Edith Wharton’s Mount Features Shade Garden

Edith Wharton’s Mount features shade garden.

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) wrote not only fiction, but her interest in house and garden design inspired both books and articles as well.

She wrote 40 books in 40 years.

Wharton named her house in Lenox, Mass. The Mount. There in the Berkshires she felt inspired to write some of her best work.

In 1902 Wharton designed both the house and the garden at The Mount.

Over the past several years the garden has been carefully restored to its original design.

That design follows a formal Italian look, made of straight lines and symmetry.

At one end of garden you see the formal flowerbeds with the Italianate fountain in all its formal glory in the center.

At the other end of the garden, which you arrive at by walking a tree-lined stone path, she positioned the ‘walled garden.’

When she designed the walled garden, the trees and shrubs she installed were small. Then there was plenty of light.

Today you encounter in that same garden a deep shade since everything has grown to such a height.

Thus the gardeners who maintain the area have now planted hosta, astilbe, and ferns.

This is the view out from the walled garden to the back of the property where you can just catch a glimpse of a body of water in the distance. [below]

shade garden at the Mount

The walled garden is now this shade garden at The Mount in Lenox.

The design of Edith’s garden is formal, but now also includes this garden of shade.

In the early twentieth century when renewed interest in the formal garden appeared both in England and America, Edith Wharton captured the popularity of that design in her own garden.

Today the restored garden at The Mount offers the visitor a chance to capture a sense of that moment in the history of American gardening.

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England’s Amazon Water Lily Made History

England’s Amazon water lily made history.

No one knew that a single flower, found in the Amazon by a plant collector, could create such a fury in nineteenth century England, but it did. That fury appeared with elements of desire, intrigue, competition, secrecy, pride, and even jealousy.

That flower was the Amazon lily, also called Victoria Regia, and now called Victoria amazonica, or giant waterlily.

All the important botanists in England wanted to grow it.

Robert Schomburgk, while charting the territory of Guiana for the Royal Geographical Society, found the flower in 1837 and named it after Queen Victoria.

Flower of EmpireTatiana Holway tells the story of this lily in her book The Flower of Empire. Sometimes the book reads like a novel. She has included many characters who encountered this flower, including, of course, the Queen herself.

Plant collectors were common in nineteenth century England. Many plants we enjoy in the garden today come from such exploration.

But nobody had ever seen anything like the Amazon lily whose flower was measured, not in inches, but in feet. Its leaves alone measured eight feet wide.

Holway writes, “The Queen’s flower [Victoria Regia] was the centerpiece of her colony [British Guiana] and rendered it the very epitome of Britain’s imperial destiny.”

Several horticulturists in the first half of the nineteenth century tried to grow the seeds from the plant. Schombruk had promised seeds to Joseph Paxton, head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire in Chatsworth, after the Queen.

Paxton succeeded in growing the plant. He even built a special greenhouse for the lily.

That greenhouse served as the model for the Crystal Palace, which he designed in 1851 for the Great Exhibition in London.

So the lily is not only important because no one in England had ever seen anything like it but also because its greenhouse inspired the design of the Crystal Palace.

from Victoria Regia, treatise by John Fisk Allen, illustrations by William Sharp Plate © The University of Kansas Spencer Museum of Art

From Victoria Regia, treatise by John Fisk Allen, illustrations by William Sharp
Plate © The University of Kansas Spencer Museum of Art

Here in America John Fisk Allen from Salem, Mass. grew seeds of this lily in 1853. Shortly after that he wrote a description of the slow growth of the plant, which eventually did flower for him.

This chromolithograph by artist William Sharp appeared in Allen’s work. [above]

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Rural New Hampshire Features Victorian Garden

Rural New Hampshire Features Victorian Garden

For years people have been telling me about The Fells in the Lake Sunapee area in Newbury, New Hampshire.

John M. Hay, who once served as secretary to President Abraham Lincoln, built a summer house and garden which he then called The Fells.

Last week I drove up to The Fells to check it out for myself.

The Fells history begins in 1891 when Mr. Hay, later Secretary of State, buys the property.

Today the property features a 22-room Colonial Revival House with several gardens.  I loved the gardens because they represent the garden fashion of the late 19th and early 20th centuries

The Old Garden, built in 1909, was the estate’s first signficant garden space, with three formal walled rooms in the woods. [below]. Since this garden grew in shade, I saw plants like ginger, Japanese painted fern, pulmonaria, and ferns.

This garden, built with straight lines and beautiful plants and tall trees, felt peaceful and provided a sense of relaxation.

Fells small formal garden

Boy and turtle fountain in the small formal garden at The Fells.

There were other gardens on the property as well, like the Rose garden near the house that now includes the beautiful lisianthus in several spots in full bloom.

A few feet away I found the rock garden which was planted by the grandson of John M. Hay. This third generation gardener used over 600 species of alpine plants. I walked its rock path to the bottom of the garden. Most enjoyable. The plants are all thriving on that hillside.

A 130-foot perennial border lines the front lawn.  It features a beautiful selection of plants that provide bloom most of the summer and into the fall. Such borders were in fashion at the turn of century, especially since English garden designers Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson recommended them.

Beyond the front wall of the house you see an extensive meadow that is home to birds and monarch butterflies.

The trees that border the property along the shore of Sunapee Lake have grown so high now that it is difficult to see the lake in the background.  At times I was able to snatch a peak.  In the nineteenth century a boat would bring summer residents from the local train station to their homes.

There is a stone parking area behind the house, and on one side, enclosed in a canopy of small trees, you see a white statue of Hebe, cup-bearer of the gods. [below]

Fells white statue

The white statue of the goddess Hebe at The Fells.

The trip was well worth it. What a garden this is. All I heard about The Fells turned out to be true.

This garden today is well maintained and continues as a tribute to the three generations of the Hay family who built it.

 

 

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Nineteenth Century Ads Included Factory Images

Nineteenth Century Ads Included Factory Images

Recently I traveled to the Boston Athenaeum to see a new Exhibit they had promoted.

The exhibit, called Collecting for the Boston Athenaeum in the 21st Century, included prints and photographs.

Without doubt this was one of my favorite exhibits because it included chromolithographs of factories from the nineteenth century. Then it was a common practice, especially after 1850, for companies to promote their business with an illustration of their factory or headquarters.  These illustrations would appear in trolleys, stores, and on buildings.

My favorite was the 1891 chromo of the Boston Belting Co. [below]

Boston Rubber Company 1890 [Boston Aethaneum]

Boston Rubber Company 1890 [Boston Athenaeum]

The nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries scattered across the country followed suit.

They wanted customers to know they were dealing with a substantial company and so a chromo of their warehouse and seed company, even their box company, was not uncommon.

Here is a chomolithograph of the D. M. Ferry Seed Co in Detroit from 1897. [below] Notice the size of the buildings.

Ferry Buildings 1887 small

D. M. Ferry and Son Company, 1897 [Courtesy Cornell University]

At the same time the chromo of the company’s factory and  warehouse formed a bit of advertising.

The customer thought, of course, that such a big company must have a worthwhile product to sell.

Why would he or she not order seeds from such an establishment as Ferry?  After all, the company could afford this factory and warehouse.

A new exhibition called Art on Tap at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend, Wisconsin includes this poster made from an early chromolithograph by the Miller Brewing Company. [Below]

Even the nineteenth century beer giants advertised with images of their factories.

Miller Brewing Co. Factory Scene, self-framed lithograph on tin, The H.D. Beach Co., 1905, From the collection of Robert and Debra Markiewicz

Miller Brewing Co. Factory Scene, self-framed lithograph on tin, the H.D. Beach Co., 1905. From the collection of Robert and Debra Markiewicz.

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Maple Tree Honors Scottish Plant Hunter

Maple Tree Honors Scottish Plant Hunter.

In both his catalog and monthly magazine the Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) often mentioned ‘Drummond phlox’ as an ideal annual for the garden.

In his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1878 Vick wrote the following: “The Phlox Drummondii was only discovered about forty years ago in Texas, by Mr. Drummond, a botanical collector sent out by the Glasgow Botanical Society, and it was one of the last plants sent home, for soon after he visited Cuba and died.”

Thomas Drummond (1793-1835) was a Scottish botanical collector.

The phlox is not the only plant named after Mr. Drummond.

Recently I visited the Allen C. Haskell Public Gardens in New Bedford, Mass., once a thriving nursery business and now a public garden, operated by the Trustees of Reservations.

Here is one of the beautiful scenes from that garden. [below]

Haskell garden

Allen C. Haskell Gardens in New Bedford, Mass.

While walking around the garden, I came across a Norway maple tree whose name is Acer platanoides ‘Drummondii’, or the Drummond maple.

It also was named after the plant collector Thomas Drummond.

Notice the cream-colored edging on the leaf which makes this tree quite distinctive. [below]

Maple tree at Haskell Garden

Maple tree Acer p. ‘Drummdii’ at the Haskell Gardens

We owe a lot to the English and Scottish plant hunters of the nineteenth century.

Many plants we take for granted in the garden today came from the exploration of such plant hunters. That exploration often involved danger, disease, and sometimes death.

At the Haskell Gardens I learned that Drummond had collected 750 species of plants and 150 specimens of birds.

The maple Drummond that stands out at the Haskell Gardens serves as one way to honor this Scottish plant hunter.

 

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Cape Cod Lauches Hydrangea Test Garden

Cape Cod lauches hydrangea test garden.

Gardeners are often confused about hydrangeas with questions about which variety to choose, pruning, and general care.

Now there is a place on Cape Cod that you can visit, not only to learn about hydrangeas, but see them growing in both a demonstration garden and a new test garden. It’s all at the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich.

New Hydrangea Test garden in Sandwich, Mass.

New Hydrangea Test Garden at Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, Mass. [courtesy photo]

Heritage collaborated with Michael Dirr, Professor Emeritus of Horticulture at the University of Georgia and the country’s expert on hydrangeas, and Bonnie Dirr, his wife, Bailey’s Nursery, Star Roses and Plants, the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society, and the American Hydrangea Society to establish the Garden. This test garden is the first and the most comprehensive resource in the United States for studying newly introduced hydrangea cultivars.

Currently on the market there are 200 cultivars, or varieties of hydrangeas. Though that may seem a large number, there are various shapes, colors, and sizes of the plant.

At the opening ceremony for the Garden a couple of weeks ago several speakers made it clear that this new Test Garden is indeed a garden and not simply a collection of hydrangeas. The landscape design includes a curved pathway of white Cape Cod sea scallop and clamshells. In the center of the garden which is more than half an acre stands a water fountain with a stone stairway to the lower grassed area. [above] Beds line the pathway with plants clearly marked. Along with the hydrangeas you will also see many familiar perennials like daylilies and hostas.

Nineteenth century Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick included in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly in 1879 the following letter sent in by a reader from Yarmouth, Maine.  She wrote “I must say a few words in praise of the Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora. It is superb with its creamy panicles of flowers, some ten inches in length.”

With the new Test Garden on the Cape that long fasciation with the hydrangea is sure to continue.

 

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Hassam Exhibit Celebrates Celia Thaxter’s Garden

Hassam exhibit celebrates Celia Thaxter’s garden.

Lately I have been reading about poet, painter, and gardener Celia Thaxter (1835-1894).

She grew up on Appledore, one of the Isles of Shoals, a group of small, rocky islands in the Gulf of Maine six miles off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  For many years she worked on the island called Appledore at her father’s hotel.

Thaxter’s most famous book has to be An island Garden that includes wonderful details about her garden as well as the artwork of American impressionist Childe Hassam (1859-1935).

When I heard there was a new exhibit of Hassam’s work nearby, I had to go.

So a few days ago I drove to see the exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

First invited by Thaxter in the late 1880s, Hassam continued to travel from Boston to the Isles of Shoals in the summer for over thirty years.

There he painted.

Hassam

Hassam’s painting of the red poppies in Celia’s garden

The PEM writes in its promotional material for this exhibition, “Hassam created a body of work that remains a pinnacle of American impressionism.”

This is the first exhibition in more than 25 years to focus on Hassam’s paintings of the Isles of Shoals.

The exhibition called American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals is the result of a collaboration between geologists, marine scientists and curators that led to new discoveries about Hassam’s paintings and artistic practice.

I saw more than forty oil paintings and watercolors dating from the late 1880s to 1912, including of course Hassam’s paintings of Thaxter and her garden.

I enjoyed the exhibit. As I walked around, I could hear sounds as if  the ocean were hitting the rocks at the Isles of Shoals. That bit of audio provided an engaging way to involve the visitor in the exhibit.

Hassam’s painting, included in the book, of Celia in her garden.

The Publisher’s Note in Thaxter’s book, first published in 1894, says, “The paintings commissioned for An Island Garden are considered by many to be the most beautiful of Childe Hassam’s career and as important to American Impressionism as Monet’s paintings of his garden are to French Impressionism.”

What a treat to see the paintings that day in Peabody.

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Victorian Gardens Featured Carpet Bedding

Victorian gardens featured carpet bedding.

Untill 1890 the English garden included a garden fashion called ‘carpet bedding.’

In this style a particular plant provided a color for a design, which might be a diamond or a circle, while a contrasting color came from another plant.

In this Peter Henderson Seed Company catalog cover from 1886 red and white plants provided color for the diamond and the half-moon on the lawn. [below]

Bedding on the front cover of this Peter Henderson Company seed catalog

Bedding out on the front cover of this Peter Henderson Company seed catalog of 1886.

This form of gardening was also referred to as ‘bedding out,’ repeating the same plant in a design to achieve a certain mass color.

Tom Carter wrote about this garden fashion in his book The Victorian Garden. He said, “Without the bedding system, the new style of flower-gardening would not have been possible. Bedding-out, in turn, was a response to the introduction of many plants, many half-hardy annuals in the 1820s and 1830s.”

In the mid-nineteenth century English gardeners welcomed annuals from where ever plant hunters traveled including Asia, Africa, and South America.

Carter wrote, “The bedding-out system was an indispensable part of the high Victorian style of gardening which became first established in the 1850s.”

For example, it was the color of the coleus leaf, or the lobelia flower, or that special tint from the alternanthera that gardeners loved, including that plant in a design on the lawn.

David Stuart wrote an amazing book called The Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy.  He said, “”In the early Victorian bedding or grouping system, plant individualities were of no importance, each individual merely yielding the colour of its flowers to the general show…The obsession with ‘show’ with plants merely as a ‘blaze of colours’ was all.”

Below is a modern version of carpet bedding or bedding out that comes from Italy. [below]

Photo: denvilles duo

Gardens in display [Thanks to Denvilles Duo]

So when you garden using a grouping of one plant, remember that the Victorians promoted that form of gardening.

Before that time it was considered a violation of garden etiquette to place one plant next to another of the same color and variety.

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Reno Gardens Showcase Old Fashioned Jupiter’s Beard

Reno gardens showcase old fashioned Jupiter’s beard.

On my recent trip to Reno I visited both public gardens and private gardens.

A plant I saw over and over again was ‘Jupiter’s beard’ or Centranthus ruber.

I did not recognize it from anything I had seen on the east coast.

The plant’s clusters of red flowers surround this large rock at the David W. Hettich Memorial Garden which is part of the Arboretum at the University of Nevada in Reno. [below]

Hettich Garden Reno

Daivd W. Hettich Garden at the University of Nevada, Reno

Later I also took this closeup of the flowers of Jupiter’s beard at another garden. [below]

Jupiter's Beard, Reno

Jupiter’s Beard, Reno

I did some research on the plant and found it was not native, but exotic, and has been here in the US for a long time.

The Missouri Botanical Garden presented some background for the plant: “Red valerian or Jupiter’s beard is a well-branched, bushy, clump-forming, woody-based perennial which is valued for its ability to produce, often in poor soils, a showy bloom of star-shaped crimson, pink or white flowers from spring to frost. Although native to the Mediterranean, this plant has escaped gardens and naturalized in certain parts of the United States, particularly along the west coast. “

Thus it is not a native plant but it is an example of a plant that has done well here, especially on the west coast.

One of my favorite nurseries Bluestone Perennials lists eight features of this plant for the gardener:

  • Blooms for 4 Weeks or More
  • Good for Cut Flowers
  • OK in Containers
  • Deer Resistant
  • Attracts Butterflies
  • Tried & True / Good for Beginners
  • Fragrant
  • Attracts Birds

L. H. Bailey writes in his Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, first published in 1901, “A very handsome old garden plant, too much neglected; blooms all summer; excellent for cutting.”.”

Even James Vick, nineteenth century Rochester, NY seedsman, recognized the value of Jupiter’s beard.

A Richfield, NY customer wrote the following in the 1879 issue of Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “Please allow me to introduce two little favorites which I think your readers will like when they become acquainted with them – the Centranthus [Jupiter’s beard] and Silene. The former bears clusters of small flowers, white and pink…Just what I need for cutting.”

Here is a plant that I found in Reno. Little did I know about its long history as a perennial in gardens everywhere.

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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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