Perennial Garden Color

Perennial Garden Color

by William C. Welch

NOOK BookReissue, Texas A&M University Press Edition (eBook - Reissue, Texas A&M University Press Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603449731
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Publication date: 04/04/2013
Series: Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Service Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 278
File size: 186 MB
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About the Author

WILLIAM C. WELCH is professor and AgriLife Extension landscape horticulturist in the Texas A&M System. He has many years of experience with garden clubs and nursery organizations and is a regular contributor to Southern Living magazine. On the board of directors of the Southern Garden History Society, he is also an honorary member of the Garden Club of America, which awarded him its distinguished service medal in 2008. He is also the coauthor (with Greg Grant) of Heirloom Gardening in the South: Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens, published in 2011 by Texas A&M University Press.

Read an Excerpt

Perennial Garden Color

By William C. Welch

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2013 William C. Welch
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60344-973-1


The Roots of Our Gardena


A spring stroll down a Texas country lane during the Victorian period (1837–1904) was certain to take one past a flowering yard, more often than not, tended by a lady in a poke bonnet, wielding a hoe. A rambling and glorious show of color literally erupted from the dooryard. Climbing roses dripped from the fences and the front porch of the modest cottage or farmhouse; fruit trees were in full bloom, and the air was heavy with delightful scents of the garden. But the passage of time has brought near extinction to this form of gardening once handed down from mother to daughter, in spite of the dictates of fashion. The few examples one encounters today are usually bits and pieces of what was once a strong tradition.


European Origins

A look at the history of this so-called cottage gardening concept gives insight into its application in early Texas and the South. Along with most of European culture, medieval monasteries saved gardening ideas from the wreck of the Roman Empire. In the usually peaceful cloister, the monks grew their "simples:" herbs for medicines, flavorings, and food. In separate areas they often grew lilies and roses to deck their churches during the great festivals. They saved these plants, and passed them on to the common folk, who also collected wild plants for their needs.

During the relative peace of the Tudor era, the idea of growing these "simples" and some flowers for ornament literally took root and flourished among the general population. The whole English people seemed to go garden crazy. Even the common folk took part in the fashion. Exotic and unusual plants were arriving from newly-discovered portions of the world and neighbors vied among themselves to show the neatest and most colorful front garden. The plants they chose were the simple, thrifty sorts—"steadfast," in the vernacular of the time. In keeping with the natural charm of the plants, the cottagers gave them imaginative common names: love-lies-bleeding, heal-all, thrift, loose-strife, bachelor's buttons, bouncing Bet, ragged robin, forget-me-not, dame's rocket, monkshood, love-in-a-mist, and baby's breath, to name a few.

Early American Gardens

Colonial America inherited the cottage gardening style from settlers as they came from the Old World. The American colonial house was supremely suited to having this sort of garden before it. In New England, for example, the tradition flourished. Alice Morse Earle, in her 1902 book Old Time Gardens, writes: "I cannot doubt the first gardens that our foremothers had, which were wholly flowering plants, were front yards, little enclosures hard won from the forest" (38).

Before the American Revolution, in the older settled portions of Virginia and the Carolinas, a more formal gardening tradition held. The restored gardens at Mt. Vernon and at the Governor's Palace at Williamsburg and the residential gardens of old Charleston are prime examples of the colonial use of formal parterre, which is a garden area in which the flower beds and paths form a pattern. This gardening tradition was continued by the wealthy and cultured of the American South and was contemporary with the cottage gardens of the lower and middle classes.

In the 1830s, with the advent of Classical Revival styles of architecture, Southern garden-makers had a choice of the formal parterre gardens or the informal cottage garden design; both greatly enhanced the beautiful Classical Revival homes of the period. Once again, it was the upper classes who favored the more formal garden style. The enclosed geometric spaces and great avenues of trees of the plantation homes in the Lower South reflect this tradition. In Louisiana, Oak Alley, Belle Helene (Ashland) and Rosedown plantations are examples. The residential gardens in the older sections of New Orleans still have a few surviving geometric parterres. Some gardens very successfully combined elements of both formal and cottage gardening styles, with the results typically including simple geometric designs for paths with masses of various perennials, herbs and annuals spilling over and softening the edges of the plantings.

Pioneer Gardens

For early Texas, sources for documenting garden design are scant. The first settlers had little time for anything but maintaining the essentials of food, safety and shelter. Diaries and literature document ornamental perennials and herbs being present as the frontier was tamed. Later, with prosperity and increased population, gardens became a part of nearly every homestead.

During the 1700s the French and Spanish competed for control in the territory we now call Texas. The Spanish built missions in Eastern, Southern, Central and parts of Western Texas. These missions, enclosed by thick walls of stone in South and West Texas and heavy timbers in East Texas, share some characteristics with the monasteries of Europe. Chapels within the mission complexes were elegant and massive structures, a credit to the ingenuity and expertise of the early clergy who built them by hand, largely with unskilled labor. The Spaniards were kind to the Indians, but although the Indians liked the food prepared at the missions, few of them adopted the Christianity or lifestyle of their Spanish "hosts." The early Franciscan missionaries dedicated themselves to raising food, and planted their cloisters with native flowering trees for shade and shrubs for color. As in Europe, the Church was active in preserving and spreading plant material.

The Spanish mission experiment was considered a failure by some at the time, but the trail was blazed for settlers who began to filter into Texas from the Eastern United States and later in waves of immigration from Europe. During the Mexican period (1821-1836) large and influential Texas landowners began settling and establishing extensive plantations that included some very interesting gardens.

Adina de Zavala, in an article published September 2, 1934, in the San Antonio Express, and December 16, 1934, in the Dallas Morning News, related her memories of conversations with her grandmother, Emily West de Zavala, and visits to her garden created in the early 1830s. The de Zavala Plantation was located at Lynchburg on the San Jacinto River near the present site of the San Jacinto Monument. Lorenzo de Zavala, Emily's husband, was an early Mexican and Texas statesman and the first vice president of the Republic of Texas. In addition to naming specific roses, which were her grandmother's favorite flower, Adina also referred to borders of violets and masses of dianthus and verbenas. Pictures of the home and garden indicate a large columned front porch of the typical East Texas house surrounded by an attractive wooden picket fence. Roses, perennials, annuals and herbs filled the inside of the garden. Occasional hedges and borders of roses added a touch of formality to what could be described as an early Texas cottage garden. The de Zavala home and garden surely ranked among the finest of early Texas.

Another Texas landmark garden in the colonial period was William Wharton's Eagle Island Plantation in Brazoria County, Texas. Wharton imported an English gardener to tend a lovely, lakeshore garden that featured a several-tiered central fountain and a formal parterre surrounded by topiary. Mary Austin Holley described and sketched both the house and garden in 1837 in her diary. Eagle Island and nearby Lake Jackson Plantation both were renowned for their artificial garden islands and were considered among the finest gardens in Texas. They also reflected the formal gardening tradition of the upper class South.

A brief but interesting garden description also found in Holley's diary relates to a visit to Bolivar, brother Henry Austin's Brazos River Plantation near Columbia. On May 15, 1835, Holley wrote: "Discovered the little burying ground with roses blooming on two fresh graves—dropped there a tear—had dreaded to inquire for them. It is well chosen—a little enclosure—figs growing luxuriantly without, flowers blooming within" (22). Holley also wrote of walking and conversing in the shrubbery at Bolivar and of pruning and burning the refuse there in the autumn.

One of the best sources of information on the gardens and lifestyles of Texans and other Southerners can be found in the almanacs published by Thomas Affleck: These were produced annually from 1845 until about 1861. Affleck could be considered the consumate early American pioneer. He constantly sought new frontiers, exploited many areas of farming and business, espoused the virtues of environmental awareness, and was an early advocate of organic gardening, crop rotation and animal husbandry. His Southern Rural Almanac ranged in circulation from 20,000 to 56,000 copies per year which, along with his articles in the New Orleans Picayune and other important publications of his time, indicate that he was widely read and appreciated.

Thomas Affleck's almanacs often included articles on gardening as well as mail-order offerings from his Southern Nurseries, first located on his wife's plantation near Natchez, Mississippi, and then later including more than 3,000 acres known as Glenblythe Plantation near Gay Hill, Washington County, Texas. In her research on southern garden history at Louisiana State University, Suzanne Turner, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, cites an interesting and very descriptive excerpt from the 1852 Southern Rural Almanac which describes a typical southern plantation garden of his period:

In forming a shrubbery, the finer shrubs and evergreens should be planted at such distances, as that when the more common kinds planted between crowd too much, they may be gradually removed and the others left to occupy the ground.... That there may be a pleasant variety, in anything of an extensive shrubbery, one kind of a shrub, or flower should always prevail in one place: so that every turn of the walk may present something new, and yet the general character be preserved. In one turn or stretch, let the rose predominate; in another the phlox and the dahlia; here clumps of bright annuals, and here masses of verbenas, scarlet geraniums, etc. (6).

The almanacs and other writings of Thomas Affleck indicate that the people of his time were not only interested in cash crops, but aspired to and achieved landscapes that provided a well-organized and refined lifestyle in which ornamental plants played a major role.

Germanic Traditions

Texas was settled by people from a wide variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Germans, Czechs, Scandinavians, English, Spanish, African and French all brought their gardening traditions to the new frontier they were to call home. Northern European gardens all shared many similarities. The practical Germans were the largest group to call the new state their home and were well known then, as today, for their success with both edible and ornamental plants. They tended to keep their plants in rows and mix many colors in the garden. Prince Carl Solms-Braunfels who was responsible for settling many of his countrymen in the Hill Country of Central Texas in the 1840s, considered the gardens of his German countrymen in Texas to be superior and scorned what he considered laziness and lack of gardening expertise among the Anglos. He spoke glowingly of the neat dooryards of flowers he found among even the first newcomers in New Braunfels.

Mid and Late Victorian Design

There may have been some truth to Prince Carl Solms-Braunfels prejudices, but the English were masters at gardening, even in the smallest plots. As the late Victorian architectural styles of the 1870s began to dominate structures of the time, gardening trends began to favor "bedding out" displays. Another benchmark of the Victorian style was the use of randomly spaced shrubs and trees in lawn areas. This new style consisted of small geometric beds set in mowed lawns, packed with annuals, all of a similar size and shape, in bright colors. American middle classes adopted the trend, and scorned the old-fashioned cottage garden as messy and disorderly.

The humble and conservative country people in America and Northern Europe continued to garden as they always had, however, and by the turn of the century, the cottage garden style was reborn as the "herbaceous border," which was nothing more than a strip of cottage garden.

Another form to gain popularity in this period was the enclosed garden. Part of the excitement achieved by many of the great gardens of Northern Europe is that the visitor cannot see the entire garden at once. The anticipation of moving from one room or area to another creates a feeling of excitement similar to touring various rooms of a great home. These "rooms" may be formed with walls of stone, brick, wood or with living materials such as evergreen hedges. Another possibility is permanent structures designed to support roses or other vines. These can take the form of walls or arches over entrances or garlands, all of which were popular during the heyday of Gertrude Jekyll, the famous English gardener of Victorian times. Jekyll is credited with perfecting the concept of the herbaceous border. Her borders could be described as strips of cottage garden. Jekyll was a great believer in roses on structures and offered some very creative ideas on how they can be incorporated into the garden in her book, Roses for English Gardens. She further stressed the use of species and old rambling rose varieties known to be hardy and easily maintained. Broad walkways partially covered by wooden or iron structures were beautifully softened by roses selected for their graceful growth habits as well as the fragrance and beauty of their flowers.

Gertrude Jekyll loved the natural look of tree trunks and limbs. This was evident in the natural wood furniture and structures she popularized during her time. Her influence can be seen in some of the Southern cottage gardens remaining today. These gardens were far different from the formal "bedding out" displays typically seen with Victorian architecture of the period. Walls and overhead structures served as the "bones" of her gardens. Roses, shrubs, perennials and annuals created tapestry effects in her wide herbaceous borders. This resulted from planting "drifts" of plants having various colors, forms and textures. As she said in Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden, "Many years ago I came to the conclusion that in all flower borders it is better to plant in long rather than block shaped patches.... The word "drift" conveniently describes the shape I have in mind...." (26).

The vertical element was always strongly present in Jekyll's planting designs along with an inspiring awareness of texture and color. Her gardens created a great deal of interest. Modern gardeners are discovering that her design philosophy is timeless and as relevant today as it was during her lifetime (1843–1932).

In analyzing cottage gardening style, we see that the fences, walls, hedges and walks provided design continuity for a combination of plant materials otherwise so informal as to be confusing. Each garden tended to be a unique expression of its creator, and each season offered its own blend of colors and flower types. The more one studies this design type, the more one realizes the potential for creating unique and beautiful tapestries of materials. Spike flowers such as larkspur and salvia contrast effectively with ray flowers like daisies and coreopsis. Foliage color and texture can create contrast and interest even when plants are out of flower. Gray-foliaged plants were commonly used for accent in English cottage gardens. Ornamental grasses also offer a pleasant textural and color contrast.


Excerpted from Perennial Garden Color by William C. Welch. Copyright © 2013 William C. Welch. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword, by Neil Sperry,
Preface to the Texas A&M University Press Edition,
1. The Roots of Our Gardens,
2. Perennials for Easy Garden Color,
3. Arranging Perennials in the Garden,
4. Buying, Planting, and Caring for Perennials,
5. Perennials Past and Present,
6. Old Garden Roses,
7. Companion Plants for the Perennial Garden,

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