Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Plants in Early American Gardens - Persian Fritillary

Persian Fritillary (Fritillaria persica)

The Persian Fritillary was introduced into English gardens in the late sixteenth century, but at the time did not capture the same attention as its cousin, the Crown Imperial Lily. This Fritillary’s unusual, deep violet blue flowers are perhaps more appealing to modern tastes. Bernard McMahon, Jefferson’s gardening mentor, listed the Fritillaria persica on his 1810 broadsheet.

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Monday, February 24, 2020

An unusual early American garden + a little gossip in Portsmouth, New Hampshire


In 1740, Nathaniel Merserve (1705-1758) built his dwelling on the tidal North Mill Pond near his shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He was the owner of the largest shipyard in Portsmouth, by then famous for its shipbuilding facilities. His home was contiguous to his shipyard; where he constructed a 50 gun frigate in 1749, for the Royal Navy called The America.  In the capture of Louisburg from the French in 1745, he was Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment which New Hampshire raised for the expedition; & in 1758, he sailed for the 2nd siege of the place with 168 carpenters. Soon after their arrival at Cape Breton, "his whole party, except sixteen, were seized with smallpox, of which disorder Colonel Meserve & his eldest son died." (1913 Harold Hotchkiss Bennett)

1774 The South West Prospect of the Seat of Colonel George Boyd of Portsmouth, New Hampshire

In 1763, the house was purchased by Peter Livius (1739-1795), son of a Hamburg German employed in an English factory at Lisbon. His British mother sent him to school in England where, in 1758, he married the daughter of wealthy Colonel John Tufton Mason.  In 1763, the newly rich Livius moved from England to New Hampshire, where his wife’s family had large land claims. He immediately established a lavish style in Portsmouth, showing a remarkable ability to generate personal animosities.  He attempted to buy his credentials in New England colonial society by a large gift of books to Harvard College in 1764, from which he did receive an honorary degree 3 years later. In September 1765, his wife's English connections put him on the council of New Hampshire; & in 1768, he became justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas. He was accused of partiality as a judge, even of counseling litigants who were to appear before him. Governor Benning Wentworth, with whom he had earlier quarrelled over land grants, even alleged that Livis had been “a principal Abettor in the Disturbances at the Time of the Stamp Act.” In 1772, Wentworth removed Livius from the bench.  The irate Livius returned to London.

Col. George Boyd,  one of Portsmouth’s wealthiest merchants before the Revolution, "purchased ... the mansion & ship-yard, of Peter Livius...He enlarged the house, materially. His garden in front extended to the site of the present depot...& water bounded his premises on the east. It was a magnificent seat, such as a nabob might envy, enclosed within a white open fence, & at regular intervals of some forty or fifty feet, those handsomely carved towering Grenadier's heads were placed on posts, & presented a very unique appearance...His gardener, John Cunningham, (who died a few years since, at the age of ninety-four) he also sent over from England, at an earlier date." (1859 Charles Warren Brewster)

1774 The South West Prospect of the Seat of Colonel George Boyd of Portsmouth, New Hampshire Detail

Boyd's garden is somewhat of a curiousity, even beyond the Grenadier's heads on the fence posts.  Boyd fenced his newly enlarged pleasure grounds with white fences painted red on the side near the road, which was popular in New England a that time.  The garden had a traditional central walkway leading out from the main door of the house, but here the plan diverged from the conventional.  In the middle of the garden, Boyd placed a basin, perhaps to contain fresh water, rather than salt water, for his garden, or perhaps as a home to fish.  He had probably seen such basons on his trips to England to purchase goods.  He built 5 walkways, not the usual 4, radiating from his bason in an irregular pattern, & along only one side he dug a canal, the length of the garden.  From the many buildings of one color which he erected, his estate became known as the "White Village."

Much to the consternation of the local patriotic officials, "during the Revolution, Colonel Boyd found it convenient to live in England, but upon the conclusion of peace, decided to return, bringing a new & handsome coach, an English coachman ... & an elegant monument for his grave at some future time. He found an earlier use for this possession than he anticipated, for two days before the arrival of the ship, on October 8, 1787, he died, and took his place in the North Cemetery instead of in his magnificent mansion with it's spacious garden." (1913 Harold Hotchkiss Bennett)

1774 The Estate of Col. Nathaniel Meserve 1705-1758 Portsmouth, NH 1740 Portsmouth Times, 18 October 1924

In the year 1832, George Raynes (1799-1855) bought the estate, & the family maintained a shipyard there until 1865, building between 60 & 70 vessels.  After George Raynes' death, the family entered a lawsuit contesting the will & the ownership of the business, which lasted for years.  The mansion on the south shore of the North Mill Pond, was demolished in 1938.  Rather amazingly, a depiction of the house & garden remains from a Portsmouth newspaper article published in 1924.

~Charles Warren Brewster, William Henry Young Hackett, Lawerence Shorey.  Rambles about Portsmouth: Sketches of Persons, Localities, & Incidents of Two Centuries: Principally from Tradition & Unpublished Documents, Volume 1.  Published by C.W. Brewster & Son, Portsmouth Journal Office, 1859 - Portsmouth, N.H.
~Caleb Stevens Gurney. Portsmouth, historic & picturesque: a volume of information. Self Published by C. S. Gurney, 1902 - Portsmouth, N.H.
~Harold Hotchkiss Bennett  Vignettes of Portsmouth: being representations of divers historic places in old Portsmouth. Published by H. Pearson & H. H. Bennett, 1913
~Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.  1771-1800 (Volume IV)

~The New Hampshire Reports. Volume 54. New Hampshire. Supreme Court, Joel Parker. Capital Offset Company, 1875

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Plants in Early American Gardens - Kwanso Lily

Kwanso Lily (Hemerocallis fulva cv.)

Daylilies are tough, long-lived perennials that have been cultivated for centuries. The Chinese grew them for beauty and also for their edible flowers. The single-flowered species was grown in Europe since at least the 1570s. The double-flowered ‘Kwanso’ type, noted by a European traveler in 1712, was first brought to the West from Japan in 1860. It was offered in the London nursery trade by 1861 and soon thereafter arrived in America. Daylilies are more suited to the climate of the United States and their culture here eventually surpassed European efforts. Flowers attract butterflies.

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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Botany spreads to the common man in the early Republic & flowers reappear


From Flowers to Grass to Flowers with Proper, Scientific Names

During & immediately after the Revolution, many gardeners began banishing intricate patterns of flowers in favor of the less ostentatious simplicity of turf. Philadelphian Elizabeth Drinker wrote in her diary, “flower roots…were dug out of ye beds on ye south side of our garden--as my husband intends making grass-plots and planting trees.”

During this period, plain grass flats often defined the terraces of the gentry. However, at the same time, a flood of newly arrived professional seed merchants were enticing the growing gardening public to plant curious bulbs & roots imported from Europe. And the middle class merchants and artisans were beginning to accumulate both leisure time that could be spent in improving their homes and grounds and a bit of extra cash to spend toward this end.  This flurry of marketing paid off, and the style that caught on. By the 1790s, specimen gardens & flowers once again flourished in the Chesapeake.

By the turn of the century, the popularity of intricate flower beds once again soared.  Flowers remained a garden favorite, but gardeners now tended to segregated flowers by type rather than integrating them into a complicated design.  Diarist Anne Grant reported that, in the gardens she saw before the Revolution, flowers “not seen in ‘curious knots’, were ranged in beds, the varieties of each kind by themselves.”

In the 2nd half of 18th-century America, small private & public botanical gardens were beginning to appear in the colonies & early Republic.  The public was becoming more familiar with the study of botany.  They were aware of the concept of botanical gardens which were the most structured way of observing plants where similar plants were grown & displayed together, often arranged by plant families, & labeled for easy reference.


The Paduan Garden, in Roberto de Visiani’s L’Orto Botanico de Padova nell’ anno MDCCCXLII (Padova, 1842, frontis.).

The great age of plant discovery which began in the 16th century with the exploration of the Americas triggered an interest in the scientific study & classification of plants. The plants & seeds which made their way to Europe from foreign ports were cultivated to determine their potential uses. At first this was chiefly to determine their potential medical applications.  The great botanical gardens founded in the 16th century at Padua, Leiden, & Montpellier were attached to medical schools.


Johannes van Meurs, 1579-16 Leiden University Garden. Engraving after a design by W. Swanenburgh (1608), from Orlers (1614).

The Hortus Botanicus in Leiden was established soon after the founding of the university in 1575. The head of the early garden there was Charles de l’Ecluse (1526–1609) or Clusius, who had a wide network of correspondents across Europe & had written extensively on botanical subjects. In 1593, he brought with him from Frankfurt a great number of seeds, bulbs & plants to form the foundation of the garden, which had about 1,000 plants when it opened. Other distinguished botanists associated with the garden were Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738) & Johannes Fredericus Gronovius (1686–1762), an early patron of Carolus Linnaeus(Carl Linnaeus, Swedish Carl von LinnĂ©) 1707-1778, who would transform plant collecting with his uniform system for classifying them (binomial nomenclature).


Oxford Botanic Garden

The Oxford Botanic Garden was founded in 1623, by Henry Danvers, later the 1st Earl of Danby (1573–1643), but was not planted until at least a decade later. Danby had arranged to appoint the great London-based gardener & plant collector John Tradescant the elder (1570-1638) as the first gardener, & there is some evidence that Tradescant may have been briefly involved in the planting before he died. Danby then appointed the German botanist Jacob Bobart (1599–1680) as gardener, who was succeeded by his son, also named Jacob Bobart (1641–1719). The 1st catalogue, listing some 1400 plants growing in the garden, was published in 1648.


Chelsea Physic Garden established in the grounds of Chelsea Manor owned by Hans Sloane. Engraving by John Haynes, 30th March 1751.

In England, the Chelsea Physic Garden, founded by the Society of Apothecaries in 1673, came to prominence under Scottish gardener Philip Miller (1691-1771) & remained the premier garden in the country during much of Miller’s lifetime. Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) had granted the Society a perpetual lease on the Chelsea property, & one of the conditions was that each year 50 new plants were to be described & donated to the Royal Society as dried specimens. This required the continuous introduction of new plants & ensured that Chelsea was at the forefront of knowledge about their cultivation. Miller was a highly skilled horticulturist & many imported plants & rare species of indigenous plants were successfully grown by him at Chelsea. Miller  networked, & he was at the center of a vast network of plant enthusiasts exchaning plants & seeds with other gardeners throughout Britain, her colonies, & Europe.


 Pagoda & Temperate House, Kew Gardens

As Chelsea was fading in the latter part of the 18th century, the great gardens at Kew were growing in importance under the leadership of Sir Joseph Banks & head gardener William Aiton (1731–1793) who had trained under Philip Miller at Chelsea. Aiton produced the 1st printed catalogue of the gardens at Kew, listing some 5600 species. Just over two decades later, the 2nd edition of the catalogue by his son William Townsend Aiton (1766–1849) listed over 11,000 species.


In London, street vendors were selling plants door to door. New Cries of London Sold by Darton and Harvey 1803 Flowers for your Garden

In Philadelphia, Bartram's is America's oldest surviving botanic garden. John Bartram (1699-1777), early American botanist, explorer, & plant collector, began his garden in 1728, when he purchased a 102-acre farm close to Germantown. Bartram's Garden grew into an extensive collection of familiar & intriguing native plants; as he devoted his life to the discovery of examples of new North American species. Bartram's lucrative business centered on the transatlantic transfer of plants.

In 1748, what is now Lafayette & Astor Place, was New York City’s first botanical garden, established by a Swiss physician, Jacob Sperry, who farmed flowers & hothouse plants. Jacob Sperry, born in Zurich in 1728, came to New York at the age of 20, & although educated a physician, decided to become a florist. He had means at his command, with which he purchased this then uncultivated tract of pasture land, & established himself as a horticulturist. He built a house near by, where he resided, rearing a family of 4 sons & 5 daughters. In 1804, Jacob Sperry sold the much improved property to John Jacob Astor for $45,000.


An 1801 map of the Astor Place when it was the land of Jacob Sperry, a Swiss florist, physician, and gentleman.

In the British American colonies, just as in Europe, many early botanical gardens focused on the medicinal uses of plants being collected.  In 1769, Dr Peter Middleton, professor of medicine at King's College, speaking at the opening of the Columbia Medical School in New York City stated, "By botany, we are  instructed in the natural history and distinguishing characters of plants. This, pursued as a science, or branch of medical study, presents to us a fund of knowledge, both valuable and ornamental  As this continent yields most of the medical plants now in use, and abounds also with a variety of others, whose qualities we are as  yet but little acquainted with... a teacher of botany will soon be appointed, and a botanical garden laid out, and properly furnished? This would open an extensive field for further discoveries in, and for large acquisitions to the materia medicia."  David Hosack, who would eventually establish the Elgin Botanic Garden, reported that in 1794, the New York Agricultural Society was endorsing that the botanical garden be connected with an endowed professorship in Botany.  In the next 20 years, botanical gardens would pop up at Harvard, Princeton, and at the universities of Pennsylvania & South Carolina.


 Botanic Garden at Elgin in the Vicinity of the City of New York. About 1806 William Satchwell Leney (American artist, b. England, 1769–1831) after Louis Simond (American artist, b. France, 1767–1831)

By 1785, George Washington had dedicated a part of his gardens to botany.  He wrote in his July diary, "Sewed one half of the Chinese Seed given me by Mr. Porter and Doctr. Craik in three rows in the Section near the Quarter (in my Botanical Garden.)"  In June of the next year, Washington recorded dining with Francois Andre Micheaux, "a Botanist sent by the Court of France to America...he returned afterwards to Alexandria on his way to New York...where he was about to establish a Botanical Garden."

In 1787, Rev Manassah Cutler wrote that Dr Benjamin Rush was "endeavoring to raise a fund for establishing a Botanical garden" in Philadelphia.

In both England & in the early American republic, botany & new classification systems for plants caused a surge in collecting plants. In 1789, William Hamilton instructed the gardeners at his Philadelphia estate, Woodlands, to plant “exotic bulbous roots…at six or eight Inches from each other…taking care to preserve the distinctions of the sorts.”


18th-century woodcut

In 1805, Rosalie Steir Calvert (1778–1821) wrote to her father from Riversdale in Prince George's County, Maryland, "The fancy for flowers of all kinds is really increasing; everyone takes an interest, and it is a great honor to have the most beautiful.”

The next spring, she was “curious to know if it is becoming fashionable in your country to become horticulturalists. Here we occupy ourselves with that more every day and are getting much better.”

Her father sent tulip bulbs in late 1807, and Rosalie Calvert wrote back, “now I will have the most beautiful collection in America, and I assure you my reputation is already quite exalted.”


In London, street vendors were selling plants door to door.  Tuer, Andrew White, 1838-1900 Old London street cries (1885) All a Blowin', Choice Shrubs and Plants, Alive and Growing

In the early republic, townsfolk began to frequent the local nurseries popping up in towns up and down the Atlantic coast.  A new cycle in English & early American pleasure gardening had begun.


In London, street vendors were selling plants door to door.  London Melodies; or Cries of the Seasons. Published anonymously (before 1818) All a Blowin, Choice Shrubs and Plants, Alive and Growing


Friday, February 21, 2020

Plants in Early American Gardens - Yellow Crown Imperial Lily

Yellow Crown Imperial Lily (Fritillaria imperialis 'Lutea Maxima')

The Crown Imperial Lily was brought to Western Europe from Southern Turkey and Kashmir as early as 1576. By 1770 Dutch bulb growers had developed 13 distinct varieties. Thomas Jefferson ordered this lily from Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon five times before receiving three "roots" of the orange and a rare "silver striped" form in 1812. It is also called "Stink Lily" and "Old Stinky," because of its foxy odor.

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