Valerian Became Victorian Garden Favorite

Valerian became Victorian garden favorite.

When we bought our house, almost thirty years ago, we found Valerian growing along the driveway.

There were a lot of tall valerian flowers in spring. I knew cats liked it because I often found a neighbor’s cat sitting on the side of the bed.

I did not know that the valerian was an important flower in the Victorian period.

Jo Ann Gardner says in her book Herbs in Bloom that “For at least 2000 years, preparations from valerian’s roots have been used to treat hysteria, epilepsy, depression, and insomnia.”Herbs in Bloom book cover

The plant grows two to four feet tall with flowers of fragrant pink, white, or lavender clusters.

L. H. Bailey writes in his Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, first published in 1901, “This is one of the characteristic plants of old gardens, being prized for the spicy fragrance of its numerous flowers in spring.”

If he wrote back then that it was a plant from ‘old gardens’ that certainly meant that it had been planted for generations and thus recognizable by many gardeners.

It’s the mass of white flower clusters that appear in spring that I remember so well.

I also remember then that it tends to be invasive. I dug up much of it when it appeared in a spot that was not where I wanted it to grow.

The flowers of the valerian are distinctive looking though. [below]

Valerian, courtesy GardensOnline

Valerian, courtesy GardensOnline

In 1852 Henrietta Dumont wrote in her book The Language of Flowers that the valerian meant an ‘accomodating disposition’.

She said in her book, “The root of the valerian is considered a valuable remedy for many of those ailments which spring from luxurious living. It exerts a peculiar influence on the nervous system, revives the spirit, and strengthens the sight.”

So this flower which welcomed us to our home so many years ago also has a long history, including entry into the Victorian garden.

 

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Gardener Poet Celia Thaxter Loved Calendulas

Gardener poet Celia Thaxter loved calendulas.

This summer I planted several calendulas in my garden.

Recently while reading The Sandpiper, a biography of poet Celia Thaxter (1835-1894), written by her granddaughter Rosamond Thaxter, I discovered the calendula was Celia’s favorite flower.Sandpiper cover

I can understand why. It is a fabulous annual here in the northeast.

From the herbal site called Sunkist Herbal, we read its role in Victorian society. SH says, “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 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.”

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1816-1882) wrote in the October 1880 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.”

Calendula, Mother Earth Living

Calendula, Mother Earth Living

Vick seemed to imply that the calendula was making somewhat of a comeback.

Maybe so.

At the same time off the shores of Maine in her garden at Appledore Island, Celia Thaxter too was planting it in her garden.

Celia’s family owned a hotel on the island and for many summers Celia worked there and also tended her own flower garden.

In her garden Celia grew annuals to decorate the hotel as well as her own house where she often entertained artists, writers, and musicians.

The hotel went down in a fire in 1914, but volunteers have preserved Celia’s garden which measured 50 feet by 15 feet.

Today in her restored garden you still see the flowers laid out in the same order that Celia chose. She left the details of her garden in her book An Island Garden, probably her most famous book and still worth reading today.

Celia Thaxter's island garden measures 50 feet by 15 feet.

Celia Thaxter’s island garden measures 50 feet by 15 feet.

Celia collected her seeds from friends who came to the hotel, but also from seed companies. Perhaps one of her seed sources was the Vick Seed Company because she mentioned Vick’s death in a letter to a friend. Within weeks after his death in 1882 she wrote, “Old Vick died.”

Today the total number of flowers planted in Celia’s garden is 1600, including of course her  favorite calendula.

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Garden Accessories Add Charm

Garden Accessories Add Charm

Recently while visiting Reno I took part in a tour of gardens spread around various areas in the city.

In what appeared to be a regular neighborhood I walked up the front pathway along the  lawn of one house in order to enter the backyard garden. What I saw there I could not believe.

Dozens of garden accessories filled the back garden. The view in scanning the garden as I entered it certainly caught my attention. I could not believe what I saw in a small corner, bordered by a wooden fence. There I saw a table and chairs, a metal star, shells, containers with plants, and various sculptures, too many to count. [below]

artifacts in the garden Reno

A visitor discovers accessories like these throughout this Reno garden.

Throughout the garden the owner had installed dozens of glass, wooden, concrete, steel, wire, stone, and ceramic pieces of art in the garden. They included even a giraffe that stood almost 12 feet tall.

As I walked the property, I found one object after another.

It was fun to see what you would discover as you walked the pathways in the garden.

Then I asked myself the question: how many accessories in the garden are enough?

Who knows? Who can answer that?

Gardener’s Supply is one source for such yard and garden artwork. The company offers many items from which to choose for that special look you want for your garden.

I must confess that I did not know there were so many options for a gardener who likes accessories for the yard and garden.

Do you like garden accessories?

 

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Cordyline Offers Victorian Garden Look

Cordyline offers Victorian garden look.

The tropical plant called cordyline, introduced into Europe in the early 1800s, became important during the nineteenth century Victorian period.

English garden writer David Stuart writes in his book The Garden Triumphant: The Victorian Legacy that during Victorian times the cordyline became the ‘dot’ plant which was surrounded by many other flowering plants, whether in a container or in a flower bed.

Today a gardener can choose from among several varieties of the cordyline for a bit of the Victorian look.

You may already be familiar with the cordyline australis called ‘Red Star,’ which usually comes in a quart container. You grow it for its burgundy leaves.  It can easily fill in the back or the center of a planter. Then simply add flowering plants around it. This cordyline makes an outstanding addition to a summer container. It will grow to about 18” tall during the warm season.

There is now also a much larger cordyline becoming popular here in the northeast. It is called cordyline fruticosa, or under its popular name ‘Hawaiian Ti.’ You can find it at both box stores and some nurseries in a gallon and a half container. You may have to look in the indoor plant section of the store. This cordyline is much taller and wider than ‘Red Star.’ In the pot it stands almost two feet high and more than a foot wide. It can fill a large container easily by itself.

In warmer areas of the country like Florida cordyline fruticosa grows outdoors all year. The plant originates in tropical Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Islands.

What is amazing about this cordyline is its long showy, stiff red and burgundy foliage with a hint of green at times. It is the perfect plant choice to add that big lush tropical color to any outdoor summer environment. Easy to care for, it is tolerant of both over and under watering.

You can see it in this planter at the front door of a home in Milton, Mass. whose garden I recently visited on a Sunday afternoon tour. [below]

Cordyline Milton

Red leafed cordyline fruticosa fills the center of this front door container

Other cordylines that you might like are the cordyline called ‘Chocolate Queen’ which Logee’s Greenhouses in Connecticut features. The leaves emerge a variegated green and are heavily striped with cream and white.  As they mature, the leaves take on a tone of chocolate, red, and purple.

This summer in our front door container we planted the cordyline called ‘Torbay Dazzler’. Its long thin foliage shines in colors of green and creamy yellow.

Though the cordyline is a tropical plant, once popular in the Victorian garden, it certainly can still add both color and structure to the summer garden in areas with a warm summer.

 

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Two Tour Gardens Illustrate Garden History

Two tour gardens illustrate garden history.

Recently I visited two gardens on a garden tour in Milton, Massachusetts. The Garden Conservancy featured these gardens as part of its Boston Area Open Day program.

Each garden offered something special for anyone interested in garden history.

The first garden at a home on Blue Hill Avenue dates to the 1920s.  This garden is the work of the famous early twentieth century landscape designer Ellen Biddle Shipman (1869-1950).

Shipman’s signature feature has to be integrating the house and garden. She succeeded in the Milton garden by including an axis that lures the visitor out from the house’s patio across the lawn into the walled garden. [below]

The garden also illustrates how Shipman combined both the formal and the wild garden.

She designed it at a time when people began to look on the garden as an outside room.

 

Shipman Garden

Milton, Mass. garden designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman

I was happy to see that the current owner has been devoted to restoring the Shipman garden as close as possible to the original plan, which was available for visitors to see that day.

The second Milton garden, the Wakefield Estate, dates to the Colonial period in American history. John Davenport purchased the property in 1706 as a rural homestead. He built the farmhouse that you can still see today.

Later Boston merchant Isaac Davenport built the mansion in 1794.

Kousa dogwood trees cover the terraces. Several of these trees are descendants of specimens growing at Boston’s Arnold Arboretum.  The canopy of dogwood blooms everywhere took my breath away that afternoon. [below]

Dogwood blooms have covered this walkway at the Wakefield Estate for decades.

The Wakefield Estate reflects the generations of owners of this property. There are several kinds of gardens included here, each reflecting what was important to gardeners at a particular time in American history.

Thus you will see a kalmia garden, a fountain terrace, a rose garden, an orchard, and even a Norway maple tree allee.

Both gardens presented something special. That of course is the reason we visit gardens on a tour – to enjoy a garden that we might not otherwise see.

These two, the Biddleman and the Wakefield garden, both reflect a bit of garden history in the Boston area.

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Media Still Influence Gardeners

Media still influence gardeners.

Ever since the late 1880s the media have been the greatest source of influence for gardeners.

By that time cheap paper and improved printing had made garden catalogs available in the millions. People across the country saw advertising for Quaker Oats, Ivory, and of course, Burpee’s seeds.

You probably heard the story about Martha Stewart’s hydrangea article which she wrote a while back for her magazine. The article featured stunning colored photos.

The day after the article appeared garden centers around the country sold out of hydrangeas.  People wanted the plant they saw in the media, i.e. her magazine.

Now you can find online seven influencers for gardeners.

right relevanceThe company behind the listing is Right Relevance.  It bills itself as the “quickest and simplest way to search and discover highly relevant deep topical content.”

Its goal is to “mine the social web to identify and rank topical influencers.”

Right Relevance trusts ‘influencer’ communities and searches for the most relevant online articles and conversations, the new media.

Those who influence gardeners today include Michael Pollan and Danielle Nierenberg. Among the influential organizations number the RHS and the National Trust.

The group of seven, according to Right Relevance, exhibit a considerable amount of influence on gardeners. They write about the current issues important to gardeners like growing your own food and taking care of the land.

For decades we have known that the media influence certain people, who in turn influence others to subscribe to new ideas, products and services they learn about in media.

Thus it is crucial to know who are the people who influence others so we can communicate with them about our product or idea.

This is an important way to understand how marketing and public relations operate in our society. This way of thinking about influencers is based on the theory called the two-step flow, as developed in the 1940s by sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld.

In gardening Right Relevance has simply taken the time to point out who are the opinion leaders in gardening. They influence gardeners through media like books and online writing.

To this day it is still the media that influence how we garden.

In 1891, at the start of media’s broad influence on us, the John Lewis Childs Company from Floral Park, New York provided this seed catalog cover, illustrating flowers the company called “New, Rare, and Beautiful.” Childs wanted to appeal to influencers of the day. [below

Who, after all,  wouldn’t want to grow these new plants?

Childs 1891 cover

 

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European Gardens Featured Poison Ivy

European gardens featured poison ivy.

We all know that we need to avoid poison ivy when working in the garden.

There was a time, however, when European gardeners cultivated this North American plant.

In the book Flora Illustrata (2014) Elizabeth Eustis and David Andrews write, “Poison Ivy was introduced into European gardens as an ornamental exotic before its less appealing qualities were experienced”

the Poisoned Weed bookIn his book The Poisoned Weed: Plants Toxic to Skin (2004) Donald G. Crosby writes, “Although its description had been recorded in sixth century China, the common English name ‘poison ivy’ was coined by Captain Smith (of Pocahontas fame) at the Virginia colony in 1608-09, and he offered the first glimpse of its effect on his fellow colonists (Smith, 1624).”

Then Crosby notes “Like the Captain, the seventh century Dutch physician Jacques Philippe Cornut (1635) considered it a form of English ivy and named it Edera trifolia canadensis (three-leafed Canadian ivy).”

According to Eustis and Andres in Flora it was in that same year 1635 in the book published in Paris called Canadensium plantarum that the plant was given both its Latin and English name.

In 1886 this magazine engraving of the poison ivy plant shows its leaves and flowers. [Below]

Poison Ivy magazine b/w sketch 1886

Poison ivy b/w sketch in a magazine from 1886

In the 1878 issue of his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly Rochester seedsman James Vick printed a letter from one of his customers. The letter said “The so called Poison Ivy is a very ornamental, but highly dangerous plant.” By then American gardeners were well aware of the problems of this plant.

So when you touch poison ivy in your garden, remember that at one time this plant was considered a desirable addition to the garden.

That may be hard to do however when you are in agony from the redness and itching that this plant has caused.

 

 

 

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Problems with the English Lawn in America

Problems with the English lawn in America.

Time to think about the lawn.

We need to figure out how to help it survive. We need to mow it. Then we need to trim the edge of it as well. They are the chores that we hope will keep the lawn looking perfect.

The lawn remains a reminder of America’s love of the English garden.

English writer and landscape gardener William Robinson, referred to as the father of the English flower garden, wrote in 1870, “The lawn is the heart of the true English Garden.”

Yet Andrew Jackson Downing, America’s premiere nineteenth century landscape gardener, knew that Americans could not cultivate a lawn like the English.

In the new book Flora Illustrata landscape architect Judith Major writes, “Downing admitted in The Horticulturist that the hot, sunny American summer does not favor the type of fine lawns that thrive under British conditions, yet writers on landscape architecture continued to promote the lawn.”

During the nineteenth century garden writers, who were sometimes also seed company or nursery owners as well, sought to sell grass seed. The lawn became the essential planting in the home landscape.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in August, 1878, “A well kept lawn, with a few beautiful trees and a belt or group or two of shrubbery on the border, needs but little other adornment.”

On that same page and above his words appeared this illustration of a house with its required well trimmed front lawn. [Below]

Lawn and House in VIL Monthly 1878, August

Lawn and House in Vick’s Illustrated Monthly 1878, August

Thus he encouraged the lawn both in his words and his magazine illustration.

Here is another Vick black line drawing from his seed catalog of 1880. [below] Notice again the central role the lawn plays.

Vick's Floral Guide 1880

Vick’s Floral Guide 1880

So it was no surprise that Downing had a difficult battle trying to convince Americans that a lawn like the English cultivate was not possible on American soil.

To this day, however, we have not stopped in our quest for that perfect lawn.

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18th Century England Collected American Plants

18th century England collected American plants

It is June and the flowers of the rhododendron seem to be putting on an extraordinary show this year.

In fact wherever I see rhodies right now, the flowers are stunning.

At one time the English garden included a special area called the “American garden” where such plants as our rhododendrons took center stage. The English loved them.

American plants filled this garden.

Mark Laird writes in the book Flora Illustrata, “[From the eighteenth century] the impact on gardening in Rhododentron, Mountain AmericanEngland was profound and led, among other things, to shrubberies – eventually called ‘American gardens.’ These were ‘theatres’ or display plantations of acclimatized woodsy plants, especially ericaceous plants such as Rhododendron and Kalmia.”

In both the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries the English sent plant collectors around the world in search of plants for their gardens.

Ships sailed to South America, Africa, Asia, and of course, North America carrying horticultural collectors in search of new and unusual plants.

Two rhododendrons blooming in my garden

Two rhododendrons blooming in my garden

Laird writes that the exchange of plants with England effected the nursery business in this country. If the English liked the plant, it was more likely to appear in the nursery trade here.

He said, “The introduction of American plants to Europe changed the nature of landscape gardening in England, with explorations having an equally profound effect on the nursery trade and horticultural activities in the early Republic.”

Though the English loved and knew our plants, that was not the case with American gardeners.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in the June issue of 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.”

So you might say that at one time American plants were treasured more by the English than the American gardener.

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Two Factors Made English Garden Possible

Two factors made English garden possible

Everyone loves the English garden.

Philadelphia nuseryman Thomas Meehan (1826-1901) said that the English taught us how to garden.

However, an editorial in the 1896 issue of the magazine Garden and Forest laid out the two problems in trying to create an English garden in America.

The editorial said, “American are unlike English conditions, and especially so in two important ways, namely, the price of labor and the character of the climate.”

Hired gardeners who worked in the gardens of England were a common feature for centuries.  That was an expense that the owner of the property would undertake to maintain a garden.

For example, in the nineteenth century at Chatsworth the Duke of Devonshire hired Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) as his head gardener, who in turn hired other gardeners to work the acres of woods, fields, and lawn.  Thomas Jefferson considered Chatsworth his favorite English garden.

In nineteenth century America garden help was not cheap.  Plus, not many people wanted to become professional gardeners.

When English gardeners came to America before 1900, there was no long history of hiring professional gardeners so many of them became farmers.

The second issue is the climate. The climate of England is temperate which makes possible a lawn like that of Chatsworth. [below]  The weather is mild throughout the summer months.

In America the soil in various parts of the country is often clay and the temperature is such that the growing conditions may be dry most of the time. In the Northeast the summers turn hot and the winters frigid. That is not the case in England.

The article concluded “Together they make the perfect English garden quite difficult on American soil.”

The Lawn at Chatsworth

The Lawn at Chatsworth, made possible by the temperate climate and a staff of gardeners.

So though we can certainly admire the English garden, it is not easy to replicate it in America.

Thus, it is no surprise that over the decades American gardening developed its own style and fashion.

 

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