Victorian NY Landscaper Advocated for Parks

Victorian NY landscaper advocated for parks –

To Frederick Law Olmsted we all owe a great deal of debt because he advocated for public green spaces.

The restrictions of city life call for the opportunity for a citizen to walk among trees and observe nature in plants, insects, and animals in a public space like a park.

Landscape architect Samuel Parsons (1844-1923) served as Superintendent of New York parks at the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century.

In his book Landscape Gardening (1891) Parsons outlined the importance of parks, much in the spirit of Olmsted.

He wrote, “The chief and most important office of Central Park is not to furnish agreeable driving territory for the ‘beau monde’, the millionaires, and the lovers of horseflesh.

“It is not a scheme to please and attract the fashionable, but it is playground for the young people, a pleasant open-air breathing space for the mothers and fathers who desire to go into the country and cannot get there.”

Central Park in New York



Thus Parsons follows in the tradition of America’s early environmentalist Olmsted.

Parsons clearly spells out in his writing that his work as director of parks in New York included overseeing the grand design of Olmsted, Central Park.

Central Park came to be for city residents who had little or no recourse to escaping the city for the country.

Children and Nature

Today there is much discussion with signs of activity as well on the topic of children and gardening.

Kids have little experience with nature, for many reasons.

So when children maintain a garden at school, at home, or a plot in a community garden, they can see nature at work.

An organization called Kids Gardening encourages children to garden and offers many suggestions.

Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) wrote in the late nineteenth century that children who garden learn to appreciate nature.

Parsons contributed to that same tradition in his insistence that kids from the city have an opportunity to experience nature in city parks.

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Beware the Coleus and Geranium

Beware the coleus and geranium

Who doesn’t love the two popular annuals coleus and geranium?

It turns out that New York’s Superintendent of Parks Samuel Parsons (1844-1923) showed little regard for these two annuals.

He wrote the book Landscape Gardening in 1891. In it he discussed these two plants.

He said, “Farm door-yards and Newport lawns alike distort themselves in the gay but unfortunately often garish colors of the coleus and geranium. No need to advocate their use. They have achieved a foothold that is not likely to be soon shaken.”

He disliked their colors, but he was most unhappy that they were assuming an important role in flower gardens.

Parsons gave his reasons for not liking these two plants.

He wrote, “As we find them presented on many grass plots, their appearance is vulgar, inharmonious, and barbaric.”

That is pretty heavy criticism for two simple plants.

Today

Well, today the coleus and the geranium have certainly found a home in our flower gardens.

Here’s a coleus called ‘Neptune’s Net‘ that I planted in a container on my lawn. 

This coleus is called ‘Neptune’s Net.’

With its shades of lime and burgundy this coleus looks splendid in a gray cement container.  It stayed there the whole summer.

Though Mr. Parsons failed to find any value in the coleus and geranium, today they have become an integral part of many summer gardens, whether in a container or in a bed.

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Old Fashioned Flower Garden Still Rocks

Old fashioned flower garden still rocks –

Victorians loved flowers in all their color.Late nineteenth century garden writer and landscape manager for Central Park Samuel Parsons loved flowers.

 

He wrote in his book Landscape Gardening, first published in 1891, “I believe in making a distinct and comfortable abode of flowers – in a word, a flower garden, and an old-fashioned one, if you choose to call it so.”

Even though his job was to supervise the maintenance of one of America’s landscaped gems, he still loved flowers.

He said, “Flowers really satisfy us better, and do better in the garden, where we can coax and tend them a little.”

Gardeners know that flowers will only satisfy when we can take care of them.

As we enjoy spring now, perhaps you, like I am, are deciding on what flowers to plant in your garden.

Seeds just arrived in the mail for nasturtiums and cosmos, two easy flowers to grow from seed.

A few weeks ago I ordered a few dahlia tubers.

You can see that in the next few weeks I will be busy planting flowers to enjoy during the summer and fall.

There is something so special about an old-fashioned garden, filled with plants we have known for yerars.

Parsons put it in these words, “The growth of a renewed regard for the simple and often old forms of single flowering plants is a promising sign in horticulture.”

What he means I think is the joy we find in growing old familiar plants.

Nineteenth century Rochester seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) loved flowers as well. Through his work he tried to instill that love in his many customers scattered around the country.

Here is an illustration from his monthly magazine, filled with some of his favorite old fashioned flowers. [below]

James Vick chromolithograph, 1873

Mother’s Day Weekend Plant Sale

The annual Herb Plant Sale of the New England Unit of the Herb Society of America will once again be held in conjunction with Mass Hort’s Gardeners’ Fair at Elm Bank, 900 Washington Street, Route 16, in Wellesley, Mass. 

The date is Saturday, May 11, rain or shine. 

Mass Hort members can shop from 8 to  9 a.m.

The general public is welcome from 9 a.m. to  3 p.m.

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Old Medical Journal Encouraged Retired Nurses to Garden

Old medical journal encouraged retired nurses to garden. 

Recently I came across an article in an old professional journal for nurses from 1911 called The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review.

The article “Floriculture as an Occupation for Retired Nurses” encouraged retired nurses to take up gardening.

The journal noted the author simply as “A Retired Nurse.”

The author wrote the article for “the retired nurse or nurses about to retire who are in quest of some employment that will be productive of an income.”

Such garden work would “at the same time be conducive to the recuperation of tired bodies and wornout nerves.”

The purpose for the gardening, she admitted, ultimately was to sell the flowers to make some money. 

Annuals

Annuals like pansies, asters, and verbenas might be a good start.

The author herself grew five thousand pansies in frames and hot-beds.

She also planted  hundreds of verbenas  and petunias along with a good selection of vegetable plants.

Advertising helped spread the word that created a great demand for her plants.

After July 1 the author recommended growing cut flowers like dahlias to meet the buyer’s needs.

She mentioned how English nurses have taken up growing flowers and vegetables quite successfully.

She wrote, “The growing of flowers as an occupation is said to have become exceeding popular with our English sisters.”

Asters

On this trade card also from the early 1900s the James Vick’s Sons Seed Company in Rochester, New York featured a field of asters. [below] 

As this retired nurse wrote, the aster was a very popular annual at that time.

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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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