We know how Betty, Don and the gang dress. We’ve seen Betty’s interior design, her knotty-pine kitchen cabinets, console television, and hard-edged sofa. But how, we might wonder, did her garden grow?
Little Sally Draper and I share a birthday, more or less. I remember what gardens looked like in her day, at least here in Northern California.
Midcentury children played in well-behaved foliage and pink, white, and blue highly structured flowers. Not dissimilar to Joan and Betty’s dresses. Naked Ladies, also known, less colorfully, as Belladonna Lily.
Agapanthus, known, somewhat more colorfully, as African Lilly.
Because so many houses were built all at once, gardens were laid out uniformly. Fuchsia, rhododendrons, camellias, star jasmine, juniper hedges, and lots of lawn. Thinking that water would last forever. Featuring concrete. Thinking that it, too, would last forever. We may have killed our snails with poison, but we looked quite tidy doing so. Maybe that’s what so compelling about the midcentury American aesthetic. For a moment, all kinds of cultural threads lined up.
Midcentury landscapers may have believed that nature was only a backdrop for man’s infinite trajectory of achievement, but over the past fifty years we’ve gained tolerance for graying and scruffy foliage, drought-tolerant grasses, even weeds. We understand that rhododendrons, native to the hills above Darjeeling, probably don’t belong in the Mediterranean climate of Northern California. We’ve figured out that that concrete cracks.
And lavender, a fantastic replacement for lilies of many kinds, smells rapturous.
I wonder, what did the gardens of America’s midcentury look like in your neck of the woods? Do you remember? Does your mother? Your father? Maybe you live in the Draper’s suburb outside of Manhattan? In Texas? Chicago? Miami? Leeds? Neuilly-sur-Seine? After all, in 1962 it was 1962 everywhere, not just in Draperville. Or perhaps we could challenge Matthew Weiner to go ahead and show us the plantings.