Posts tagged ‘garden history’

Preserving Our Garden Heritage One Pixel at a Time

What better way to celebrate National Garden Month in April than to spend some time enjoying historic garden images from the J. Horace McFarland Company Collection!  Thanks to a Smithsonian preservation grant, thousands of images from this collection at the Archives of American Gardens (AAG) were digitized recently and are now available online through the Smithsonian’s Research Information System (SIRIS).  These images–produced by McFarland’s publishing firm which specialized in printing horticultural publications–are just some of the treasures found in AAG which is administered by Smithsonian Gardens and tasked with collecting historic and contemporary garden documentation as a means of preserving our garden heritage.

Very much a renaissance man, J. Horace McFarland (1859-1948) of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania,was a publisher, author, lecturer, horticulturist and authority on roses.  As the first President of the American Civic Association—a position he held for 20 years—McFarland also advocated for effective civic planning and improvements throughout the U.S. during the Progressive Era (1890-1920) when living and community conditions called out for significant reforms.

McFarland looking over the gardens at his home.

A newly digitized photograph from the J. Horace McFarland Collection showing McFarland looking over the gardens at his home, Breeze Hill, in Harrisburg, Penn. 1942. (PA083039)

McFarland’s printing company, Mount Pleasant Press, published many of the seed and nursery trade catalogs in the U.S. during the first half of the 20th century.  The J. Horace McFarland Company Collection at AAG includes over 3,000 of the firm’s images, many of which were published in books, catalogs, newspapers, and journals.

The images document an extensive variety of gardens across the U.S. dating from the 1900s to the 1960s, everything from popular parks to small flower patches planted behind crowded urban row houses.  Thanks to the broad range of private and public gardens photographed by the firm, the J. Horace McFarland Company Collection provides glimpses into historic trends and events of the times including World War II’s victory gardens and post-war neighborhood development.  Images that show people working in or enjoying these gardens are especially captivating.  In many cases the photographs are the only evidence left of certain gardens and public spaces.

OFEO-SG-PA083362

A World War II-era victory garden at Breeze Hill in 1944. The gardens at Breeze Hill were often employed to stage photographs used by McFarland’s firm, Mount Pleasant Press. (PA083362)

This digitization project was timely since the photographs—which had been pasted onto brittle cardboard mounts –are fragile and subject to continued deterioration.  Rather than scanning the thousands of photographs on a flatbed scanner—both a time-consuming and potentially damaging procedure—each was photographed with a Phase One digital camera under controlled lighting conditions.  High resolution digital images are now readily available for research use and the need to handle the originals has been significantly reduced.  We hope you get a chance to search the McFarland Company Collection online and enjoy the garden history that it documents.

– Joyce Connolly, Museum Specialist, Archives of American Gardens

April 8, 2016 at 9:00 am 2 comments

The Great American Lawn

March is a month of green: St. Patrick’s Day decorations, green buds appearing on the trees, and a new hint of green reappearing on our lawns. Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard opens March 18th at the Elmhurst History Museum in Illinois. Let’s take a look back at American lawns through the years and our changing attitudes towards the green beneath our feet.

Street of houses with lawns

A long line of American lawns stretching from east to west. Elm Avenue, Hershey, Pennsylvania, 1946. J. Horace McFarland Collection, Archives of American Gardens.

 

In his 1989 article “Why Mow?” Michael Pollan describes the American landscape as a carpet of green stretching in an unbroken line from the East Coast to the deserts of New Mexico to the most arid regions of Southern California. “Like the interstate highway system, like fast-food chains, like television,” he writes, “the lawn has served to unify the American landscape; it is what makes the suburbs of Cleveland and Tucson, the streets of Eugene and Tampa, look more alike than not.” Lawns are arguably the most prevalent garden feature in the United States.

The popularity of lawns in the United States is an influence from the English school of landscape design. Andrew Jackson Downing, one of the first landscape designers in America, expounded on the virtues of the lawn in his 1841 book A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening. According to Downing, “the close proximity of fences to the house gives the whole place a confined and mean character . . . A wide spread lawn, on the contrary, where no boundaries are conspicuous, conveys an impression of ample extent and space for enjoyment.”
English lawn

An unidentified English estate lawn, ca. 1930s. Garden Club of America Collection, Archives of American Gardens.

 Lawns were expensive to maintain in the nineteenth century. Before lawn mowers only the wealthiest landowners could afford to hire a full-time gardener to trim the lawns by scythe and pull weeds. A verdant lawn was a symbol of wealth and stature, but the development of the cylindrical lawn mower in the 1880s put a tidy lawn within the reach of the middle class. The forty-hour work week and the increase in home ownership in the mid-twentieth century turned lawn care into the hobby (or curse, depending on who you ask) that it is today.
Commercial illustration from the Burpee Collection

Companies advertised various lawn products that purported to be time savers for homeowners. Here, a man kicks up his feet and enjoys his yard. In actuality many homeowners bemoaned the amount of time–and money–they had to spend on their yard to keep it trim and green. Undated commercial illustration from the 1950s or 1960s, W. Atlee Burpee & Company Collection, Archives of American Gardens.

 In certain parts of the country, lawns that were covered in a dusting of snow a month ago will soon be in need of a good mowing. Many homeowners in the 1950s would have rejoiced to have a healthy lawn in the middle of winter. A plethora of products and chemicals to combat pests and keep lawns healthy year-round flooded the market after the second World War. Much of technology was a direct result of wartime scientific advancement. Advertisements such as those by W. Atlee Burpee & Company peddled every product under the sun to the postwar consumer, from grass seed to DDT to sprayers and lawn mowers.
Illustrations for Burpee grass seed advertisements

Illustrations for Burpee grass seed advertisements, circa 1950-1960. W. Atlee Burpee & Company Collection, Archives of American Gardens.

 Garden magazines published a backlash of editorials in the 1950s and 1960s bemoaning the “keeping up with the Joneses” race to have the perfect suburban lawn. There are even reports of some homeowners being so fed up with lawn maintenance they ripped out their grass and replaced it with green cement. (Of course, the introduction of AstroTurf in the mid 1960s would give irate gardeners another option.)
The Archives of American Gardens includes a photographic examples of almost every type of American lawn imaginable—from bowling greens to sweeping estate lawns to small suburban lots—including a retired lawn!
-Kate Fox, Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard curator. A version of this post was originally published on the Smithsonian Collections blog

March 15, 2016 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

An Iconic Avian: the Pink Flamingo

Pink Flamingo at the Smithsonian

Our pink flamingo lawn ornament (c. 1990s) decided to take a little vacation from storage and visit our gardens at the Smithsonian.

We had a holiday visitor to Smithsonian Gardens – no, not the bearded one in a red suit, but a small hot-pink friend that decided to escape from our storage facilities in Maryland to see the sights in Washington, D.C. The halls have been decked and yards across the country decorated in their holiday finest. As a new year begins, and lights are put away with hopes they will not tangle between now and next December, we have a different kind of ornament on our minds—the lawn ornament. A very American invention which holds a special place in our hearts, right between their European cousin the garden gnome and classier sibling the armillary sphere, the pink flamingo is an icon of mid-20th century kitsch and consumerism.

In the landscape architecture world of the 1950s, designers sought minimal ornament and flowers, instead preferring expanses of grass, textured ground covers, and green, green, green. Poured concrete, fieldstone, hardscape, and geometric swimming pools provided a contrast to the verdant (and chemically-enhanced) lawns. However, this was also the decade of plastic everything as new materials and products flooded the market after World War II. Hula hoops, vinyl covers for lounge chairs, and yes, plastic lawn ornaments, were all within reach for the middle-class consumer eager to make their backyard a paradise for outdoor family living. Surprisingly, the pink flamingo lawn ornament was not invented in Florida, but by sculptor and designer Don Featherstone for the Massachusetts-based Union Products in 1957. Read more about the history of the pink flamingo here and here.

Decorated pink flamingoes at Louisiana's Old State Capitol

Pink flamingo lawn ornaments creatively decorated by visitors to Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard at the Louisiana Old State Capitol. A+ for effort and camp!

Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard is a collaboration between the Archives of American Gardens and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Services. The exhibit explores the rise of outdoor living and modern garden design in 1950s-1960s United States. In December, the exhibit wrapped up a run at the Louisiana Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge. The museum curators asked visitors to decorate pink flamingoes to display throughout the Old Capitol during the length of the exhibit, and boy did adoring fans of the fuchsia fowl deliver in creativity. Look for the exhibit at two locations in Illinois, the Elmhurst Historical Museum and the Glen Ellyn Public Library, beginning in March 2016.

Patios & Pools exhibit at Louisiana Old State Capitol

Curators at the Old State Capitol added objects from the museum and local collections to supplement the traveling exhibit panels from the Smithsonian. From bathing suits and sundresses to party decorations and barbecue tools, these artifacts colorfully illustrate what life was like in the American suburbs in the decades after World War II.

Pink flamingo lawn ornament at Oldgate garden

Oldgate garden in Farmington, Connecticut. Nora O. Howard, photographer. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Garden Club of America Collection.

Did you have pink flamingoes decorating your yard as a kid, or do you have them now? We’d love for you to add your story or a neighbor’s story to our digital garden history archive, Community of Gardens. Anyone can add a story about gardens and gardening in America. Help us preserve our garden heritage, especially the history in our own back (and front) yards, lawn ornaments and all.

-Kate Fox, curator, Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard

January 8, 2016 at 8:00 am 8 comments

Community of Gardens: History in our Gardens

Collage of Community of Gardens stories

Stories from Community of Gardens, clockwise from top left: Urban Garden with HoneybeesThe Gardens at Chewonki, Camy & Larry’s Backyard Wedding, and The O’Donnell Garden.

Note: the January 23rd program at Purcellville Library has been canceled due to inclement weather. See you on February 6th!

As you kick back with your seed catalogs and a mug of hot tea this winter, dreaming of summer blooms and bounty, take a moment to think about the important role gardens play in our lives. Gardens are a place to relax, enjoy nature, exercise, express our artistic sides, and spend time with family and friends. Whether it’s roses, heirloom string beans, or perennials you’re growing, gardens tell us something about ourselves and our personal history. If you’re itching to get outside but the ground is frozen solid, consider taking a moment during the down season to share your garden story with our digital archive, Community of Gardens. It could be an interview with a neighbor who gardens, the memory of your grandfather’s peonies, the history behind the apples grown on a family orchard, or the retreat in your own backyard.

Local gardeners, join us in preserving our garden history for future generations! Smithsonian Gardens and the Purcellville Library are teaming up for the first-ever Community of Gardens story drive. Join us for two events at the Purcellville Library this winter:

Community of Gardens logo

Community of Gardens: History in our Gardens

  • Saturday, January 23, 2 p.m. Cynthia Brown, Smithsonian Gardens education manager,  will give an overview of the Community of Gardens program and how gardeners can help the Smithsonian preserve everyday garden history at this kick-off event.

Community of Gardens: Harvest

  • Saturday, February 6, 2 p.m. Bring your photos and memories of gardens, family farms, and orchards. In collaboration with the library we will be scanning photos and saving stories to capture personal stories of gardens and their importance in American life.

Both of these free events take place at the Purcellville Library: 220 East Main Street, Purcellville, Virginia, 20132.

Not able to make it? You can participate by submitting your garden story (or your neighbor’s, your mother’s, or your grandfather’s) online at communityofgardens.si.edu.

January 5, 2016 at 8:00 am 5 comments

Little Seeds, Big Stories.

Community of Gardens logo

Community of Gardens is a digital archive of stories about gardens and gardening in the U.S.—anyone can add their story to this Smithsonian collection!

Archives can be intimidating. The first time I truly spent any time with an archive was graduate school, researching Gilded Age costume balls in New York City as part of an internship. Flipping through the folders of hundred-year-old photographs inspired both a sense of awe and terror. I was so conscientious, never laying a finger on a photograph, turning the photos just the way I had been told to by the nice (but firm) archivist, and making sure not one thing was out of place when I returned the boxes. Having the opportunity to be so close to history, and the physical trail of documents, photographs, and objects that comes along with it, was both thrilling and nerve-wracking at the same time.

It can be hard to see how archives connect to our everyday lives, or even to see how our very own stories and lives could be important enough to be included in a museum. The Smithsonian Institution is home to amazing and Important (with a capital “I”) treasures, such as a letter from Galileo and Thomas Jefferson’s Bible. But also hidden in these archives and collections vaults are small gems, such as a promotional flower seed box from the mid 1800s to family photo albums.

Our family histories—and our gardens—can seem like just the tiniest, most ephemeral seeds in the vast forest of history, but our memories of “everyday” history have the power tell big stories. A story of grandma’s Victory Garden during World War II and her recipe for sweet canned peaches is also a tale of perseverance and making-do during a time of adversity. Memories of backyard barbecues and Tiki parties on the patio in the 1950s speak of a time of newfound prosperity for the middle class in the postwar years. Your story of the tiny herb garden and cucumbers growing on the balcony of your city apartment? Someday, it could show future historians how individuals contributed to the greening of America’s cities in the early 21st century.

October is American Archives Month, and the theme for 2015 is the “Power of Collaboration.” Our Community of Gardens digital archive depends wholly on collaboration to exist—we are collecting your stories and memories about gardens and gardening! Anyone can submit a memory, story, photograph, or video about a garden in America. You can help us preserve garden history and become a part of the Smithsonian by sharing your story with us on the website.

Collage of Family Stories on Community of Gardens

Garden—and family—history comes alive on Community of Gardens.

Here are a few of our favorite family stories submitted by the public from the Community of Gardens digital archive. From left to right:

  1. Four Generations of Gardeners. This story spans three centuries, and many bountiful crops of ripe tomatoes: https://communityofgardens.si.edu/items/show/54
  2. Grandmother’s Garden. A granddaughter shares her memories of her grandmother’s love of roses and gardening: https://communityofgardens.si.edu/items/show/12119
  3. Camy and Larry’s Backyard Wedding. Recollections of a 1970’s hippie backyard wedding in a woodland setting, with Super 8mm footage. Check out those vintage dresses! https://communityofgardens.si.edu/items/show/12203

What is your family’s garden story? Get inspired by Archives Month and interview a family member about their garden memories or share your own. It’s a great excuse to dig into those family photos and videos and start asking questions! Share your story this month, or any month of the year.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens Educator

October 22, 2015 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Plants in the Ripley Center: Design for Small Spaces

Next time you visit the Smithsonian museums, take some time to venture into the Ripley Center concourse underneath the Enid A. Haupt Garden. You’ll find the planters lining the walkway there feature a temporary exhibit showcasing gardening styles for small spaces. Five planters host unique interior and exterior vignettes that illustrate a variety of small gardening options. They require little space and are low-maintenance, but add BIG style to any garden.

In selecting a new theme for the plantings in the Ripley Center, I chose to highlight gardening styles that fit urban settings – traditionally smaller spaces for plants – that can be adapted to accentuate any size area. I worked closely with Smithsonian Gardens’ (SG) team of education specialists and collection curators to design this exhibit which features pieces from SG’s historic Garden Furnishings Collection.

Fairy garden

Fairy garden

Whimsical, magical, fantastic – these are words I think of to describe a fairy garden. My daughter is very much into fairies, princesses, and gnomes – all that wonderful stuff of the Disney variety. For her, this form of gardening in miniature that incorporates fairies and other fantasy creatures IS magic. To me, these gardens have a tale to tell through their use of characters and scenery and spark the imagination of young and old.

Assorted terrariums

Terrariums

My family shares a 1950’s ranch-style house. While there isn’t a lot of room for interior plants, we’re able to fit in some of the styles on display in the modest space. Terrariums are what we use the most at home–on the dining-room table, in the bathroom and bedrooms. Since they can be almost any size, the possibilities are almost endless. A small terrarium can really brighten up a space and add a natural touch, as it has in our 1950’s galley kitchen!

green-wall

Green wall

My colleague Janet Draper wrote an interesting post about her planting of a green, or living, wall in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. The green wall installed in the Ripley Center is much smaller and less tricky to cultivate than the lovely and large exterior wall that Janet maintains. Green walls have become popular in offices and homes as a way to liven up a wall and provide possible health benefits; they clean the air and increase positive moods.

Stumpery

Stumpery

A stumpery is a garden feature I wish I had known about every time a tree fell in my nestled-in-the-woods childhood home. Utilizing the remains of a tree in inventive ways would have saved my father a lot of chainsaw blades. Through the creative arrangement of stumps and the incorporation of ferns and other shade-loving plants, old stumps can themselves become a focal point within a garden. This style was extremely popular during the Victorian era (1837-1901) and has experienced a resurgence recently.

Dish garden of succulents

Dish garden of succulents

Dish gardening enables a gardener to create an environment that might otherwise be difficult to sustain. For instance, in the Washington, D.C. area desert plants are not able thrive during our cold and sometimes snowy winters. The desert dish garden in our home has successfully survived multiple harsh winters. Watering and sunlight needs vary depending on the plants one chooses to use in a dish garden, but it’s a great way to grow plants you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

I’ll be sharing some behind-the-scenes and DIY tips in future blogs. Be sure to catch these plant vignettes in the Ripley Center before exhibit closes on January 31, 2016. I and everyone at Smithsonian Gardens hope you enjoy the exhibit and take away some ideas you might be able to use in your own indoor or outdoor garden.

– Alexandra Thompson, Horticulturist, Interior Plants, Smithsonian Gardens

September 18, 2015 at 9:25 am Leave a comment

A Backyard Bouquet Inspired by the 1950s

DIY Backyard bouquet

Burpee seed annuals from the 1950s, left, were the inspiration for our DIY backyard bouquet, right. Seed annual, Archives of American Gardens, W. Atlee Burpee & Company Collection.

We continue our June #ThrowbackThursday theme of mid-century matrimony with a fun project that combines two of our favorite trends from the 1950s: DIY and classic backyard flowers. Melanie Pyle, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist, shows us how to create a do-it-yourself wedding bouquet. We peeked into the special collections of the Archives of American Gardens, finding inspiration in the bright and cheery seed catalogs of the W. Atlee Burpee & Company Collection. Melanie carefully chose classically beautiful flowers reminiscent of those found growing in grandma’s backyard garden, such as snapdragons and football mums. Our new traveling exhibit Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard explores the do-it-yourself trend, flowers, and outdoor living in the years after World War II. It opens at the Tampa Bay History Center this Saturday, June 20th.

Flowers have played an essential role in weddings throughout history as symbols of love, chastity, hope, and beauty. The practice was not truly institutionalized as a marriage custom until Queen Victoria’s wedding to Prince Albert in 1840. Victoria wore a simple headdress of orange blossom, with additional blossoms trimming her dress, which in turn became a favorite flower for Victorian and Edwardian brides. Though she was not the first bride to wear white, her wedding cemented the popular and ubiquitous tradition of wearing of white for brides in the Western world.

Of course, many brides have taken the traditional bouquet and made it their own, with unique twists. The June 22, 1942 cover of Life magazine featured a bride carrying a bouquet composed of ten-cent to five-dollar war stamps, which could be used to buy a twenty-five dollar bond. According the article on “furlough brides” the bouquet was first popularized in the Midwest and became all the rage nationwide—they sold for the cost of stamps plus the time taken to craft the bouquet or bridesmaid corsage. It was just one of the many ways wartime brides made-do and supported the war effort, from dresses with shorter hemlines that used less fabric to hurried weddings between deployments.

Bouvardia, white orchids, and gardenias were popular choices for wedding bouquets in the 1940s and 50s, as well as a simple palette of white and pink. Shirley Temple carried both bouvardia and orchids in her 1945 wedding and Jacqueline Kennedy carried orchids, gardenias, and stephanotis in her 1953 wedding to John F. Kennedy. Our bouquet runs with the white and pink palette, but subs out the fancy flowers for the more down-home feel of backyard blooms. Hippie culture loosened up the traditional formal bouquet in the 1960s and 1970s, favoring “common” flowers such as daisies. Today, anything goes, from a farm-fresh locavore bouquet to one made of felt flowers to no bouquet at all.

 

DIY it!

Flowers: Melanie chose flowers that were commonly grown in backyard gardens in the 1950s and 1960s, taking inspiration from the vintage W. Atlee Burpee & Company seed catalogs in the Archives of American Gardens. Wholesale flower sellers and farmers’ markets are great places to start when sourcing flowers for your bouquet.

Dusty pink stock
White snapdragons
White roses
White football mums (chrysanthemums)
Pale pink carnations
Baby’s breath
Bakers fern

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Supplies:

Floral wire
Floral tape 
Small pieces of tulle
Satin ribbon
Scissors
Pen knife
Pliers 
Pins

Steps:

  1. Prepare your flowers by removing the bottom leaves from the stems.
  2. Wrap flowers with larger blooms and floppier stems (the mums and stock) with floral wire, starting at the top, and hiding the mechanics by wrapping the stems with floral tape. Leave four to five inches of exposed stem at the bottom.
  3. Trim the stems. Using a pen knife, rest the stem on your index finger with your thumb on top and carefully cut the stem from bottom upwards at angle and away from you. The angle allows the stems to soak up more water. Trim about two inches off the stem.
  4. Choose two or three favorite flowers to anchor the bouquet.
  5. Begin to make a bunch around the anchor flowers by adding more flowers and greens, turning your bouquet as you add more flowers or greens. This is an opportunity to play with texture, height, and color based on your flower choice! A looser bouquet will have a more informal feel, and a tighter, rounder bouquet a more classic look.
  6. Pause for a moment and take a look at your bouquet from all angles. Do you need more flowers? More greenery?
  7. When you are happy with the size of the bouquet, surround the base of the arrangement with pieces of white tulle and secure with floral tape.
  8. Starting where the tulle is attached to the stems, wrap the stems with floral wire, leaving about two inches of exposed stem at the bottom. Conceal the mechanics with floral tape.
  9. Take your satin ribbon and starting at the topmost part of the floral tape, making sure none is showing, tightly wrap the ribbon down the length of the stems. Secure with a pin two inches from bottom, hiding all floral tape. Push the pin towards the stems at a slight angle. It may take a few tries to get it to stick.
  10. Using a second piece of satin ribbon, tie a bow around the base of the bouquet and attach with a pin.

There you go! A beautiful backyard bouquet, inspired by the gardens of the 1950s. What types of flowers were growing in your backyard in the 1950s? Do you remember the flowers from your wedding bouquet or boutonnière? Did the flowers you chose have a special significance to you?

-Kate Fox, Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard curator and Melanie Pyle, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist

 

 

 

 

June 18, 2015 at 10:49 am Leave a comment

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