Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Victorian Garden

The Victorian Garden, Allison Kyle Leopold (copyright 1995)

This book is more than a list of interesting facts. It includes a sense of Victorian lifestyle. The progression through 19th century gardening is readable, well illustrated. I tried to pick a few highlights to share.

Bedding out

Early 19th century Victorians’ “bedding out” displayed bright colors and elaborate shapes. Imagine a large oval filled with scarlet geraniums next to a large crescent filled with golden coleus.

The well-to-do used combinations of beds. The square, rectangle, round and oval shapes evolved into intricate geometrical designs. Many Victorian ladies planned, planted and pulled a few weeds but never touched a shovel or a hoe. They were much too delicate for manual labor.

(Photo: A modern example of bedding out at Longwood Gardens along the Flower Garden Walk.)

Great attention was paid to the bed’s surroundings of grass or gravel and the color combinations. Arguments ensued regarding the best plant and color combinations. Bedding plants included low growing annuals with long bloom season in bright colors.

Cottage Garden Revival

Passion for gardening exploded in the last quarter of the 19th century spurred by growing middle class and the development of seed and plant catalogues.

Almost all gardens included a few scented flowers such as lily of the valley, phlox, sweet William, sweet pea, columbine, hyacinth, rose. Soft colors such as pink, white, blue were preferred after mid-century. A well-kept garden was a testament to the gardeners taste, intelligence and refinement.

Specialty gardens came into favor.

Perennial boarders contained an abundance of plants arranged low, medium, tall - front to back. Coral bells, phlox, hollyhock, cleome, stock gillyflower, hyacinth, tulips, asters, monarda, delphinium, penstemon are a few of the plants that overflowed the beds.

Perennial gardeners today face the same problems planning a succession of blooms for color all season and selecting pleasant color combinations.

Rose gardens (Rosariums) arose in every shape from a single specimen bed to central circular bed with pie shaped beds extending from center.

(Photo: Old rambler rose ‘Blaze’)

Pathways of grass, gravel or patterned brick were installed to view the roses. Old roses and the newly hybridized roses fed the rose fever. Some popular bushes were gallica, damask, alba, centifolia, China, rosa rugosa, hybrid perpetuals and more.

The Shakespeare Garden found a niche in late Victorian gardens and included willow from The Merchant of Venice; primrose, rosemary, saffron from The Winter’s Tale; musk roses, pansies “love-in-idleness”, oxlips and violets in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; hawthorn bush in Henry VI, Part III.

This book was a fun read on a snowy day – providing a feeling of romance and sense of connection with gardeners through the years.

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