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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The British Invasion

Victorian Gardens were all in vogue from 1837 until 1901, during the reign of Queen Victoria. The Golden Years of the mid-Victorian era from 1850 until 1870 were led by increased industrialization, growth in the national income, peace at home and abroad. With all the social and economic advances, the British had more leisure time on their hands than ever before.  With all the changes taking place, middle-class families didn’t have to focus on gardening only for food necessities. They could use some of that extra time to create beautiful gardens with aesthetic visuals.

Horticulture and plant collecting were favorite and serious occupations.  Collectors sought out rare plants, keeping journals and records of their location and distribution. They particularly loved anything novel and exotic. Any botanical explorations or plants carried home from faraway places became status symbols of Britain’s evidence of worldwide influence and wealth. Many of the plants we still use in our own landscapes were brought from the tropics to North America and Europe – orchids, monstera and other aroids, bougainvillea, begonias, crotons, daturas, frangipani, erythrinas, bird of paradise and acacias. The royal waterlily from the Amazon, Victoria amazonica, with its 18-inch flowers and 5-foot leaves, was an exciting find. Plants, especially lilies, began coming in from Japan in the early 1860s and rhododendrons were brought from the Himalayas. New species of plants even came from China and other parts of the Orient, which at that time were off-limits to foreigners.

While this influx of new plant species was very exciting, many of these foreign plants became invasive in their new climates and locations, crowding out native species of flora. Invasive plants are non-native (exotic or alien) to the ecosystem that they occupy and their existence in that ecosystem causes harm. Some, such as the Eastern red cedar are also a wildfire hazard in our state. Invasive water plants like yellow iris clog waterways and can crowd out our native water plants. Some of these exotic plants can be very lovely such as Japanese honeysuckle, but are nearly impossible to eradicate. Included on the invasive list of plants are the Callery or Bradford Pear which has escaped into wooded areas throughout the state.

When considering a new plant for your landscape, look for native versions instead of those introduced from other countries.  An excellent example is planting American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) instead of Chinese (Wisteria sinensis) or Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). Additionally, before you take a start of a pass along plant from a friend, note how it grows in their garden. Then do a quick online search to ensure it is not considered an invasive plant. Your best bet to prevent introducing an invasive species to your garden is to select native Oklahoman plants. Additionally, these plants seldom need extra care as they evolved in our extreme Oklahoma climates and adapt to our weather. For a list of native plants that are great for your garden, check out the fact sheet E-1052 Oklahoma Proven: Plant selections for Oklahoma available at the OK State Extension Office available at the Garfield County Extension Office or online at https://extension.okstate.edu/search.html.

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Cathy Thomas
Cathy Thomas, born in New York, raised in Pennsylvania, educated in Arizona, having lived in Oregon, Florida and many places in between, now calls Oklahoma “home.” Currently a music and art teacher in a local school, Cathy is a third-generation puppeteer, historical interpreter, writer, painter, and candlestick maker and mom of a teenager. When the weather is warm, she can usually be found playing in the dirt along with her four dogs and five chickens and trying to grow flowers, vegetables and other plants.

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