Aruncus Offers Unique Beauty in the Garden

Recently the Newsletter from the Somerville Garden Club included an article about Aruncus dioicus or Goat’s Beard.

When I read the article, I thought of this plant in my own garden.  I planted a row of them at the back of the perennial bed over twenty years ago.

This is truly an old-fashioned perennial that was once called Spirea Aruncus.  It loves shade so I chose it for my garden where minimal sunshine appears.

I wondered too what nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries wrote about this plant.

In 1885 Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan included an article from the weekly English garden journal Gardener’s Chronicle in his magazine called Gardener’s Monthly.  The title of the article was “The Aruncus offers unique beauty in the garden.” I loved the title and made it the title of this post.

The article said, “A grand plant, not by any means so abundant as it should be in our gardens, owing to its very distinct and effective appearance.  Of course there are positions in the garden where it would be out of place, but there are many others to which it would give additional beauty. We have yet much to learn and appreciate in the arrangement of hardy plants.”

Then the author, whose name was simply noted at the end of the artilce by ‘T,’ described the plant. He said, “I may say, for the benefit of those unacquainted with the plant, that it grows from 3 to 4 feet high, with large divided foliage, and immense plumes of white flowers, forming when established most conspicuous objects.  I lately saw several masses 3 and 4 feet in diameter, and as much high, and nothing could surpass their unique beauty.”

A row of Aruncus in bloom takes center stage in my garden in NH.

Recently a back row of Aruncus in bloom took center stage in this perrenial bed in my NH garden.

Because this plant is so big, it is probably better to position it in the back of the perennial bed or border. Garden books often advocate for planting Aruncus in a damp or moist area, but I grow it in dry soil with no problem.

The garden journal called Vick’s Illustrated Monthly Magazine in 1897 said, “Spirea Aruncus is popularly known as the ‘Goats Beard.’ It is a very effective species and one of the best of border plants. It is a native of England, grows from three to four feet in height, and blooms during the months of June and July. The foliage is very handsome, the leaves being of pinnate form and of a light green color. Flowers are a creamy white and borne in large branched panicles.”

The two nineteenth century garden magazines certainly give high praise to this plant.

Aruncus is one of our native plants even though Vick’s magazine said it was native to England.  The American Beauties Native Series offers it for the gardener among its collection of plants.

Aruncus dioicus is an easy plant to grow and does not take over an area.  I like that about it.

No surprise that it deserves a spot in anyone’s shade garden.

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Early English Gardens Included an American Garden

Exotic plants have long been a staple in the American garden. Each year plants from Asia, Africa, and South America still continue to become part of our plant pallet.

At one time the English garden included a special garden of plants that were native to America. It was called the ‘American garden’.

In 1855 English nurseryman William Paul in his book The Handbook of Villa Gardening wrote: “American plants is a term which embraces a variety of flowering shrubs, mostly evergreen, which are found to thrive best in a peat or bog soil…The dark foliage and splendid blossoms of the rhododendron, the chaste and delicate kalmias, the brilliant and varied colours of the azalea, have deservedly going for them a prominent place in English gardens.”

Even Grace Tabor in her book Old-Fashioned Gardening,written in 1913, said: “The earliest houses were built of the wood of the locust — Robinia pseudoacacia — a tree which had driven the Englishmen wild with delight, and which was early carried to English gardens, were it was pronounced of all exotic trees the finest.”

White Pine [courtesy of the RECOLLECTING NEMASKET blog]

White Pine [courtesy of the Recollecting Nemasket blog]

Finally Mark Laird in his book The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds 1720-1800 wrote: “From the 1730s to the 1760s the rage in exotics such as the Weymouth pine (Pinus strobus), the kalmia ( Kalmia latifolia), and the bottonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) was brisk…The second half of the eighteenth century saw the demand for ‘American gardens.’”

The American native tree white pine, called Weymouth pine by the English in the eighteenth century, continues to be a staple here in New England [left].

Lord Weymouth introduced the white pine to England in 1705, after the English Colonies were established in America. From that time English gardeners have included it in their collection of American plants.

English garden writer Horace Walpole wrote in 1771, “The Weymouth pine has long been naturalized here; the patriarch plant still exists at Longleat [Lord Weymouth’ s estate].”

Today the white pine grows in my New England garden in abundance.   Pinus Strobus

English Writers William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll Inspired American Gardeners

It is that time of year, mid summer, and time to sit back and enjoy the garden after the hard work you have invested in maintaining it.

American gardens reflect a rich tradition, but also a dependence on English garden writers.

Garden historian William Howard Adams wrote in his book Gardens through History: Nature Perfected that in the late nineteenth century America lacked “an indigenous national gardening tradition or even a regional one” and detected in American gardens of that period only Gardens through Historythe influence of English writers William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll and the English Arts and Crafts movement.

That idea I found in the fascinating book by May Brawley Hill called Grandmother’s Garden that traces the history of the American garden from the late nineteenth century to 1915.

I would agree that Robinson and Jekyll have influenced  American gardening. From the garden literature of the period you read their names quite frequently.

They both wrote books and articles, and Robinson even had his own magazine.

The late nineteenth century American seed and nursery industry in this country looked to both of them as resources for teaching their customers about gardening.

The Pittsburgh seedsman Benjamin A. Elliott in his catalog of 1888 encouraged the use of perennials rather than annuals, and credits William Robinson for that inspiration. Elliott portrayed the English garden style as the model for American gardening. He wrote, “We are indebted to this great champion of hardy flowers [Robinson] for some of the ideas advanced here, culled from his numerous works on gardening, which have done much to make English gardens what they are—the most beautiful in the world.”

 

Promotional Material for a Nineteenth Century Business Represented Progress

We take for granted that words and images to promote any product can flow freely in our society.

Today we generally have no issues with whatever a company wants to say in an ad. After all, an ad is just an ad, isn’t it? It is much more than promotion.

By the 1890s when advances in printing technology made it possible to print millions of seed and nursery catalogs, promotional literature from a company reflected how well the company was doing. The implication was that the more catalogs, magazines, and illustrations from the company, the bigger and more successful the company.

Pegargonum [Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library]

Pegargonum [Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library]

Take horticultural artwork as an example.

This illustration of Pelargonum Grandiflorum [left] from 1896 represents the progress of chromolithography in depicting flowers.  This floral art is from the English garden book Favorite Flowers of Garden and Greenhouse by Edward Step.

Pamela Walker Laird in her book Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing writes: “Printed materials held a special significance in the nineteenth-century United States. Books, periodicals, and printed art represented both progress and the potential for future progress.”

So the more a seed company or nursery printed and illustrated, the more successful the company appeared in the eyes of the customer.  The company thus seemed progressive and up-to-date, and, of course, one that the customer wanted to deal with for any seeds and plants for the garden.

The English Garden Became the Model for Washington Irving’s Landscape

The area north of New York, along the Hudson River, has played an important role in the history of American gardening.

In the nineteenth century the Hudson Valley was home to artists and writers, and also to Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852), America’s most famous landscape designer at that time.

Not far from Downing’s home lived the American writer Washington Irving (1783-1859) who in 1835 bought a house on fifteen acres in Tarrytown. Irving is best remembered now for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Irving loved the English garden.  He once said, “The rudest habitation, the most unpromising and scanty portion of land, in the hands of an Englishman of taste becomes a little paradise”

Washington Irving (XXXX), courtesy of Wikipedia

Washington Irving (1783-1859), courtesy of Wikipedia

So it was no surprise that Washington designed his property called Sunnyside in the current landscape gardening style of the English called the natural or picturesque view, which Downing also encouraged in his books and magazine The Horticulturist.

A gently curved path at Sunnyside leads to gorgeous views of the Hudson River and reveals the allure of its unique design, its intimate setting, its bucolic grounds, and its association with a beloved man of letters.

Washington Irving designed Sunnyside and its grounds himself, collaborating with his neighbor, the artist George Harvey. “It is a beautiful spot,” Irving wrote, “capable of being made a little paradise.” Beginning in 1835, he expanded a small cottage in stages, combining his sentimental interests in the architecture of colonial New York and buildings he knew in Scotland and Spain. The house became a three-dimensional autobiography.

Sunnyisde-On-Hudson, a print by Currier and Ives.

Sunnyside-On-Hudson, a print by Currier and Ives.

The gounds reflect Washington Irving’s romantic view of art, nature, and history. He arranged garden paths, trees and shrubs, vistas, and water features to appear natural, and planted an exotic wisteria vine (still growing) to envelope the house.

The famous artwork by Currier and Ives [above] captures the English garden influence at Sunnyside in all its brilliance and makes it a ‘little paradise’.

Queen Anne’s Lace Sold among Cut Flowers at Local Supermarket

Just came from a supermarket where I saw among the containers of cut flowers for sale one stem of Queen Anne’s Lace with a price tag of $2.29.

Pretty good money for a weed, isn’t it?

Queen Anne’s Lace, or daucus carota, is a weed but to some people it is a wildflower. The plant, also called wild carrot, is in the carrot family with ts delicate parsley-like leaves and a long root

Queen Anne's Lace growing along a fence

Queen Anne’s Lace growing along a fence

This is however an aggressive plant that you do not want to encourage. It is on the plant invasive list for many states around the country for a reason.

Well known horticulturists refer to Queen Anne’s Lace as a wildflower. It is in the classic volume on recognizing wildflowers called A Field Guide to Wildflowers by Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny.

Rick Darke in his updated edition of William Robinson’s The Wild Garden (originally published in 1870) refers to Queen Anne’s Lace as a wildflower.  Darke says in his Introduction: “Wildflowers are usually perceived as pretty, but always as innocuous: they do no harm and give no offence. Weeds are unwanted wildflowers.”

The plant was introduced into this country during colonial times. It probably came across the ocean in sacks of grain, perhaps with the Pilgrims and is now established in every state.

It might be a beautiful wildflower in a meadow setting but I don’t know about growing it in your garden.

What do you think?

Nineteenth Century Colorado Garden Designed in East Coast Style

In the nineteenth century the same kind of garden appeared from coast to coast.

The seed companies and nurseries of that period sold the same seeds and plants and encouraged a lawn and the English garden, so it was no surprise that gardeners everywhere cultivated a similar kind of garden.

I just finished reading a wonderful book on American garden history by author Mary Brawley Hill.  Her book is called Grandmother’s Garden: The Old-Fashioned American Garden 1865-1915.

Hill Grandmother's Garden large

Here is a reference to that sameness of garden style from Hill when she is writing about the gardens of Colorado: “If the stunning natural scenery and native flora drew tourists [in the 19th century], they were not necessarily appropriated by full-time residents. William Jackson Palmer, the founding father of Colorado Springs, wanted an East Coast garden with bordered flower beds, lawns, and rustic, vine-covered pergolas.”

So it seems that Jackson Palmer wanted to have a garden in the romantic English garden style, popular on the East coast during the nineteenth century.

The seed and nursery catalogs of that period often included an illustration of the English garden on both the cover and sometimes inside the company catalog as well.

Edwardian Lady Made of Plants Appeared at Newport Flower Show

This past weekend I attended the Newport Flower Show in Newport, Rhode Island.  The Show, sponsored by the Preservation Society of Newport County, takes place every year on the last weekend of June.  The day’s weather provided sun with fabulous warm temperatures and no humidity.

The Show, a three-day weekend event, took place on Bellevue Avenue, the grand boulevard on which you see one early twentieth century mansion after another lining the street.  The mansion called Rosecliff provided the setting for the Show.

The attraction of  the Show has to be its several events that take place during the three days.

In the front of the house were a group of landscape exhibits, designed and constructed by local designers and contractors.

Inside the house you found award-winning floral decorations, plant varieties, and containers. I saw one of my favorite hostas, ‘Sum and Substance’,  take a first place blue ribbon for large leaf hostas.

 

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The entrance to Rosecliff, site of last weekend’s Newport Flower Show

The lawn at the back of the house sweeps down to a low wall in front of the ocean.  That view always impresses me. On the lawn were scattered a number of small tents that formed an outdoor market, featuring merchandise like clothing, hats, garden accessories, and jewelry. A jazz band played while you had the chance to enjoy a gourmet lunch along with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. No fried dough here.

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The ‘Edwardian Traveller’ stood tall outside Rosecliff at last weekend’s Newport Flower Show.

A garden display at the front of the house caught my attention as I strolled around the property.

Greenlion Design from Tiverton, RI created an exhibit that featured a woman made of plant material  called the “Edwardian Traveller”, specially designed for the Preservation Society of Newport County  for this Show.  Korey Pirtle was the collaborating artist for the figure.

The owner  of Greenlion Kim Lamothe  said, “One challenge was to use elements that could stand up in the sun. We stuffed her bodice with moss to keep moisture under the tobacco leaves to keep them from getting too brittle.”

The life-size figure with the hat  [above]  was made with lunaria, nicotiana, moss, tobacco, eucalyptus, birch, and various succulents.

The ‘lady’ represented a woman of America’s Gilded Age period around 1900 and surely would have loved this garden party.

Estate gardens like Rosecliff that appeared at the end of the nineteenth century became an important chapter in American gardening history. These landscapes were constructed in a formal garden design which was popular among the wealthy of that period.

 

Children Appeared in Nineteeth Century Garden Advertising

There is something magical about a child in an advertisement. You feel more connected because a child is part of the scene.

Advertising as a modern science took off in the late nineteenth century. Businesses went to any measure to move a consumer, even including children in an ad.

The garden industry was no exception.

Pamela Walker Laird in her book Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing writes, “A trade card from Scourene portrayed a women in a lacy dress happily scrubbing pans, while lawn-mower advertisements frequently showed elegantly dressed children mowing lawns.”

Notice in the cover of the 1889 seed catalog from Peter Henderson [below] that the child is no ordinary child but a child from an upper class family that lived in a beautiful suburban home with an extensive lawn and hollyhocks that look like they were on steroids.

Laird said in her book: “Nineteenth century advertisers almost always portrayed their consumers as prosperous members of the upper-middle and upper class, or their servants.”

Notice this child on the cover of the Henderson seed catalog of 18XX

A child appeared on the cover of the Henderson seed catalog of 1889.

The garden catalogs, written for women,were the major form of advertising for the company. W. Atlee Burpee once said “The catalog is the salesman.”  It was probably quite important for the businessmen to include such an image of a child.

What strikes me about this Henderson catalog cover is that it was clearly intended for the woman of the house who bought the seeds and plants.

It must have worked because by the end of the nineteenth century the Peter Henderson Company in New York was one of the largest seed companies in the country.

The child in this ad certainly did not cut the lawn but simply represented the prosperous upper class, who lived in a large home, surrounded by a lawn and an ornamental garden.

 

Rows of Vegetables Replace Front Lawn

On Sunday the Boston Globe featured an article called “Urban Farming Takes Root” which tells the story of city dwellers who start farming to both improve blighted landscapes and provide food.

Growing vegetables continues to score high in surveys conducted with American gardeners everywhere, and now, even on the front lawn.

A week ago while on a garden tour in Portsmouth,NH I saw an example of a city dweller who made her own property into an urban farm which she calls Sidewalk Farms.  Vegetables now grow in rows in what was once the front lawn.

The vegetables on the front lawn area include  kale, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, beets, and herbs like garlic and basil.

It is a typical city plot of about one fifth of an acre that now produces enough vegetables and eggs to feed this family of four year-round.

In the back yard stand large colorful plastic containers, many of them also filled with vegetables like tomatoes.

House with no front lawn

Vegetables now grow in what was once the front lawn.

You do see some lawn in the back, and even an above-ground pool for the family.

Back there as well chickens in their pens let you know their presence.

A poly greenhouse in the back yard gives the owners a head start on their vegetables from seed.

It seems like every inch of the property is productive.

That a small house in an ordinary neighborhood now grows vegetables on the front lawn would have been unthinkable even ten years ago.  The lawn, inherited from the English romantic garden tradition, has been an integral part of our landscape tradition for over two hundred years.