Saturday, August 21, 2010

Invasive species, gardening and nature in the 1860s

Invasive species problems can sometimes divide gardeners from environmentalists. The work of the gardener in choosing the right plant is viewed with suspicion when that plant is not known to be from the local ecosystem. A fear that the gardener's choices may hop the garden fence and take up residence in the forests, woodlands, and other natural areas, may give rise to the erroneous notion that gardeners are only thinking about themselves. However, the history of horticulture and, therefore, gardening in America as well as Europe is the history of making community decisions as to the landscape both particular and in general. Gardeners were thinking and practicing green before the current movement was born. A major point of horticultural discussion for over three centuries has been the proper role of gardening and the greater landscape. The challenge for gardeners and landscape designers was and is to find a balance between the localized landscape needs and the impact of these needs on the greater environment. It is interesting for me to read about our current choices between formal gardening and the preservation of our natural areas in essays and articles written over 150 years ago. Note the description of purple loosestrife a present day disruptive plant in many natural ecosystems with a long history as a workhorse of the ornamental, managed landscape.

"BOTANICAL NOTES OF THE YEAR. DURING 1865 but few plants new to the  British Isles have been observed, at least, as regards the higher orders, though, among the lower, various novelties have been recorded….Now is the season for " Seed-Catalogues," the authors of which appear to have generally some rather loose ideas regarding the extent of the British Flora: a list of the "plants new to Britain," which are given as natives of that favoured country, would take up considerable space. Our Crowfoot tribe is increased by a new Columbine (Aquilegia glandulosa); our Candytuft receives a companion, under the name of Iberis coronaria; Dianthus punctatus is ranked with our British pinks; Impatiens noli-metangere finds a brother in I. glandulifera; and many other examples might be added. The name Lythrum Salicaria is not, we may suppose, sufficiently grand for our Purple Loosestrife, as this plant is rechristened Lythrum roseum superbum! More than one firm offer for sale a mixture of flowerseeds for woodland walks, shrubberies, railway embankments, &c. ; but as botanists we may hope that their customers in this department are few; for does not Nature herself supply an abundant and beautiful " mixture" of flowers, and grasses, and ferns, in far better taste than we can hope to emulate, or attempt to improve upon ? There are those who would endeavour to "paint the lily and add perfume to the rose," but no lover of nature will wish to be ranked among them." (Edited by: M. C. Cooke. Feb1, 1866. Science-gossip, Volumes 1-3. Robert Hardwicke, London. p.39)

"NOTES ON A FEW PLANTS SUITABLE FOR THE WILD GARDEN…Of the old double Pæony (Pæonia officinalis) I have three colours—pink, a bright rosy orimson, and the old dark maroon, and a white I think not quite so robust (I should like to know whether there are any other colours). They like a rich, deep loam, but will live and bloom in soil not quite so good. For effect they are best planted on a moist bank side quite above the eye. The flowers are heavy and sprawl about, and would be lost amongst the Grass. They are mueh better under the shade of trees, as the flowers fade in the full sun. If in a garden, they should have three or four sticks and a cord round to support them. The Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale) and its var. bracteatum, flowers a brilliant scarlet and crimson, size of a dinner plate; would make glorious masses of colour. They are tap. rooted and rather difficult to transplant, but when once rooted are not easy to get quit of. Lyme Grass (Elymus glaucifolius) is a grand-looking Grass, quite tropical in appearance, and worthy of a prominent position. I believe it is naturally a marsh plant. At first it was planted on my rockery, but it ran about so that I was obliged to have taken up. I then had a large sanitary pipe sunk in the rock, in which it was planted, and here it has flourished for some years past without a drop of water, excepting what it gets from the clouds. Its beauty is, however, somewhat hidden by the encroachment of another fine
Slant, Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum), a plant that will grow in the worst soil and situation possible, but worthy of the best; it is beet planted on a level with the eye, and you then see the beautiful arching of the stems, and the lovely pendant white bells beneath. It seems to like stony, dry places. There is a pink Spire* (S. venusta), 1 believe, a splendid plant when well grown (all Spireas like moisture). It should have plenty of room to develop its beauties. As a contrast to this, but equally fine, is Lythrum roseum superbum; in any soil, but plenty of moisture, it will make a mass of rosy colour. The Day Lilies (Hemerocallis fulva and flava), easily grown; the foliage is rather coarse for a border, But then what lovely flowers! tawny yellow and yellow, the latter fragrant withal; and then, if you have a damp, or, better, wet spot in your garden, what so beautiful as the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)? The single form is finer than the double. A few plants together glitter like gold in the sun. The small-leaved Cotoneaster (C. microphylla) is one of the most useful shrubs I know. It makes a nice covering for a wall where more choice and tender things would not grow ; but nowhere does it look more lovely than when rambling about amongst old logs, or hanging over alow wall. All the above are hardy and robust, and will hold their own when established, and will increase in beauty from year to year." (Edited by: William Robinson. Gardening illustrated, Volume 7 .1886. p. 303)