“Replete with colorful floral illustrations, this book about James Vick and his nineteenth-century seed company shows how he used innovative mass marketing and regular customer correspondence to build one of the largest and most respected seed companies in the United States. As a writer, horticulturist, and businessman, Vick deserves to be recognized as a man whose knowledge and influence spread worldwide during his lifetime. This book is long overdue.”
Beverly Gibson, horticulturist, Landmark Society of Western New York
“Thomas Mickey has brought to life the work of nineteenth-century flower seedsman James Vick through historical documents, catalogs, customer testimonials and charming illustrations. In All about Flowers, Mickey reveals where our enduring love for flowers came from and examines the role flower gardening played in the Victorian era, particularly for women.”
Susan Mulvihill, coauthor of Northwest Gardener's Handbook: Your Complete Guide
“All about Flowers makes an indispensable contribution to the history of US ornamental horticulture.”
Geraldine A. Laufer, coauthor of Tussie-Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers
A nineteenth-century entrepreneur’s bold, innovative marketing helped transform flower gardens into one of America’s favorite hobbies.
“There is much that is hard and productive of sorrow in this sin-plagued world of ours; and, had we no flowers, I believe existence would be hard to be borne.” So states a customer’s 1881 letter—one of thousands James Vick regularly received. Vick’s business, selling flower seeds through the mail, wasn’t unique, but it was wildly successful because he understood better than his rivals how to engage customers’ emotions. He sold the love of flowers along with the flower seeds.
Vick was genuinely passionate about floriculture, but he also pioneered what we now describe as integrated marketing. He spent a mind-boggling $100,000 per year on advertising (mostly to women, his target demographic); he courted newspaper editors for free publicity; his educational guides presaged today’s content marketing; he recruited social influencers to popularize neighborhood gardening clubs; and he developed a visually rich communication and branding strategy to build customer loyalty and inflect their purchasing needs with purchasing desire.
Thomas J. Mickey is Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies at Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of the Boston Architectural College’s Landscape Institute, a Master Gardener, and a garden columnist. His other books include America’s Romance with the English Garden, from Ohio University Press, and Best Garden Plants for New England. More info →
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America’s Romance with the English Garden is the story of the beginnings of the modern garden industry, which seduced the masses with its images and fixed the English garden in the mind of the American consumer; the story of tastemakers and homemakers, of savvy businessmen and a growing American middle class eager to buy their products.
Gardeners of today take for granted the many varieties of geraniums, narcissi, marigolds, roses, and other beloved flowers for their gardens. Few give any thought at all to how this incredible abundance came to be or to the people who spent a good part of their lives creating it. These breeders once had prosperous businesses and were important figures in their communities but are only memories now. They also could be cranky and quirky.
Walk into any nursery, florist, or supermarket, and you’ll encounter displays of dozens of gorgeous flowers, from chrysanthemums to orchids. At one time these fanciful blooms were the rare trophies of the rich and influential—even the carnation, today thought of as one of the humblest cut flowers. Every blossom we take for granted now is the product of painstaking and imaginative planning, breeding, horticultural ingenuity, and sometimes chance.
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