past gardens, present garden inspiration.

I have always felt the pull of old gardens. They fascinate me. I love learning about what people put in their gardens and how their gardens endured over time.

Of course I’ve also been sad when a lot of the gardens got lost to development. One of my biggest problems with that is so often nobody took any plants or cuttings out of these gardens before they were plowed under which means that the treasures they held were lost to the ages in many cases.

For years I had these hellebores that I dug up out of a Victorian garden when a Victorian house was being torn down near the Rosemont, PA train station. They moved with me everywhere I went, but I couldn’t get them to reestablish when I moved to Chester County and I sadly lost the plants. But I am definitely one of those people who will add heirloom plants to a garden. And I deeply appreciate growers who keep these special plants going over time, so they are not lost.

Recently I attended a fascinating garden lecture thanks to Jenkins Arboretum. The virtual lecture was given by Jeff Groff, who is the Estate Historian at Winterthur. It was called Lost Gardens of the Main Line.

To me this was a fascinating history lesson. I loved seeing the gardens and how these people planted and when. It made you realize how plant trends come, and go, and return again. Of course, some of the questions at the end people really kind of I don’t think got the whole gist of this wonderful lecture and we’re asking questions like how did they have flowers and were there deer back then.

I have collected vintage and antique gardening books since forever it feels like and this lecture made me think of two really special ones that I bought easily 30+ years ago.

The Century Book of Gardening was inscribed by the book’s original owner:

I don’t think this estate exists anymore. I’ve looked for it and I can’t find anything. But this was a very expensive book when it was published, so I imagine that Frances Roberts had a wonderful garden.

The second book Beautiful Gardens in America, contains a whole chapter on Pennsylvania gardens. Here are the photos:

So some of those gardens still exist but I don’t think all of them do. But look how fabulous they were. I think it’s a lot of fun to look at the photos. It can provide inspiration even in your home garden. I know that looking at gardens of yesteryear make me wish to seek out more heirloom bulbs and plants. And vintage garden ornaments.

Happy gardening!

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