One of my very favorite gardening books is written by an art historian, Grandmother’s Garden: The Old-Fashioned American Garden 1865-1915 by May Brawley Hill. It’s well worth buying just for the fascinating early photographs of American gardens.
Hill’s subject is a garden style that emerged around the American Centennial of 1875, when Americans suddenly looked backwards, with interest, at the early history of the country and began valuing 18th century houses and furniture and what remained of the gardens.
People began to seek inspiration in the old-fashioned gardens of their grandmothers. An extremely floriferous garden style, inspired by cottagey plants like phlox and hollyhocks and humble materials like picket fences, became the rage among the humble and well-educated bohemians alike.
And this happened before Gertrude Jekyll began promoting cottage-garden flowers and William Robinson natives across the Atlantic. Here’s what struck me, looking at the book this week. Hill writes…
Certainly American gardeners were not isolated from English and European gardening ideas, but we emphatically have a national gardening tradition as well as regional ones, seen best in personal, individually made and maintained gardeners like grandmother’s.
Of course, the Garden Rant manifesto says we prefer "real, rambling, chaotic, dirty, bug-ridden gardens." We thought we were iconoclasts. Apparently, we’re traditionalists.