Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Bowling Green & the Machine in the Garden



It is thought that the game of bowls developed from the Egyptians.  Artifacts found in tombs dating circa 5,000 B.C. show that one of their pastimes was to play a type of skittles with round stones. Sculptured vases & ancient plaques show the game being played some four thousand years ago, & archaeologists have uncovered biased stone bowls from 5,000 B.C. which indicate our ancestors enjoyed the game of bowling more than seven thousand years ago.  The sport spread across the world & took on a variety of forms, Bocce (Italian), Bolla (Saxon), Bolle (Danish), Boules (French) & Ula Maika (Polynesian).   The sport of lawn bowls is the forerunner of curling, a popular winter version played in northern countries (including Canada) on ice. 

Depictions of early games of bowls in colonial America are very rare.  Most paintings of the game seem to come from Flemish artists.

When Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) ruled Rome, the game was known as “Bocce,” & conquering Roman Legions of centurians may well have carried the game to Europe & the British Isles. By the 13th century, bowling had spread to France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, & England. The oldest English Bowls green still played on is in Southampton, England where records show that the green has been in operation since 1299 A.D.

1600 Playing a Game of Lawn Bowls or Lawn Billiards

The game became so popular in England and in France it was prohibited by law because archery, essential to the national defense, was being neglected. The French king, Charles IV (1294-1328), prohibited the game for the common people in 1319, & King Edward III (1312-1377) issued a similar edict in England in 1361. Statutes forbidding it & other sports were enacted in the reigns of Edward III, Richard II, & other monarchs. Edward III, the game was restricted by royal decree to “Noblemen & others having manors or lands.” Successive kings played & enjoyed the game.

Even when, on the invention of gunpowder & firearms, the bow had fallen into disuse as a weapon of war, the prohibition was continued. During the reign of Richard II (1452-1485) bowls were referred to as "gettre de pere" or "jetter de pierre," & describes throwing a stone, probably as round as possible. In the early 15th century bowls were made of hardwoods &, after the 16th century discovery of Santo Domingo, of lignum vitae, a very dense wood.

King Henry VIII (1491-1547) was a lawn bowler, & had bowling greens installed at Whitehall, permitting the common people to play on Christmas Day.  However, he banned the game for those who were not wealthy or "well to do" because "Bowyers, Fletchers, Stringers & Arrowhead makers" were spending more time at recreational events such as bowls instead of practising their trade. 

The discredit attaching to bowling alleys, first established in London in 1455, probably encouraged subsequent repressive legislation, for many of the alleys were connected with taverns frequented by the dissolute & gamesters. The word "bowls" occurs for the first time in the statute of 1511, in which Henry VIII confirmed previous enactments against unlawful games. By a further act of 1541—which was not repealed until 1845—artificers, labourers, apprentices, servants & the like were forbidden to play bowls at any time except Christmas, & then only in their master's house & presence. It was further enjoined that any one playing bowls outside his own garden or orchard was liable to a penalty of 6s. 8d., while those possessed of lands of the yearly value of £100 might obtain licences to play on their own private greens.  However, the green could only be used for private play, & he forbade anyone to "play at any bowle or bowles in open space out of his own garden or orchard."   (In 1845, the ban was lifted, & people from all walks of life were again allowed to play bowls & other games of skill.)

David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Game of Bowls

The earliest documented use of the word 'Jack' in Bowls is either from 1611 "Was there euer man had such lucke? when I kist the Iacke vpon an vp-cast, to be hit away?" or alternatively Shakespeare (1564-1616) who used it in Cymbeline (thought to have been written in 1609), when he caused Cloten to exclaim, "Was there ever man had such luck! When I kissed the jack, upon an up-cast to be hit away."


Shakespeare (Richard II, Act III, Scene IV):

"Queen: What sport shall we devise here in this garden,
To drive away the heavy thought of care?

First Lady: Madam, we'll play at bowls.

Queen: 'Twill make me think the world is full of rubs.
And that my fortune runs against the bias"

John P Monro, Bowls Encyclopaedia (3rd ed), writes that the name 'jack' is derived from the Latin word jactus, meaning a cast or a throw.   'Jack-Bowl', was the little bowl, later shortened to 'Jack.'  In 1697, R. Pierce wrote, "He had not Strength to throw the Jack-Bowl half over the Green."

A sport played by young men called "casting the stone" is mentioned by William FitzStephen, a close friend of Thomas à Becket, in the preface of his biography Vita Sancti Thomae written during the twelfth century. Casting of stones translates in Latin as "jactu lapidum" & was a game in which rounded stones were thrown at or bowled towards a target object & so some are persuaded that the modern word 'Jack' derives originally from this term.

A manuscript from the 13th century in the royal library, Windsor (No. 20, E iv.), contains a drawing representing two players aiming at a small cone instead of an earthenware ball or jack. The world's oldest surviving bowling green is the Southampton Old Bowling Green, which was first used in 1299.  A 14th-century manuscript, Book of Prayers, in the Francis Douce collection in the Bodleian Library at Oxford contains a drawing in which two persons are shown, but they bowl to no mark.

 David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Peasants playing bowls outside an inn

Fortunately, no serious effort was made to enforce the ban against ordinary men playing at bowls, & it did not apply to Scotland. Almost every English monarch was a bowler, & the royal estates were all equipped with fine bowling greens. King James I (1566-1625) issued a publication called "The Book of Sports;" &, although he condemned football (soccer) & golf, he encouraged the play of bowls. King James I was an ardent bowler, as was his son King Charles I (1600-1649). Both monarchs are reputed to have enjoyed playing for high stakes. King Charles, according to bowling tradition, lost over $5,000 in one encounter with a Barking Hill merchant named Richard Shute. A bowling green has been a permanent fixture at Windsor Castle. Anne Boleyn (1501-1536) was a bowler, as were many noblewomen, including the first Princess Elizabeth & Queen Victoria in the 19th century.

David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Playing at Bowls

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) mentions in his diary being invited to “play at bowls with the nobility & gentry.” Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) & Sir Water Raleigh (1552-1618) were bowlers.  Ordinary people used public alleys and greens maintained by towns and taverns, and the well-to-do had private bowling greens on their estates.

English & Scottish colonists brought the game to America in the 17th century.  Apparently playing at bowls was a game to be wagered on in the early colonies.  Gambling was such a probem in the colonial South, that the Virginia General Assembly set a ten shilling fine for gaming with cards or dice at their first session in 1619.  Unlawful games included bear baiting, bowling, cards, cockfighting, & dice. 

As early as 1737, the owner of the Centre House tavern on the eastern edge of Philadelphia's central square boasted that "gentlemen who would divert themselves at bowls" could avail themselves of the green on the grounds of his tavern. The proprietor Roger Ellicott also offered a billiard table for indoor sportsmen. In 1755, Daniel Fisher wrote in his journal while he was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:  "I went into a Tavern called the "Centre House"...Here is a Bowling Green."   (Daniel Fisher's Journal, Some Prominent Virginia Families, p 802)

How did playing bowls become an attraction at commercial tavern gardens in the colonies?

In the American colonies, bowling greens--hopefully smooth & relatively level lawns used for playing bowls--capped many colonial falling gardens.  By the 18th century, many bowling greens measured 100 by 200 ', & many were sunk slightly below the level of the ground surrounding them. Others could be irregular in shape or even oval.  Sometimes called “squares” in late-18th- & early-19th-century America, bowling greens offered beauty & ornament as  well as recreation.  The game had simple rules. A small white ball of earthenware, called the jack, was rolled onto the green to serve as a target.  Players rolled their bowls in turn trying to place them close to the jack.  Bowls were slightly flattened at their poles, so that they could not be rolled in a straight line.  An opponents ball could be aimed at to knock it out of its position close to the jack.  Few colonial greens were level, and familiarity with the green was an advantage.

David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Playing Bowls at an Inn on a River

Bowling greens were recorded in Boston in 1615, New Amsterdam, as New York was then called, & not long afterwards in Washington & Virginia. There was a bowling green in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1632, & several states have towns named "Bowling Green" due to the early settlers abiding interest in the sport.

On July 30, 1666, in Port Royal South Carolina, Robert Sanford recorded, "Found...a plaine place before the great round house for their bowling recreation." (Narratives of Early Carolina 1650-1708. p. 100.)

Even though the Virginia council had outlawed gambling on bowls, it seemed to continue.  In the mid-Atlantic & South, playing at bowls often involved wagering.  William Byrd wrote in his diary of visiting the bowling green in Williamsburg on May 5, 1721, “After dinner we walked to the bowling green where I lost five shilling.”  William Byrd II began his Bowling Green in 1722 at Westover on the James River.  In 1724, the Rev. Hugh Jones description of Williamsburg noted that "Not far from hene is a large area for a market place; near which is a play house and a good bowling green."  Twenty years after Byrd built his bowling green, guests at Westover were still bowling there.  In 1741, the last year of Byrd's diary, almost every July afternoon had a bowling game.

David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Playing Bowls at an Inn

British officers installed bowling greens in the American colonies in New York in 1725.  By 1733, the area was declared a public park.  1733, New York City: "Resolved...lease a piece of Land lying at the lower end of Broadway fronting to the Fort...to make a Bowling Green thereon, for the Beauty & Ornament of said Street as Well as for the Recreation & Delight of the Inhabitants of This City."  (New York City Common Council Resolution, March 12, 1733)

In 1735, this notice appeared in a New York City newspaper,  "John Miller.—All Persons indebted to the Estate of George Montgomerie, deceased, are hereby desired to pay the same to John Miller, Gardner, at the old Bowling Green...—N.B. You may be furnished with the best kind of Garden Seeds, of several Sorts, that have been abus'd or spoil'd by ignorant Pretenders, to Silvering may be rectified & put in Order."  (The New-York Weekly Journal, February 17, 1735)

David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Playing Bowls

An ad for land in South Carolina advertised its location by using the bowling green as a point of reference.  October 10, 1740, Charleston, South Carolina: "TO BE LET...the house near Mrs. Trott's Pasture, where the Bowling Green."  (South Carolina Gazette, October 10, 1740)  A year later, an explanation of Williamsburg also touted its bowling green.  1741, Williamsburg, Virginia:  "Near it is a good Bowling-Green & a Play-house."  (Oldmixon, John. The British Empire in America.  London: 1741. p. 408)

Eliza Lucas Pinckney wrote to a friend in May, 1743, of William Middleton's Crow-Field in S. C.: "Opposite on the left hand is a large square boleing green sunk a little below the level of the rest of the garden with a walk quite round composed of a double row of fine large flowering Laurel & Catalpas which form both shade & beauty."  (Pinckney, Eliza Lucas. The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney 1739-1762. edited by Elise Pinckney,  Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1972. p. 61-62)

Pieter Angillis (Flemish, 1685-1734) The Game of Bowls

In the 1754 South Carolian Gazette, an ad announced a house to be sold, "together with all the Out houses, Bowling Green, Gardens, & other land."  While taking over the management of Fort Pitt in Pittsburg, Capt. Simeon Ecuyler wrote in April of 1764, of a deer park and bowling green in the little garden there.

Irish physician Dr. Henry Stevenson (1721-1814), had one of the earliest terraced gardens in the Baltimore area.  His grounds displayed a flat four-bed garden on the north side of his home, called Parnassus, which Stevenson started constructing in 1763 & completed in 1769.  On the south side of the house, facing the harbor, he built a bowling green & five grass terraces.  In 1770, Virginian Mary Ambler visited Mount Clare in Baltimore & recorded that she “took a great deal of Pleasure in looking at the bowling Green & also at the …very large Falling Garden thee is a Green House with a good many Orange & Lemon Trees just ready to bare…the House…stands upon a very High Hill & had a fine view of Petapsico River You step out of the Door into the Bowlg Green from which the Garden Falls & when You stand on the Top of it thee is such a Uniformity of Each side as the whole Plantn seems to be laid out like a Garden there is also a Handsome Court Yard on the other side of the House.”  (Ambler, Mary. "Diary of M. Ambler, 1770."  Virginia Magazine of History & Biography  XLV (1937): 152-170)

Pieter Angillis (Flemish, 1685-1734) The Game of Bowls

Meanwhile, back in Virginia, Robert Carter wrote of his bowling green at his plantation Sabine Hall twice between 1770 - 1772.  He sent one of his slaves to cut the grass in 1772 and wrote, "Talbot set to work yesterday to shave the bowling green, he seems to do it well, but he is very slow."  School tutor Philip Vickiers Fithian wrote of another plantation in 1773, Nomini Hall, Virginia:  "The area of the Triangle made by the Wash-house, Stable, & School-House is perfectly level, & designed for a Bowling-Green." (Fithian, Philip Vickers.  Journal & Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, 1773-1774:  A Plantation Tutor of the Old Dominion.  Edited with an introduction by Hunter D. Farish.  Williamsburg:  Colonial Williamsburg Inc., 1943)

In Annapolis, Maryland, Charles Carroll of Annapolis wrote his son, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, in 1775, “Examine the Gardiner strictly as to . . . Whether he is an expert at leveling, making grass plots & Bowling Greens, Slopes, & turfing them well.”  (1775 Carroll, Charles of Annapolis to Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Charles Carroll Letterbooks  MS. 208 Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore Maryland.)

Pieter Angillis (Flemish, 1685-1734) Figures on a Bowling Ground

Virginia's Colonel George Braxton wrote to a friend just after the Revolution between 1776-1781, "I agreed wth Alexander Oliver Gardener...to finish my...Garden wth a Bolling Green."  (Colonel George Braxton's Letterbook. in Horner, Frederick, The History of the Blair, Banister, & Braxton Families. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1898. p. 147-148)

In 1726 George Washington’s father, Augustus, took over management of the family estate at Mount Vernon; & in 1732, the year George was born, constructed the bowling green. At this time the game was highly favored as a genteel pastime by the ranking officers of the British Colonial Army.  George grew up with the game, became an avid bowler in his youth, & apparently this love of the game was never lost. He kept the green busy through the years. By 1754, he had come into his inheritance & settled down with Martha. They kept up the family tradition of sponsoring bowling on the green as “suitable for the intelligentia & ranking army officers.”  George Washington wrote on October 28, 1785, at Mount Vernon, Virginia: "Finished levelling & Sowing the lawn in front of the Ho. intended for a Bolling Green."  In 1798, visitor Julian Urysn Niemcewicz wrote of his visit to Mount Vernon, "Two bowling greens, a circular one near the house, the other very large and irregular, form the courtyard in front of the house."  In 1813, Noah Webster described Mount Vernon as still having its bowling green, "Of Mount Vernon. On the western bank of the Potomac uine miles below Alexandria, is the seat of the late general Washington. The house stands within fifty yards of the brink of a high stcep bank, at a bend in the river,which affords a vicw of an extensive & delightful landskip. The house is large but more magnificent than elegant. On the west is a handsome bowling grcen, & on each side serpentine walks, bordered with trces, a flower garden on one side, & on the other, a kitehen garden The position & the improvements all rendered it a charming rctreat, & 'worthy of the illustrious proprictor." (1813 Elements of Useful Knowledge Noah Webster & Washington, George.  The Diaries of George Washington.  Edited by John C. Fitzpatrick.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925. 4 Vols.  Vol 2:429)

1791 Edward Savage. Mount Vernon from the Court Yard Carriage Entrance.

Visitor Moreau de St Mery wrote of his 1790s visit to New York City:  "The Governor's House is at the lower end of Broadway...What really embellishes this place is an enclosed bowling green, surrounded by an iron railing in front of the house."  (St. Mery, Moreau de.   American Journey 1793-1798.  Edited by Kenneth & Anna Roberts.  Garden City:  1947. p 150)

Several ads also noted bowling greens in New York City in the 1790s.  In 1792, New York City:  "A bowling green is in front, & stables, wood house & other necessary offices in the rear of the house." (New York Diary; or, Loudon's Register, June 25, 1792).  In 1794, 1794, Belvedere House New York City: "The little grounds into which the east front opens, are formed into a bowling-green, gravel walks, & some shrubbery." (New York Magazine, August 1794, p. 451)

The machine in the garden seems to have regularized bowling greens & the rules that governed play.  It is claimed that the patenting of the first lawn mower in 1830 Britain, is believed to have been the catalyst, world-wide, for the preparation of modern-style greens, sporting ovals, playing fields, pitches, grass courts, etc. This is turn led to the codification of modern rules for many sports, including lawn bowls, football codes, lawn tennis, & others.

Gardens decline in Importance as economy turns from agricultural to industrial


The Coming Machine Age & the Declining Importance of the Pleasure Garden

George Washington (1732-1799), who had gone from fumbling young military officer to plantation owner to leader of the Revolutionary army to president of a proud new nation, actually devoted much time & effort to organizing his garden. Despite all of his amazing life experiences, or perhaps because of them, Washington wrote that gardening was among “the most rational avocations of life.”

He believed, as did former Baltimore judge John Beale Bordley (1727-1804), who retired from the political & adversarial life of an attorney to become a gentleman farmer, that gardening contributed to the spiritual health of America's citizens. In 1770, his wife Margaret Chew inherited half of Wye Island, in Queen Anne's County, on the Chesapeake Bay. The Bordleys maintained a winter residence in Annapolis, but they moved to this beautiful estate on Wye Island.

Ever feisty John Adams (1735-1826) wrote to his beloved wife Abigail from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 3, 1776. "I long for rural and domestic scenes, for the warbling of Birds and the Prattle of my Children. Don't you think I am somewhat poetical this morning, for one of my Years, and considering the Gravity, and Insipidity of my Employment? - As much as I converse with Sages and Heroes, they have very little of my Love or Admiration. I should prefer the Delights of a Garden to the Dominion of a World."

George Washington stated in his 8th Annual Message to Congress in 1796, "It will not be doubted, that with reference either to individual, or National Welfare, Agriculture is of primary importance. In proportion as Nations advance in population, and other circumstances of maturity, this truth becomes more apparent; and renders the cultivation of the Soil more and more, an object of public patronage."

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) wrote of the importance of working on the land to artist Charles Willson Peale from his secluded retirement retreat Poplar Forest on August 20, 1811, "I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest, a continued one thro' the year. Under a total want of demand except for our family table. I am still devoted to the garden. But tho' an old man, I am but a young gardener."

But Jefferson saw the age of the spiritual expericence of gardening ending, as he wrote of the British during the War of 1812, “Our enemy has indeed the consolation of Satan on removing our first parents from Paradise: from peaceable & agricultural nation, he makes us a military & manufacturing one.”

The garden did wither as a symbol of power & moral force; as the agricultural gave way to the industrial, & factories flowered on the American landscape. As the gentility of pleasure gardening became available to greater numbers of the middling sort in the emerging republic, it declined in importance to the ruling class. The symbol of might & right shifted from the garden to the machine.

Annapolis gardener William Faris (1729-1804) was a clockmaker at the end of the America’s agricultural age, when people’s perception of time still relied on nature’s manifestations, the rising & the setting of the sun & the changing of the seasons. Industrialization would dramatically change the significance of time & the clock. The clock would soon become the mechanical indication of units by which work, & therefore pay & worth, were measured.

In the earlier agricultural economy of 18th-century America, a man’s worth was measured by his harvest. When he had succeeded in having some leisure time & extra money from his crop production, he devised a pleasure garden in order to control, in an abstract & artful form, at least a small part of unpredictable nature, which otherwise controlled him.  He knew that the setting sun halted his day’s work. An unexpected storm or drought could destroy his daily plans or his yearly harvest.

Irish-born Philadelphia author & seed dealer Bernard M’Mahon (1775-1816) & English-born Annapolis clockmaker & silversmith William Faris were wedged between the old world & the new world, and between the ancient agricultural order & the coming technical age. The looming 19th century industrial era would see cities burgeon & replace the wilderness as the frightening place in the minds of the American people.

Citizens working in the urban machine economies would retreat to bucolic woodlands for the serene security of nature, much as farming citizens of the earlier colonial era clamored for the safety of towns with ordered streets & tidy, fenced gardens, when threatened by the terrifying unknown lurking in the uncivilized nature of the frontier.

Gardening would become just of many diversions in an industrial & technological world, where individuals’ livelihoods were no longer dependent on manipulation of the land & the rising and the setting of the sun.

M’Mahon & his fellow seed dealers & nurserymen contributed to this trend in 19th-century America, as they promoted gardening to all classes & both sexes in the new nation. M’Mahon hoped his book might “make any person…his own Gardener.” 

Working in the soil helped a person understand the cycle of life & death. Many plantation owners, farmers, & gardeners chose to bury their loved ones in their near-by gardens & went there to remember departed relatives & friends.

Whether they gardened or not, early Americans easily understood that gardens, economies, & men are ultimately under nature’s control. Perhaps they found some comfort in the knowledge that nature, not man, renews life year after year. In an agrarian society, people understood the symbolic & symbiotic relationships of people, plants, soil, weather, & the seasons.

Eighteenth century American gardeners understood that there is an order to nature but not always a kindness. People whose lives depended on the success of crops understood that nature controls floods, hailstorms, droughts, tornadoes, & death.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Labyrinth or Maze

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During the 18th century in the British American colonies, in a garden or pleasure grounds, a labyrinth was a maze of walkways bordered by high hedges, usually intended to grow 8-12' high, to create an intricate & difficult path to the center, so confusing that a person may lose himself in it. The visitor might find himself again, but he might not.

At that point, the host, usually the garden labyrinth designer, would rescue his humbled guest. The mortal garden owner found an ingenious way to be totally in control & to garner all the power & the glory -- well, temporarily, at least.

Earlier medieval churchs had a different perspective on their labyrinths. They believed a person's journey through a labyrinth represented his or her passage through life towards spiritual redemption through immortal God's grace.

Labyrinths were mentioned in the books of classical antiquities that the colonial gentry were reading at the time. The Greek Herodotus & the Roman Pliny refered to labyrinths in Egyptain buildings. Both Chaucer & Shakespeare used labyrinth images in their tales. A tall hedge labyrinth of maze walkways ending at a summerhouse was a perfect place for secret lovers to rendezvous.

Samuel Pepys wrote in his 1666 diary, "Here were also great variety of other exotique plants, and several labyrinths." A 1740 Welsh history book Drych y Prif Oesoedd makes note of the curious custom shepherds had of cutting the turf in the form of a labyrinth.


In France, garden labyrinths often were known as Houses of Daedalus after the mythical figure Daedalus who first constructed a labyrinth for King Minos of Crete, in which to hide the hungry Minotaur.

In 1707, Louis Liger & Francois Gentil wrote in Le Jardinier Solitaire, "A Labyrinth is commonly a Place cut into several Paths, which are renderd agreeable by the Hornbeam that parts them.

This fort of Knots we meet with in great Gardens; and the Labyrinths that are most esteem'd, are always those which are moft perplexed; such as that at Versailles...

Labyrinth Design at the gardens at Versailles, France.
The Palissades of which this Work is compos'd, are Ten, Twelve, or Fifteen Foot high; some are not above Breast high but these are none of the finest.

The Paths which divide the Labyrinths ought always to be Gravel or raked, and the Hornbeam should be trimm'd with a Hook."


By 1728, English architect & garden designer Batty Langley (1696-1751) presented two designs for labyrinths in his New Principles of Gardening.

James Wheeler explained the garden labyrinth in the 1763 Botanist's and Gardener's New Dictionary..., "a winding, maze walk, between hedges, through a wood or wilderness. The chief aim is to make the walks so perplexed and intricate, that a person may lofe himself in them, and meet with as great a number of disappointments as possible. They are rarely to be met with, except in great and noble gardens, as Versailles, Hampton-court, &c."
Britain's oldest surviving hedge maze is at Hampton Court Palace, designed by George London & Henry Wise in 1690. Originally, in the middle were 2 trees pictured here with people sitting under them. The old hornbeam maze was eventually replaced with yew.

George London (c1640-1714) was a a pupil of John Rose & was briefly gardener to Henry Compton, Bishop of London, at Fulham Palace. London visited Versailles, while he was in the service of the Earl of Portland. During James II's reign, he & Moses Cook (gardener to the Earl of Essex), Roger Lucre (gardener to the Queen Dowager at Somerset House), and John Field (gardener to the Earl of Bedford), joined in founding the celebrated Brompton Park Nurseries in South Kensington.

Henry Wise (1653-1738) was Queen Anne's master gardener & the last of the British 'Formalists', He was superintendant of the royal gardens at the 1701 re-creation of the King's Privy Garden for William III at Hampton Court. In partnership with George London, Wise is associated with the design of formal gardens at Longleat in Wiltshire, Studley Royal, Castle Howard and Newby Hall in Yorkshire and at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and Chatsworth in Derbyshire.


"There are two ways of making them; the first is with Angle hedges : this method has been practiced in England: and these may, indeed, be best, where there is but a small spot of ground allowed for making them; but where there is ground enough, the double is most eligible.

"Those made with double hedges, with a considerable thickness of wood between them, are approved as much better than single ones: this is the manner of making them in France and other places; of all which that of Versailles is allowed to be the noblest of its kind in the world.
Arial View of Hampton Court today.

"It is an error to make them too narrow; for that makes it necessary to keep the hedges close clipt: but if, according to the foreign practice, they are made wider, they will not Have in need of it.

"The walks are made with gravel usually set with hornbeams: the palissades ought to be ten, twelve, or fourteen feet high: the hornbeam should be kept cut, and the walks rolled."



Bernard M'Mahon wrote his American Gardener's Calender in 1806. He wrote that "A Labyrinth, is a maze or sort of intricate wilderness plantation, abounding with hedges and walks, formed into many windings and turnings, leading to one common centre, extremely difficult to find out; designed in large pleasure-grounds by way of amusement.

"It is generally formed with hedges, commonly in double rows, leading in various intricate turnings, backward and forward, with intervening plantations, and gravel-walks alternately between hedge and hedge ; the great aim is to have the walk contrived in so many mazy, intricate windings, to and fro, that a person may have much difficulty in finding out the centre, by meeting with as many stops and disappointments as possible; for he must not cross, or break through the hedges; so that in a well contrived labyrinth, a stranger will often entirely loose himself, so as not to find his way to the centre, nor out again.


"As to plans of them, it is impossible to describe such, by words, any further than the above hints, and their contrivance must principally depend, on the ingenuity of the designer.

"But as to the hedges, walks, and trees; the hedges are usually made of hornbeam, beech, elm, or any other kind that can be kept neat by clipping. The walks should be five feet wide at least, laid with gravel, neatly rolled, and kept clean; and the trees and shrubs to form a thicket of wood between the hedges, may be of any hardy kinds of the deciduous tribe, interspersed with some ever-greens; and in the middle of the labyrinth should be a spacious open, ornamented with some rural seats and shady bowers, &c.


"Sometimes small labyrinths are formed with box-edgings, and borders for plants, with handsome narrow walks between, in imitation of the larger ones; which have a very pleasing and amusing effect in small gardens. "

Labyrinth Design at restored Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia.

In the British American colonies and early republic, labyrinths were mentioned by the middle of the 18th-century. A hedge labyrinth was restored at the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia.


In 1762, Hannah Callender mentioned in her diary William Peters' Belmont near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "On the right you enter a labyrinth of hedge of low cedar and spruce. In the middle stands a statue of Apollo."
Manasseh Cutler noted in his 1787 journal visiting Gray's Gardens in Philadelphia, "Here is a curious labyrinth with numerous winding begun, and extends along the declivity of the hill toward the gardens, but has yet hardly received its form."


At Monticello in Virginia in 1804, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The best way of forming the thicket will be to plant it in labyrinth spirally, putting the tallest plants in the centre and lowering gradation to the external termination, a temple or seat may be in the center then leaving space enough between the rows to walk."
Design of Labyrinth at Harmony Society in Butler County, Pennsylvania.
Johann Georg Rapp (1757-1847) built his first Harmony Society in 1804 in Butler County, Pennsylvania. When John Melish visited a few years later, he reported, "From the warehouses we went to the Labyrinth, which is a most elegant flower-garden, with various hedge-rows, disposed in such a manner as to puzzle people to get into the little temple, emblematical of Harmony, in the middle. Mr. Rapp abruptly left us as we entered, and we soon observed him over the hedge-rows, taking his seat before the house.

Design of Restored Labyrinth at Harmony Society in southern Indiana.

"I found my way with difficulty; but the doctor, whom I left on purpose, could not find it, and Mr. Rapp had to point it out to him. The garden and temple are emblematical. The Labyrinth represents the difficulty of arriving at Harmony. The temple is rough in the exterior, showing that, at a distance, it has no allurements; but it is smooth and beautiful within, to show the beauty of harmony when once attained."

By this time, the term labyrinth began to become an emblem encouraging reflection & contemplation. The term maze was often used to denote confusion and gave power to the owner, the person who created the garden maze & could rescue those lost in the intricacies of the plantings.

At some point in time, certainly not during the 18th & early 19th centuries in America, garden labyrinths became puzzles with one pathway leading from the entrance to the goal, but often by complex & winding of routes. And garden mazes became puzzles usually designed with choices in the pathway, some of which may lead to dead-ends.

Today, there are two types of labyrinth mazes, unicursal & multicursal or branching. Unicursal labyrinth mazes have no blind alleys & do not pose much of a puzzle to those negotiating them. A multicursal design has blind alleys & branches, so finding the "goal" of the this maze presents a challenge.

Americans still enjoy labyrinths. Out in the country where we live, mazes are cut out of corn fields, and folks flock to them. One of my friends wrote of his corn maze adventure, "I loved it, because it was an intellectual challenge that physically swallowed you up. When you work a puzzle on paper, you are contesting the game from outside the playing field—as if you were an aloof scientist observing the rats in an experiment or a giant Gulliver towering over the Lilliputians. But when you walk into a maze, you are playing the game from the inside—you are the rat in the labyrinth."

In New York City, a year after the World Trade Center tragedy, the memorial Battery Labyrinth was created to offer the public a way to reflect, honor, & heal. This low labyrinth encourages contemplation on a journey with a clear destination. Its goal is to create an internal balance generated by the rhythm of the walking and the mental state of no decision-making..

You may be interested in further reading on the subject:
Carpeggiani, Paolo. "Labyrinths in the Gardens of the Renaissance" in the History of Garden Design, ed. Monique Mosser & Georges Teyssot. London: Thames & Hudson, 1991.

Fisher Adrian & Georg Gerster. The Art of the Maze. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990.

Kern, Hermann. Through the Labyrinth, ed. Robert Ferré & Jeff Saward. Munich: Prestel, 2000.

Lockridge, Ross F. (1877-1952). The Labyrinth of New Harmony. New Harmony, Indiana. New Harmony Memorial Commission, 1941. Reprint, Westport, Conn: Hyperion Press, 1975.

Matthews, W.H. Mazes and Labyrinths - A General Account of their History and Developments. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1922.

Pizzoni, Filippo. The Garden - A History in Landscape and Art. London: Aurum Press, 1999.

Reed Doob, Penelope. The Idea of the Labyrinth from Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Saward, Jeff. Labyrinths & Mazes. London: Gaia Books, 2003 & New York: Lark Books, 2003.

Strong, Roy. The Renaissance Garden in England. London: Thames & Hudson, 1979.

Strong, Roy. The Artist & the Garden. New Haven & London: Yale University Press. 2000.


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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Earliest English agriculture in New World found at Jamestown


"This summer, archaeologists at Historic Jamestowne found 10 dark planting furrows extending eastward from the original 1607 James Fort and dating to the first months of the settlement.

About a foot and a half wide and spaced evenly apart, the shallow features are the earliest evidence of English planting found in the New World. This work was described by John Smith in 1607 as:
"What toile wee had, with so smal a power to guard our workmen adaies, watch al night, resist our enimies and effect our businesse, to relade the ships, cut downe trees, and prepare the ground to plant our corne, etc."


Smith's account and this newly-discovered archaeological evidence both reinforce the specific instructions the Virginia Company gave the first settlers: to divide the group into thirds, with one third building a fort and others to "prepar[e] your ground and sow . . . your corn and roots; . . ."

Archaeologists confirmed the early nature of the furrows by finding that a 1608 wall line trench cut through the furrow marks, demonstrating that the planting rows predate the 1608 palisade. The furrows discovered this summer seem to match furrows uncovered by the Jamestown Rediscovery team about a decade ago just outside the southeast bulwark of James Fort. All the furrows together would amount to about half an acre of planting.

"This isn't the way they would have planted if they were in England with draft animals. This is the beginnings of New World agriculture, taking a hoe and digging a ditch," said Jamestown Rediscovery senior staff archaeologist David Givens.

There is some question what the English meant when they wrote that they planted "corn." Bly Straube, senior archaeological curator for the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, said "corn" to the English meant grain (wheat, barley, oats), and they had brought seeds of English grains with them to plant because the Virginia Company was curious as to how well English crops would do in the New World.

And the garden area may have included some tropical plants. Colonist Gabriel Archer (who was back in England in 1608) talked about how they brought pineapple from the West Indies, which was "set in our mould, which fostereth it and keeps it green," according to Straube. Archer said other West Indian plants also did well: orange, cotton trees, potatoes, pumpkins and melons. "All our garden seeds that were carefully sown prosper well, yet we only digged the ground half a ____ deep, threw in the seeds at random carelessly, and scarce rak'd it."

Hand-dug furrow agriculture was practiced in Virginia for centuries after 1607. Forensic evidence from later colonists shows the physical impact of this style of farming. The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History said in its "Written in Bone" exhibit about colonists in the Chesapeake region that "Lower back strain was constant in hoeing soil to make hills for planting corn and tobacco, or weeding between the hills until the corn or tobacco grew tall enough to shade out weeds." Such lifelong work led to herniated disks and vertebral stress fractures in the bones studied for the exhibit.

"This is the beginning of Southern agriculture. Agriculture -- the growing of tobacco -- saved the colony and set the economic pattern for the South for centuries," Givens said.

"It's remarkable that these furrows have survived, probably because they were in the churchyard and protected," he said. "There is no later plowing here. It's completely intact."

This report is from Historic Jamestowne click here.  Historic Jamestowne is the site of the first permanent English settlement in America. The site is jointly administered by the National Park Service and The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation on behalf of Preservation Virginia.  Excavations by the Jamestown Rediscovery Archaeological Project began at Jamestown Island, Virginia, the first permanent English colony in North America in 1994 with the hopes of finding some evidence of the original 1607 James Fort, for over two centuries thought lost to river shoreline erosion. Today, archaeologists have rediscovered much of the fortification and have recovered over a million artifacts that tell the true story of Jamestown.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Garden History - Why Garden? For Profit...

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Gardening for Profit

Philadelphia seed dealer and nurseryman Bernard M’Mahon’s main motive for writing the 1806 American Gardener's Calendar was to expand his profitable nursery enterprise, which supplied seeds & plants to many gardeners up & down the Atlantic coast, from gentry to artisan. Almost all of America’s earliest indigenous gardening books served as the liaison between the nurseryman & an emerging middle-income group of home gardeners.

As increasing leisure time & interest in gardening grew, there were not enough trained professional gardeners to go around nor excess funds to employ them. A new how-to-do-it manual was just what the country needed.

English gardening books, American gardening books, plants & other supplies, & the practice of gardening itself fit into the new nation’s burgeoning capitalistic fervor at the end of the 18th century. In addition to professional gardeners & seed dealers & nurserymen like M’Mahon, whose numbers grew quickly after the Revolution, non-professional gardeners of every stripe often sold nature’s products to gain extra income.

George Washington encouraged his gardener to sell extra nursery stock for a profit, one-fifth of which he allowed the gardener to keep.

Nobleman Henri Stier, who had fled Belgium during the French Revolution, had a bulb sale, when he moved back there from Annapolis in 1803. Once he had returned to Belgium, he bought bulbs in Europe & shipped them to his old Chesapeake neighbors.

Annapolis craftsman William Faris, in his fiscal account book for October 23, 1799, noted receiving the substantial sum of $40 for tulip bulbs from John Quynn.

Fellow Annapolitans Alexander Contee Hanson & Thomas Harwood, & Captain John O’Donnell from Baltimore visited his garden to mark tulips & hyacinths that interested them; after the blooms faded Faris dug up the marked roots & sold, or traded, them to the gentlemen.
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