Thursday, April 2, 2020

Garden History - Location - Prospect

A prospect was an extensive view out into the landscape, which, as we learned in an earlier posting Location, Location, Location, many colonial gentry felt was important to consider when chosing a site for a dwelling or garden in the 18th century American landscape.

For unparalleled enthusiasm for the beauty of the colonial American countryside, my favorite quote for this term is by Thomas Hancock (1702-1764) of Boston, The Kingdom of England don't afford so Fine a Prospect as I have.

View of the Hancock House in Boston near the State House.

The full quote of Thomas Hancock in Massachusettes, in 1736, was My Gardens all Lye on the South Side of a hill, with the most Beautifull Assent to the Top & it is Allowed on all hands the Kingdom of England don't afford so Fine a Prospect as I have both of Land and water.

Years later, British Lt. John Enys wrote of Governor Hancock's house in 1787, ...there are a number of houses situated on Beacon hill which stand high...elegant prospects particularly at high water. That of Governor Hancock stands the most conspiculus just at the top of the common with a full view of the Mall before it besides its distant views of the harbour and adjacent country.

In 1733, Willliam Byrd wrote of his view when approaching a house in Virginia, There is scarce a shrub in view to intercept your prospect, but grass as high as a man on horseback.

In the South Carolina Gazette in 1734, a notice was placed for property for sale in Charleston, South Carolina,To Be Let or Sold...on an island (with) entire prospect of the Harbor.

Eliza Lucas Pinckney wrote in 1743, of William Middleton's Crow-Field in South Carolina near Charleston, ...a large fish pond with a mount rising out of the middle -- the top of which is level with the dwelling house and upon it is a roman temple. On each side of this are other large fish ponds properly disposed which form a fine prospect of water from the house.

Crowfield Lake in South Carolina.This description by Eliza Lucas Pinckney has proved quite accurate. An archaeological study conducted at Crowfield in the 1980's located most of the landscape and garden elements described in her letter.

In 1749, the South Carolina Gazette of Charleston noted, Belonging to Alexander Gordon...From the house Ashley and Cooper rivers are seen, and all around are visto's and pleasant prospects.

In the same year, but much further north, Peter Kalm wrote of the College of Jesuits in Quebec, Canada, The afternoon I visited...the priests...They have a great house, built of stone... a fine garden ...the prospect from hence is the finest in Quebec.

Hannah Callender wrote in her diary in 1762, of William Peters' Belmont near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, A broad walk of English cherry trees leads down to the river. The doors of the house opening opposite admit a prospect of the length of the garden over a broad gravel walk to a large handsome summer house on a green...One avenue gives a fine prospect of the city.

View of Philadelphia from Belmont "a fine prospect of the city" by August Kollner in 1878.

In 1773, Josiah Quincy wrote in his journal while visiting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dined with the celebrated Pennsylvania Farmer, John Dickenson Esqr, at his country seat about two and one-half miles from town...his gardens, green-house, bathing-house, grotto, study, fish, through which is distant prospect of Delaware River.

New England tutor Philip Vickers Fithian wrote of Mount Airy in Virginia, in 1774, He has also a large well formed, beautiful Garden, as fine in every Respect as any I have seen in Virginia...From this House there is a good prospect of the River Rapahannock, which opposite here is about two miles across.  The land where Mount Airy is situated was owned by the Tayloe family of Virginia for over 100 years when Colonel John Tayloe II, a 4th generation tobacco planter, began construction of the house. The project was started around 1748 with completion in 1758.

Mount Airy in Virginia. Mount Airy owns a commanding view of the Rappahannock River valley perched upon a small hill looking westward towards the town of Tappahannock, which was founded in 1608 by Captain John Smith.

President John Adams noted in his diary in 1777, of William Lux's Chatsworth in Baltimore, Maryland, The seat is named Chatsworth, and an elegant one it is -- the large garden enclosed in lime and before the yard two fine rows of large cherry trees which lead out to the public road. There is a fine prospect about it. Mr. Lux lives like a prince. The grounds included an enclosed 164 ' by 234' terraced garden which fell toward the Baltimore harbor.

William Lux's Chatsworth in Baltimore, Maryland. By the time this map was drawn, Lux's estate had been sold and had become a public pleasure garden called Gray's Gardens. Map detail fromCartographer Charles Varle & Engraver Francis Shallus, Warner and Hann's "Plan of the City and Environs of Baltimore, Respectfully didecated to the Mayor, City Council & Citizens thereof by the Proprietors," 2nd edition (Baltimore, 1801; 1st 1799, drawn in 1797).

Ebenezer Hazzard wrote from Stafford, Virginia in 1777, The Steel Manufactory is situate on a high Hill which commands a beautiful and extensive Prospect.

The Rev. Mannasseh Cutler viewed Robert Morris' The Hills near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1780s, giving this report, ...the gardens and walks are extensive, and the villa...has a...prospect down the Schuylkill.

Lemon Hill, earlier The Hills, in Fairmont Park, Philadelphia.

From 1770 to 1799, Lemon Hill was known The Hills, home of Robert Morris, Declaration signer & a major financier of the Revolution. He later went bankrupt from over-the-top land speculation; and Philadelphia merchant Henry Pratt purchased his property at a sheriff's sale in 1799. The present house was built in that year. Pratt planted lemon trees in Morris's surviving greenhouse & the estate became known as Lemon Hill.

In 1783, at Westover on the James River in Virginia, Thomas Lee Shippen noted, an extensive prospect of James River and of all the Country and some Gentlemen's seats on the other side.

Westover after the Civil War in 1869. Corcoran, Washington, D.C.

The next year, Enys wrote of Governor John Eager Howard's Belvedere at Baltimore, Maryland, are some very Charming prospects from some of the Hills, among the best from the Seat of Colol. Howard...a full View of the town of Baltimore and the Point with the shipping in the harbour, the Bason and all the Small craft, with a very distant prospect down the river towards the Chesapeake Bay. The whole terminated by the surrounding Hills forms a fine Picture.

The park just outside Governor John Eager Howard's Belvedere in Baltimore, Maryland, where visitors could stroll and take advantage of the view down to the Baltimore harbor. 1828. Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.

Englishman Thomas Twining wrote in 1788, of visiting Governor John Eager Howard's Belvedere in Baltimore, Maryland, I walked this morning to breakfast with Colonel Howard at Belvidere... Situated upon the verge of the descent upon which Baltimore stands, its grounds formed a beautiful slant towards the Chesapeake...The spot, thus indebted to nature and judiciously embellished, was as enchanting with in its own proper limits as in the fine view which extended far beyond them. The foreground presented luxurious shrubberies and sloping lawns: the distance, the line of the Patapsco and the country bordering on Chesapeak Bay. Both the perfections of the landscape, its near and distant scenery, were united in the view from the bow-window of the noble room in which breakfast was prepared, with the desire, I believe, of gratifying me with this exquisite prospect.

Thomas Anbury wrote of the Virginia house he was visiting early in 1789, The house that we reside in...(has) a prospect of near thirty miles around it.

In 1790, William Bentley recorded in his diary about Saltonstall Seat in Haverhill, Massachusettes, the elegant Seat...has about 30 acres of land, an ancient row of Elms, and Buttons, and most engaging Prospect of the River and adjacent country.

In 1793, Patrick Campbell wrote of Mr. McIntyre's house at Albany, New York, I went along with Mr. McIntyre from Albany to his house...we ascended a high hill...which commands a fine prospect of the country all around.

Duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, Francois, visiting in 1795, described William Hamilton's Woodlands in Philadelphia, Woodlands ...commands an excellent prospect, but is not to be admired for anything an adjoining hot house Mr. Hamilton rears plants procured at great expence from all parts of the world.

The Woodlands by William Strickland after William Birch, ca. 1809.

In 1799, Isaac Weld passed through Washington, D. C. and noted of the White House, The house for the residence of the situated on a rising ground not far from the Patowmac, and (has) a most beautiful prospect of the river, and of the rich country beyond it.

Detail of the White House in an 1820 painting of Washington City, by Baroness Hyde Neuville.

In 1804, at Monticello in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson wrote, The ground between the upper & lower roundabouts to be laid out in lawns & clumps of trees, the lawns opening so as to give advantageous catches of prospect to the upper roundabout. Vistas from the lower roundabout to good portions of prospect walks in this style [diagram], winding up the mountain.

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in the Virginia hills above Charlottesville in 1826.

Bernard M'Mahon wrote in The American Gardener's Calendar in 1806, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ...regular terraces either on natural eminences of forced ground were often introduced... for the sake of prospect.

Many visitors commented on the prospect at Mount Vernon in Virginia. Andrew Burnaby wrote in 1759, of Mount Vernon, The house is most beautifully situated upon a very high hill on the banks of the Potomac; (with)...a noble prospect of water, of cliffs, of woods, and plantations.

Mount Vernon by J Wiess in 1797, two years before George Washington's death.

In 1788, at Mount Vernon, Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville noted, This house overlooks the Potomack, enjoys an extensive prospect.

Birdseye view of Mount Vernon.

In the same year, Enys also visited Mount Vernon and wrote, The front by which we entered had a Gras plot before it with a road round it for Carriages planted on each side with a number of different kinds of Trees among the rest some Weeping Willows which seem to flourish very well. One the one side of this stands the Garden, green house &c. From hence is one of the most delightful prospects I ever beheld.

View of Mount Vernon walking up the hill from the Potomac River.

William Loughton Smith recorded in his journal about Mount Vernon which sits south of Alexandria, Virginia, I hardly remember to have been so struck with a prospect...the view extends up and down the river a considerable distance, the river is about two miles wide, and the opposite shore is beautiful...embracing the magnificence of the river with the vessels sailing about; the verdant fields, woods, and parks.

Mount Vernon from the Potomac River.

John Foster Augustus described Mount Vernon, in 1813, Stands on the brow of a steep bank that overhangs the Potomac, of which there is a fine extensive prospect from the lawn.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Plants in Early American Gardens - Tennessee Coneflower

Tennessee Coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis)

This extremely rare wildflower, first collected in the wild in 1878 by Dr. A. Gattinger and listed in the Flora of Tennessee in 1906, is native only to cedar glades around Nashville. In 1979, E. tennesseensis was listed as “endangered” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but was recently removed from this list in 2011. Like other coneflowers, this showy species makes a good cut flower (fresh and dried), provides nectar for butterflies and seeds for birds, is unattractive to deer, and tolerates drought.

For more information & the possible availability for purchase

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Garden Alcoves


In landscape terminology, an alcove usually refers to a recess in a garden or pleasure ground, originally in the wall surrounding the garden; but in the late 18th-century, when protective brick & stone walls were used less, the term often referred to any covered retreat standing in a garden like a bower or summerhouse.

Alcoves provided protection from the sun in summer months, and shelter from winds while allowing the sun to shine through in colder weather. Placement of an alcove gave visual & structural definition to the garden. Their situation was often used to give a pleasing view of the garden or the surrounding landscape. And, an alcove provided a private resting place for reading or courting.

Sometimes hedges would be shaped into alcoves to frame statues or garden seats or tables for outdoor dining or small flower beds. The shapes of alcoves occasionally would echo architectural features of the house or nearby structures. Alcoves could accentuate a plant, or a statue, or a garden pond, as well as provide shelter for the garden owners & their guests.

In early America there are many references to vine & leaf-covered alcoves, but most of those are in England or in the minds of poets and fiction writers. Early in the 18th-century, English garden alcoves are referred to in Joseph Addison's Rosamond an Opera in 1707.  There are several visual references to garden alcoves in stone walls in colonial & early American paintings. The 1766 William Williams (American Colonial Era artist, 1727-1791) painting of Deborah Richmond which is in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, depicts Deborah in front of a curved stone wall with statues in alcoves.

1766 William Williams (1727–1791) Deborah Richmond

The Henry Benbridge (American Colonial Era painter, 1743-1812) painting of 1779 representing the Enoch Edwards Family at the Philadelphia Museum of Art depicts the family gathered around a garden alcove. It is not clear whether these paintings are actual representations of American colonial surroundings or whether the backgrounds were adapted from earlier English paintings or prints.

1779 Henry Benbridge 1743-1812 Enoch Edwards Family

The first written reference I can find to alcoves actually existing in American gardens appears in the summer of 1772, The South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal reported, "In a Garden belonging to Mr. TYERS... is a Walk terminated by a beautiful Alcove...In which are two elegantly carved Pedestals, on which are placed a Gentleman and Lady's Scull."

Bololi Garden Alcove Florence, Italy

"The same newspaper carried an ode to spring in 1774, "The verdant foliage of the shady grove Attracts the enraptur'd mind with new delight; The thousand beauties of yon sweet alcove, Where gentle zephyrs wing their airy flight."

Robert Adam Croome Landscape Park, Worcestershire, UK

In 1789, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described waking in an alcove in The Sorrows of Werter: a German Story. "The dense vapours of the early morn conceal yon verdant valley from my sight; and now the rising fun exhales the glittering dew, and plays upon the thick foliage that o'er-canopies my head; while here and there some feeble rays pierce through my favourite alcove, chequering the gloomy shade with glimmering light."

Alcove in Plantation Garden Pond, Norfolk, UK

In 1794, when visitor Henry Wansey noted that at Gray's Gardens, a public pleasure garden in Philadelphia, in 1794, "The ground has every advantage of hill and dale, for being laid out in great variety; and it is neatly decorated with arbours, shady walks, etc."

Rosa 'Paul's Himalayan Musk' growing over hedge with wooden bench seat in yew alcove. Jonathan Buckley

In 1801, in Wilmington, North Carolina, Eliza Clitherall recorded that "The Gardens were large...There was alcoves and summer houses at the termination of each walk, seats under trees in the more shady recesses of the Big Garden."

Statue in a clipped hedge alcove

In James Anderson's 1801 Recreations in Agriculture, Natural-history, Arts, and Miscellaneous Literature he describes his alcove "I have in my garden a summer-seat that fronts the east, with an opening nine feet in width. It is covered above with a sloping roof, which slants towards the opening, so that the light comes full upon the lower part of it, though it rises in the front part between two and three feet above the top of the opening. The whole is covered with a (grape) vine; and, thinking that the vine-leaves would make a lively and rural appearance if spread along the roof, I introduced some shoots into it for that purpose. These grew very well, and made tolerably vigorous shoots, especially towards the lower part, where it is most exposed to the light. But although there were some bunches of grapes upon the shoots of the first year, yet they all proved abortive, a very few berries only having set, and these soon fell off. The vine has been cut and trained in this kind of alcove for three years, but has never since showed the smallest rudiment of fruit on any part."

Chillington Hall in Stafforshire, UK

English writer John Claudius Loudon tells a melancholy tale of an alcove in his 1806 Treatise on Forming, Improving, and Managing Country Residences, "Soon after this, he quietly expires on a seat in the Saxon alcove at the end of the western terrace, where in an evening of September he had sat down with his family to admire the splendour of the sky, the gloom of the distant mountains, the reflection of the evening sun, and the lengthened shadow of the islands upon the still expanse of the lake."

The Pebble Alcove at Stowe Garden, UK.

Fiction writers use the secretive, vine-covered alcove for mystery and romance. Englishman John Perry writes in The New London Gleaner in 1809, "We entered a small garden ; a little paradise of neatness and taste.—" Hush !" cried the father, approaching a verdant alcove, canopied with the trembling foliage of the vine, enwreathed with woodbine."

Statue in a stone alcove

The Literay Gazette in London carried a story by John Mounteney Jephson in 1820, "With a palpitating heart, he went to the gate which led to the garden where the musical party were sitting, in an alcove covered with vines...when he entered the alcove, it was so obscured by the umbrageous leaves of vines, with which it was covered, that the faces of the company could not be easily distinguished."

Alcoves on Old London Bridge. Joseph Mallord William Turner

Old London Bridge Alcoves in Victoria Park moved 1860

Alcoves on Old London Bridge

One of the Old London Bridge Alcoves in Victoria Park in the courtyard of Guy's Hospital - right next to the Thames (opposite the Houses of Parliament) moved in 1860

Old London Bridge Alcoves in Victoria Park moved in 1860

Stone urn on plinth in alcove in Fagus - Beech hedge. Silverstone Farm, Norfolk, UK. Marcus Harpur

The Gothic Alcove at Painswick Rococo Garden, Painswick, Gloucestershire, UK. Charles Hawes

The Gothic Alcove situated at the end of a Beech walk. Painswick Rococo Garden, Painswick, Gloucestershire , UK. Carole Drake

Alcove in stone wall. Mappercombe Manor garden, Dorset, UK. Charles Hawes

Pink rose in pot placed in alcove in Italian town garden. Mirella Collavini Prescot

Painted arbour with seat in hedge alcove at Hazlebury Manor, Wiltshire, UK. Jerry Harpur


Bowl of fruit statue in alcove at Plas Brondanw, Wales, UK. Charles Hawes

Boxwood topiary in terracotta container against reclaimed brick wall from Russell Watkinson Landscapes, Tatton Flower Show 2008

Buddadvasu Flickr

Container with contrasting colored plant placed in alcove cut into beech hedge at Selehurst in Sussex, UK. John Glover

Alcove by Linen and Lavender.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Plants in Early American Gardens - Connecticut Field Pumpkin

Connecticut Field Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo)

New World field pumpkins like this 19th century variety were grown in Thomas Jefferson's fields both for the Monticello table as well as for feeding the workhorses, cattle, sheep, and pigs in late summer. Connecticut Field Pumpkin is a traditional pumpkin good for pies, with yellow flesh and soft skin.

For more information & the possible availability for purchase

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Nurseryman - Benjamin K Bliss 1819-?

Benjamin K. Bliss–New York, New York

Benjamin K Bliss was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1819. He established a seed, bulb, and nursery firm in 1845, in New York City.

Information from the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and private research.