Making Garden History Come Alive

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By Thomas Mickey

Every garden story includes a bit of history. For some gardens the link to the past is just more evident than others. As you write about a garden why not make the history connection more explicit?

When you dig into history and write about a garden, you enter a world of endless ideas, with many resources to help you along the way. You could write about the history of a plant, an old garden book, and even a place.

For example, when you write about dahlias, why not mention when they first became popular garden plants?Mickey Dahlia Chromolithograph.jpgThis happened in the mid-1880’s, although they had been in America since the early part of the nineteenth century. The dahlia went through an up and down period when it was in and out of fashion because people considered it garish and too showy.

mickey-bishop-of-llandaffA century later in the early 1990’s England’s Great Dixter Garden with Christopher Lloyd at the helm re-introduced the dahlia to the gardening world. He let everyone know that he loved the classic dahlia called ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ with its little red flower and purple leaves. This dahlia first entered the garden scene in the 1920’s. With Lloyd’s recommendation, the dahlia took off again and became an even more popular garden favorite today.

Where do you find out about these historical connections in gardening? Reading old garden books is one way. You might also look at histories of the garden. Because the English garden has long served as a model for the American garden, you’ll often find American garden writers recognizing our debt to the English for teaching us about gardening and garden design.

One such writer was Wilhelm Miller, a Chicago landscape architect in the early 1900’s. He wrote books and articles along with many entries in The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, the classic garden resource published in 1901. Miller later wrote a popular book called What England Can Teach Us About Gardening. To further emphasize this connection the book’s original cover included an image of a romantic English garden. mickey-what-england-can-teach-us-about-gardening He also wrote an article with the title “English Effects with Hardy Plants” which appeared in The Garden Magazine in September 1909. In the article Miller said,

“The English have a deeper passion than we for ‘collecting.’ Everywhere you find someone who grows fifty or more varieties of his favorite flower, e.g. German or Japanese iris, or peony, or the florists’ penstemon. One English catalogue contains 346 varieties of phlox, 224 of border carnations, 180 chrysanthemums, etc. – fully three times as many as you can get in America.”

Garden writers can also chronicle the history of a place. Take for example Edith Wharton’s garden at The Mount, her country house in Lenox, Massachusetts, built around 1900. Wharton used her garden as a showcase for the Italian design that she loved. Her own landscape design book Italian Villas and their Gardens (1904) mickey-italian-villas-and-their-gardensput her in the forefront of the new interest in Italian garden design in that period.

Mickey Edith Wharton Home.jpgToday at The Mount her garden has been restored to its early glory, including the fountain with its flowerbeds. These gardens were part of a GWA Region I meeting earlier this year.

So instead of just writing about the newest dahlia – which is hard to do since there are hundreds of dahlias on the market – you might focus on dahlias as garden fashion, first in England and then in America.

You will also find that certain garden writers take as their theme the history of the garden. One of my favorite English writers is David Stuart. Over many years he has written several books about the history of plants and gardening.

Whether you write about a plant, a garden book, or a place, try finding a link to its history. To incorporate parts of garden history into your writing. All of this requires some research but that could be fun. You learn so much along the way.


Meet the Author

Tom Mickey.jpgThomas Mickey, a GWA member for twenty years, gardens on the New Hampshire seacoast. He is a retired Professor of Communication Studies at Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Mass.


Region V Visits Tulsa’s Great Gardens


By Sharon Beasly

The weather could not have been better for the GWA Region V meeting to see the great public gardens of Tulsa. October this year in Oklahoma was exceptionally nice and warm, perfect for our time together.

beasley-region-v-04Our first stop was the Linnaeus Teaching Gardens ( in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Woodward Park. The Linnaeus Garden may be small with only l.55 acres, but it packs a punch. We strolled through the entry under a canopy of 100 year old red cedar trees. A few years back one of the old trees died. It had been transformed into a work of art by Clayton Coss (, a chainsaw carver from Wagner, Oklahoma.

At the end of the entry walk, we encountered a statue of Carl Linnaeus who seemed posed to welcome us. In one hand he held a bloom of Gaillardia pulchella, the Oklahoma state wildflower, and in the other hand a botanical book, symbolizing the botanical naming system he developed that is still in use today. We couldn’t resist gathering around old Carl for a group shot.

Barry Fugatt, Director of the garden, met us near the entrance and gave us a tour through the six different garden areas: Water Garden, Fountain Garden, Boulder Garden, Fruit and Vegetable Garden, Herb Garden, and Orchid Shelter. Every garden is a wonderful place for generating ideas for the home landscape.

In addition to the many gardens, the developers also managed to find room for a red barn they used for a learning center, a small greenhouse, and gift shop. All of these features had to be designed to fit on property with a 13 ft. change of level between the highest and lowest points. Somehow they did this without damaging the large trees on the site.

At the end of the tour, we each picked our favorite spot in the Linnaeus Garden to enjoy Beasley Region V 02.jpgtasty box lunches from Lambrusco’z Deli in Tulsa. After lunch we drove off to the Tulsa Botanic Garden.

The Tulsa Botanic Garden ( is a very new garden endeavor only eight miles from downtown Tulsa but out in the boonies – no kidding – with a master plan designed to have the garden eventually cover 60 acres. Walking the Tulsa Botanic Garden provides plenty of exercise for a day.

In just three years, they have made a good start bringing the plan to life with a seven-acre lake surrounded in part by a fantastic two-acre Children’s Discovery Garden, a three-acre floral terrace divided by a grand cascade of water terraces from the top down into the lake, and a plethora of plants everywhere.

Perhaps the most memorable sight was the whimsical image of the 15 foot Spring Giant statue overlooking the head of a water spring in the children’s garden. It is a bit formidable with deep-set glass eyes, a crawdad nose, and mouthful of large teeth over which water flows. If you walk to the backside of the Giant you can enter a grotto that is his body, complete with stalactites hanging from above.

Beasley Region V 03.jpgOn the A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Terrace there were wonderful displays of “over 8,000 permanent plants including trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, roses and perennials set in terraced beds on a hillside which offers views of downtown Tulsa from its peak.” But the area that I loved most was a field where pink and white cosmos were allowed to grow wild. It was a wonderful sight reminiscent of the prairie native to the area.

I do not have enough room to describe all the marvelous features of this new botanic garden but I highly recommend it as a garden to visit. We were fortunate to have President Todd Lasseigne guiding us around the gardens. I hope to return next year for the spring tulip display. Next time, though, I will remember to wear my best walking shoes.

Meet the Author

sharon-beasleySharon Beasley has been addicted to gardening for over 30 years. She gardens on an acre in Newcastle, Oklahoma. Her weekly garden column has been in the Newcastle Pacer ( since 1992. She is a long time member of the Oklahoma Horticultural Society ( and GWA:The Association of Garden Communicators.


My Cuban Adventure

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By Louise Clarke

Clarke Mural.jpgIn June, 2016 I seized a last minute opportunity to join an escorted tour to Havana and western Cuba with other horticulturally-inclined travelers. This trip had been arranged by Holbrook Travel , Gainesville, Florida to highlight historic Havana, its horticulture, and botanic gardens. With President Obama’s earlier visit in March, and the prospect of normalizing relations, now seemed an opportune time to go before the fabric of Cuban society changes with an influx of American cash and culture.

Departing Miami on a sultry Sunday morning, my plane touched down at José Martí International Airport, southwest of Havana in less than 60 minutes. I soon discovered that my flight was a trip back in time to the 1950’s. The first indication of this was my descent down the rickety aircraft stairway to reach the shimmering tarmac. No motorized jet ways here. Continue reading “My Cuban Adventure”

Converting Photos to Garden Art on Demand

Found on this is called “California Sunflowers”

By Betty Mackey

Do you have a hard drive filled with photos taken over the years you’ve been a garden communicator? This resource can be used to create online art that will provide an additional source of income. With the holiday shopping season now here, that’s something worth thinking about.

A writer and independent publisher, I am now also a print-on-demand (POD) artist. My garden images are a resource for decorating products which I sell through online art sites. My portfolio includes both photography and digital paintings. Being a POD artist covers producing more than books and canvas prints. Pillows, fabrics, phone cases, leggings, shirts, dresses, scarves, mugs, and more can be ordered one at a time by consumers. I would love to see more work from my fellow garden communicators on POD sites. Continue reading “Converting Photos to Garden Art on Demand”

The Real Chanticleer: Notes on a Season at America’s Most Inspiring Garden

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By Christopher Freimuth

Chanticleer Garden, the former estate of the Rosengarten family of pharmaceutical fame, is a relatively small “pleasure garden” in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Since opening to the public in the early 1990’s, it has quickly become, in the words of Garden Design,  “America’s most inspiring garden.” Good call, Garden Design.

Chanticleer01.jpgI just finished a six-month stint interning at Chanticleer as part of my two-year academic program at the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture. I had three goals: to expand my plant palette, to learn progressive horticultural practices, and to engage in dialogue with Chanticleer staff about garden design. I looked forward to being in a supportive learning environment and connecting with the larger gardening world. In taking me on, the staff at Chanticleer committed to providing these opportunities. Six months later, what’s my assessment? Did Chanticleer live up to its reputation and its promises? Continue reading “The Real Chanticleer: Notes on a Season at America’s Most Inspiring Garden”