Early American Gardening Centered on Vegetables

Early American gardening centered on vegetables

In  the first half of the nineteenth century gardeners focused on growing vegetables rather than cultivating a flower garden.

Perhaps the emphasis on vegetable growing may have been related to the simple need to survive. 

Vegetable growing and farming consumed the early decades of the country. Once we had food on the table, we could worry about a flower garden.

In his book The Victorian Garden Tom Carter writes, “Until the middle of the century gardening writers dismissed flowers in favour of useful vegetable products.”

By the 1860s and 1870s seed company owners like Rochester, New York’s James Vick (1818-1882) still featured the importance of growing vegetables.

Here is an illustration from Vick’s catalog. Vegetables surround almost the entire house. [below]

In the catalog Vick wrote, “There is almost as much pleasure in growing a choice vegetable well, in bringing it to the highest possible state of perfection, as there is in producing a beautiful flower.”

Then Vick mentioned the lowly cauliflower, pictured in the left of the illustration. [above]

He wrote, “Indeed, some think with Dr. Johnson, that a Cauliflower is the handsomest flower that grows.”

Vick’s advice became important to his customers, so I am sure they followed his guidance in growing vegetables.

By that time gardeners were also enjoying their many flowers as well.

 

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High Style Victorian Ornamental Gardening

High style Victorian ornamental gardening

In the nineteenth century plants from around the world became available for the English garden.

Such plants created a thirst for an ornamental gardening style that spread around the country.

Thomas Carter writes in his book The Victorian Garden, “Professional plant-hunters and amateur naturalists – many of them missionaries of the Church – travelled all over the world in search of unknown species to satisfy a taste for the spectacular.”

Such plants transformed the garden into formal beds, container planting,  and lines of shrubbery. [below]

Victorians treasured their ornamental gardening.

Carter writes, “The high style of Victorian ornamental gardening reached its peak in the 1850s and 1860s in the grounds of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham and of the private estates like Trenthem and Shrublands.”

Eventually America took up ornamental gardening as well.

Nineteenth century New Jersey seed company owner Peter Henderson included formal ornamental design in his book Gardening for Pleasure. [below]

Notice the formal beds near the front door to the house.

Today we continue the search for plants to contribute to the ornamental gardening style that we love.

Plant hunters still travel the world in search of that new plant.

No surprise that our gardens are filled with both native and exotic plants.

 

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Victorians Loved Foliage Plants

Victorians loved foliage plants. –

One summer I planted a banana (Musa ensete) in the center of a bed along the driveway.

The plant looked majestic among the low growing perennials and annuals that surrounded it. [below]

Banana plant in island bed in my garden

Then I remembered that the Victorian gardener in the second half of the nineteenth century also loved tall, showy, foliage plants.

Tom Carter in his book The Victorian Garden wrote, “Since the early 1860s, gardeners had used many of the foliage plants which had previously been treated as stove or greenhouse subjects to add a contrasting element to floral bedding during a summer.”

Foliage plants could include canna, colocasia, and yucca as well.

Here is a photo of a banana at the recent Boston Flower and Garden Show. It is in a pot but still shows off its bold foliage for the passer-by.

A banana in an exhibit at the recent Boston Flower and Garden Show

This summer I plan to make sure my blue container on the lawn has a large red cordyline, another of my favorites.

In that way I will be keeping up the tradition of the Victorian gardener who treasured plants with bold leaves.

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Containers Dominated Boston Flower Show

Containers dominated Boston Flower Show

Last week I took the Silver line train into the Seaport section of Boston for the annual Boston Flower and Garden Show.

The weekday that I attended a moderate amount of visitors filled the Seaport Center. It was easy to navigate the floor.

What took me by surprise was the emphasis on container gardening.

It was captured in the exhibit by Miscovsky Landscaping called “Potlandia.” [below]

Giant terra-cota pots stood out in this exhibit by Miskovsky Landscaping from Falmouth.

The exhibit included three giant planters, each probably ten feet tall.

These pots made of terra-coat were painted in bring, attractive colors.

The plantings in each of them were pretty much the same. The center of the pot included a Japanese maple along with shrubs and perennials. Remember these containers were quite large.

The exhibit won a prize of $2000 for its outstanding forced plant material, including fruit trees.

You could see many bulbs throughout the design.

I took this photo to provide a perspective on the size of the containers. [below]

The exhibit called ‘Potlandia.’

There is no question that the size of the containers made a bold statement about the importance of the container in the landscape.

I got that.

So as I walked around the Show every container after that seemed to be important.

The exhibit by Terrascape Design had wrought iron planters with wonderful brightly colored plants.

A series of window boxes even caught my eye. Many great plants filled each of them.

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Victorian Conservatory Became Essential

Victorian conservatory became essential

Victorian garden fashion demanded several elements.

Plants that stood out became essential for their structure and color.

The list included ricinus, canna, yucca  – all with their bold leaves.

To grow and cultivate  plants during the winter a conservatory, attached to the house, became a must for all serious Victorian gardeners.

Conservatory as part of the house in this 1892 Parker and Wood Seed Catalog

Carter says in his book The Victorian Garden, “Eventually the conservatory became a Victorian cliché – a necessary attachment to any house of even modest pretentions, and often, no more than a place where pot plants could be brought in.”

Serious gardeners then cultivated orchids which demanded special growing conditions.

Eventually the middle class would also grow orchids in their version of that essential greenhouse or conservatory.

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When Annuals Lost Their Appeal

When annuals lost their appeal

From the mid nineteenth century England encouraged gardening with beds of annuals.

The arrival of glorious summer plants from warmer climates like Africa, Asia, and South America had encouraged that fashion.

In the 1870s however garden writer William Robinson criticized the practice. He advocated for perennials and native plants in the summer garden.

The cost of growing in the greenhouse the necessary dozens of annuals became expensive.

Another issue became  the maintenance to keep the annual beds weed-free and trimmed to the proper height and width.

Perennials would reward the gardener with bloom year after year, Robinson wrote.

Growing  native plants would also reduce the expense of the annuals since they are readily available in local fields, mountains, and woods.

Tom Carter in his book The Victorian Garden writes about the inevitability of the demise of the extensive growing and maintaining of beds of annuals.

William Robinson

Robinson himself had once been an advocate of annuals but no longer.

He wrote the book The Wild Garden in which he proposed plants other than annuals for the summer garden.

Carter says, “The movement away from the true Victorian style during the last decade of the century reflected in, and partly brought about by Robinson, … was inevitable.

 “It has been maintained that bedding, with its emphasis on annuals and a limited number of perennials, caused gardeners to disregard old-fashioned plants, bringing some of them close to extinction.”

Today we continue to preach the gospel of native plants. 

It’s not that we can’t grow annuals. It’s that we also have beautiful native plants.

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CT Flower Show Features Stairway to Heaven

CT Flower Show features stairway to heaven

A few days ago I drove to Hartford, Connecticut for the 38th Annual Connecticut Flower and Garden Show.

It was the best in years.

Outstanding exhibits made the trip worth while.

Aqua Scapes included a nine-foot stairway waterfall that seemed to drift from the clouds. The title of the exhibit “Stairway to Heaven” said it all.

It was truly a heavenly site with its many spring trees, shrubs, bulbs, and perennials.

Large stones filled much of the space. 

In the distance you could see a madonna statue, centered under a Japanese maple and surrounded by a bed of tulips.

A large cage next to the water fall housed a white dove.

All heavenly.

It was no surprise that this exhibit by Aqua Scapes won the Best of Show Award.

Exhibit by Aqua Scapes

 

Cafe des Fleur

Another fine exhibit also deserves mention. The Naugatuck Valley Community College presented a landscape design that transported you to downtown Paris in the spring.

A coffee shop called Cafe des Fleur stood to one side.

The exhibit included many spring flowers like hyacinths, crocus, tulips, and daffodils. Some were in containers while others appeared in beds that bordered the sidewalk. [below]

Cafe des Fleur

Ten Horticulture students designed this  exhibit. They grew the plants in the College’s greenhouse.

An apartment building stood next door to the coffee shop. The building’s entrance included several plants as well.

This beautiful exhibit was a simple statement of how flowers can enliven a sidewalk scene.

My drive was well worth the time it took to reach Hartford.

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Victorians Loved Cut Flowers

Victorians loved cut flowers

The Victorian period in the nineteenth century ushered in a love for cut flowers from the garden.

Here is a beautiful chromolithograph from William Rawson’s seed catalog of 1888 called ‘Gems from the Wild Garden.’ The image visualizes what a glorious choice of flowers for tea and lunch were available to the Victorians. [below]

Rawson Seed Company, Boston

In his book The Victorian Garden Tom Carter calls this love of cut flowers from that period ‘floristry.’

He writes, “Competition was the essence of floristry, and the spring and summer months were filled with shows held all over the country.”

The flower shows proved an outlet to show off flowers like roses and dahlias.

I remember on ‘Downton Abbey’ when Maggie Smith’s character said,
“My yellow rose won top prize at the county fair.”

Even in the cities Victorian gardeners took pride in floristry.

Carter writes, “Workers in the industrial towns took to floristry as about the only form of gardening open to them in the restricted spaces of urban living.”

Whether in country or city, Victorians encouraged floristry and so they enjoyed their cut flowers.

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Victorian Garden Book

Victorian garden book

Last week I attended a meeting of the New England Hosta Society, a group I joined many years ago.

The meeting included a wonderful speaker who owns a local nursery.

The highlight of the meeting, however, was the item I won in the raffle.

To my surprise I won Tom Carter’s book The Victorian Garden.

I was familiar with this title when I placed my red ticket in the cup to bid on the book.

The bibliography and illustrations in the book indicate the English origin of the book. 

The book, however, was first published by Salem House, a member of the Merrimack Publishers Circle, Salem, New Hampshire in 1985.  R. J. Acford, Chichester, Sussex printed this edition.

The book details the development of the English Victorian garden in the nineteenth century.

Carter writes, “The range of plants available in nineteenth century Britain was constantly increasing as more and more specimens were sent home from abroad, and as colonial territories were opened up.”

The plants would include of course varieties from Asia and North America.

Look forward to reading this book during the cold weeks of winter still to come.

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English Garden Style May Not Work

English garden style may not work

Landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. came from a long line of horticulturists. His family owned a popular late nineteenth century nursery in New York.

According to the American Architects Biographies, Parsons was a landscape architect who died February 3, 1923 in New York City. He was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1845. A former park commissioner, he was largely responsible for the development of Central Park and Riverside Drive in New York City. He also designed a 1,400 acre park in San Diego, California.

Parsons gives some sound gardening advice in his book Landscape Gardening (1891)

He warns about simply following a certain garden style, like the English.

Parsons writes, “We are learning that because an English or Scotch gardener tells us we should have a particular tree which has grown successfully in England, we are not necessarily to assume that horticultural skill, whether Scotch, or English, or French, must be able to conpass, in some occult way, its successful employment on American lawns.”

He was a great advocate for the classic lawn, sweeping down from the house.

No surprise that the lawns in Central Park took on that green beauty that Parsons orchestrated in his job as Superintendent of Parks in New York.

Parsons offered this advice in 1891.

Still makes sense today.

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