Victorian Garden Fashion Reappears

Victorian garden fashion reappears.

Gardening has always been a mix of fashion and style.

A recent article in The English Garden called “Gardening features: the bedding display”  demonstrates renewed interest in the bedding out fashion, popular in the nineteenth century.

The magazine traces the history of this Victorian garden practice.

The article says, “Seed merchants sold special bedding plant seeds, which could be sent direct to gardeners using the newly available postal and railway network. By the 1880s, this ‘bedding boom’ had reached even the small suburban garden, with loud displays in island beds proudly placed right in the middle of lawns. These beds came in a variety of forms, all of which – bar the circle – were equally ridiculous. Who in their right mind would choose a star, crescent, heart, butterfly or ‘tadpole’ as a shape for a bed?”

The answer for that period was that many gardeners did, because it was the garden fashion of the day.

The article includes this fabulous photo as well. [below]  The scene looks like something out of the nineteenth century garden catalogs.

Some gardens, such as Lyme Park in Cheshire, are reintroducing or reinterpreting old bedding schemes. Credit: NPTL/Stephen Robson

Some gardens, such as Lyme Park in Cheshire, are reintroducing or reinterpreting old bedding schemes. Credit: NPTL/Stephen Robson. [Courtesy of The English Garden magazine]

When the author raises the question about who would do it, all I could think of is how often this idea appeared in the nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs.

Peter Henderson, for example, the seed merchant from New York not only encouraged this practice but included an illustration of it on his catalog cover several times.

What is garden fashion at one time may seem strange at a later date.

That is what is happening here.

The idea of bedding out demands not only a lot of plants, but also a great amount of time in maintaining such a bed on the lawn.

I can see why people do not want to garden this way today.

When you see it, however, the first emotion is how beautiful it is, but then you think of the many hours it took to create this colorful design on the lawn.

At the high point of this garden fashion in the nineteenth century American landscape designer Frank J. Scott wrote his famous landscape handbook Suburban Home Grounds (1870).

He said, “To keep a great number of small beds filled through the summer with low blooming flowers and their edges well cut is expensive.

“If they are also planned so that the grass strips  between them must be cut with a sickle, few gentlemen of  moderate means will long have the patience to keep them with the nice care essential to their good effect.”

The cost of the plants and also the labor made him wonder if the practice was worth it.

Today the issues for bedding out still remain, thus making a gardener hesitate to cultivate such a bedding out scheme of planting.

That does not however stop gardeners from continuing this Victorian fashion.

The article from TEG magazine ends with these words, “It seems many private gardeners still believe in bedding, with bedding plants currently representing a third of UK consumers’ spending on garden plants.”

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Nineteenth Century Garden Catalogs Sold Lawn

Nineteenth century garden catalogs sold lawn.

Nineteenth century seed company and nursery products guided the kind of home landscape people cultivated.

Landscape designer and garden historian Jennifer Grace Hanna wrote her Cornell master’s thesis called Ornamental Garden Design. 

She discussed mostly nineteenth century Rochester seedsman James Vick (1818-1882), but also covered much garden history from that period, including discussion of the importance of the lawn for the middle class homeowner.

 

henderson-front-yard

 

Hanna writes,  “Nursery owners [in nineteenth century America], the horticultural journal editors, did not accept the wilderness aesthetic completely for it was not good for business.

“Instead they merged this romantic wilderness appreciation with the aesthetic picturesque and developed a form of English landscape garden design that was reliant upon the communal landscape.

“In other words, the new transportation systems of the roads and rail lines and land division of the suburban tracts set up shared views.”

In the cover image [above] from New York seedsman Peter Henderson’s 1899 catalog notice how in the back one property adjoins another with a lawn as their common bond.

No fence separates the properties because the continuity of the lawn was an important landscape principle called ‘shared view.’

The nursery owners encouraged the lawn because it was part of the English landscape garden design aesthetic, but also because it was good for business. That landscape style sold lawn seed and lawn mowers.

And so it was no surprise, according to Hanna, that the English garden with its lawn became the model for the suburban, middle class American home landscape of the nineteenth century.

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Ireland’s Powerscourt Features Perennial Borders

Ireland’s Powerscourt features perennial borders.

My recent trip to Ireland included a visit to Powerscourt, the estate in Enniskerry, County Wicklow, whose long history dates back to the twelve century.

The extensive garden at Powerscourt contains many wonders, including two long perennial borders, that have made it one of Ireland’s treasures.

During the nineteenth century the walled garden’s perennial borders were installed.  They reflect the gardening world’s interest at that time in perennials rather than annuals.

Powerscourt border [courtesy photo]

Perennial borders at Powerscourt in Ireland [courtesy photo]

In the nineteenth century Viscount Powerscourt said,”The planting of the choice plants and shrubs, and seeing them increase year by year in size and beauty has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life.”

When garden writer William Robinson (1838-1935) and later garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) both encouraged gardening with perennials, borders of perennials became popular in the English garden.

Powerscourt includes other areas of nineteenth century garden style like an Italian garden in the terraces that link the house to the lake below. The terraces were constructed between 1843 and 1867.

The design of the garden reflects the desire to create a garden that is part of the wider landscape.  You can view the garden from the upper terrace where you can enjoy the harmony among garden slops, terraces, flower beds, trees, and the lake.

What caught my attention was the extraordinary collection of plants in the walled garden of perennials.

The fact that they are of mature size, well maintained, and number in the hundreds certainly contributes to the spender of the present-day Powerscourt garden.

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Portland Celebrates Victorian Christmas

Portland Celebrates Victorian Christmas

The Victorians knew how to celebrate the Christmas Holidays.

The Victorian period in America from 1840 to 1900 gave us the Christmas we have today, which includes candles, ribbons, flowers, and of course, the evergreen tree.  Decorating the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine at this time of year only continues that tradition.

Located in a hilly residential area near downtown, Victoria Mansion now captures the spirit of a Victorian Holiday with its extensive interior decorations.

The Victoria Mansion hosts its special Christmas celebration for the thirty-third year. The special six-week exhibit called  “Christmas at Victoria Mansion” runs until January 8.

Black Hat Tree

The parlor’s black hat tree, designed by Harmon’s and Barton’s, a local florist.

The Victoria Mansion, a brownstone built in 1860 in the Italian villa style, is preserved today as a Victorian home for visitors to enjoy a bit of nineteenth century Victorian fashion and style.

Designers

Holiday lights, flowers, greens, and ribbons fill the house during the Christmas season. Eight volunteer designers include florists, gift shop owners, and interior decorators who donate their time and also the materials to fashion each room.

This year they created each room’s decor with the theme “A Currier and Ives Christmas.”  Designers took their inspiration from the winter holiday images produced by the nineteenth century’s most popular printmaking firm.

Harmon’s and Barton’s, a Portland florist, used a black hat theme to decorate  the parlor. [above]

Mantel in Victoria Mansion

Mantel in Victoria Mansion’s red bedroom by Dan Gifford.

Dan Gifford of Portland decorated the mantel piece in the red bedroom with an array of Holiday colors, including the traditional red berries. [above]

Interior designer Karen Cole, here for her first time at the Mansion, chose a white, red, and green theme for the green bedroom.

Cole chose to create a bodice Christmas tree that stands in the bedroom. [below]

Christmas Tree in the Main Bedroom

Christmas Tree Bodice in the Master Bedroom by Karen Cole

The Mansion has become a special Holiday destination for many. Associate Director Tim Brosnihan says, “Part of the appeal of our Christmas celebration is that it has become a tradition for families.”  Each year many visitors return to see what this year’s designers have come up with for the rooms of the mansion.  He says, “It’s different every year.”

Last year almost ten thousand people walked through the front door of the Mansion to see the decorations.

The Victoria Mansion’s special Holiday decorations only make the house that much more inviting.

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Flower Beds Revolutionized English Garden

Flower beds revolutionized English garden.

We take flower beds for granted, but at one time they became revolutionary, making a statement against the current garden fashion.

The story began in early nineteenth century England when gardeners needed room for the unusual plants coming into the country from Asia, Africa, and America.

Plant collectors risked dangers and even death to provide the unusual and unknown flora from around the world.  English gardeners could not get enough of such plants.

The question became ‘Where do I plant them?’ for many gardeners.  After decades of stately lawns in front of and behind the house, there seemed little space to showcase these latest garden novelties.

stuart-plants-and-gardens-2David Stuart in his book The Plants that Shaped our Gardens writes, “When Lady Grenville, in exasperation [about where she would plant the new flowers coming into England from around the world], cut some large circles of the lawn in front of her drawing-room windows, and filled them with scarlet bergamots, blue salvias or yellow cosmos, she broke a century’s taboo, and started a colossal new movement.”

That was 1825. The garden has not been its old eighteenth century version since.

Here a simple act by Lady Grenville, or rather by her gardener, changed gardening.

Late eighteenth century landscape gardener Humpry Repton (1752-1818) had encouraged flowers in the landscape, even suggesting a rosarium for a rose collection. Flowers were not new. What was new was where they were planted in the landscape.

Flower beds on the lawn then became common practice both in England and America.

By 1880 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)  took flower beds for granted. The beds on the lawn, he advised, needed to include annuals that bloom for the entire season. 

He wrote, “A few flower beds may be made, and usually near the borders, or opposite windows, and they should be of simple, graceful forms, and look well the whole summer, and every day and all day.”

Lady Grenville’s example illustrates how sometimes what we take for granted in gardening has a history.

Why we garden in a particular way and with certain plants expresses the culture of a particular time and place.

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Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Artwork

Atlanta Botanical Garden’s artwork.

Recently while in Atlanta I had a chance to visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

The artist Dale Chihuly still had his sculptors in blown glass there on display.

What impressed me was how art like this fits in so well with the garden. It was as if the two were meant to be together in one burst of nature and color.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote about art and the garden in 1861 in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly.  He said: “To regard a garden otherwise than as a work of art, would tend to a radical perversion of its nature. A garden is for comfort and convenience, luxury and use, as well as for making a beautiful picture. It is to express civilization, and care, and design, and refinement. It is a blending of art with nature.”

Garden and Art

Certainly the many sculptures by Chihuly contributed to that blend of art with nature. [below]

Atlanta Botanical Garden art

Dale Chihuly’s artwork called ‘Fern Dell Paintbrushes’ at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

What I sometimes find difficult is how much art to include in the landscape as well as where to place it.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden spread Chihuly’s twenty works throughout the garden in such a way you could enjoy the garden as well as his artwork.

The Chihuly exhibit has now gone to Denver after its three months at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

I was happy to see this artwork contribute to a special Garden which by itself is a work of a art.

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Lawn – Still Essential Landscape Feature

Lawn – Still Essential Landscape Feature

In his garden magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly of 1881 Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick wrote, “What can be prettier than a well-kept emerald lawn illuminated by a few beds of bright flowers, or elegantly colored foliage, kept right and in perfect order from June to October.”

The lawn has long played a central role in the home landscape.

The lawn is still important to homeowners. Matt Nichols, owner of M. J. Nichols Landscaping in Quincy, Mass. says, “People still very much want a lawn.”

Nichols considers the lawn the easiest planting to maintain, once installed, especially for new homeowners.

According to a survey conducted by researcher Bruce Butterfield at GardenResearch.com, last year consumers spent $10.9 billion on do it yourself lawn care, spending on such items as power equipment, seed, sod, fertilizer, and even irrigation. Lawn care sales have increased at a compound annual growth rate of seven per cent from 2010 to 2015. He says, “People continue to spend on the lawn.”

The lawn has been an important part of the home landscape since the beginning of the country. The English landscape of the eighteenth century called ‘modern’ included a lawn. Even our founding fathers, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, wanted that modern landscape with its lawn.

It was no surprise that in the early nineteenth century homeowners who lived in wealthy suburban areas around Boston like Brookline and Milton included a lawn in their landscape.

Title: Catalogue of Seeds. Source: Front Cover, Nursery catalogue, Richard Smith & Co. 1898 Description: Front cover of the nursery catalogue of Richard Smith and Co of Worcester, depicting a posy of cut flowers and a garden scene. Date: 1898.

 Front Cover, Nursery catalog, Richard Smith & Co. 1898

Later in the century when middle-class suburban homes began to appear, the lot for a new house often included an area in the front for a lawn.

A lawn thus demonstrated a bit of social status.

This 1898 catalog cover from the Smith Seed Company in Worcester, Mass. illustrated the classic lawn for the home landscape. [left]

The lawn also presents an attractive environment for simply situating the house. Nichols says, “Grass helps with curb appeal.”

Butterfield expresses a similar sentiment. He says, “People are only interested in keeping up the lawn for appearance.”

In the 1880s the Vick Seed Company wrote: “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.”

Homeowners still want a green lawn. The recent drought was merely a bump along the way to that dream of a sea of green.

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Atlanta Garden Includes English Greenhouse

Atlanta garden includes English greenhouse.

I attended the Association for Garden Communicators annual meeting in Atlanta a few weeks ago.

We visited several gardens as part of the busy schedule we kept.

One garden featured a greenhouse, designed and installed by the English firm Hartley Botanic, purveyor of greenhouses, and approved by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. [below]

Greenhouse, Atlanta garden tour

English greenhouse in an Atlanta garden

What struck me immediately was how association with the word ‘English’ in this case makes this greenhouse somehow special.

The choice of an English greenhouse certainly highlights the English workmanship of a greenhouse, but also the history of gardening in England which included a greenhouse tradition.

Wealthy English plant collectors in the eighteenth century built conservatories or what we call greenhouses to protect their tropical plants.

By mid nineteenth century when glass became cheaper, greenhouses also appealed to the English middle class gardener.

Ninteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs listed plants that could overwinter in such a greenhouse.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in July 1879, “With the increase of wealth comes a demand for glass structures of some kind, in which the operations of gardening, in its lighter and ornamental branches, can be pursued at all seasons of the year – regardless of winter’s blasts and storms and summer’s fiercer rays and droughts.”

This Atlanta garden represents the English garden style still relevant, important, and in some sense, the model for American greenhouse gardening.

We continue to look to the English to teach us about gardening.

In 1884 Buffalo, New York landscape designer Elias Long wrote in his book Ornamental Gardening for Americans, “The English possess a much greater love for, and knowledge of, everything pertaining to gardening than do Americans.”

 

 

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Ireland Trip Illustrates Similar Plant Palette

Ireland trip illustrates similar plant palette.

My recent trip to Ireland taught me a lesson about marketing the garden.

While near Dublin, I visited the classic Victorian garden and estate called Powerscourt in the town of Enniskerry, County Wicklow.

There at the gift shop and greenhouse, near the visitor’s parking lot, I saw trays of pansies for sale. [below]

pansies-at-powerscourt

Pansies for sale outside the greenhouse at Powerscourt

The pansy has long been a gardener’s favorite. Since the nineteenth century pansies have played a central role in providing color for garden beds here in America.

When I saw the Powerscourt pansies, it was as if I was at home. We sell the same pansies here in the States.

What that means to me is that the power of marketing communication today makes a plant variety easily recognizable, perhaps even around the world, and that becomes the plant that people want to grow.

Mass marketing of the garden only began in the later part of the nineteenth century when communication innovations like the typewriter and increased speed in printing along with increased advertising became common.

A customer from Iowa wrote a letter to Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) about pansies.  Vick included these words from the letter in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878, “We never had such flowers before; you ought to have seen our Pansies. We have every color you can think of, and lots of them that you cannot think of. We have one or two roots of them that have not had anything but double Pansies, and they were very beautiful.”

Vick, of course, encouraged the growing of pansies.  That advice has continued to this day.

So in one sense it is no surprise to see the same annuals for sale in Ireland even though the growers may be local.

Since the late nineteenth century American gardening has been intimately connected with the mass marketing of plants and garden products.

The effect is that our palette of plants has become quite similar from region to region around the country, and even from country to country.

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Nineteenth Century America’s Swept Yard

Nineteenth century America’s swept yard

As I walked around the extensive Atlanta History Center grounds a few weeks ago, I came across a farm-house from the mid 1800s.  Barns for various animals surrounded the structure.

The house had a wooden fence along part of its perimeter, probably to keep the animals from roaming too close to the house.

The house was called the Tallie Smith House, a rural home preserved from the mid-nineteenth century. A variety of activities such as spinning, weaving, and preparing food would have taken place on its large front porch. [below]

The Tallie Smith House on the propraty of the Atlanta History Center.

The Tallie Smith House at the Atlanta History Center

Then I noticed that there was no front lawn, but rather a swept area of soil outside the front door, along the front, and on each side of the house as well.

Information on a near-by post said, “No garden form is more strongly tied to the South in the 1800s than the rural, grass-free swept yard.”  The swept yard was, it said, probably African in origin. [below]

Swept yard at the Tallie Smith Hosue

Swept yard at the Tallie Smith House at the Atlanta History Center

The fact that no lawn surrounded the house caught my attention. This landscape represented a certain time period in American garden history.

The word ‘yard’ has had a series of meanings for the landscape over the centuries. Here it includes the area that surrounds the front of a nineteenth century rural house.

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