America's Romance with the English Garden

America's Romance with the English Garden

by Thomas J. Mickey
     
 

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The 1890s saw a revolution in advertising. Cheap paper, faster printing, rural mail delivery, railroad shipping, and chromolithography combined to pave the way for the first modern, mass-produced catalogs. The most prominent of these, reaching American households by the thousands, were seed and nursery catalogs with beautiful pictures of middle-class homes

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Overview

The 1890s saw a revolution in advertising. Cheap paper, faster printing, rural mail delivery, railroad shipping, and chromolithography combined to pave the way for the first modern, mass-produced catalogs. The most prominent of these, reaching American households by the thousands, were seed and nursery catalogs with beautiful pictures of middle-class homes surrounded by sprawling lawns, exotic plants, and the latest garden accessories—in other words, the quintessential English-style garden.

America’s Romance with the English Garden is the story of tastemakers and homemakers, of savvy businessmen and a growing American middle class eager to buy their products. It’s also the story of the beginnings of the modern garden industry, which seduced the masses with its images and fixed the English garden in the mind of the American consumer. Seed and nursery catalogs delivered aspirational images to front doorsteps from California to Maine, and the English garden became the look of America.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nursery catalogues sell more than seeds and plants; they also sell dreams and aspirations. In this examination of more than a hundred years of commercial garden catalogues, communications professor Mickey (Best Garden Plants for New England) describes how American gardeners were seduced by 19th-century English gardening aesthetics. The English influence was first felt during the Colonial period, when English and American enthusiasts exchanged plant material and landscaping treatises. In the 19th century, new technologies allowed American seed and plant merchants to mass produce and distribute illustrated sales catalogues. The English plant and design preferences that were pictured on these colorful pages quickly became the standard by which American gardeners planned their gardens. A quintessentially English garden, featuring a sweeping lawn, collections of flowering shrubs, and perennial borders, became the ideal that was widely sought after. This Anglophilia is still strongly felt in American horticulture and is reflected in the (nearly) homogenous suburban landscapes across the American continent. We can trace 21st-century lawns and annual beds in sunny California from the images in 19th-century advertisements. Mickey has thoughtfully woven together an American landscape design history with a critical examination of how commercial interests and mass media shape our preferences, even in our humble backyards. Color illus. throughout. (June)
From the Publisher
“Mickey has thoughtfully woven together an American landscape design history with a critical examination of how commercial interests and mass media shape our preferences, even in our humble backyards.”
Publishers Weekly

“Mickey convincingly demonstrates how catalog companies used advances in color printing, rural postal service, and railroad networks to reach a mass audience, uniformly promote the English ideal, and create demand for their own products. Thoroughly researched and footnoted, the book includes examples from powerful and enduring catalogs such as Burpee's but also from lesser-known and regional seed companies, including some from the burgeoning West.”
Library Journal

 

“[Among] the year's best gardening books.”
The Spectator

“I loved this meticulously researched guide through the history of American gardening. It’s fascinating to discover how much has changed in our gardens over the last 200 years, and how much has not.”
— Susan Harris. author of the award-winning blog Garden Rant

“With colorful reproductions of original catalog artwork, this engaging book conveys a wonderful insight into how … nursery companies had a profound and lasting influence on American garden design. There may be other books explaining America’s enchantment with the English garden style, but none, I’m sure, match the scope or contents of this one.”
— Betty Earl. author of Fairy Gardens and In Search of Great Plants

“A penetrating look at the standardized English garden’s grip on the American imagination.”—Ted Steinberg, author of American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn

Library Journal
After spending a year reading 19th-century American seed catalogs, Mickey (communication studies, emeritus, Bridgewater State Univ.) explains that America's fascination with English gardening was planted by catalog companies that pervasively showed English gardens as exemplary. Beautiful color reprints of seed catalog images support his text, asserting that catalogs touted English landscaping ideas and trends, espoused the value of exotic plants popular in England, and suggested that lawns, a status symbol in England, were a way to appear modern and middle-class in America. Mickey convincingly demonstrates how catalog companies used advances in color printing, rural postal service, and railroad networks to reach a mass audience, uniformly promote the English ideal, and create demand for their own products. Thoroughly researched and footnoted, the book includes examples from powerful and enduring catalogs such as Burpee's but also from lesser-known and regional seed companies, including some from the burgeoning West. VERDICT Recommended to armchair and practicing gardeners hungry for gardening history, including those who enjoyed Andrea Wulf's Founding Gardeners.—Bonnie Poquette, Milwaukee, WI

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780821420355
Publisher:
Ohio University Press
Publication date:
04/16/2013
Edition description:
1
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
1,345,314
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.70(d)

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