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In the years after the Civil War, seed companies, nurseries and horticultural professions grew apace with the American economy. Together, they were looking to produce a new kind of garden, quintessentially American, that would express the nation’s emerging sense of self, wrote May Brawley Hill in “Grandmother’s Garden: The Old-Fashioned American Garden 1865-1915.” The result was a combination of plants, including hardy perennials, self-sown annuals and native varieties.

Actually, there were two traditions in gardening during this period, the Smithsonian’s Ms. Brown notes.

Stroll around the Enid Haupt Garden outside the Smithsonian Castle, and you’ll see an eloquent example of that first trend: carefully edged parterre beds filled with a variety of colorful blooms.

“They used masses of tightly packed and intricate patterns of hybrids and exotics,” Ms. Brown said. “It was a way to show off all their plants.”

Tropical plants were popular, Ms. Brown noted, as those fortunate Americans who were able to take a grand tour in Europe liked to bring back some proof that they had gone. And in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, the newly wealthy had money to spare.

Aficionados of the second trend, called cottage gardening after the English model, looked instead for an explosion of color and a variation in form and texture in a way that crowded everything together in painterly profusion, leaving little room for weeds.

“It’s a casual, informal style,” Ms. Jentz said.

There was a certain nostalgia, even then, Ms. Brown said, as Americans began to reimagine what the gardens of their forefathers had been like.

“You would have seen monkshood and antique roses, as well as edible flowers and herbs,” she said.

Your grandmother’s grandmothers also loved working in, painting and photographing their gardens. The American impressionists often painted gardens - Childe Hassam painted the poet Celia Laighton Thaxter’s New Hampshire garden scores of times, and the artist Julian Weir regularly added floral accents to his landscapes - a process he called “hollyhocking.”

Women especially, Miss Hill writes, saw in gardening a kind of liberation, in which they could bury their hands in viable activity and actually produce something.

Informality was the watchword by the time of the Arts and Crafts movement of the turn of the last century, when gardens were expected to fit both the architecture of a particular home and the lifestyle of a particular family. Gardeners sought to combine the useful with the ornamental and frequently featured native plants.

But the wild profusion and brilliant blaze of color can come at a price that today’s granddaughters and grandsons are less willing to pay: time.

The fact is, all that informality takes a lot of energy, and deadheading blooms, collecting seeds and dealing with a garden after a short blooming season can take more time and effort than many of today’s gardeners have.

“It’s a rare person nowadays who’s a garden hobbyist,” said David Martin, assistant general manager at Johnson’s Florist and Garden Center in Tenleytown. “They don’t want a garden; they want a landscape.”

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