Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Giveaway: America's Romance With the English Garden (Thomas J. Mickey)

Book Give-away Rules: To be eligible to participate in this Book Give-away for a copy of Thomas Mickey’s book America’s Romance With the English Garden, you must comment on this guest blog entry between 8:00 a.m. (EDT) Monday, June 3, and 5:00 p.m. (EDT) Friday, June 7. LIMIT one entry per person. The name of the winner will be drawn from the list of those who comment. The winner will be contacted on Monday, June 10 to obtain a shipping address, and will receive a free, signed copy of the book. Open to US residents only.

The following post is an excerpt from the book America’s Romance with the English Garden:

How the Lawn Became Essential in the Landscape

Ohio artist and landscaper Frank Scott dedicated his book The Art of Beautying Suburban Home Grounds (1870) to his friend and mentor, America's premier landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing. Scott saw his task as teaching Americans the principles of English landscape design. He wrote, "The half-acre of a suburban cottage may be as perfect a work of art, and as well worth transferring to canvas as any part of the great Chatsworth of the Duke of Devonshire."

A front lawn scene from Vick's Illustrated Monthly in 1879.

Although Scott recognized that compared to the English "we are yet novices in the fine arts of gardening," along with the English he considered the well-kept lawn as the essential element in the landscape. The lawn, Scott suggested, should be open, so that neighbors and passers-by could see and enjoy it. His book presented plans and also a listing of trees, shrubs, and vines suitable for the suburban home landscape. In his book Scott quoted New York seedsman Peter Henderson for the amount of seed needed for a lawn.

The lawn, as Scott discussed it, connected one house to the next by its placement at the front of the property, along the street. One property seemed to flow right into the next, forming a sense of neighborhood.

Discussion of the English lawn as the basis of the home landscape was quite common in the seed and nursery catalogs. Here is what the seedsman C.A. Reeser wrote in his 1886 catalog: "A beautiful lawn. It is hardly necessary to say, is one of the most satisfactory and pleasing outside adornments that can be procured, and is rightly deemed a most essential adjunct to rural and suburban homes." The home landscape, according to the nineteenth-century garden catalogs, needed the verdant sweep of a lawn. Front lawns first began as a luxury of the wealthy but later in the century they became a symbol of the middle class. The lots in suburban Takoma Park, Maryland, for example, included a large setback from the street to provide front space for a lawn.

The seed companies generally sold lawn seed. They were happy to recommend the amount of seed needed for the size of a particular property. Downing wrote: "We advise him who desires to have speedily a handsome turf, to follow the English practice, and sow three to four bushels of seeds to the acre."

Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick, in his 1873 catalog, echoed the words of Scott: "No arrangement of beds, or borders of box, or anything else, will look so neat and tasteful as a well kept piece of grass."

-This is an excerpt from the new book America’s Romance with the English Garden (Ohio University Press).

UPDATE: The randomly-chosen comment was #8, which was Dave. Dave, please contact me by e-mail (address in the sidebar; please note the instructions) to let me know where to have it sent, as your links do not include an e-mail address.

SECOND UPDATE: Dave didn't respond, so I re-drew. The winner is now comment #2, Paul. Please e-mail me with your address and I'll have your copy sent.


Nic said...

How fascinating! Though I could perhaps do with some of the obsession with perfect lawns, especially here in Michigan were people apparently must have acre upon acre of it.

Paul said...

I would have to agree with CG -- that excerpt was quite interesting. I had not realized the roots of the immaculate lawn obsession extended that far back. Guess I'm a rebel ... personally I'm not a big fan of the "the lawn". I'd prefer to have one gi-normous flowerbed.

CG, believe me, it's not just here in MI where the huge lawns are found.

Mae said...

I'm currently up all night with a newborn and running out of things to read. This could be interesting! (Although, being allergic to the poaceae family I've never been a big fan of lawns, myself...but I like the idea of them!)

Ed Lanscaper - Winfield said...

This is awesome! Like Paul, I didn't realize either how far yard maintenance went back though it does make sense that people would enjoy the looks of a nice yard! Unfortunately nowadays everyone has a fence and it ruins that neighborhood feeling they were talking about.

Melody said...

Looks like it might be an interesting book, the horticultural industry sure has some stories to tell. Here in FL people are just as obsessed with lawns, but the grass is terrible. The good stuff doesn't grow in the sandy, sometimes salty, soil. Good thing I couldn't care less, I'd rather have a nicely planted rock garden any day.

Anonymous said...

Do pastures count as lawns? That's what I have :). I think the 'English Garden' effect is hard to achieve and not very practical in the windy, hot, dry portions of Texas.

Texas Anon

Unknown said...

Alas, as much as I enjoyed playing on springy turf as a child in the upper midwest, I'm now quite content amongst the rocks and clay of the south (says the container gardener, heh heh). I mock the transplants who try to recreate Ohio in the Ozarks, but it seems they weren't just trying to bring Ohio with them, but England itself. Curious.

In response to Ed: Well, I can see the aesthetic issue. But you know what they say . . . good fences make good neighbors. ;)

Dave said...

Sounds like a really interesting book. I love that kind of social history. It's fascinating. water damage Katy TX