The Victorian Flower Garden

The Victorian Flower Garden - Part science, industry, and elegance the Victorian garden was a mastery of an art. The creation of such bought together some of the most interesting elements of the nineteenth century in a splash of color and design that was quite possibly unparalleled. Gardening was a means of taming the wild and exerting a element of mans domestic dominance over an otherwise chaotic natural world.

The science behind the garden

How Plants Grow - By Prof. Asa Gray M.D.

How Plants Grow by Asa Gray, published by the American Book Company in 1854 was intended for a young audience as an introduction to the botanical sciences. It was the first of two books aimed at making botany an accessible science. Gray’s other work in the two part series included How Plants Behave, published in 1872. While the book is intriguing in its own right, it is more likely to be the history of the author that is of note.

Commemorated on a United States postage stamp from 2011, Professor Asa Gray M.D. (1810-1888) is mostly likely one of the most renowned American Botanists coming out of the 19th century.  Though trained as a physician at the Medical College of the Western District of Fairfield, in the state of New York he never practiced. Though a physician by education, Gray turned his attention to the sciences and accepted one of the first professorial positions in 1832 at the newly founded University of Michigan, teaching zoology and botany. Circumstances took hold and Gray never actually taught at the school, and resultantly took a position at Harvard.

It was while at Harvard that Gray began a correspondence with Charles Darwin in the late 1840s early 1850s. He routinely provided Darwin with information on American botanical species and ultimately included Gray’s arranging for the publication of the 1st American edition of Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species in 1860. Though colleagues and close friends, it would not be until 1868 that the two would meet in person.

While undoubtedly known for his mark on the scientific community Gray is also known as a fourteener for climbing the peak that now bears his name, Gray’s Peak in Colorado.

Flowers and their Pedigrees

By: Grant Allen

This work, originally published in 1884 is, in actually a compilation of articles originally published in five other publications of the era.  Allen’s articles were originally taken from Longman’s Magazine, Cornhill Magazine, Macmillan’s Magazine, and the Gentleman’s Magazine. Those were all English magazines which were originally published in London, as was Allen’s work. The edition you are looking at was subsequently reprinted in its entirety though done so in New York.

Allen describes even the most mundane of roadside weeds with particular attention as he presents the reader with a very complete understanding of plants in question.

A growing industry

Vick’s Flower and Vegetable Garden

By: James Vick - Rochester, New York James Vick was born in Portsmouth, England on November 23, 1818 and immigrated to New York City with this parents in 1833.  It was while residing in that city that James Vick was employed in the printing trade, an industry that would serve him well in the publishing business. By 1837 the Vicks moved to Rochester New York and James Vick began his foray into the world of publishing through newspaper publishing.  Vick had associations with several early news publications, however his most notable was undoubtedly his early association with Frederick Douglas in 1847 when together they published some of the first editions of the anti-slavery paper, The North Star.

By the 1850s Vick was heavily involved in agricultural pursuits, having been previously elected to the board of the Genesee Valley Horticultural Society. It was subsequent to his association with that organization that he began publishing horticultural literature in his own name and subsequently acquiring other horticultural publications, such as The Horticulturalist, originally published by A. J. Downing in 1853. Once Vick had a dependable and consistent readership he began sending seed packets out to his readers which became the basis for yet another entrepreneurial expansion. Vick started publishing a seed catalogue in the first half of his publication, the Rural Annual and Horticultural Dictionary in 1856. From that point it would only be four years before Vick would enter the seed business full time in 1860 with the publication of his monthly magazine, the Floral Guide and Catalogue.  The aptly named Vick’s Seed Company had been born and with it a monthly publication that would continue until 1909 when the concern was finally sold to Burpee Seed Co.

The publication displayed here is a copy of Vick’s Flower And Vegetable Garden which, though bearing Vick’s name, was published after his death in 1882. There is no copyright date on this example, however, the publishers note in the Forward does attest to Vick’s death.  The cover work suggests a publication date of c.1884.

Vick wasn’t the only one selling seeds during the nineteenth century. The image to the left of one of the seed catalogues on display during the exhibit. This catalogue dates from 1880.

The elegance of an era - The Victorian era also saw a proliferation of the ornamental aspects of gardening. As man sought to dominate nature and as such, natural elements were brought into the home and therefore into the domestic sphere.