Thursday, August 30, 2018

Why Garden? For Enlightenment...

Gardening for Enlightenment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Sweet William

 Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus)
Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus)

Thomas Jefferson observed "sweet William began to open" at Shadwell on April 16, 1767, reported flowers in May and June of 1782, and also planted this biennial in an oval flower bed at Monticello in 1807. Sweet William is often associated with early American gardens and continues to be cherished for its large clusters of red, pink, and white blooms.

For more information & the possible availability
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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Why Garden? To Create Art & A Personal Stage

Gardening as Art & Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 27, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Canterbury Bells

Canterbury Bells (Campanula medium)

Canterbury Bells were among the first imported flowers grown in colonial American gardens, where they were valued for their blue, bell-shaped flowers as well as for their edible roots. In 1812, Thomas Jefferson recorded sowing the "Bellflower" at Monticello; this may have been Canterbury Bells, a biennial, or one of the perennial Campanula species available at the time.

For more information & the possible availability
Contact The Tho Jefferson Center for Historic Plants or The Shop at Monticello 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Why Garden? For Equality...

Gardening to Meet on Common Ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Black Hollyhock

 Black Hollyhock (Alcea rosea nigra)
Black Hollyhock (Alcea rosea nigra)

Black Hollyhock was described as early as 1629 by John Parkinson as being "of a darke red like black blood," an apt description for the large single flowers that grace this plant in June and July. This biennial or short-lived perennial will form large rosettes of round, hairy leaves by autumn, and will bloom the following summer. Just as colonists were leaving England for the New World, John Parkinson (1567–1650) was establishing himself as the last of the great English herbalists & one of the first of the great English botanists. He was apothecary to James I & a founding member of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in December 1617, & was later Royal Botanist to Charles I. He is known for two monumental works, Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (Park-in-Sun's Terrestrial Paradise, 1629), which generally describes the proper cultivation of plants; & Theatrum Botanicum (The Botanical Theatre or Theatre of Plants, 1640), the most complete English treatise on plants of its time. The most eminent gardener of his day, he kept a botanical garden at Long Acre in Covent Garden, today close to Trafalgar Square, & maintained close relations with other important English & Continental botanists, herbalists & plantsmen.

For more information & the possible availability
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Friday, August 24, 2018

Why Garden, Ladies? For Decoration...

Ladies Gardening Indoors & Out for Decoration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Cranberry Bush

 Bare Root Cranberry Bush (Viburnum trilobum)

The Cranberry Bush grows natively from New Brunswick and British Columbia south to New York, Michigan, South Dakota, and Oregon. It is similar to the European Cranberry Bush in form and flower, but is not readily available in the nursery trade. In 1791 Thomas Jefferson ordered "bush cranberries, all you have" from the William Prince Nursery on Long Island. Included in his list were many native trees and shrubs as well as fruits and roses. Although the fruits are edible and used in preserves and jellies, birds are not known to eat them.

For more information & the possible availability
Contact The Tho Jefferson Center for Historic Plants or The Shop at Monticello 

Bare Root Cranberry Bush (Viburnum trilobum)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Why Garden? For a Pure Nation...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Bald Cypress

Bare Root Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)

Although the natural range of Bald Cypress extends from Delaware to Florida and west to southern Illinois and Louisiana, it is hardy as far north as Canada. It was introduced into England by John Tradescant the Younger who, with his father John the Elder, established a garden of exotic plants along the River Thames near London during the 1640s. The 18th-century naturalist and illustrator Mark Catesby described it as the loftiest North American tree next to the Tulip Poplar. The name Bald Cypress refers to its deciduous nature. Jefferson’s listing of “Cypress Cupressus disticha” in his book, Notes on the State of Virginia, may actually refer to Bald Cypress.

For more information & the possible availability
Contact The Tho Jefferson Center for Historic Plants or The Shop at Monticello 
Bare Root Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Why should Ladies Garden in the 19C?

Seedsman Grant Thorburn (1773-1863) gave space in his 1832 seed catalog to an idea often touted in garden literature of the early 1800’s - the encouragement of gardening as a desirable & suitable occupation for ladies. It was considered proper, if a woman could afford it, to stay at home. To occupy her time with botany was thought to be an edifying activity that would improve the health, well-being, & perhaps even the temperance of her family members by providing a beautiful & cultivated home that would be preferable to a tavern. 
Thorburn provided instructions for making herbaria, with the remark that this would be a better use of ladies’ time than compiling sentimental scrapbooks. 

All the same, the last 4 pages of the Thorburn 1832 catalog translate the language of flowers, with which ladies could convey secret messages in their bouquets. Pressing flowers, flower drawing & botany infused with sentiment were popular hobbies of 19C middle-class ladies, & the catalog clearly addressed this market.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Cornelian Cherry

Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)

On March 31, 1774, Jefferson recorded in his garden diary planting four "Ciriege Corniole" or Cornelian Cherries, and 16 other varieties of fruit trees and vegetables. The Cornelian Cherry is a native to southern Europe and western Asia, and has been cultivated since ancient times for the fruit it produces. Excellent for preserves and syrup, the fruit of this plant can be harvested in early summer.

For more information & the possible availability
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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Why Garden? For Amusement & Diversion...

Throughout the 18C, gentle women and men sometimes referred to flowers, botany, and their gardens as their amusements, their diversions.
Outdoors with a book. 1798 William Clarke. Mrs William Frazer. Delaware. In South Carolina, Eliza Pinckney (1722-1793), who was responsible for profitably changing the economy of South Carolina by introducing indigo agriculture, wrote in 1760,“I love a garden & a book; they are all my amusement.”

William Stephens (1671-1753), President of the Province of Georgia from 1741-51, kept a diary between the years of 1742-43. In March of 1741, he wrote, "Thursday...I busy'd my self good part of it at the 5 Acre lot in gardening, and propagating Variety of Seeds and Plants, which I always thought an Agreeable amusement when I could find proper Leisure."
A tree-lined drive marked the entrance to Beaulieu Plantation, the estate of William Stephens, who came to Savannah in 1737, to serve as Secretary of Trustee Georgia. Beaulieu was one of the leading river plantations near Savannah, where Stephens experimented with formal gardens as well as grape and cotton cultivation.

At another point Stephens wrote, "No Want of Diversion to employ my Time and Thoughts...: It was a Pleasure to see my Corn coming on, and other Things that were planted, very promising...and all hitherto in a hopeful Way: Besides the Amusement it gave me, in forming Schemes for many future Improvements in Gardening, and more curious Cultivation of Land, for the Production of Vines, Mulberries, Cotton, &c. of all which, I had provided a small Nursery, in the little five-Acre Lot near home."

Men were not above simply amusing themselves in their gardens either. George Washington reported that gardening had become his amusement.
1772 George Washington (1732-1799) by Charles Willson Peale detail

But who could actually garden for amusement & diversion in early America?
Even though Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard M’Mahon (1775-1816) promoted gardening to every segment of society in the new nation in his 1806 The American Gardener's Calendar, it was evident that before the Revolution true pleasure gardening as a “fine art” was only theoretically accessible to every man in the emerging republic. 
All the aspiring garden “artist” needed was
-an excess of land & leisure time;
-some knowledge of the rules of perspective, classical design, mythological symbolism, & horticulture;
-regularly available labor not otherwise needed to produce income; and
-the inclination to present himself at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of nature as he ordered it.

Gardening primarily for ornament, amusement, and diversion in the 18th century was obviously limited to the elite. Even after independence, the true pleasure gardener of the emerging republic was primarily the property owner, the male citizen of the United States of America. His wife usually tended the greenhouse & decorative plants.

In the Maryland landscape paintings of Francis Guy (1760-1820), it was usually the male owner, often accompanied by a male visitor, who was depicted surveying his ornamental grounds. The pleasure-gardening property-owning male was usually also a slave owner or rented others’ slaves or paid free blacks or indentured whites to help shape & maintain his personal external environment. The possession of capital was an important ingredient in determining who pleasure gardened.

Yale graduate & father of 8 children Frederick Butler (1765-1843) wrote in Wethersfield, Connecticut, of the multiple motives for gardening, "The productions of a well cultivated Garden, are too evident to need any remarks by way of illustration. The health they afford to the family, not only in the luxuries Which they furnish for the table ; but in the exercise, amusement, and enjoyment they impart in their cultivation, exceed all description : in fact, the fruits and vegetables of a garden are the life of a family, upon every principle of enjoyment and economy."

John Trumbull (American painter, 1756-1843) Thomas Jefferson 1788 
Thomas Jefferson was constantly changing his house and his gardens at Monticello. "Architecture is my delight," he said, "and putting up and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements."
But George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, & John Adams knew that gardening was more than just an amusement to occupy their idle hours. Each were aware of directions in garden design that had been spearheaded by the political leaders of centuries past & which were the basis for gardens in early America. The spiritual importance of gardening & the agrarian way of life was not lost on the gentlemen shaping American's future..

Friday, August 17, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Culver's Root

Calabrese Broccoli (Brassica oleracea cv.)

Thomas Jefferson grew green, purple, and white types of broccoli on many occasions in his gardens at Monticello. Introduced to America in the 1880s by Italian immigrants, Calabrese Broccoli is a popular market variety with 5-8”, dark green heads. Smaller side shoots can be continually harvested after the main head is removed.

For more information & the possible availability
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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Plants in Early American Gardens - Calabrese Broccoli

Calabrese Broccoli (Brassica oleracea cv.)

Thomas Jefferson grew green, purple, and white types of broccoli on many occasions in his gardens at Monticello. Introduced to America in the 1880s by Italian immigrants, Calabrese Broccoli is a popular market variety with 5-8”, dark green heads. Smaller side shoots can be continually harvested after the main head is removed.

For more information & the possible availability
Contact The Tho Jefferson Center for Historic Plants or The Shop at Monticello 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Finally, Flowers get proper, scientific names & become status symbols

From "Pretty" Flowers to Grass to Flowers with Proper, Scientific Names

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oxford Botanic Garden

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

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

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

 Pagoda & Temperate House, Kew Gardens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In both England & in the early American republic, botany & new classification systems for plants caused a surge in collecting plants. In 1789, William Hamilton instructed the gardeners at his Philadelphia estate, Woodlands, to plant “exotic bulbous roots…at six or eight Inches from each other…taking care to preserve the distinctions of the sorts.”
18C woodcut

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Thomas Jefferson's Vegetable Garden

Thomas Jefferson's vegetable garden evolved over many years, beginning in 1770 when crops were first cultivated along the contours of the slope. Terracing was introduced in 1806, & by 1812, gardening activity was at its peak. The 1,000-foot-long terrace, or garden plateau, was literally hewed from the side of the mountain with slave labor, & it was supported by a massive stone wall that stood over 12 feet in its highest section. One contemporary visitor remarked on the dramatic "sea view" across the rolling Piedmont countryside.

Perched atop the wall, at the half-way point of the garden, is the garden pavilion with its double-sash windows, Chinese railing, & pyramidal roof. The pavilion was used by Jefferson as a quiet retreat where he could read in the evening. It was reputedly blown down in a violent wind storm in the late 1820's. The pavilion based on Jefferson's notes & archaeological excavations. It overlooks an 8-acre orchard of 300 trees, a vineyard, & Monticello's berry squares, which are plots of figs, currants, gooseberries, & raspberries.

The main part of the 2-acre garden is divided into 24 "squares," or growing plots, & at least in 1812, the squares were arranged according to which part of the plant was being harvested -- whether "fruits" (tomatoes, beans), "roots" (beets, carrots), or "leaves" (lettuce, cabbage). At the base of the wall, below the garden, Jefferson successfully grew figs in Submural Beds, which were also situated to create a uniquely warm setting.

The vegetable garden was a also kind of laboratory where Jefferson could experiment with imported squashes & broccoli from Italy, beans & salsify collected by the Lewis & Clark expedition, figs from France, & peppers from Mexico. Although he would grow as many as 20 varieties of beans & 15 types of English peas, his use of the scientific method selectively eliminated inferior types: "I am curious to select one or two of the best species or variety of every garden vegetable, & to reject all others from the garden to avoid the dangers of mixing or degeneracy."

Because of favorable air drainage on a small mountaintop, late spring frosts are rare, & the first freezing temperatures in the fall rarely occur before Thanksgiving. A particularly warm environment was created in the Northwest Borders by radiating warmth from the grassy bank of the slope below Mulberry Row. Jefferson used this border to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, & peas very early in the season.

The site & situation of the garden enabled Jefferson to extend the growing season into the winter months & provided an amenable climate for tender vegetables such as the French artichoke. The garden, as well as the orchard, was surrounded by a 10-foot-high wooden or "paling" fence, which ran for nearly 3/4 of a mile. While the fence was constructed primarily as a defense against domestic animals & deer, the boards were placed "so near as not to let even a young hare in."

All information from Thomas Jefferson Foundation.