The Q&A Archives: 1930s Plants And Shrubs

Question: We bought a small house a few years ago that was built in approximately 1937. It a has a fairly large side yard on the northwest side of the house, which we have enclosed with a white picket fence (on the west and northwest sides) and a 6 ft privacy fence (on the north side). I would like to plant that area mostly with flowers and shrubs from the period of time that the house was built. However, I have looked through several books about heirloom/traditional gardens and they almost always focus on periods of time that are earlier than the 1930s (you often see whole chapters and discussions dedicated to the 19th century gardens in such books.) I did read A Southern Garden by Elizabeth Lawrence (which I love) and planted some of the bulbs that she mentions, although many of them do not seem to be available any more. Any ideas? I am interested in perennials, bulbs, roses, shrubs, annuals, and climbers. Thank you for any books or other sources you can recommend, as well as actual plants.

Answer: It seems that, based on the number of pages devoted to it, nostalgia for a Victorian garden seems stronger than any for any other, doesn't it? I have found a couple of books in the NGA library that cover the 20th century, and both of them focus on the trend toward plant conservation and a more "natural" look in gardens. One book in particular, "American Garden Design: An Anthology of Ideas that Shaped Our Landscape" Diane Kostial McGuire, ed., contains an essay by Marian Cruger Coffin that lists many plants, but she writes about the NY-New England area. Still, it might give you some ideas. Another thought: contact the University of Tennessee Botanical Gardens (in Martin, TN, ph# 901-587-7650), and see if they can help you with some historical research. There are other botanical gardens in Tennessee that might offer help: Cheekwood Botanical Garden, Nashville: ph# 615-353-2148

Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis: ph# 901-761-5250

Memphis Botanic Garden, ph# 901-685-1566

Reflection Riding Arboretum and Botanical Garden, Chattanooga: ph# 423-821-9582

Also, have you seen the book, "The Tennessee Gardener's Guide : The What, Where, When, How & Why of Gardening in Tennessee," by Lark Foster, Walter Glenn? It should be a big help for gardening in general. Hope you can find what you're looking for!

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