Though the “Ma and Pa” farms have diminished and are gone from the rural scene in some part of the country, Ohio is still fundamentally an agriculture community.
Although thousands of vehicles travel on Route 62, during the day a few tractors and other agricultural machines are on the road too, reminders of our pleasant rural areas marred only occasionally by the islands of varying size settlements.
The old houses in these small settlements, however, are an ever present reminder of the Victorian era in which they were built. And in their time they were probably embellished with gardens that would surprise us today.
An often over-looked aspect of that era is the gardens they produced, large and small. The more affluent the citizen, the more elaborate and larger the garden.
During the second half of the 18th century, the fashionable country home was often located in an isolated part of a rural area or in the suburbs of a settlement.
Room with a view.
A proper setting would locate the drawing room overlooking a managed landscape set in a gentle rolling meadow, with the sun glittering on a small lake, and framed with a background of a woodland. It was a pleasant, tranquil man-made version of natural beauty, from which human drama and its disturbing factors were quite absent.
The gardeners role was merely to cut the grass, maintain whatever walkways had been constructed through the landscape, and do a little woodlot management.
Close to the house were the kitchen and flower gardens, and sometimes a formal garden. The latter would often be composed with perennial flowers and shrubs to eliminate yearly tilling and plantings.
As the 19th century progressed, the large formal gardens in the countryside were replaced largely by kitchen gardens. While the varieties of fruits and vegetables planted was limited in some northern regions, to the south everything from pineapples to tomatoes flourished among other garden variety plants.
Outside the drawing room was a modest formal garden often arranged as some have referred to it, as “an outside living room”.
The Victorians called this garden a “parterre.” It was often arranged with one or more terraces, each containing numerous geometric shaped flower beds, closely planted with complimenting and suitable flowers and low shrubs, usually included a statue or a fountain, and had evergreens accentuating the surrounding plantings. A rock garden with background tall ferns would add interest. In more affluent gardens there might be a conservatory and green house.
The Victorian garden became a show place of plants rather than a landscape of formal settings. Even if the original concept was designed by an architect, the gardener became the dominant arranger and manager of the Victorian gardens. It was the gardener who brought the arrangement to realization, in terms of plant types. color and seasonal varieties. Everything from walkways, avenues of trees, to the composition of the arrangements was in the hands of the gardener.
Bit of everything.
The distinctive style of Victorian gardens was a mixture of formal and selective arrangements. They borrowed promiscuously from the past. The gardeners took what they wanted from Renaissance gardens and from the landscape parks that were being replaced. Neat and orderly floral gardens proved that with careful planning nature would allow the desired effect.
Up to the Industrial Revolution the land aristocracy and the well-to-do were the prominent owners of the Victorian homes and gardens, by the middle of the 1800’s the middle classes were altering their life styles. They began to landscape in the Victorian style.
The geometric flower garden was the center of the Victorian garden, a small piece of personal paradise.
Drawing room view.
It usually was on the south side of the estate where it was to be viewed from the drawing room and terrace. The drawing room was the ladies part of the house. In the well-to-do homes ladies received visitors there, and took their afternoon tea. The view allowed all to enjoy a pleasant scene of flowers and neatly kept garden.
By late 19th century the herbaceous border was the accepted setting. Hardy plants were amassed together in close plantings, and when mature seemed like colored drifts that blended from one color mass to another.
The colors were managed from white and off-white at outer edges and moving in stages to warm pastel and brighter colors in the center.
By 1880 the ornamental flower garden could be all natural beauty or formal with statues, fountains and garden seats or a mixture of both.
The Victorian garden and its various elements are an outstanding and enduring contribution to our early and late 1800 and early 1900 gardens.