth century it was common for garden magazines or journals to include articles from other garden publications, mostly English.  The source of the orignal story would often appear at the end of the article.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan (1826-1901) included an article about the poinsettia in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in May of 1876 which he took from the English weekly journal called Gardeners’ Chronicle.

The article, simply entitled Poinsettia’ said, “Passing by these old friends, not without a word of hearty welcome be it well understood, we come to another plant which has been of late years an almost indispensable adjunct of Christmas decorations, be they of church or hall–the brilliant Poinsettia pulcherrima, the bright scarlet bracts of which give the head of blossoms a flower-like appearance, and serve admirably to lighten up the somewhat somber masses of evergreen.”

Meehan continued with these words: “Its name commemorates a French traveler, M. Poinsett, by whom the plant was introduced to cultivation.

“He brought specimens to Charleston from Mexico in 1828, whence they were taken to Philadelphia; and specimens sent from the latter place to Edinburgh [Scotland] flowered in 1835, since which date it has become increasingly popular and plentiful in our stores.”

Poinsett had sent the plant to his friend Philadelphia seedsman Robert Buist (1805-1880). Buist in turn mailed a specimen of the plant to his horticulturst friend in Scotland.  Soon after that the poinsettia, native to Mexico, became available to the public.

Today during this season you can see how poinsettias still fill the Grand Hall at The Breakers mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. [below]

Poinsettias in the Grand Hall at The Breakers in Newport, RI. [courtesy]

American gardeners, just like the English, came to treasure the plant as an indispensable part of the Christmas holiday.

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Nurseries Made Dahlias Popular

Nurseries Made Dahlias Popular.

Plants enter our gardens usually through the portal of the green industry like seed companies, nurseries, and growers.

That was the case with the dahlia.

Originally from Mexico, the dahlias appeared in Spain in the eighteenth century.

The dahlia reached England in 1803, and America a few years later.

Boston nurseryman Charles Mason Hovey (1810-1887) became an early advocate for the dahlia. In his publication Magazine of Horticulture in 1835 he called the dahlia the “King of Flowers.”

In 1838 he wrote, “They [dahlias] have become one of the greatest and most valuable ornaments of the garden.”

Then he also said, “We believe the time is at hand when our own gardens will produce dahlias equalling the English.”

Hovey won Best in Class I for his twenty-five dissimilar dahlia blooms at the Flower Show sponsored by  the Massachusetts Horticultural Society on Saturday, October 1, 1842.

Thus his writing about the plant and also growing it, and, of course, selling it contributed to gardeners planting it in the garden.

Hovey was only one of the early nurserymen to encourage the dahlia.

Today we have a company like American Meadows which still encourages gardeners to grow dahlias.

This image [below] is from the AM company website.

American Meadows dahlia image

Dahlias  [courtesy of American Meadows]

Hovey wrote in 1840, “Some seedling dahlias have been raised, which equal the best productions of the English garden.”

American dahlia growers can stand up to the best.

Today there are 57,000 varieties of the dahlia. This flower has come a long way, with no small thanks to the American nursery business.

 

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America’s Landscape Gardening Pioneer

America’s landscape gardening pioneer, Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852)

Andrew Jackson Downing

The English developed a new form of garden design in the early eighteenth century.  They called it ‘modern’, or natural.

This design style included a lawn, trees, curved pathways, water, stone work, and sometimes even beds of flowers.

Eventually America adopted this English garden design, or landscape gardening, especially after 1850 for the middle class home landscape.  Before then it appeared mostly on the estates of the wealthy outside cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and New York.

Boston horticulturist and nursery owner Charles Mason Hovey (1810-1887) published a periodical called Magazine of Horticulture .

In 1840 Hovey wrote in his magazine, “Attention is given to the laying out of gardens, and that small beds of turf are occasionally introduced on which groups of flowers are planted; but, other than this, there has  been no attempt made, that we are aware of, to introduce landscape gardening, even among the many suburban villas, which abound in the vicinity of our large cities.”

Hovey saw few landscapes designed in the English style.

Downing

New York nurseryman turned landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing meanwhile was busy writing his book A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening which first appeared in print in 1841, one year later.

Then in 1844 Hovey wrote in his magazine, “A taste for landscape gardening is gradually extending.”

Hovey does not give the interest in landscape gardening exclusively to Downing, but Downing’s work certainly gave America  an opportunity to understand the importance of English garden design.

Downing wrote articles for Hovey’s magazine, so Hovey certainly knew him and his work.

Andrew Jackson Downing would become the most important proponent by mid nineteenth century America for the modern English garden design.

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