Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Practical Republican Gardens of the Middle Atlantic Early American Republic


In 1789, Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826), noted clergyman & geographer, wrote of one country seat: “Its fine situation. . .the arrangement and variety of forest-trees - the gardens - the artificial fish-ponds. . .discover a refined and judicious taste. Ornament and utility are happily united. It is, indeed, a seat worthy of a Republican Patriot.”

In the early Republic, many gardeners strove for a balance of useful plants and trees and genteel design. On both town and country plots, most Mid-Atlantic gentry, merchants, shopkeepers, & artisans planned gardens that were both practical & ornamental.



Generally, Chesapeake gardeners shared John Adam’s (1735-1826) negative attitude towards the excesses of the natural grounds movement of the English. During his 1784 tour of English gardens with Thomas Jefferson, he announced, "It will be long, I hope, before ridings, parks, pleasure grounds, gardens, and ornamented farms grow so much in fashion in America."

In the same year, George Washington (1732-1799) wrote to the wife of Marquise de Lafayette (1757-1834) encouraging her to accompany her husband on a return visit to the new American republic. "You will see the plain manner in which we live; and meet the rustic civility, and you shall taste the simplicity of rural life." Until rather recently many garden historians assumed that by the end of the 18th century, few formal gardens with their traditional geometric bed designs remained at the homes of the royals & gentry in Britain.  Practical beds did remain in English gardens, and they dominated Republican American gardens.


In the 18th-century Mid-Atlantic, gentry who gardened were aware of the new English natural style & sometimes added serpentine entry roads & paths that meandered through the wooded edges of their grounds, but they overwhelmingly designed their gardens with traditional square beds containing useful, kitchen garden plants and approaching avenues of practical, often fruit-bearing straight trees.

Chesapeake Gardens, a Balance of Utility and Ornament

Charles Carroll of Annapolis (1702-1782) was one of the wealthiest men in the colonies, but he planted the beds of his terraced gardens at his home in the capitol of Maryland with an eye toward practicality. Orderly squares filled with vegetables surrounded by low privet hedges decorated the flats of Carroll’s falls garden. Painter Charles Wilson Peale reported, "the Garden contains a variety of excellent fruit, and the flats are a kitchen garden.”


Included among the vegetables Carroll grew in the flats of his decorative terraces were early York, battersia, red, & green savoy cabbage; white, purple, & green broccoli; cauliflower; solid & upright celery; green & white endive; green & brown Dutch lettuce; several sorts of beans & peas; round & prickly spinach; prickly, early, & long prickly cucumber; white & silver corn; Spanish onion; salmon radish; mustard; cresses; & marrow.

Practical Gardens at Newly Burgeoning Town of Baltimore

Charles Carroll lived in Annapolis, which had been the political hub of Maryland for decades. But as early as 1769, provincial secretary William Eddis wrote of the developing commercial center of Baltimore, "Persons of commercial and enterprising spirit, emigrated from all quarters to this new and promising scene of industry. Wharfs were constructed; elegant and convenient habitations were rapidly erected; marshes were drained; spacious fields were occupied for the purposes of general utility; and within 40 years, of its first commencement (1729), Baltimore became not only the most wealthy and populous town in the province, but inferior to few on this continent, either in size, number of inhabitants, or the advantages arising from a well-conducted and universal commercial connexion..."

Wealthy planters found the harbor of Baltimore a convenient place to dispose of their produce & to buy goods. These tasks employed growing numbers of merchants, agents, shipbuilders, brokers, seamen, shopkeepers & artisans. During the Revolutionary War, unlike Charleston, Savannah, Norfolk, Philadelphia, & New York, all held or blockaded by the enemy, Baltimore's port was usually free of British cruisers.

George Washington wrote of Baltimore in 1783, that it was his "earnest Wish, that the Commerce, the Improvements and universal Prosperity of this flourishing Town my if possible, increase with even more Rapidity than they have hirtherto done." In the same year, General Nathaniel Greene visited Baltimore, & noted in his diary, "a most thriving place. Trade flourishes and the spirit of building exceeds belief. Not less than 300 houses are put up in a year...The inhabitants are men of business."

Post-war German visitor Dr. Johann David Schoepf noted, "Philadelphia excepted, there are nowhere in that country so many merchants gathered together and ready to take up what is offered," especially the backcountry tobacco & grains for export & the foods & goods arriving at the town's wharfs. Merchandise came to Baltimore's importers on consignment or in response to specific orders; and emptied vessels filled with exports, as they left the harbor.

Detailed Garden Plan for a Baltimore Republican Garden

The most detailed plan for a garden in Baltimore during the early republic was drawn by Colonel Nicholas Rogers (1753-1822). As Rogers planned a new home in the late 1700s, he designed the four-part garden at the back of his house with an eye to both utility an decoration. Order & symmetry dominated Rogers’ plan which detailed which plants were to be maintained in each segment of the large kitchen garden.

Colonel Nicholas Rogers 1801 Garden Plan for Druid Hill, Baltimore, Maryland. Drawing by Susan Wirth. Plan at the Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore.

Rogers' garden beds were each 80' by 62', separated & surrounded by garden walks 10 feet wide. An additional 10 feet of land bordered the garden walks. Down the exact center of these verges, Rogers planted fruit trees at 20', 22', & 25' intervals. Fruit trees on the property included 25 apple, 20 peach, 10 pear, 6 quince, 5 cherry, & 2 plum. In the middle of each rectangular garden bed sat one practical fruit tree, & an additional fruit was planted in each corner. This style of placing trees followed the traditional quincunx pattern.

Of the 2 gardens plots closes to Col. Rogers’ Baltimore country seat, one contained a combination of vegetable & melon plants, & the 2nd was dedicated solely to fruit.

The 2 quincunx plots farther from the Roger's house were devoted largely to vegetables. Four additional beds were bordered by 60 currant bushes placed 4' apart in single rows along the center garden walk. In the rear beds, 60 raspberry bushes planted 4' apart in single rows ran along the rear garden walk. Rogers also planted 200 strawberry plants in row 2' apart in the fruit garden.

Planting many fruit-bearing shrubs & trees in the garden occasionally had its downside. In 1720, William Byrd reported that he ate so many plums” on a walk one evening that he “could not sleep.”

Rogers’ house was 36' wide & sat in the extreme northeast corner of the 210' square that enclosed the 4 gardens plus the 3 utility areas that ran to the back of the property directly behind the house. The meat house & the well signaled the beginning of a 2nd yard, also measuring 36' by 40', that continued without interruption from the first.

Across the garden walk from this second yard, Rogers dedicated a plot measuring 36' by 82' to his servants. Within this area was an 18' by 16' slave quarter. Rogers’ slaves used the remainder of this long rectangular area as their kitchen garden. The kitchen garden for slaves was usually referred to as a “huck patch” during the period. At the end of the salves’ vegetable patch, a 36' by 18' hog pen abutted the rear of the property. A two-seat privy stood along the outside verge of fruit trees that separated the formal garden plots from the servants’ garden.

Rogers planned a utility road to run just outside the 210'-by-210' main grounds on the north side. The road was 12' wide with 10' verges on either sided, and it was also planted with fruit trees at 20', 22', & 25-foot intervals. Just opposite the well house on the utility road side of the main grounds, Rogers build his horse trough, handy to both the well & the road.

Rogers’ private road approaching the entrance facade on the east-facing house was also 12' wide with 12' grass verges lining each side. About 30' directly in front of the entrance sat a circle of grass 56 feet in diameter. The entrance road encircled the grassed area. Two maples were the only plantings within the circle, but matching double rows of trees shaded the approach to the house. According to his written list, Rogers’ ornamental trees included 6 maple, 4 cedar, 2 weeping willow, 1 horse chestnut, 2 catalpa, 2 ash, & 14 locust.

Fruit trees were not the only practical yet attractive trees used in planting. Nut trees & sugar maples offered important benefits. As agricultural enthusiast John Beale Bordley observed, “The maple is a handsome clean tree. A grove of them, two or three acres, would give comfortable shady walks, and sugar for family use.”

A Map of Baltimore's Republican Gardens

By 1798, more than 70 combination pleasure & kitchen gardens were thriving in & near Baltimore. At the end of the 18th century, Baltimore’s well-to-do merchants often maintained a country house, in addition to their city dwelling, to escape the disease & oppressive heat that seized the port town in the summer months. These country seats were usually only a mile or two from town, allowing a businessman to travel to his office in town as conveniently as possible.

Thanks to the comprehensive 1797 mapping of “Warner and Hanna’s Plan of the city and Environs of Baltimore” we are able to know the layouts of many of Baltimore’s larger country seat gardens. Written descriptions of the gardens drawn on this map closely match the cartographer's depictions.>Of the 70 geometric plots dotting the Baltimore hillsides, gardens with four beds, planted with fruits & vegetables, were by far the most numerous, more than 35 in number & varied in style.

Practical Chesapeake Terraced Falling Gardens

Because the land around the harbor at Baltimore was hilly as it dropped toward the bay, many builders chose terraced falling gardens for the south side of their homes. Even the terracing of gardens itself served both aesthetic & practical purposes in the colonial Mid-Atlantic.

On uneven hillsides, terraces created flat areas for planting & helped control erosion. In 1772, Charles Carroll of Annapolis wrote to his son, who was improving his gardens which dropped to the bank of Spa Creek, “If you wish to make a continental slope from ye Gate to ye wash house, I apprehend the Quantity of Water in great Rains going ye way may prove convenient.” The elder Carroll was still fretting about those garden slopes in 1775, as he wrote his son again: Examine the Gardiner strictly as to...Whether he is an expert at leveling, making grass plots & Bowling Greens, Slopes, & turfing them well.” Carroll was well aware that falls were functional devices which could divert water drainage & reduce soil erosion.

Pragmatic Mid-Atlantic landowners often constructed their terraces when the dwelling house was newly built; so that the earth, clay, and rubbish that come out of the cellars & foundations could be used to shape the falls. The same practicality sometimes prompted Mid-Atlantic landowners to build mounds. The products of cellar digging, heaped up into a mound, could be used as the base for another structure, such as a summerhouse or detached library, as well as an elevated site for surveying the surrounding landscape or just a spot for catching cool air on sultry summer days.

Classical, Functional Quincunx Garden Beds


The ever practical Charles Carroll of Annapolis advised his son to plant the flat beds on his terraces in the classical quincunx style. With this form, Carroll could present an ordered, ancient design and by planting privet instead of boxwood, the planter could plant practical vegetables in his elegant design.  In 1777, Carroll gave his son privet rather than boxwood to outline his new garden beds & advised him to keep the privet trimmed to a small size, “not to Exceed 12 inches in Width.” Carroll did not want the privet roots to interfere with the smaller vegetables he planned to grow in the beds each season."
Thomas Jefferson’s brother-in-law Henry Skipwith advised a young orchard gardener in 1813, to consult Virgil to learn about a “quincunx, which is nothing more than a square with a tree at each corner and one in the center and thus continued throughout the orchard.” Adopting conservative, classical forms was common in early Chesapeake gardens. Jefferson himself wrote, “I should prefer the adoption of some one of the models of antiquity which have had the approbation of thousands of years.”

Thomas Browne, in his Garden of Cyrus of 1658, claimed that the Persian King Cyrus was the first to plant trees in a quincunx. He also claimed to have discovered, that the form also appeared in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Seventeenth century diarist & garden guru Sir John Evelyn also thought it was the best way to lay out apple and pear trees.

On February 3, 1795, the newspaper Newport Mercury (in Newport, RI) advised planting trees in an orchard "in the quincunx manner."  On December 24, 1800, the newspaper Universal Gazette (Washington (DC), explained planting trees, "a quincunx, or a square, at the distance of six to eight feet from each other."

 Terraced 4 Bed Gardens

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

Of the more traditional four-bed gardens near Baltimore, 15 sat on terraced falls. Typical of these was merchant John Salmon’s home, which perched atop a Baltimore County hill adjoining the country seat of his fellow merchant, Robert Oliver (1757-1834). Oliver was an Irishman from Belfast who arrived in Baltimore in 1783, working there as a merchant until 1819. The neighbors’ homes had mirror-image four-bed terraced gardens descending in the direction of the bay. Also arriving in Baltimore in 1783, Salmon built a two-story home with a balcony & piazza facing south, overlooking his falling gardens. Salmon & Oliver enjoyed smoking "segars" & wagering over cards at each other's homes.

Happy with his view from both his northern entrance facade & from his southern garden facade, Salmon built a second piazza, on the entry façade, facing north. Contemporaries reported that the situation was “admirable,” commanding a view of the town, harbor, & harbor below. An observer reported of Salmon’s 5 acres, once again empasizing the practical aspects,  “The garden…is laid off in beautiful falls: in it is an excellent cold bath and a milk house through which there runs a constant stream of water.”

An Unusual 4 Bed Garden

One unusual example of garden design was at the home of painter & glazier James L. Walker, whose four garden beds were not arranged in the typical square. Three long rectangular beds were lined up side by side & a 4th was set perpendicular to them & in front of the house. Walker was an artist.

Walker's shop was in downtown Baltimore, "Market-Street, near the Court-House Baltimore, Sign of the Painting Muse." In 1792, he wrote a broadside advertisement for his business titled Painting in General. Here he announced that he painted coaches; signs; rooms; chimney, fire, & candle screens; landscapes; & floor cloths, as well as sold paints, watercolors, crayons, varnishes, "lacker," & chalk. He also opened a looking glass manufactory which supplied glass for mirrors, pictures, & windows. A receipt from his Baltimore business appears in the correspondence of Robert Carter (1728-1804) now at the Virginia Historical Society.

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

The Simple Kitchen Garden of a Baltimore Tradesman

Four Baltimore country seats were possessed of a single large rectangular garden plot, which probably served as the traditional kitchen garden. One of them was the home of William Hawkins (1754-1818), which sat on the busy road that ran to Frederick, Maryland. Hawkins was a merchant tailor who was also a preacher in the Baltimore Methodist church movement. He served at the Methodist meeting house at the corner of Light Street & Wine Alley, and was active in Baltimore's 1798 anti-slavery society. He married Frances Cunningham, in 1779, just 6 years after arriving in Baltimore from England, with his brother John who was also a tailor on Fleet Stree in Fells Point.

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

Growing fruits & vegetables was considered a practical necessity at country seats, since many of Baltimore’s well-to-do moved to these residences during almost the entire growing season. Nine Baltimore homes had gardens of twin rectangular beds, & 2 of these were terraced, falling toward the harbor.

Avenues of Trees Leading to Traditional Garden Beds

Two of the remaining homes with double-bed gardens had accompanying avenues of trees leading to the house, like that of court crier William Bigger, or trees lining the road before the house. Only 2 Baltimore gardens consisted of 3 matched rectangular beds & neither was terraced.

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

Practical & Decorative Avenues, Alleys, & Rows of Trees

Chairback by John & Hugh Findley c 1804. View by Francis Guy 1760-1820. Woodville. Home of Jeremiah Yellott . 1805. Baltimore Museum of Art.

Along his utility road, Rogers planted practical rows of cherry trees, like those that William Lux had
planted nearly 40 years earlier to lead the way to his Baltimore home, Chatsworth. Avenues & alleys of fruit-bearing trees were common in colonial gardens throughout the 18th century. Rows of trees were used to define property lines & to separate one area on the grounds from another.

Row of trees defining property line. Chairback by John & Hugh Findley c 1804. View by Francis Guy 1760-1820. St. Paul's Chairity School. Baltimore.

Many Mid-Atlantic plantations & country seats included avenues of rows of trees well into the last decade of the 18th century, long after such linear plantings were being shunned in England.

Chairback by John & Hugh Findley c 1804. View by Francis Guy 1760-1820. Entrance Facade of Grace Hill Home of Hugh McCurdy from 1790-1805. Baltimore Museum of Art.

During most of the 18th century, homeowners in the colonies & states along the Atlantic planned avenues approaching their plantation houses as wide, straight roadways lined with single or double rows of trees & usually cutting symmetrically through a lawn of grass. Avenues were usually as wide as the house & sometimes wider. They were the entrance used by carriages. Alleys were narrower lanes which usually transversed the gardens.

An Avenue of Trees as the Sole Garden Decoration

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

The grounds surrounding the country seat of John Philip Henry Christopher Raborg (1750-1815), a copper merchant, who arrived in Baltimore during the Revolution. At the age of 3, he had sailed Philadelphia with his parents from Hanover, Germany. His family moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he served an apprenticeship, and married Catherine Barbara d'Ormond; before moving to Baltimore, where he opened his own foundry on Water Street. He made the cooper acorn ornaments on the State House in Annapolis, and served in the Revolutionary War.

Raborg's garden boasted a dramatic straight avenue of evenly spaced trees leading to a simple dwelling on a property with no other formal gardens or ornamentation. Apparently Raborg bought most of his produce at one of the Baltimore farmer's markets.

An Avenue of Trees with Traditional Garden Beds

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

At most large Mid-Atlantic country seats of the period, however, avenues & alleys of trees were only one component of more complicated garden plans, such as those at Major Thomas Yates’s (1740/41-1815) house in Baltimore. Yates was born in England, arriving in Maryland in 1774. He married Mary Myers in 1778, while he was serving as an officer in the Revolutionary War. He was a linen draper, and then he became "the auctioneer for Baltimore Town" during the 1780s. In 1790, he took on a partner in the post, Archibald Campbell. His 1st wife died in 1796, & his only son died in 1810. He remarried in 1799, Mrs. Mary Atkinson, but she died 3 years later.

Practical Squares of Flowers, Fruits, & Vegetables.

Garden planners continued to define garden spaces by outlining individual beds & squares with borders, often of fruit trees & bushes. The garden of Charles Norris in Philadelphia was, “laid out in square parterres & beds, regularly intersected by graveled and grass walks and alleys…with…rose intermixed with currant bushes, around its borders.” Near the end of the century, flowers were once again popular. In 1800, Philadelphian Henry Pratt’s garden was composed of 20 squares each with a 3-foot-wide border, “the border of every square…decorated with pinks and a thousand other flowers.”

Shopkeepers & artisans stuck with practical plants, often using vegetables in their borders. In Williamsburg in 1786, Joseph Prentiss “Sowed Lettuce Seed, on Border on left Hand under small Paling in the large Garden….Sowed Lettuce on small Border under Yard Pales.” In Annapolis in March of 1792, William Faris “Sowed a border next the Dining Room with Radish & Large Winter Cabbage.” And he planted sage around his ornamental statue.

Ornamental But Practical Grounds with Outbuildings & Yards.

Because the majority of country seats were nearly self-sufficient units, the grounds usually contained several practical auxiliary buildings & work yard areas in addition to the main house & its geometric ornamental & utilitarian gardens. The majority had a springhouse, a milk house, a smokehouse, & a stable. Many of the grounds also contained barns, sheep houses, cow houses, pigsties, icehouses, washhouses, root cellars, poultry houses, & summer kitchens; & a few had greenhouses, stovehouses, chaise houses, & bathhouses as well.

A Practical Garden with Decorative Slave Quarters

As the 19th-century dawned, some Mid-Atlantic garden designers familiar with the natural grounds movement advocated the addition of artificial lakes. One of these was Rosalie Stier Calvert of Riversdale in Prince George’s County, Maryland, who pointed out that her beautiful ornamental lake supplied ice for food preparation & fish for the table.

On December 10, 1808, she described in to her brother: “A lake just finished which looks like a large river before the house on the southern side gives a very beautiful effect, and furnishes us at the same time with fish and ice for our ice house.” She had fled to Maryland from Europe with her wealthy parents in the 1790s, had lived at the terraced Strawberry Hill plantation near Annapolis as a child & later at the Paca House. Rosalie Stier married George Calvert, the son of a governor of the state. She designed he gardens & grounds at their estate with the help of her father in Belgium & a variety of professionals.

Although the privileged Rosalie Calvert was concerned with balancing beauty & utility; she carried it to an aristocratic extreme. In the carefully landscaped grounds on one side of her house were some of the plantation’s slave cabins, which she designed to look like small rustic huts, complete with quaint thatched roofs. She even styled one slave cabin like a small temple with classical columns.

Ornamental Gardens Including Odoriferous & Flowering Shrubs

A superb example of balancing utility & beauty was the Baltimore estate of Adrian Valeck, a merchant from Holland who arrived shortly after the Revolutionary War & was named Dutch consul in 1784. Contemporary observers described his 31-acre property, called Harlem, as “a large garden in the highest state of cultivation, laid out in…walks and squares bordered with espaliers…the greatest variety of fruit trees…from the best nurseries in this country and Europe...a grove and shrubbery of bosquet planted with…the finest forest trees, odoriferous & other flowering shrubs.”

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

These accounts of Harlem also mention a fenced kitchen garden, a greenhouse, two hotbeds with twelve moveable frames, and on an eminence a pavilion, under which was “a well-constructed ice vault.” The main house, a gardener’s house, & stable for 7 horses & 12 cows were all of brick, the stable & carriage house of frame construction. A dairy “laid in marble” & a “pidgeon” house completed the property.

Adrian Valeck's Baltimore Country Seat, Harlem, painted by Nicolino Calyo in 1834. Winterthur Museum, Delaware.

An expensive brick wall surrounded the garden at Harlem, signaling that Valeck was a man of means & also serving a practical purpose. His gardener espaliered fruit trees along the brick wall, which absorbed the sun’s heat & brought Valeck’s fruit to ripeness weeks earlier than his neighbors’ fruit on unprotected trees standing exposed to the whims of the elements. Colonials often called espaliered fruit trees & shrubs “wall fruit.”

A Natural Ground

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

Baltimore did boast a few exceptions to the traditional ordered garden. Beech Hill, built by Colonel John Dorsey about 1770 & purchased by Scots merchant Robert Gilmor (1748-1822) in 1797, was laid out with apparently carefully planned natural grounds. There were no terraces, even though the property sat high above the bay with a spectacular view that was celebrated in paintings for decades.

Francis Guy (1760-1820). View of the Bay from Near Mr. Gilmor's. (From Beech Hill Down to the Baltimore Harbor.) 1804. Maryland Historical Society.

The land around Beech Hill contained an S-shaped driveway lined with rather evenly spaced trees but no accompanying rectangular beds or parterres were in evidence on the grounds.

Chairback by John & Hugh Findley c 1804. View by Francis Guy 1760-1820. Beech Hill. Home of Robert Gilmor (1748-1822). Baltimore Museum of Art.

Many European travelers remarked that the groves, clumps, copses, & bosques so carefully cultivated in their countries, were more easily assembled in the colonies. Francois Alexandre Frederic duc de La-Rochefoucauld-Liancourt visiting Drayton Hall in South Carolina in the late 1790s wrote, “In order to have a fine garden, you have nothing to do but to let the trees remain standing here & there, or in clumps, to plant bushes in front of then, & arrange the trees according to their height.” In England, the natural grounds movement owed part of its popularity to the fact that timber was getting scarce in the countryside. The British gentry planted their “natural grounds” with trees they needed to grow.

Two of the most ambitious traditional four-part terraced gardens were built near Baltimore, after the Revolution. They belonged to George Grundy (1755-1825), a merchant, & Solomon Birckhead (1761-1836), a physician, whose home was called Mount Royal.

At Solomon Birckhead’s Gardens at Mount Royal in Baltimore, traditional gardens had geometric designs within its squares. The garden fell in the direction of the bay from Birckhead’s two-story stone dwelling, which measured 54' by 31' & had a two-story 31' by 18' addition. The 101-acre grounds a Mount Royal also contained an unusual one-story round milk house measuring 10 ' in diameter, a frame smokehouse 12' by 12 ', two barns of two stories, one stone & one frame, both measuring 46' by 24 ', & a two-story stone mill 51' by 41 '. The house & its geometric gardens were built around 1792.

Garden for Use and Ornament and Recreation

Chairback by John & Hugh Findley c 1804. View by Francis Guy 1760-1820. From the North the Entrance Facade of an early Bolton. Home of George Grundy (1775-1825) Baltimore.

A short distance from Mount Royal sat Bolton, which George Grundy built immediately after he acquired the 30-acre property in 1793. In addition to a 65-by-37-' two-story brick home, he constructed a barn, two coach houses, a wash house, a smokehouse, & an icehouse, with orchards of fine peach, apple, & cherry trees. Near a spring of pure water & beside the enclosed kitchen garden area sitting at the base of his falling turfed terraced, Grundy build a comfortable two-story frame dwelling for a gardener.

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799) (5)

Grundy planned his garden at Bolton to consist of three individually fenced rectangular turfed falls dropping south toward the harbor. These terraces were more that three times the width of the house, & initially the lowest rectangular terrace was planted in rows to serve as a kitchen garden. Gravel walks defined each terraced division, & a walkway ran from the house bisecting each terrace.

Francis Guy (1760-1820). Bolton From the South Garden Facade. 1800 Maryland Historical Society. Baltimore. Detail from the road down to the Baltimore harbor.

At the turn of the century, Grundy altered the lower garden to a semicircular bed surrounded by a white picket fence that projected from the fencing enclosing the rectangular terrace just above it. In the center of this semicircle was a large flowering tree or group of shrubs surrounded by a circular walkway. Outside of this walkway & within the picket fence were rectangular beds now planted with flowers instead of vegetables & herbs.

Francis Guy (1760-1820). Detail of Bolton From the South Garden Facade. 1800 Maryland Historical Society. Baltimore.

The large flowering tree or group of shrubs in the middle of the lowest flat at Bolton may have been a living bower or arbor. Colonial Americans had for decades planted trees, shrubs, flowering beans & vines for cooling shade. A visitor reported in 1679, “We had nowhere seen so many vines together as we saw here, which had been planted for the purpose of shading the walks on the river side.” In 1787, at Grey’s Gardens near Philadelphia, Manasseh Cutler reported, “At every end, side, and corner, there were summer-houses, arbors covered with vines or flowers or shady bowers encircled with trees and flowering shrubs.”

Francis Guy (1760-1820). Bolton From the South Garden Facade. 1800 Maryland Historical Society. Baltimore. Detail Vegetable Garden at the bottom of the falling terraces.

It is possible that the unusual large circle of shrubs or trees in the midst of Bolton’s garden may have been similar to the one in Salem, North Carolina, where a visitor wrote, “into the garden…we saw…a curiosity…extremely beautiful. It was a large summer house formed of eight cedar trees planted in a circle, the tops whilst young were chained together in the center forming a cone. The immense branches were all cut, so that there was not a leaf, the outside is beautifully trimmed perfectly even & very thick within, were seats placed around and doors or openings were cut, through the branches, it had been planted 40 years.”

Francis Guy (1760-1820). Bolton From the South Garden Facade. 1800 Maryland Historical Society. Baltimore. Detail Lower Garden with the unusual arbor in the center, surrounded by flowering beds.

At Bolton, Grundy planted the approach from the north with evenly spaced tall cedars along the wooden fence bordering the property. An elaborate white picket gate opened from the public road onto Grundy’s private driveway, which let to a second wooden gate, situated directly opposite the central door of the house on the north entrance façade.

Francis Guy (1760-1820). Imporved Entrance Facade of Bolton.

The house on this side was totally surrounded by a rectangle of white picket fencing. The driveway within the closest fenced area was a semicircle, with no deliberate plantings, either naturalistic or symmetrical. Bolton was a prime example of a traditional Chesapeake post Revolutioary War garden.

Gardens Surround the House

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

But Baltimore also had nontraditional gardens, such as the curious garden of five distinct rectangles owned by a French merchant John Carriere (1768-1837). This country seat was unusual not only for he number of garden beds it boasted, but also because the house, an elegant structure named Libourne, sat in the middle of the largest of the beds, where it was intimately surrounded by the glory of its garden.

Sophisticated Pragmatic Garden Design

Several Baltimore homes sat perched above six-bed terraced gardens. One of he most sophisticated was built by Paul Charles Gabriel de Ghequiere (1754-1818), a grain merchant who designed his home & gardens upon arriving in Baltimore in 1782, from Courtney, France. Ghequiere chose an avenue of tall lombardy poplars standing like soldiers at attention along the path to the entrance façade.

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

The intentionally ordered approach demanded respect for the owner. He built a wide gravel walk that divided the front yard. Rectangular beds, outlined by whit picket fencing, bordered the walkway to the brick house, which measured 50' by 24'. He planned that the doorway on the back of the house would open onto a garden of six geometrically planted beds surrounding a fountain or water bason. Ghequeire’s country seat contained 56 acres & boasted a fine view across Baltimore to the harbor.

Utilitarian Gardens Did Not Detract from the View

The nearby home of Colonel (later Governor) John Eager Howard (1752-1827), called Belvedere, contained a geometric garden area whose design matched Ghequiere’s at the rear. The entrance facade boasted a spectacular view down to the harbor. Howard erected Belvedere between 1783 & 1786.

Chairback by John & Hugh Findley c 1804. View by Francis Guy 1760-1820. Entrance Facade of Belvedere. Home of John Eager Howard. (1752-1827) Baltimore.

The large hipped-roof mansion was noted for its magnificent gardens & for statues, which dotted the grounds just as at the papal Belvedere, where Julius II displayed his collections of statues during the Italian Renaissance. The Papal Belvedere had served for centuries as a focal point for the sculptures of the ancients. There were alcoves boasting Apollo, Venus, Cleopatra, Hercules, and the river gods Nile & Tiber. Fountains danced among the lifeless figures surrounded by the sweet aromas of green gardens.
Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

Governor Howard’s garden in Baltimore was remarkable for more than its statuary. Howard planned hat the garden facade of Belvedere would contain a large porch, running the full length of the center block, which had a projecting two-story bay in the center. Howard enjoyed entertaining visitors for breakfast on this porch, overlooking the terraced formal gardens & the natural area of shrubs & trees that fell south toward the harbor. The entrance side of the house, on the north, faced a totally natural setting.

View of Baltimore from the Howard Park at Belvedere. 1796 George Beck Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore.

A French visitor to Baltimore remarked on “a hill owned by Colonel Howard that dominates the town to the north. The mansion & its dependencies occupy the forward part while a park embellishes the rear. The elevated situation, the mass of trees, an appearance that evokes despite itself European ideas.” Apparently Belvedere owed more to its natural surroundings than it did to its large & elaborate gardens & impressive classical statuary.

Belvedere, Home of John Eager Howard, Baltimore, Maryland, 1786-1794, painting by Augustus Weidenbach c 1858.

Classical Statues in Republican Gardens

Some gardeners emphasized the ancient republican aspects of their gardens with statues. They might set statues in the midst of a natural open green leading to the house, or in pairs on either side of the entrance gate. Others chose the seventeenth-century style of placing statues in the middle of a turfed garden square. In 1791 a visitor to the garden of Joseph Barrell, a Boston merchant reported seeing, “a young grove…in the middle of which is a pond, decorated with four ships at anchor, and a marble figure in the centre…The Squares are decorated with Marble figures as large as life.”

Garden statues produced by American & European artists were widely available by the last decade of the 18th century. In Philadelphia, a 1796 ad read: “To be sold…Six elegant carved figures, the manufacture of an artist in this country, & made from materials of clay dug near the city, they are used for ornaments for gardens…they are well burned and will stand any weather without being injured…they represent Mars, and Minerva, Paris and Helen, A Male and Female Gardner.” Even non-gentry, like Annapolis craftsman William Faris, might have a statue in their 1790s garden.

A grove of trees in early America was a small woods or large cluster of trees, usually occurring naturally & intentionally left in the landscape or occasionally purposefully planted in the pleasure grounds around a dwelling. Often a grove consisted of large trees whose trimmed branches shaded the ground below. Groves also produced food for songbirds & served as settings for obelisks or statues meant to inspire the garden visitor. Abigail Adams wrote that Andrew & James Hamilton’s Bush Hill had “a beautiful grove behind the house, through which there is a spacious gravel walk, guarded by a number of marble statues, whose genealogy I have not yet studied.”

By the 1790s, Chesapeake gentry were coming up with ingenious places for their statues. If statues were meant to stand in groves of lofty trees, then why not be practical & put them in orchards, where the trees have some utility as well. And that’s just what Margaret Baker Briscoe (1745-1814) & her husband Gerard Briscoe (1732-1801) did in their orchard at Clover Dale in Frederick County, Maryland. In a 1799 portrait, Charles Peale Polk depicts Mrs. Briscoe proudly seated before a view of her orchard, in which each long row of trees is guarded by a full-sized statue perched on a marble pedestal.

The Decorated Entrance Facade

Near the end of the 18th century, John Donnell (1752-1827) began the construction of his Baltimore gardens & pleasure grounds called Willow Brook. Like many other Baltimore estates, the entrance to the 26-acre country seat followed a traditional design, planted with avenues of trees & outlined with rectangular white picket fence. But adorning the entrance facade of the house were four statues sitting on classical pedestals.

Contemporary observers reported that the property was “divided and laid off into grass lots, orchards, garden…with the greatest variety of the choicest fruit frees, shrubs, flowers…collected from the best nurseries in America and from Europe…with vegetables of all kinds…In the garden is a neat wooden house…a gardener’s house, ash house, spring house, stable and carriage house, a fish pond well stocked with fish, and an elegant bath with two dressing rooms, bath and spring house.”

Statues placed across the front of the home. Chairback by John & Hugh Findley c 1804. View by Francis Guy 1760-1820. Willow Brook. Home of John Donnell (1754-1827). Baltimore Museum of Art.

Statues from Europe poured into American market. European artists were even making likenesses of American heroes for export. A New York newspaper reported on a local public garden that had “lately imported from Europe…nineteen statues…Socrates, Cicero, Cleopatra, Shakespeare, Milton…the illustrious and immortal Washington…and miscellaneous figures from Greek mythology.” By 1805, Vauxhall Gardens in New York City had, “procured from Europe a choice selection of Statues and Busts,…Washington, Cicero, Ajax, Antonious (in two poses, Hannibal, the Belvidere Apollo (in four sizes), Venus, Hebe (in two poses), Hamilton, Demostenes, Plenty, Hercules, Time, Ceres, Security, Modesty, Addison, Cleopatra (in two poses), Niobe, Pompey (in two poses), Pope, The Medici Apollo, and Thalia.”

Decorative & Practical 8 Bed Garden

Chairback by John & Hugh Findley c 1804. View by Francis Guy 1760-1820. Rose Hill. Home of William Gibson (1735-1832) Baltimore Lanvale Street at Eutaw Place.

The second eight-bed garden graced the home of William Gibson (1753-1832), the Baltimore County Clerk, who built Rose Hill in the early 1790s. Rose Hill’s formal gardens were falling terraces consisting of four squares divided diagonally by walkways, creating eight triangles. A fountain or water bason sat in the middle of the formal gardens, & the walkways radiated from it like rays.

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

Sensible Gardens & Terraces

Francis Guy (1760-1820). Entrance Facade of Mount Deposit. 1805 Maryland Historical Society.

This country seat was probably more remarkable for its name than its falling gardens. This home was situated on about 260 acres acquired by David Harris (1752-1809), who built the house & gardens between 1791 & 1793. Harris was the cashier of the Office of Discount & Deposit, a leading banking institution in Baltimore, after which he apparently named his estate.

Garden Facade of Mount Deposit. Baltimore Country Seat of David Harris (1752-1809) Chairback by John & Hugh Findley c 1804. View by Francis Guy 1760-1820. Baltimore Museum of Art.

The county seat was described by contemporaries in practical terms, “a large and elegant dwelling, containing ten rooms, besides kitchen and garrets, with extensive porticoes; a large barn, stables and granary, coach house, ice house and smoke house, two orchards of fruit and a well cultivated garden.” The approach to the entrance façade of Mount Deposit from the north allowed the visitor to look past the house towards Fells Point on the harbor.

Francis Guy (1760-1820). Detail Entrance Facade of Mount Deposit. 1805.

This side of the home was defined by a white picket fence that ran the width & twice the depth of the house & enclosed the land immediately in front of the dwelling. Ordered plantings of trees dotted the traditional, rectangular fenced courtyard area.

Francis Guy (1760-1820). Garden Facade of Mount Deposit. 1805.

Exiting the home on the garden side, a visitor would find three terraced falls deliberately carved our of the rather steep existing slope. The falls were wider than the house itself, planted with grass & shrubs but no flowers, enclosed by a white picket fence, & divided down the middle by a walk leading from the central door of the house & intersected by crosswalks.

Practical and Political Garden

Northeast of Mount Deposit sat a more intricate & formal garden of four squares internally divided with circles & triangles & surrounded by a row of fruit trees on one side & a grove of trees on the other. This country seat, named Belmont, was built around 1778 by Charles Francois Adrien Le Parlmier d’Annemours (1742-1809), who was the French consul General to Maryland & Virginia until 1792. In that year he built “an obelisk to honour the memory of…Christopher Columbus…in a grove in one of the gardens…on the 3rd of August, 1792, the anniversary of the sailing of Columbus from Spain.”

When the Baltimore estate of French Consul General d’Annemours was sold in 1800, it was not the elegant obelisk honoring Christopher Columbus that sold the property. The estate was described as “beautifully situated” with “a handsome grove of lofty oaks and an extensive kitchen garden and orchard well stocked with fruit of the best and choicest kind.” The practicality of the garden was the attraction. The estate was sold to Archibald Campbell.

Detail. Cartographer Charles Varle. Engraver Francis Shallus. Warner & Hanna's Map, Plan of the City of Baltimore. 1801. 2nd edition. Drawn 1797. (1st edition 1799)

Clearly, in the early American Republic, ornament was consistently counter-balanced by usefulness. In early America, if you needed a grove of trees as a setting for a statue, you planted sugar maples. If you needed a border for garden beds, you mixed currant bushes with the roses. If you needed a row of trees to define the road to the house, you chose cherry trees over poplars. There was an implicit moral sanction keeping garden design from tipping too far toward the purely ornamental.

When an English visitor wrote of one Maryland plantation, he observed, “the adjacent grounds are so judiciously disposed that utility and taste are everywhere.” These were the pretty & practical gardens of conservative new republicans.