Appropriating the Garden Bluebook: The 1929 Blueprint for a July “Blue” Garden

July 6, 2012 at 4:00 am 1 comment

The Garden Bluebook (1929 edition)

Cover of The Garden Bluebook (1929 edition)

An architect and art historian, Leicester Bodine Holland was famous during his lifetime for a book titled The Garden Bluebook (first published in 1915, with later editions), which advised amateur gardeners and those working in the newly professionalized field of landscape architecture to think of their herbaceous borders as a series of pictures changing month by month. A rich source for the study of notable garden photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston and the genre of garden photography, Sam Watters’ Gardens for a Beautiful America describes Holland’s book as a “how-to-color-a-garden manual.” Holland’s description of the garden and accompanying charts for “arranging flower harmonies and flower sequences,” illustrates the author’s wish to create a “garden symphony,” but perhaps also a cinematic one as well, by looking at the garden as a series of moving images over time. The overall effect may perhaps betray the author’s desire to introduce a new aspect to garden education: a third dimension. Garden enthusiasts across the nation were accustomed to garden club sponsored lectures in which two dimensional slides illustrated the pros and cons of selected garden designs. The problem with these images is that it was often difficult to see exactly what was planted in a dense herbaceous border. Amateur gardeners in particular wanted to know how to build a dense, topographically interesting border that could remain lush all or most of the year.

Holland’s cross-section drawings and bird’s eye garden views allowed his readers to better envision their future gardens in multiple dimensions, arranging plants according to their respective widths and heights at maturity.  Here’s a sample of Holland’s herbaceous border design for a July garden laced in blue.

Holland measures his border as six feet wide and twenty feet long. To start, he recommends planting the larger “background” plants first and outlines two wide areas for “Shrub A” and “Evergreen B,” the exact species to be of the gardener’s choosing. Next, he plants Peonies in front of the shrub and evergreen, as their “deep green foliage provides constant solid masses throughout the summer.” He saves room for the tall perennials in the back of the border: red Hollyhocks and several varieties of violet and blue Delphinium. In the left-hand foreground he plants white and deep purple Japanese Iris, and in the middle foreground purplish-blue Bellflowers (Campanula). The overall effect will be a cascade of blue shades ranging from white to light blue and deep purple.

The 1929 version of this book was found among many treasures at the Smithsonian Botany and Horticulture Library, http://ow.ly/cak2C and a copy of the 1927 edition can also be found online in its entirety at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (Smithsonian Libraries is a contributor) http://ow.ly/cdFhP

For more on the Botany/Horticulture library, see http://library.si.edu/libraries/botany

Kristina Borrman

Katzenberger Art History Intern

Entry filed under: Garden History. Tags: , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Helena Zinkham  |  June 3, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Having had the opportunity to read some of Leicester Holland’s correspondence while he was Chief of the Fine Arts Division at the Library of Congress, I’d like to clarify that he was committed to the world of fine arts as it was understood in his day. His Garden Bluebook is a wonderful part of the long tradition of choosing plants to create harmonious color pictures that can be enjoyed like paintings.

    I’d also like to mention that Leicester Holland was a man of many talents related to architectural design. To recognize his significant contributions in the field of historic preservation, the Library of Congress and National Park Service have created a new prize named in his honor. More information about Holland’s life and the Holland Prize is here, http://blogs.loc.gov/picturethis/2013/05/first-holland-prizes-awarded-for-architectural-drawing/

    Helena Zinkham
    Chief, Prints & Photographs Division
    Library of Congress

    Reply

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