No Garden without Shade

You have probably visited many shade gardens over the years, sometimes with a group and other times alone.  Perhaps you cultivate your own shade garden as well.

The special feature in the shade garden is that the gardener has chosen plants that will tolerate shade to a greater or lesser degree.

We know what plants will survive in that environment and if we don’t, we soon learn. That is part of the experience of gardening.

Recently I came across early English landscape gardener Batty Langley’s book New Principles of Gardening (1728). Langley (1696-1751)  rose to become an advocate for landscape gardening in the early eighteenth century.  His practical garden writing inspired both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson here in the United States.

In the book Langley wrote, “There is nothing more agreeable in a Garden than good Shade, and without it a Garden is nothing.”

It may seem he is going overboard in his love for shade, but stop and think. There is something soothing about plants in shade. Cool, green, refreshing are words that come to mind.

This photo [below] from my garden illustrates the variety of plants you can incorporate in a shady area.

A red Japanese maple stands at the center of a shady area in my garden.

A red Japanese maple stands at the center of my shade garden.

This garden includes a red Japanese maple as the center, surrounded by spireas, hostas, hydrangeas, and daylilies.

Even tiny red roses blossom in the area on the lower right where a bit of sun appears now and then.

There is something so peaceful about a shade garden.



Late Nineteenth Century Garden Advertising Targeted Women

Today we sometimes hear the expression, “Women Shop”, which probably means something like shopping is identified more with women than men.

Companies that have products and services to sell recognize that and since the 1890s have targeted much advertising toward women.

Richard Ohmann too in his book Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century discusses the words and illustrations in advertising in the 1890s as characterized by that focus on persuading women to buy products.  He writes, “Most ads for branded products targeted women, in McClure’s and Munsey’s [two national magazines] almost as much as in the Ladies Home Journal.”  LHJ became the most successful national magazine in the country.

In 1897 the advertiser Nathaniel Fowler wrote in his book Fowler’s Publicity: An Encyclopedia of Advertising and Printing,  “The woman can buy better articles, from spool cotton to ulster overcoats, for less money than the average man can buy with more money.”

The seed and nursery catalogs from the 1890s portrayed the woman as the ideal customer for both seeds and plants.  Catalog covers often included a woman that looked a particular way.  She was middle or upper middle class, thin, and always wore a white or light colored dress.

The Peter Henderson Company included such an image of a woman on its fall catalog cover of 1892 [below].

Henderson catalog cover of 1899

Henderson’s catalog cover of 1892

Notice that the woman clearly represents a middle class look both from her dress and her home and its landscape.

Thus the companies sold status and social class as well as daffodil bulbs.

Customers wanted to be identified with a certain class and purchasing goods connected with that class became a way to enter that class.

So as in all advertising to this very day, ads sell image, identity, and sense of self more than simply a product or service.

All of that took off in the 1890s and impacted every business, including the selling of the garden to the American gardener.


By 1900 Every Business, including Seed Companies and Nurseries, Advertised

In the nineteenth century ads for patent medicines in newspapers and magazines had given advertising a bad name.

Historian Richard Ohmann writes in his book Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century: “The mendacious ad copy of the makers of patent medicines with which they filled newspapers and magazine columns through the middle decades of the nineteenth century put advertising out-of-bounds for many respectable producers.”

Ohmann Book on AdvertisingBut that changed in the 1890s.

Advertisers Ernest Elmo Calkins and Ralph Holden wrote in 1912: “Men not very old have witnessed the entire development of modern advertising from being an untrustworthy instrument of quacks and charlatans to its place as an engine in the conduct and expansion of business.”

The seed and nursery industries certainly employed advertising to an extensive degree  by 1900. The Philadelphia seedsman W. Atlee Burpee stands out as an example of someone who was able to create a lucrative business with the help of extensive advertising.

In 1915 the advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink included an  article about Burpee called “The Personality that is behind the Burpee Business”. The article said, “During the season of 1915, more than a million [Burpee] catalogues were sent out to customers of record and in response to inquiries received from advertising.”

It was no coincidence that Burpee once said, “No business can succeed without advertising.”

Garden Furniture Became a Must in the Victorian Garden

Today we take it for granted that somewhere in the garden we will include a bench, a chair, or a table.

The practice of including such pieces of outdoor furniture became an important feature of the Victorian garden, especially for the emerging middle class who had the money and leisure to pursue gardening.

English garden writer Caroline Ikin in her book The Victorian Garden writes: “Gardens were also extensively accessorized by the Victorians to add character and display taste. Rustic buildings and garden furniture were popular additions, as were Japanese tea-houses and Oriental bridges.”

Nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs included garden accessories like the lawn tent.  Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  in his seed catalog of 1873 offered “Vick’s Portable Lawn Tent.” He wrote in the ad: “For Lawn and Croquet ground is unequaled…In Europe, a tent somewhat like

Vick's Lawn Tent 1873 ad

Vick’s Lawn Tent ad in his seed catalog of 1873

this is seen on almost every respectable lawn…It is quite ornamental, and deserves a place on the Lawn for this alone.”

The second example of a lawn tent  in the ad also included a garden bench, or seat as Vick called it.

Thus American gardeners who were anxious to follow the Victorian garden style included all sorts of garden furniture in the landscape.

[below] I am including here  an image from my garden. Notice the wrought iron table and chairs, and, of course, a new variety of petunia called ‘Pretty Much Picasso,’ one of my favorite new annuals.


My backyard garden includes this wrought iron table and two chairs.

My Book Nominated for Literature Award

Good news to share with you.

The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries nominated my book America’s Romance with the English Garden (Ohio University Press) for its Annual Literature Award.

I was delighted to hear the news this summer.

Logo Horticultural associationThe Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries is an international organization of individuals, organizations and institutions concerned with the development, maintenance and use of libraries of botanical and horticultural literature. Many University libraries and Botanical Gardens make up its membership.

Created in 2000, the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Annual Literature Award is given by CBHL to both the author and publisher of a work that makes a significant contribution to the literature of botany or horticulture.

I am grateful to the CBHL Nominating Committee for including my book among this year’s nominees.

Ohio Univesity Press, 2013

Ohio University Press, 2013


The Gardenesque Style Appeared in Victorian Gardens

In the early nineteenth century English landscape gardener and author John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) first wrote about the gardenesque style as a landscape style quite different from the prevailing picturesque view. Its signature feature included a collection of plants, isolated in the garden in groups or singly by themselves and planted so they did not touch other plants.   Thus visitors could view them as in an arboretum or public garden.

That style also became an expression of the Victorian garden.  That was a time when plant collecting forced gardeners to rethink the prevailing picturesque or natural landscape view.  Gardeners coveted plants coming from Africa, Asia, and America.  They also wanted to show off these plants in the garden.

Caroline Ikin writes in her book The Victorian Garden: “The gardenesque style was embraced by Victorian botanic gardens and arboreta where collections of plants and trees were displayed to encourage individual study and appreciation.”

In 1866  near Boston in the town of Wellesley Horatio Hollis Hunnewell opened his garden and called it a Pinetum, where he could show off his collection of evergreens. [below] One might call his garden style ‘gardnesque’ therefore.

Hunnewell purchased hundreds of trees, many from England, and assembled them in this Pinetum.

He labeled the trees as well.

Hunnewell pinetum in Wellesley, Mass. built in 1843

Hunnewell Pinetum in Wellesley, Mass., built in 1866

English garden writer William Robinson visited the Pinetum in 1870 and heaped praise on its collection of trees and shrubs.[from the book So Fine a Prospect: Historic New England Gardens.]

At a time when the two defining styles of gardening, the formal and picturesque, had dominated, Loudon introduced a new way to use plants in the landscape and called it gardnesque.  Gardeners both in England and America embraced this fashion.


The Victorian Garden Included an Italianate Style

I have enjoyed reading The Victorian Garden by Caroline Ikin.  The book has in fact inspired me to read more about the Victorian garden both in England and America.

Ikin contends that the Italianate garden became one form of  the Victorian garden during the nineteenth century.

The word ‘Italianate’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘Italian’ but refers to an Italian influence in garden design.

The parterre, laid out in the formal terraces, became one expression of that form of the Victorian garden.

English landscape gardener William Nesfield (1793-1881) provided the Italianate parterre in gardens he designed.

Nesfield garden

Restored Nesfield garden at Witley Court [Patient Gardener blog]

Ikin writes in her book, “It was Nesfield, the landscape architect, who was largely responsible for incorporating the parterre into the Italianate garden, and by 1840 he had a thriving business designing parterres for country houses.”

This image of a Nesfield garden [above] comes courtesy of the  blog Patient Gardener. The garden is part of the restored gardens at Witley Court.

The Victorian garden took several forms during the nineteenth century.  The formal parterre look of the Italianate design became one of them.




Restoring an Old Garden First Calls for Research

Recently I visited the Abbot-Spalding House in Nashua, New Hampshire. The house dates from the early nineteenth century. The Nashua Historical Society, housed in a museum next door which is a more modern building, takes care of the Abbot-Spalding House and its landscape.

The Historical Society now wants to improve the Abbot-Spalding House landscape in order to eliminate the weeds that fill the areas along the outside of the building which are now planted mostly in shrubs.

I travelled there in hopes that I might help them.

After my tour of the property by the administrator and a museum staff member, I thought it was necessary to research the old landscape.  I did not want to make any landscape recommendations until I had a sense of how the landscape had evolved to its present form.

Michael Weishan and Christina Roig in their book From a Victorian Garden: Creating the Romance of a Bygone Age Right in Your Own Backyard offer advice on restoring a Victorian landscape.  They said, “Perhaps the most important reason why garden research lags behind that of interiors is that curators and administrators do not always recognize the vital role the landscape can play in illuminating the life and times of the people who created them.”

Abbott House, Nashua, NH

Abbot-Spalding House, Nashua, NH

I walked the property and found many spots where we might plant something, especially in certain areas bordering the walls of the house. Several barren spots that I saw seemed to call out to me, as it were, to recommend a plant where something did grow at one time.  But I held back and did not make any plant recommendations in that initial visit.

I thought I better do some research on how the landscape first looked to get a sense of how to proceed.

That meant that I needed to look at photographs and other materials about the Abbot-Spalding House landscape.

So this past Thursday I drove to Nashua for that purpose.  There I found several early photographs and even a history of the house.

Since I like to explore the history of the  American garden, I must say I welcome this first stage of research about the Abbot-Spalding House. As much as possible, I want to arrive at a sense of how the garden began, what changes happened over time, and how did the landscape evolve to its current form.

Carpet Bedding Became the Rage in the Victorian Garden

Much to the delight of gardeners In nineteenth century England as well as America new plants arrived from Africa and South America.  They were not hardy plants for the freeze of winter, but provided ample color and texture as annuals for the summer garden.

In an attempt to display these new plants, and thus show a sense of prestige in owning the latest plant variety, gardeners both in England and America encouraged the fashion of carpet bedding.

Victorian Garden Book 2 lineIn her new book The Victorian Garden Caroline Ikin writes, “Created from the close planting of low-lying plants such as sedum and sempervivum which presented a smooth surface patterned like a carpet, this new style was variously known as jewel bedding, embossed bedding, tapestry bedding, artistic bedding or mosaic bedding.”

The patterns became more complex as the fashion became more popular.  The Crystal Palace Park in London in 1875 featured a series of butterflies arranged over six beds.

American gardeners would, of course, not be out done.

The Peter Henderson Seed Company included carpet bedding on its catalog cover of 1886 [below].

Henderson Lawn

Notice the intricate detail of the carpet bedding flower patterns on the lawn.

Such gardening demanded maintenance throughout the summer to keep the height and color in this design.  Pruning and dead heading occupied the gardener for many hours every week.

Henderson carpet bedding

Nineteenth Century Advice on Garden Containers Still Holds Up

No garden would be complete without an outdoor container or vase filled with color to add to the enjoyment of summer plants.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) gave instructions on how to plant such a container.  He included in his catalog this illustration of a well-kept vase [below].

He wrote, “Of all the adornments of the lawn, nothing is more effective than a well filled and well kept vase.…All the ornamental-leaved plants are appropriate for the top or center of the vase, while a few drooping plants should be placed near the edges and allowed to hang or droop at least half way to the ground. For this purpose the Verbena or the Petunia will answer.”

Vick's Floral Guide, 18979

A well-kept vase from Vick’s Floral Guide, 1879

Then he makes sure we know that we ought to keep to a certain number of planters in the landscape. He wrote, “The most popular ornament of the lawn is the vase; and when judiciously planted and well cared for, nothing can be more desirable. We often see several small vases scattered over the lawn, but the effect is bad. It is best to have one or two that command attention by their size and beauty.”

This summer I took this photo of a planter at the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel in New Castle, New Hampshire [below].  Notice the size and color of the plants in the container: the tall purple grass, the mid-sized Rudbeckia, and the lime Coleus for that trailing effect. It is as if the gardener followed the precise directions of Mr. Vick.

His instructions fit today’s gardener as much as they did the American gardener in the nineteenth century.


Summer Container at the Wentworth in NH

Summer container on the dock at the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel in New Castle, NH