Sunday, September 23, 2012

Those Pesky Garden Squirrels as Pets in the Colonies & Early America

1757 Joseph Badger (1708-1765). Rebecca Orne (later Mrs. Joseph Cabot)1765 John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Frances Deering Wentworth (Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, Jr.)1760s William Williams (1727-1791). Deborah Hall. Detail1770 Attributed to Cosmo Alexander (1724-1772).1790 Denison Limner Probably Joseph Steward (1753-1822). Miss Denison of Stonington, Connecticut possibly Matilda.
1798 Ralph Earl(1751-1801). Elizabeth Eliot (Mrs. Gershom Burr)
Besides being obsessed with squirrels attacking my birdfeeders at the moment, I am curious about animals appearing in paintings with 18th century Americans. Are they real? Or are they just an emblems symbolizing some quality trait of their owners?

About those squirrels. Reliable art historians Roland E. Fleischer, Ellen Miles, Deborah Chotner, & Julie Aronson suggest that these squirrels are not real. They are either copied from emblem books such as Emblems for the Improvement and Entertainment of Youth published in London in 1755, or from English prints. The latter theory is supported by the fact that some of the squirrels depicted in the paintings are composites of squirrels found in both America and England.

The 1755 emblem book describes the meaning of the emblem, "A Squirrel taking the Meat out of a Chestnut. Not without Trouble. An Emblem that Nothing that's worth having can be obtained without Trouble and Difficulty" All right, we all know that patience is a virtue, but is there more than meets the eye here, or perhaps less?

In the 19th century New American Cyclopaedia the squirrel is examined in detail. "The cat squirrel, the fox squirrel of the middle states, is...found chiefly in the middle states, rarely in southern New England; it is rather a slow climber, and of inactive habits; it becomes very fat in autumn, when its flesh is excellent, bringing in the New York market 3 times the price of that of the common gray squirrel...They are easily domesticated, and gentle in confinement, and are often kept as pets in wheel cages... The red or Hudson's bay less gentle and less easily tamed than the gray squirrel

Joseph Badger (1708-1765). Portrait of Two Children. 1760
John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Boy (Henry Pelham) with a Squirrel. 1760

John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). Daniel Crommelin Verplanck with Squirrel 1771.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Historic Gardens - Hampton Mansion in Baltimore Country, Maryland

What is now called Hampton Mansion was built in Baltimore County, Maryland, between 1783 & 1790 by Colonel Charles Ridgely (1733-1790) and his wife Rebecca Dorsey (1739-1812) in the center of 1500 acres of land that Ridgely's father had purchased in 1695 from Henry Darnall, cousin of Lord Baltimore.

Its construction took seven years. The magnitude of the project and the length of time it took for it to be completed caused local residents to call the mansion Ridgely's Folly. With 25,000 square feet of living space, it was the largest private home in the U.S., when it was completed in 1790.

Construction of the house began in 1783, and Charles and Rebecca Ridgely began living there late in 1788; but the interior finishing work was not completed until 1790. When the house finally was finished, neighbors reported that Ridgely celebrated by inviting his friends over for a party that included wine, songs & card games; while his wife Rebecca celebrated by holding a prayer meeting in another part of the house. Charles and Rebecca had no children.

Captain Ridgely died 6 months after completing the house at age 56, and left his inheritance to his nephew, Charles Carnan (1760-1829), who took Ridgely as his last name as stipulated in the will. The nephew, a general in the state militia soon became known as General Ridgely and served as the Governor of Maryland between 1816 and 1819. Charles Carnan was married to Priscilla Hill Dorsey (1762-1814), who gave birth to 15 children.

Apparently the builder's widow Rebecca and his nephew Charles Carnan could not get along. To complicate matters further, Rebecca's much younger sister Priscilla was the wife of Carnan. Widow Rebecca wrote her sister,

Now to Acquaint you of some of my troubles, for they are many, in the first place I have given up to Charles Carnan, the Greatest part of my Estate and Now he treats me with the Greatest Disrespect and Slights, tho I have not put my self much in his power, which makes me Glad, tho I have given up all power over him, which make it a great time of trial to me, to be ill used by one I looked on as a Child.

The widow Rebecca left Hampton in 1791, and Charles Carnan Ridgely moved in.

Even before he became governor, General Ridgely was determined that Hampton and its grounds would be a showplace. It was said that, "He had the fortune that enabled him to live like a prince, and he also had the inclination." Ridgely decided to improve the grounds around the house. By 1802, he had formal parterre gardens set on terraced earthworks on the south garden side of the mansion; while on the north entrance facade, he created an English-style landscaped park.

English agricultural writer Richard Parkinson had lived near Baltimore in 1798-1800. He wrote about the area when he returned to England. He noted in his 1805 travel "sketches" that, "The General's lands are very well cultivated…his cattle, sheep, horses, etc., of a superior sort, and in much finer condition than many I saw in America. He is very famous for race horses and usually keeps three or four such horses in training, and what enables him to do this is that he owns very extensive iron works, or otherwise he could not."

At present-day Hampton, a national historical site, a curved approach to the entrance facade winds through level turfed ground, but Ridgely laid out the majority of Hampton’s gardens in a terraced design. Even the entrance facade probably had an avenue of trees, when the mansion was initially built. At the mansion’s garden fa├žade, a turfed area 250 by 150 feet (alternately called the bowling green, the treat terrace, or the south lawn) crowned three additional terraced falls, connected by grass ramps, looking down toward Baltimore, ten miles to the south.

At Hampton & in most Maryland falls gardens, landowners chose to build simple turfed ramps, in place of the stairways familiar in European terraced gardens as well as in a few earlier Virginia falling gardens. Ridgely planned the Hampton’s first garden terrace to come 18 ' below the bowling green; the second dropped a further 6 '; & the third was 4 ' lower than the second. A grass walkway bisected the formal falling garden lengthwise from just below the bowling green to the kitchen garden at the base of their turfed terraces. Many Chesapeake gardeners planted fenced or walled kitchen gardens at the base of their ornamental terraces.

Hampton’s springhouse was similar to others dotting Baltimore’s hillsides. Springhouses, & the cold baths that sometimes accompanied them, needed a constant supply of cool water; the temperature of spring water at its source is normally in the mid-fifties Fahrenheit in the Mid-Atlantic. The cool water would circulate in channels beneath the brick or stone floor level of the well-ventilated building. Often there was little dry floor area, but the largest portion of area was devoted to the spring water channels, in which crocks were placed to cool. At Hampton’s springhouse, the fresh water spring emerged from under a decorative Gothic stone arch, circulated through the container channels, & left through an outlet purposefully made small, to discourage entry by unwanted animals.

The Falling Terraced Gardens at Hampton, Baltimore County, Maryland.

A second practical structure on Hampton’s grounds was the icehouse, located on the north side of the mansion. This particular icehouse was, however, more elaborate than most. Hampton’s ice vault was a turf-covered mound with a domed brick ceiling, fieldstone walls, & an underground vaulted passageway. The central cylindrical chamber was almost 34' deep. Ice, cut from nearby ponds in the winter, was packed in straw & stored for use during the heat of summer. Mid-Atlantic milk houses usually had a nearly supply of ice, which was used to harden butter as it was taken from the churn & worked on a slab of cold marble inside the milk house.

Hampton Mansion, Entrance Facade, Towson, Maryland.

Hampton Mansion, Garden Facade, Towson, Maryland.

Recently installed parterres at Hampton Mansion, Towson, Maryland.

Thanks to Pat Reber for photos.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Historic Gardens - Philip Miller and the Chelsea Physic Garden

The practical English gardener, author, and experimental horticulturalist Philip Miller was the curator of Chelsea Physic Garden. Miller learned his profession in the paternalistic pattern so familiar in the 18th century. He worked in his father's market garden before becoming a florist in Pimlico. On leaving school young Miller assisted his father but soon went on his own as a florist, garden planner, and nurseryman specializing in ornamental shrubs. Hans Sloan noticed his work, and he soon was asked to assist the foreman of the botanic garden at Chelsea. In 1722, Miller was appointed curator of the Physic Garden of the London Apothecaries at Chelsea, where he served for 48 years.

The Chelsea garden under his direction attained an international reputation boosted by his various publications, especially The Gardeners Dictionary. Carl von Linne (Linnaeus), the great Swedish botanist and organizer, made several visits to the Physic Garden in the 1730s, meeting with the garden's curator Philip Miller.

Miller's Dictionary went into 8 updated editions to 1768 , with the 7th edition of 1756 including the new nomenclature details of Linnaeus; it was translated into several European languages.

Because he became so well known, Miller received propagation material from around the world and his practical and experimental work earned him an unparalleled horticultural reputation. He became famous throughout Europe for all of the plants sent from North America, which he grew at the garden. He redistributed many of his horticultural successes throughout Europe and America. Miller remained at the Physic Garden, until he was nearly 80, finally retiring on 6 February 1771 .

Chelsea Physic Garden still exists today as one of Britain's oldest botanical gardens, a unique piece of living history with a collection of more than 5,000 medicinal and unusual plants. Over 30,000 people visit the 4 acre site each year.

The first physic garden was established in Italy in 1543, and the Chelsea Physic Garden was planted in London in 1673. Only the physic garden in Oxford preceded it in England. The 4 acre Chelsea site sat on the banks of the River Thames.

The Chelsea Physic Garden was founded as the Apothecaries' Garden, with the purpose of training apprentices in identifying plants. The location was chosen as the proximity to the river created a warmer microclimate allowing the survival of many non-native plants during harsh British winters. The river was also important as a transportation route facilitating easy movements of both plants and botanists.

In 1722, Dr. Hans Sloane, Lord of the Manor, after whom the nearby locations of Sloane Square and Sloane Street were named, purchased the Manor of Chelsea from Charles Cheyne. This purchase of about 4 acres was leased to the Society of Apothecaries for £5 a year in perpetuity. That amount is still paid each year to the heirs of that owner, Dr. Hans Sloane.

I know this blog is about American gardens, but I just can't resist including photos of the Chelsea garden which had so much influence on colonial gardens. The lovely little garden, which sits smack in the middle of busy London, is a beautiful, fragrant retreat from the near frantic bustle of the 21st century clattering around it.

19th Century Map of London showing Chelsea Physic Garden.

19th Century view of London's Chelsea Physic Garden from the south showing the famous cedars of Lebanon planted here in 1683. They were among the first to be planted in England. The last cedar died in 1903.

21st Century photo of Chelsea Physic Garden in London

21st Century photo of Chelsea Physic Garden in London

21st Century photo of Chelsea Physic Garden in London

21st Century photo of Chelsea Physic Garden in London

21st Century photo of Chelsea Physic Garden in London

21st Century photo of Chelsea Physic Garden in London