First Lady of Flowers

Photo by: Pia Ulin

Dorothy Biddle was one of the first Americans to create what we moderns call a multiplatform brand—books, retail, speaking engagements—and she did it all without the benefit of the Internet. Biddle traveled to garden clubs around the country by bus and train from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, spreading a democratic, can-do approach to flower growing and arranging just as Americans were moving out of cities into homes with yards and space for gardens. Her books—How to Arrange Flowers and Creative Flower Arrangements—contain some advice that we might find stodgy today (“Never use wildflowers in a formal setting”), but her message of self-expression and liberation, if not all of her rules of thumb, is still worth attending to.

As Biddle’s audiences asked for her recommendations for frogs, wire, and other accoutrements, Biddle’s casual list of sources grew into a small catalogue. Her son, who accompanied her on many of her trips, took over the catalogue business in the 1950s. Today her granddaughter, Lynne Dodson, runs Dorothy Biddle Service out of the Pocono Mountains area in northeastern Pennsylvania. Dodson continues to provide garden gloves, vases, frogs, and ornaments, largely through the Internet—which is an invention that might have saved her grandmother a lot of shoe leather. 

 

This article was first published in Garden Design April 2011