Saturday, June 24, 2017

Why Garden? For Inspiration & Remembrance...

Gardening for Inspiration & Remembrance

Plantings of both trees & flowers triggered emotional responses in both garden owners & vistors. In the British American colonies, some groves of trees were planted for remembrance honoring a passed friend or relative. Groves were often seen as solemn, whether intentionally planted as a memorial or not.




Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722-1793) wrote in a letter in 1742, from Charleston, South Carolina, "You may wonder how I could in this gay season think of planting a Cedar grove, which rather reflects an Autumnal gloom and solemnity than the freshness and gayty of spring. But so it is...I intend then to connect in my grove the solemnity (not the solidity) of summer or autumn with the cheerfulness and pleasures of spring, for it shall be filled with all kind of flowers, as well wild as Garden flowers, with seats of Camomoil and here and there a fruit tree--oranges, nectrons, Plumbs."

American colonists understood that flowers were inspirational symbols for higher thoughts. In 1766, Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1782) wrote to a friend from Annapolis, “If you have a turn for gardening or for exotick Plants & flowers I shall perhaps be able to send you such of these which as uncommon in England may afford you some pleasure as a florist, or matter of thought & speculation as a naturalist, or Philosopher.”

Flowers could signify a personal friend as well as a distant hero. William Gordon wrote George Washington (1732-1799) in 1786, “Shall I endeavor to furnish your garden…with flowers & plants that may keep up the remembrance of an absent friend.”

Becoming a gardener helped a person understand the cycle of life & death, & many American gardeners chose to bury their loved ones in their gardens & went there to remember departed relatives & friends. If the spiritual garden was the place we all began, they reasoned, then it was comforting to return to the garden when we died. Where sufficient land was available, a cemetery was often created adjacent to the garden.

As one traveler recorded in 1790, “It is very common to see in large plantations in Virginia, & not far from the dwelling house, cemeteries walled in, where the people of the family are all buried. These cemeteries are generally built adjoining the garden.”

Christoper Wormley (1646-1701), in his 1698 Middlesex County, Virginia will, asked to be buried "in my own Garden and Betwixt my first wife..." Wormley's first wife Frances Armistead died in 1685, and his second wife Elizabeth Travers died in 1693, and he obviously did not want to play favorites. In the same county, Joshua & Thomas Long reserved a part of a tract that they were offering for sale "a certain Spott...twenty foot square Lying in the orchard it being the place where their father and mother were buryed."

Employees as well as relatives were buried in southern plantation gardens. At Nomini Hall on June 23, 1789, Robert Carter (1728-1804) recorded, “On Saturday the 20th June Mr. George Randell departed this Life & his Remains were interred in the Garden near to the Grave of Mr. Jos. Taylor School Master.”

Burying a dear one close to home may have resulted from a concern in addition to remebrance. Some preferred burial in their own gardens was security. In his journal on January 29, 1774, Philip Vickers Fithian (1747-1776), visiting Nomini Hall in Virginia, quoted his host, Robert Carter, on this subject, “he much dislikes the common method of making Burying Yards round Churches…almost open to every Beast…he would choose to be laid under a shady Tree where he might be undisturbed, & sleep in peace & obscurity---He told us, that with his own hands he planted, & is with great diligence raising a Catalpa-Tree at the Head of his Father who lies in his Garden.”

Others felt that burying the dead in a common community or church cemetery was too impersonal and made the sight & thought of death too familiar. One observer commented, Instead of producing those solemn thoughts & encouraging those moral propensities…it renders death & the grave such familiar objects to the eye as to prevent them from awakening any serious regard…&…to eradicate every emotion naturally excited by the remembrance of the deceased.”

The peace & quite of a personal garden, especially one planned & tended by the survivor, was seen as the most appropriate & intimate place to reflect & remember. A writer explained in the 1811 Philadelphia Port Folio, "My garden is my scene of reflection, and of rational amusement. If I wish to indulge myself in that pleasing melancholy, which is sometimes so grateful to the imagination, I repair to my garden."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Why Garden? For Refuge & Redemption...

Gardening in Early America for Refuge & Redemption

In a garden one could order a small corner of the world & each spring begin life all over again.
Nancy Shippen, daughter of Alice Lee Shippen of Stratford Hall in Virginia, had married Col. Henry Beekman Livingston, from a rich, New York family, in March 1781.  Nancy, just 18, moved to his house in Rhinebeck on the Hudson, with Livingston family.  There she soon learned that he was insanely jealous & had several illegitimate children, some with slaves.  Nancy, pregnant soon after marriage, moved back to her parent's house in Philadelphia to give birth to a girl they named Peggy.  She tried to mend her marriage by returning to the Livingston home in Rhinebeck, but left for good in the spring of 1783.  By 1784, Nancy Shippen, whose philandering husband had assumed custody of their only child, retreated with her mother to a country house that was “pleasantly situated on a hill with a green Meadow before it.” Behind the house were “a garden & a nursery of trees,” to which she directed daily attention.  She wrote in her journal of the consolation she expected to find there. Although she could not help feeling like an outcast, “with all these conveniences,” she declared, “I ought to be contented.”  

For centuries gardening had appealed to some fundamental spiritual need of humans, whose religions traditionally depicted a garden as the ideal abode for mankind on this earth & beyond. The ordered garden was, after all, Everyman’s refuge from the terrifying unknown, & certain evils, known & unknown.

The garden offered sanctuary from the threat of wild nature & escape from barbarian outsiders. The great garden of the vast American frontier held some frightening connotations for many early colonists. New Englander Michael Wigglesworth wrote of it in 1662, A waste & howling wilderness,
where none inhabited
But hellish fiends, & brutish men
That devils worshipped.


The evils of avarice & the injustices of power politics drove even wealthy colonists to seek spiritual refuge in a nature, that they ordered around themselves.

In 1771, as frustrations with England mounted, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, wrote to a friend, “The wisest Philosophers, the greatest poets, & the best men have constantly placed the most perfect sublime happiness in rural retirement. Under the shades of Forrests statesmen have sought happiness having in vain sought after it in the perplexed mazes of ambition & interest.”
Charles Willson Peale (741-1827) Portrait of John Beale Bordley America was viewed by some as a seedbed in which to establish natural spirituality; & gardening was one method to nurture higher values. John Beale Bordley (1727-1804) gave up the public life in Annapolis to pursue experimental agriculture & moved to a 1600-acre Wye Island estate he acquired in 1770. He was instrumental in founding, the 1785 Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, an association whose membership included 23 Marylanders by 1798.  In his 1797 Essays & Notes on Husbandry & Rural Affairs, Bordley offered his ideas on keeping the common man happy on the farm. He suggested that each worker be given a garden 80, 90, or 100 feet square, because “it was observed by a clergyman…cottagers who had a garden were generally sober, industrious & healthy; & those who had no garden, were often drunken, lazy, vicious & ailing.”

Thomas Jefferson agreed with Bordley. Jefferson wrote to James Madsion in 1785 that, "It is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state."

Interestingly, there is a high correlation between those with whom Annapolis craftsman William Faris shared church membership & those with whom he exchanged plants & gardening advice. Even though it was 20 years after the colonial period of mandatory church attendance, the people Faris came to know through nearby St. Anne’s Church formed the nucleus of his pleasure gardening colleagues.

The garden was a symbolic religious battleground, where good battled evil, where temptation & sin were overcome by forgiveness & reconciliation. Philadelphia seed dealer, & writer Bernard M'Mahon (1775-1816) wrote that gardening could even end dangerous “intemperance.”

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Why Garden? For Enlightenment...

Gardening for Enlightenment

The end of the 18th century saw increased social stability in the colonies & a climax of a revolution in science, associated with Sir Isaac Newton, that resulted in fundamental changes in man’s attitude toward the world about him. For the enlightened Chesapeake gardener, the garden nourished mind & spirit as well as body. The American pleasure garden became a visual expedient, combining the religious Eden myth with an evolving set of social & political goals, espoused by, among others, Thomas Jefferson & later by J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur.

These religious & social concepts coincided with revolutionary new ideas about human beings’ conceptual processes that were shaped by John Locke & Joseph Addison. In the 18th century, Locke was interpreted to believe that visual images, such as those of the garden, were the primary conduit through which humans gained knowledge of external reality.
Joseph Addison 1672-1719 wrote of a spectrum of modes of perception, with the gross sensual pleasures at one pole & pure intellect at the other. The garden was an ideal illustration of Addison’s conceptual theory; because it appealed to all of the senses of the human animal, who tended to submerge these instincts, as he became more cerebral. The goal was some balance of the two. Addison stated, “We find the works of nature still more pleasant, the more they resemble those of art.” Nature & the garden were vehicles to sharpen both intellect & spirit. Just after reading Addison’s works, one Chesapeake gentleman wrote to a friend, “The imagination acts intuitively; it seizes at once the sublimest parts as the eye catches objects. Nature, Hills, rocks, woods, precipices, water-falls rush upon the mind.”

Later, Crevecoeur saw the virgin American land filling Everyman’s mind with irresistible aspirations, but he too believed that pure nature was not as inspiring as improved nature. Landscape should be ordered by humans, a collaboration of human vision & toil plus nature’s spontaneous process. “This formerly rude soil has been converted by my father into a pleasant farm,” he wrote, “and in return it has established all our rights.” Crevecoeur saw a direct relationship between ordering the land & gaining political freedom. He theorized that people, like plants, derived their “flavor” from the soil, & he declared that America’s soil was still pure. Crevecoeur believed that in America, with its newly emerging institutions, the relationship between people & the external environment they shaped around them was extremely important.

In his Notes on Virginia, Jefferson stated that the physical attributes of the land were less important than its metaphoric powers. The land was an image in the mind of the new American citizen, representing aesthetic, political, & religious values. In Notes, Jefferson wrote, "Cultivators of the earth are the most virtuous and independant citizens." In the 18th century, the garden was seen by many as an important visual determinant in the actions & responses of people.

Even a clockmaker-innkeeper was aware of the impact of these ideas on his life in the newly emerging nation; among the names William Faris gave the tulips he cultivated were “Sir Isaac Newton,” “The Spectator,” “Jefferson” & “The Farmer.”

Literate citizens of the new nation were looking to the Italian Renaissance & its classical antecedents for artistic & scientific knowledge, as well as for guidance in establishing their new republic. The 1783 catalogue of the circulating library in Annapolis & the 1796 catalogue of the Library Company of Baltimore offered their patrons Renaissance authors, such as Palladio, & their classical predecessors: Virgil, Horace, Pliny, & Columella. Columella believed that agriculture & gardening were “sister to wisdom.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Why Garden? To Create Art & A Personal Stage

Gardening as Art & Theater

Philadelphia author & garden shop owner Bernard M’Mahon consistently referred to gardening as an art, just as his friend Thomas Jefferson did throughout his lifetime.

In 1779, when Jefferson was governor of Virginia & a member of the Board of Visitors at the College of William & Mary, curriculum reforms resulted in the appointment of Robert Andrews as “Professor of Moral Philosophy, the Laws of Nature & of Nations, & of the Fine Arts.” Jefferson defined the fine arts as “Sculpture, Painting, Gardening, Music, Adventure, Poetry, Oratory, Criticism.”

In the 1783 Catalogue of the Annapolis Circulating Library, where books were grouped in categories, the section containing books on pleasure gardening was titled “Gardening, Poems, Plays, etc.” Jefferson even wrote of his garden in terms of art. In 1807, Jefferson wrote, “The canvas trimmed very high, so as to give the appearance of open ground.”

As most literate 18th-century Americans were well aware, the educated man of the Italian Renaissance hoped to be at least knowledgeable in all of the fine arts, from painting, sculpture, & music to architecture & gardening. M’Mahon was conversant in classical letters, including history & literature.

M'Mahon knew that under Louis XIV, the French carried to its culmination the Italian Renaissance rationale for ordering the external environment for both use & ornament.

In France, the concept of unifying the structure with its setting evolved into a theatrical presentation of the geometric house, balanced with a descending progression of architectural elements, such as smaller buildings, fences, gates, & steps. The great house & its dependencies were set at the pinnacle of an array of landscape features that led up to it. It was a formula adopted in the British American colonies & early republic.

These designs were the work of powerful people engaged in the ultimate battle--trying to control nature. In France, complicated, controlled inert parterres outlined by clipped hedges, statues, topiary, & planned groves of trees connected the whole with the natural countryside surrounding it.

Here was the supreme unity of architecture, the decorative arts, the garden, & the natural site. Just as it had for centuries, the 18th century American garden was meant to define & expand the image of its owner.
Joseph Barrell c1767 by John Singleton Copley, Worcester Art Museum.

The Reverend William Bentley (1759-1819), describing the garden of Boston merchant Joseph Barrell, wrote that he was taken to Barrell's garden where he, “Was politely received by Mr. Barrell who shewed me in large & elegant arrangements for amusement & philosophical experiment.” Joseph Barrell’s garden was his stage. Here he excitedly explained each garden plant & unique features to his exhausted guests until well after dark. Barrell's garden was his stage.  William Bentley was an American Unitarian minister, scholar, columnist, and diarist. He possessed the second best library in the United States (after Thomas Jefferson), and was an indefatigable reader and collector of information at the local national and international level. 
The house Joseph Barrell built in Somerville, MA. The view of country seats & gardens sitting high up on the American landscape inspired patriotic feelings in some observers and certainly elevated the owner to some exaulted plateau. Of Joseph Barrell’s grounds one visitor wrote in 1794,
Where once the breastwork
mark’d the scenes of blood,
While Freedom’s sons inclossed the haughty foe,
Rearing its head majestic from afar
The venerable seat of Barrell stands
Like some strong English Castle.
.


In fact, M’Mahon referred to garden terraces as theatrical arrangements, & the 1783 Annapolis book catalogue grouped gardening & plays together.

Gentlemen of the Italian Renaissance used their gardens for theatrical presentations. Townspeople up & down the Chesapeake were very familiar with devices of the theater. Plays had been performed in Williamsburg for years, & a playhouse opened in Annapolis in 1752, next door to craftsman William Faris’s home & shop.

Although an 18th-century gentleman’s garden might never be used for a formal theatrical presentation, it was the outdoor platform he designed & on which he presented himself to his visitors & to the community at large.

Manipulating the view as a stage affect for the sake of the visitor was a continuing theme throughout M’Mahon’s treatise. The great & the not so great enjoyed garden watching. It was this concept, intentionally stripped of most of its ostentations excesses, that gentlemen adopted to help define their places in the emerging republic.

In the new nation, the gentry often used the evolving science of optics to direct the viewers’ attention & to lengthen or shorten perspectives, hoping to enhance the onlooker’s view of the property & opinion of its owner.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why Garden? For Equality...

Gardening to Meet on Common Ground

The high cost of gentility in the Chesapeake excluded many of the middle classes from the stylish affairs of the bon ton, but the garden became one aspect of gentility that could be achieved by most classes in the emerging republic, with attention to discipline rather than acquisition of indulgences.

After all, plants multiplied; fashionable goods & services were consumed. When cultivated into a garden, land became an area of common ground between the upper & middling classes, a place where genteel civility as well as plants could be cultivated & shared; & some of the fruits of such collaboration could even be eaten.

From Annapolis craftsman William Faris’s diary, we learn that the elite & the common man were discussing, trading, & growing edible & ornamental plants. The relationships between rich & poor perpetuated by mutual endeavors such as gardening confused English visitors to Maryland, both before & after the Revolution.

In a letter back to England in 1772, Maryland's colonial secretary William Eddis wrote, “An idea of equality also seems generally to prevail, & the inferior order of people pay but little external respect to those who occupy superior stations.”

Almost thirty years later visiting English agriculturalist Richard Parkinson wrote, “Now, with regard to the liberty & equality…among the white men in America, they are all Mr. & Sir so that in conversation you cannot discover which is the master or which is the man.”

Gardening was an area of commonality across the social strata of the new nation. It offered a possibility for true democracy, well, for the gentlemen, at least.

It was not taking tea or dancing together, it was more basic, more unifying, even spiritual. The garden produced physical sustenance & inspiring order & beauty, & it elevated all parties to a more virtuous plane, where differences of class blurred. The garden was the space between nature & culture, where each man could negotiate his individual position in the new democratic republic.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Why Garden, Ladies? For Decoration...

Ladies Gardening Indoors & Out for Decoration

1760. William Williams (1727-1791). Deborah Richmond. Brooklyn Museum, New York.

There are portraits of women in the British American colonies & early republic depicting ladies, and even one gentleman, with potted plants. However, traditionally married American women of means might be in charge of daily activities in the greenhouse or the kitchen garden, but they were not often the master of the grounds.
1773. John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Rebecca Boylston (1727-1798) (Mrs. Moses Gill). Rhode Island School of Design, Museum of Art, Providence, Rhode Island. 

This was not always true. Eliza Lucas Pinckney, took charge of her father's plantations in South Carolina, when she was a teenager; and when she married an older man who died in a few years, she was once again in charge. The strong-willed gentlewoman made all the decisions about her plantations' gardens & grounds and wrote in a 1742 letter to a friend of the garden she was planning, “it shall be filled with all kinds of flowers, as well wild as Garden flowers, with seats of Camomile & here & there a fruit tree--oranges, nectrons, Plumbs.”
1788. Reuben Moulthorp (1763-1814). Mary Kimberly Thomas Reynolds. 

As the 19th century dawned, women began to play a more important role in planning the garden, especially its ornamental components. Many busy husbands, more interested in the growing commercial possibilities in the transitional agrarian society, began to leave the management of the gardens to their wives.

At the Riversdale plantation in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Rosalie Stier Calvert wrote to her father on May 19, 1805, “We are getting much better at the art of gardening.”
1801 Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860). Rubens Peale (1784-1865) with Gerainium.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the ladies were becoming more interested in decorative flowers & potted plants offered to them by the new seed & nursery dealers such as Irish immigrant seedsman Bernard M'Mahon (1775-1816) in Philadelphia. Flowers decorated their grounds in the summer and potted plants decorated their interiors during the winter months.

Bernard M'Mahon's close friend, New Yorker Grant Thorburn (1773-1863) wrote of painting flower pots in 1801, which lead to his flourishing New York seed business, "About this time the ladies in New York were beginning to shew their taste for flowers; and it was customary to sell the empty flower pots in the grocery stores; these articles also comprised part of my stock...

In the fall of the year, when the plants wanted shifting prepatory to their being placed in the parlour, I was often asked for pots of a handsome quality, or better made...

I was looking for some other means to support my family. All at once it came into my mind to take and paint some of my common flower-pots with green varnish paint, thinking it would better suit the taste of the ladies than the common brick-bat colored ones.

I painted two pair, and exposed them in front of my window. I remember, just as I had placed the two pair of pots in front of my window on the outside, I was standing on the sidewalk, admiring their appearance, a carriage came along, having the glasses let down, and one lady only in the carriage. As the carriage passed my shop, her eye lit on the pots; she put her head out at the window, and looked back, as far as she could see, on the pots...

They soon drew attention, and were sold. I painted six pair; they soon went the same way. Being thus encouraged, I continued painting and selling to good advantage. These two pots were links of a chain by which Providence was leading me into my present extensive seed-establishment...

One day, in the month of April following, I observed a man for the first time selling flower-plants in the Fly market, which then stood in the foot of Maiden Lane. As I carelessly passed along, I took a leaf and rubbing it between my fingers and thumb asked him what was the name of it. He answered, a rose geranium.

This...was the first time that I ever heard that there was a geranium in the world; as before this, I had no taste for, nor paid any attention to, plants. I looked a few minutes at the plant, thought it had a pleasant smell, and thought it would look well if removed into one of my green flower pots, to stand on my counter to draw attention...

I did not purchase this plant with the intention of selling it again, but merely to draw attention to my green pots, and let people see how well the pots looked when the plant was in them. Next day, some one fancied and purchased plant and pot."


Thorburn had immigrated to New York from Scotland, in 1794. In Scotland, he was a nailmaker before he sailed for America. He was noted for his charity, and during the epidemic of yellow fever in 1798, he & his wife remained in the city, devoting themselves to the care of the victims. In 1801, he became a grocery merchant in Newark, New Jersey, but soon moved his business to New York City., where he he sold novelties & hardware. Once he discovered in 1805, that his flower pots sold better when they were painted with flowers in them, Thorburn evolved into a very successful seed dealer & nurseryman selling to the ladies of New York City, until he retired in 1854. The G. Thorburn & Son’s catalog of 1822 was issued in pamphlet form and included illustrations. Thorburn died in New Haven, Connecticut on January 21, 1863.
1830. Elizabeth Glaser. Lady in a Yellow Dress Watering Roses. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Why Garden? For a Pure Nation...

Philadelphia seed dealer, & writer Bernard M'Mahon (1775-1816), like his friend Thomas Jefferson, well understood that nature in general & particularly gardening--the ordering of nature--were intertwined with mortality & nationhood in the minds of America's political leaders, as they structured the fledgling nation’s emerging institutions.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) by Robert Feke d 1769 Harvard University

Even before the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) wrote on April 4, 1769, "Finally, there seem to be but three Ways for a Nation to acquire Wealth. The first is by War as the Romans did in plundering their conquered Neighbours. This is Robbery. The second by Commerce which is generally Cheating. The third by Agriculture the only honest Way; wherein Man receives a real Increase of the Seed thrown into the Ground, in a kind of continual Miracle wrought by the Hand of God in his favour, as a Reward for his innocent Life, and virtuous Industry."
John Adams

John Adams (1735-1826) wrote to his wife Abigail Adams on May 12, 1780. "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."
John Trumbull (American painter, 1756-1843) Thomas Jefferson 1788

In 1784, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) wrote to John Jay, 1785 Aug. 23. "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independant, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to it's liberty and interests by the most lasting bands."
George Washington by Charles Willson Peale (Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)

George Washington (1732-1799) wrote a letter to the Marquis de Chastellux, on April, 25, 1788. "For the sake of humanity it is devoutly to be wished that the manly employment of agriculture and the humanizing benefits of commerce would supersede the waste of war and the rage of conquest; and the swords might be turned into ploughshares, the spears into pruning-hooks, and as the Scripture expresses it, 'the nations learn war no more'."
 Fran├žois Jean de Chastellux in 1782 by Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827)

It did not take 1796 immigrant nurseryman Bernard M'Mahon long to see the importance of farming & gardening to the success of the new nation. Before his gardening book was published in 1806, M’Mahon understood the proud new country well enough to appeal to national hubris in his effort to sell his readers on the concept of pleasure gardening & thereby increase the profits of his gardening ventures in Philadelphia & beyond.
 M'Mahon, Bernard. The American Gardener's Calendar. 1806.

In his book's introduction, M’Mahon lamented that America had “not yet made that rapid progress in Gardening…which might naturally be expected from an intelligent, happy & independent people, possessed so universally of landed property, unoppressed by taxation or tithes, & blest with consequent comfort & affluence.” M’Mahon concluded that one reason for this neglect was the lack of a proper reference book on American gardening, a situation, which he volunteered to rectify.

By 1817, Jefferson was even more convinced that keeping the connection between the citizens and the land was imperative for the success of the new republic. He received a booklet from a friend & wrote in his thank you response, "The pamphlet you were so kind as to send me manifests a zeal, which cannot be too much praised, for the interests of agriculture, the employment of our first parents in Eden, the happiest we can follow, and the most important to our country."

Sunday, June 11, 2017