Thursday, January 31, 2019

Flowers & Plants in Early American Gardens - Hollow Crown Parsnip

Hollow Crown Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa cv.)

The wild parsnip, native to Great Britain and Europe, was recorded in English garden books and herbals by 1548. Thomas Jefferson planted parsnips in the Monticello vegetable garden from 1774 to 1823. Grown since the early nineteenth century, Hollow Crown Parsnip is one of the oldest varieties still in cultivation, and boasts long, sweet, white roots.

Contact The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at
Email chp@monticello.org
Phone 434-984-9819

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Gardening Books in Early America - Classic Roman garden & farm writings

During the late colonial & early federal period, Roman works on farming were recorded in several 18th century colonial libraries including:

~Marcus Porcius Cato (234–149 b.c.) De Agricultura,

~Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus Palladius (4th century a.d.) Secondus' Naturalis Historiae Libri, the letters of Pliny the Younger "translated by Melmoth,"
~Marcus Terentius Varro (116-27 b.c.), Rerum Rusicarum Libri Tres, and many volumes of 
~Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (approx. 4 b.c. – 65 a.d.), including Of Husbandry and "his book concerning trees translated from the Latin"
Agriculture in ancient Rome was not only a necessity, but it was idealized among the social elite as the most honorable way of life.  Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC), usually called Cicero, considered farming the best of all Roman occupations. In his treatise On Duties, he declared that "of all the occupations by which gain is secured, none is better than agriculture, none more profitable, none more delightful, none more becoming to a free man."  Cicero defended country life as "the teacher of economy, of industry, and of justice." 

Of course, much Roman advice from the elite about farming was theoretical.  Land ownership was a dominant factor in distinguishing the aristocracy from the common person, and the more country land a Roman gentleman owned, the more important he would be in the city.  The ideal Roman farm would depend on slave labor overseen by freemen, a system familiar in the American south.  The Romans had 4 systems of farm management: direct work by owner & his family; sharecropping in which the owner & a tenant divide up a farm's produce; forced labor by slaves on land owned by aristocrats & supervised by slave managers; & farms leased to tenants.  One way to acquire land was as a reward for going to war.  High ranking soldiers returning from war would often be given small pieces of public land or land in provinces as a way of paying them for their services.  After the American Revolution, the newly formed government instituted a similar plan for those who had fought for their country.


In 18th-century America, most of the personal & public repositories containing these works in the original language also housed either Littleton's Latin Dictionary, Ainsworth's Latin, or Floru's Latin and English to assist in translation.*


Marylander Charles Carroll of Carrollton referred to "Addison's Cato" when writing to a friend in London in 1775.  Cato's writings are a miscellaneous collection of notes rather than an an organized text, giving directions for the care of a farm seemingly based on Cato’s own experience.  But one might question Cato's first-hand experience, as he claimed such a farm should have "a foreman, a foreman's wife, ten laborers, one ox driver, one donkey driver, one man in charge of the willow grove, one swineherd, in all sixteen persons; two oxen, two asses for wagon work, one ass for the mill work."  Cato wrote "when they would praise a worthy man their praise took this form: 'Good husband good farmer'; it is from the farming class that the bravest men and the sturdiest soldiers come." 


Cato writes on diverse farm topics from growing asparagus to curing hams. His general advice on transplanting trees & shrubs would be familiar to 18th-century American planters, “In transplanting olives, elms, figs, fruit trees, vines, pines, and cypresses, dig them up carefully, roots and all, with as much of their own soil as possible … When you place them in the trench, bed them in top soil, spread dirt over them to the ends of the roots, trample it thoroughly and pack with rammers and bars as firmly as possible."


Varro was renowned for the depth of his knowledge in diverse disciplines. He was said to be a prolific writer, but only 6 incomplete books on the Latin language & 3 books on agriculture seem to have survived.  He began his work on agriculture late in life writing it in the form of instructions addressed to his wife, Fundania, for their recently purchased a farm. Varro says that his remarks are "derived from three sources: what I have myself observed by practice on my own land, what I have read, and what I have heard from experts."  He divides the planting year into 8 periods, enumerating tasks for each period. For example, during the 7th period, autumn, he recommends "Planting of lilies and crocus."  He also gives directions for propagating roses: "A rose which has already formed a root is cut from the root up into twigs a palm breadth long and planted; later on the same twig is transplanted when it has made a living root."

Columella, born in Spain, spent much in his youth with his uncle who was a farmer. He warns that reading about agriculture can be instructive, but that to become a farmer it is necessary to put theory  into actual practice. His 12 books on agriculture, Rei rusticae, plus one on trees, De arboribus, constitute the most comprehensive & ordered of all the Roman farm & garden texts. De Rei Rustica begins with a list of his predecessors & makes a point of the importance of agriculture, he speaks of general husbandry & farm management in Book 1. Book 2 is on the cultivation of the land. Books 3, 4 and the 1st part of Book 5 are on viticulture. The last half of Book 5 is dedicated to arboriculture.  Book 6 is on cattle.   Book 7 is devoted to smaller animals, sheep, goats, et al.  Book 8 tells of fowl & fish.  Book 9 is devoted to game & bees.  Later on, Columella added 2 more books.  Book 11 gives information on the tasks of the farm manager & more on horticulture.  Book 12 continues to define the jobs of the villa. Columella defined the 3 main elements of the villa. These include the pars urbana, where the owner lived together with his familia; the pars rustica, where laborers, animals & farm tools were located; & the pars fructuaria, which held the equipment for processing & preserving the harvest. Columella uses the term circa villam to describe the surrounding area, thus emphasising that the villa was associated with agricultural lands. A villa rustica may be thought of as a simple farm, & a villa urbana as a manor – the master's residence.

Columella also writes one book specifically on gardening. Book 10, De cultu hortorum, probably intented to be the last one, has horticulture as its subject. In it Columella becomes a poet treating his garden in verse, following Vergilius. Columella explains that this book is meant to supplement Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC-19 BC), usually called VirgilGeorgica, 4 books on agriculture in which Virgil describes life & work of the countryman. Agriculture, viticulture, lifestock, & apiculture are all examined by Virgil. 

Virgil's Georgics (Book IV) cites the life of bees as a model for human society + the story of Aristaeus and the bees. 1502

In Book 10, Columella gives advice on tilling, manuring, watering & weeding gardens. At the first sign of spring the gardener,

Should with rich mould or asses’ solid dung
Or other ordure glut the starving earth …
Now let him with the hoe’s well-sharpened edge
Again attack the earth’s surface packed with rain
And hard with frost; then with the tooth of rake
Or broken mattock mix the living turf
With clods of earth and all the crumbling wealth
Of the ripe field set free …

Despite the practical advice in Columella’s work, he also repeats local customs & superstitions. One could ward off pests by having a barefoot girl experiencing her first menstruation walk 3 times around a field, & then a shower of smooth skinned apples or of bark-thatched acorns rains down when the tree is shaken, so writhing caterpillars are tumbled to earth.  Columella also warns that "grain offers little profit compared to wine."  Perhaps it was a matter of personal preference of wine over bread.

Palladius' manual is entirely arranged in calendar form, giving agricultural hints for each month of the year, beginning with January.  The 1st printed work on agriculture is the 1471 Ruralia commoda by Pietro de Crescenzi (c 1230–c 1320) issued just a year before the editio princeps of the 4 classical era agricultural texts. Crescenzi’s is a much more practical approach to agriculture, actually based on hands-on experience on his own country estate near Bologna. It incorporated advice from classical authorities such as Palladius & Columella, supplemented with detailed information on general plant & animal husbandry, with some ornamental gardening as well.  Originally written in Latin, it was quickly translated into Italian, French, & German.

The 4 Roman writers on agriculture were frequently found published together in a single volume, under the general title Scriptores rei rusticate.  The 1735 edition of the 4 Roman texts by Johann Matthias Gesner (1691–1761), a German language & literature scholar, is considered to be one of the best, including commentaries & even notes.

In 1742, Eliza Lucas Pinckney in South Carolina, wrote a letter to her friend Miss Bartlett, "I have got no further than the first volume of Virgil but was most agreeable disappointed to find myself instructed in agriculture as well as entertained by his charming pen, for I am persuaded tho' he wrote in and for Italy, it will in many instances suit Carolina...the calm and diction of pastoral and gardening agreeably presented themselves, not unsuitably to this charming season of the year, with which I am so much delighted."  Eliza was writing the letter on a glorious Carolina spring day.


Growing interest in classical farming techniques & theories spurred Adam Dickson to write Husbandry of the Ancients published in Edinburgh in 1788.  Virginian George Wythe (1726 –1806), law professor, classics scholar, & judge, owned a copy of the essays of Cato, Varro, & Collubella in Adam Dickson's Husbandry of the Ancients.  Although he was not a farmer or a gardener, he thought this collection was so important, that he left it to Thomas Jefferson in 1806.

Boy holding a platter of fruits & what may be a bucket of crabs, in a kitchen with fish & squid, on the June panel from a mosaic depicting the months (3rd century)

~Linguae latinae liber dictionarius quadripartitus: Dr. Adam Littleton's (1627-1694) Latin dictionary, in four parts. An English-Latin. A Latin-classical. An Latin-proper. A Latin-barbarous D. Brown, 1715
~Thesavrvs Lingvae Latinae Compendiarivs Or, A Compendious Dictionary of the Latin Tongue: Designed Chiefly for the Use of the British Nations. Robert Ainsworth (1660-1743) W. Mount and T. Page, 1751
~John Clarke's Florus, Latin and English. 1774

For more information on Roman agriculture, see


~Bakels, Corrie & Stefanie Jacomet, “Access to Luxury Foods in Central Europe during the Roman Period: The Archaeobotanical Evidence.” In World Archaeology, Vol. 34, No. 3, Luxury Foods (February, 2003), 542-557.
~Dalby, Andrew (2003), Food in the ancient world from A to Z, London, New York: Routledge,
~Erdkamp, Paul .The Grain Market in the Roman Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005
~Garnsey, Peter. Food and Society in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
~Garnsey, Peter and Richard P. Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy, Society, and Culture. Berkley: University of California Press, 1987.
~Garnsey P.  Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World. Cambridge University Press. 1988
~Giacosa I.G. 1992. A Taste of Ancient Rome. University of Chicago Press.
~Grant, Michael. History of Rome. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978.
~Haywood, Richard Mansfield. Ancient Rome. New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1867.
~Killgrove K. Migration and mobility in Imperial Rome. 2010 PhD dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
~Spurr, M. S. Arable Cultivation in Roman Italy – c.200 B.C.-C.A.D. 100. London: The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 1986.
~Vogt, Joseph. The Decline of Rome: The Metamorphosis of Ancient Civilisation. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1965.
~White, Kenneth D. “The Efficiency of Roman Farming under the Empire.” In Agricultural History, Vol. 30, No. 2 (April, 1956), 85-89.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Flowers & Plants in Early American Gardens - Long Green Improved Cucumber

Long Green Improved Cucumber (Cucumis sativus)

Cucumbers have been cultivated for centuries in India and China and were part of the diet of Greeks and Romans. They were introduced into the New World by 15th-century Spanish explorers who brought fruits to Haiti. Thomas Jefferson included “early long green cucumber” in his list of “objects for the garden” in 1794. Long Green Improved Cucumber was introduced in 1842. This is a popular cucumber for pickling and slicing, growing to 12 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. Flesh is crisp and very white.

Contact The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at
Email chp@monticello.org
Phone 434-984-9819

Monday, January 28, 2019

1793 Future Governor's Garden on the Eastern Shore of Maryland

1793 Garden in the background of this portrait by William Clarke, (American artist, fl 1785-1806) Portrait of Levin Winder (1757-1819) who became Governor of Maryland, 1812-1816
1793 Formal Garden in the background of this portrait by William Clarke, (American artist, fl 1785-1806) Portrait of Mrs Levin Winder (1757-1819).

Levin Winder (1757-1819) in Baltimore, Maryland. During the Revolutionary War, he was appointed major of the 4th Maryland Regiment, finally attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel at war's end. After the war, he served with the Maryland Militia at the rank of brigadier general.  Winder served as the 14th Governor of the state of Maryland in the United States from 1812 to 1816. He also served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1789 to 1793.  Levin Winder was born in Somerset County in 1757, the son of William & Esther (Gillis) Winder, a descendant of John Winder, who had emigrated from England in 1665. As a young man, he prepared to practice law, until the outbreak of the war prevented him from doing so. Instead, he joined the army & in January of 1776, the Convention of Maryland appointed him a 1st lieutenant in the Fifth Company of the Maryland Line. In December of the same year, he was promoted to captain; & in the Spring of 1777, he became a major in the Fourth Regiment. He became a lieutenant colonel in the Second Regiment in 1781, & was discharged from the service on November of 1783.  After his return home, he became a farmer on a large scale on his estate near Princess Anne. He never again resumed a law practice, even though he did devote many years of his life to public service.  For the next 10 years, Winder focused his attention to the operation of his plantation. On May 13, 1790, he married Mary Staughton Sloss. They had 3 children, all of whom survived their father.  He left the Office of Governor in 1816 & returned to his family estate with the gardens pictured here.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Flowers & Plants in Early American Gardens - Valencia Winter Melon

Valencia Winter Melon (Cucumis melo var. inodorus cv.)

The Valencia Winter Melon is a dark green-skinned melon with creamy white flesh that keeps well in winter storage. It was listed by American seedsmen by the 1830s. Similar to the Malta Melon grown by Jefferson, the Valencia ripens late for harvesting before frost. In storage its flavor and sweetness increases.

Contact The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at
Email chp@monticello.org
Phone 434-984-9819

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Landscape Design - Courtyard at Governor's House

Public Yard - Courtyard at Governor's House
Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia was home to 7 royal governors, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. A professor from the College of William and Mary sketched a Williamsburg vista in a book published in 1724, when the city was just 25 years old. "From the Church," he said, "runs a Street northward called Palace Street; at the other end of which stands the Palace or Governor's House, a magnificent Structure built at the publick Expense, finished and beautified with Gates, Fine Gardens, Offices, Walks, a fine Canal, Orchards, &c." The Governor’s Palace was new then. It had been finished in 1722, after 16 years of fitful building and mounting expense.

Governor Edward Nott persuaded the General Assembly to authorize its construction with an act passed October 23, 1705, and building began the following summer. In 1706, the act of the Virginia legislature authorizing the building of the Governor's Palace allocated 635 pounds for the construction of the garden with these instructions, "that a Court-Yard, of dimensions proportionable to the said house, be laid out, levelled and encompassed with a brick wall 4 feet high with the balustrades of wood thereupon, on the said land, and that a Garden of the length of 254 foot and the breadth of 144 foot from out to out, adjoining to the said house, to be laid out and levelled and enclosed with a brick wall, 4 feet high, with ballsutrades of wood upon the said wall, and that handsome gates be made to the said court-yard and garden."
Governor Alexander Spotswood arrived in 1711, to replace the deceased Nott. The new chief executive pushed for the Palace's completion, and on December 9 the legislature provided another £1,560, with £635 more to be spent on outbuildings, gardens, ornaments, furniture, and a four-foot wall around it all. Another act to finish and beautify the residence passed in 1713, but it was 3 more years before Spotswood took up residence, and the work was still incomplete in 1718.The House of Burgesses was tiring of the continuing expense. It complained on November 21 that Spotswood was "lavishing away all the country's money" on the project. Spotswood promised to pay for the canal and the terraced gardens, if the burgesses would not.
The word "Palace" was used to describe Virginia governor's house about 1714. Just inside the gate – guarded by a stone unicorn on one side and a stone lion on the other – stood two one-and-one-half story brick advance buildings with gabled roofs. They ran perpendicular to the main structure. By 1723, Rev. Hugh Jones reported that the courtyard was "finished and with beautiful gates." 
In the words of one modern writer, the Palace visitor traveled a "carefully orchestrated procession of spaces moving toward and culminating in the presence" of the king's immediate representative in Virginia. Down Palace green, through the ornamental iron gates at the entrance to the courtyard, across the forecourt, up the stone steps, into the hall with its display of muskets and the royal coat of arms, up the stairs, and into the governor's room, the important visitor arrived at the chamber of power. Beyond the house was a formal garden in which guests could stand on the mound of earth that covered the icehouse to look into a large, naturalistic park that stretched away to the north. The stable, carriage house, kitchen, scullery, laundry, and an octagonal bathhouse were arranged in service yards beside the advance buildings. 

But by 1776, the wooden components of the fences had begun to deteriorate, when note was made in the Virginia Council Journal that they were "Repairing Fodder Houses & paling round the Garden." Twenty five men were appointed "to repair fences of park" in 1777. And it was recorded that "60 foot of plank, 250 nails" were purchased for the task.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Flowers & Plants in Early American Gardens - Sesame

 Sesame (Sesamum indicum)
Sesame (Sesamum indicum)

Thomas Jefferson planted Sesame, or “Benni,” for many years at Monticello in order to press a salad oil from the seeds. He wrote in 1811, “I did not believe there existed so perfect a substitute for olive oil.” Sesame has been cultivated for centuries as a food in India and tropical Africa, but in European countries it has been used primarily for the oil. Jefferson also planted Sesame as a border plant because of its ornamental qualities.

Contact The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at
Email chp@monticello.org
Phone 434-984-9819

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Rochester, New York Seed Dealer James Vick 1818-1882

Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873, issued quarterly, pp. 132.

This article was written by seed dealer James Vick (1818-1882) of Rochester, New York, in  pages 21-24 of Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873.
 Store Front Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873

OUR SEED HOUSE

It is acknowledged that I have the largest and best regulated retail Seed House in the world.  It is visited by thousands every year from all parts of this country, and by many from Europe, and 1 take pleasure in exhibiting everything of interest or profit to visitors.  As hundreds of thousands of my customers will probably never have the opportunity of making a personal visit, I thought a few facts and illustrations would be interesting to this large class whom 1 am anxious to please, and be, at least, an acknowledgement of a debt of gratitude for long continued confi­dence, which I can feel, but not repay.
Inside the Store Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873

Two Catalogues are issued each year, one of Bulbs in August, and on the first of December a beautiful Floral Guide:, of 130 pages, finely illustrated with hundreds of engravings of Flowers and plants and colored plates. Last year, the number printed was three hundred thousand at a cost of over sixty thousand dollars. In addition to the ordinary conveniences of a well regulated Seed House, there is connected with this establishment a Printing Office, Bindery, Box Making Establishment, and Artists’ and Engravers’ Rooms. Everything but the paper being made in the establishment.
Vick Store and Processing Center on State Street in Rochester, NY 1873 Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide 

To do this work fully occupies a building four stories in height (besides basement) sixty feet in width, and one hundred and fifty feet in length, with an addition in the upper story of a large room over an entire adjoining block.

BASEMENT

The large basement is arranged with immense quantities of drawers, &c., for storing Bulbs.  Here, too, are stored the heavier kinds of Seeds, in sacks, &c., piled to the ceiling.  The heavier packing is also done here.

FIRST FLOOR

The first floor is used entirely as a sales-shop, or “store,” for the sale of Seeds, Flowers, Plants and all Garden requisites and adornments, such as baskets, vases, lawn mowers, lawn tents, aquariums, seats, &c., &c.  It is arranged with taste, and the songs of the birds, the fragrance and beauty of the flowers, make it a most delightful spot in which to spend an hour.
The Order Room Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873

SECOND FLOOR

On the second floor is the Business and Private Offices, and also the Mail Room in which all letters are opened. The opening of letters occupies the entire time of two persons, and they perform the work with astonishing rapidity – practice making perfect – often opening three thousand in a day.  After these letters are opened they are passed into what is called the Registering Room, on the same floor, where they are divided into States, and the name of the person ordering, and the date of the receipt of the order registered.  They are then ready to be filled, and are passed into a large room, called the Order Room, where over seventy-five hands are employed, divided into gangs, each set, or gang, to a State, half-a-dozen or more being employed on each of the larger States.  After the orders are filled, packed and directed, they are sent to what is known as the Post Office, also on the same floor, where the packages are weighed, the necessary stamps put upon them, and stamps cancelled, when they are packed in Post Office bags furnished us by Government, properly labeled for the different routes, and sent to the Postal Cars.  Tons of Seeds are thus dispatched every day during the business season.
The Packing Room Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873

THIRD FLOOR

Here is the German Department, where all orders written in the German language are filled by German clerks; a Catalogue in this language being published. On this floor, also, all seeds are packed, that is, weighed and measured and placed in paper bags and stored ready for sale.  About fifty persons are employed in this room, surrounded by thousands of nicely labeled drawers.

FOURTH FLOOR

On this floor are rooms for Artists and Engravers, several of whom are kept constantly employed in designing and engraving for Catalogues and Chromos. Here, also, the lighter seed are stored.  In a large room adjoining, is the Printing Office, where the Catalogue is prepared, and other printing done, and also the Bindery, often employing forty or fifty hands, and turning out more than ten thousand Catalogues in a day. Here is in use the most improved machinery for covering, trimming, &c., propelled by steam.
The Bindery Wood engraving from Vick's Illustrated Floral Guide for 1873

MISCELLANEOUS

The immense amount of business done may be understood by a few facts: Nearly one hundred acres are employed, near the city, in growing flower seeds mainly, while large importations are made from Germany, France, Holland, Australia and Japan.  Over three thousand reams of printing paper are used each year for Catalogues, weighing two hundred thousand pounds, and the simple postage for sending these Catalogues by mail is thirteen thousand dollars.  Over fifty thousand dollars have been paid the Government for postage stamps last year.  Millions of bags and boxes are also manufactured in the establishment, requiring hundreds of reams of paper, and scores of tons of paste-board.  The business is so arranged that the wrappers are prepared for each State, with the name of the State conspicuously printed, thus saving a great deal of writing. as well as preventing errors.

I had prepared several other engravings of German Room, Printing Office, Artists’ Room, Counting Room, Mail Room, Post Office, &c., but have already occupied quite enough space give readers somewhat of an idea of the character of my establishment.  Another year, I may give further particulars.  James Vick
Seedsman James Vick (1818-1882)

James Vick was one of the merchants who dominated the floral nursery industry in New York in the 19C. James Vick was born in Portsmouth, England on Nov. 23, 1818.  In 1833, at the age of 12, he arrived in New York City to learn the printing trade.   By the time he moved to Rochester, he had acquired skills as a printer & writer.

In 1837, he moved with his parents to Rochester, New York, where he set type for several newspapers & journals. In 1849, James Vick was elected corresponding secretary of the Genesee Valley Horticultural Society. From 1849 through the early 1850s, Vick edited & then bought the popular journal The Genesee Farmer in 1855.  He later owned part of a workers’ journal and helped to found Frederick Douglass’s North Star.
Vick’s house in 1871

With Vick as editor, the publication became more elegant & circulation rapidly increased.  A year later he sold out to Joseph Harris.  On the death of A. J. Downing, James Vick bought "The Horticulturist" & moved it to Rochester in 1853.  For for 3 years he published this with Patrick Barry serving as Editor. It was devoted to horticulture, floriculture, landscape gardening, & rural architecture.

About this time, Vick started to grow flowers & began sending seeds out by mail to the readers of his publication.  Vick also started importing seed stock. In 1855, he established a seed store & printing house in Rochester for his growing mail order business.  In 1856, Vick started "Rural Annual and Horticultural Directory".  The first half was a seed catalog & the second a list of nurserymen.  This was taken over in 1857 by Joseph Harris who continued it until 1867.
Vick's Home on the South Side of East Avenue in Rochester, NY. 1877

With Vick’s knowledge of chromolithography & printing, he produce a catalog & later a monthly magazine.  The first, "Floral Guide and Catalogue" was printed in 1862.  His "Floral Guides" provided gardening advice, quality color prints, & reached a circulation of 250,000.  He entertained his readers with anecdotes, published letters he had received, & had a special section for children.

By the 1870s, as many as 150,000 catalogs were sent out each year.  A staff of more than 100 worked in the office & packing house.  There were over 75 acres of seed gardens scattered about the city.  In 1878, Vick started a paper, "Vick’s Illustrated Monthly" which was published by the Vick Seed Company in Rochester & in Dansville until 1909.  This magazine was sold by subscription.  Vick also printed a set of chromolithograph prints which were either sold or offered as premiums with large orders.
The Seed House of James Vick 1881 From Commerce, Manufactures & Resources of Rochester, NY

Vick was one of the most successful American horticultural seedsman, writers, & merchandisers of his day.  The Vick Seed Company continued into the 20C before being sold to the Burpee Seed Co. 

Thanks to the Smithsonian Libraries Biographies of American Seedsmen & Nurserymen 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Flowers & Plants in Early American Gardens - Sage

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage was a standard in kitchen gardens from colonial times, and Thomas Jefferson listed it for the Monticello garden in 1794. This culinary Mediterranean shrub, grown since the 13th century, was thought to prolong life. Its soft, gray-green foliage and spikes of lavender flowers, beloved by pollinators, make it an attractive ornamental. Deer resistant.

Contact The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at
Email chp@monticello.org
Phone 434-984-9819

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Landscape Design - Yards

Brick-Walled Yard. 1750s Walled Garden & Grounds at Cleve in Virginia. Anne Byrd of Westover (1725-1757) (Mrs. Charles Carter). Brick walls usually surrounded public yards at court houses, state houses, hospitals, churches, cemeteries, prisons, and inns. Wooden fences usually surround yards at private dwellings, but some gentry homes also had brick or stone walls.  A yard is an enclosed division of land usually attached to, or enclosed by a dwelling or public building or outbuildings usually defined by a fence or a wall.  The term court yard usually referred to a public or private entrance greeting and meeting area. Because most courtyards were built to receive carriages and horses, they usually were located on the road side of coastline houses, not on the water-facing facade.

At private homes in rural settings, defined yards often were attached to service buildings used to house livestock or to store firewood or to outdoor kitchens.  In Southern towns, yards sometimes were paved with bricks or crushed shells.  In 1753, in South Carolina Gazette, a dwelling for sale ad noted "a garden at the south front, and a yard lately paved in."

Eventually the term yard evolved throughout the 18C into the description of a cultivated area enclosed or attached to a dwelling that might contain flowers, orchard or shade trees, or a lawn intended to be used as a pleasure ground and exercise area. Other 19C yards remained entirely utilitarian.  In the 18C, the term yard was used to designate practical & often commercial work areas such as, hemp yardswood or timber yards, and even dock & ship yards.By the last quarter of the 18C, folks referred to the enclosed area, where those incarcerated take exercise, as a prison yard. 

North Carolinian William Martin visiting Richmond, Virginia in 1813, wrote, "every private yard is decorated with the handsomest shade trees which our Country boasts." We have dear relatives living in Richmond today. And Richmond's yards still have the handsomest of shade trees, a beautiful town.

Other yards on larger rural properties were meant for livestock such as cow yards, pig yards, barn yards, poultry yards, chicken yards, turkey yards, & goose yards.  Domestic work yards, especially those used to house animals, were usually separated from kitchen & floral or pleasure gardens by fences or walls.

On smaller properties, homeowners often divided the land closer to the rear of the house into yards. These often included a woodyard or a stackyard for storing straw & a fenced family yard, which served as a barrier against potential domestic & wild animal intrusion. 

In his Essays and Notes on Husbandry and Rural Affairs, John Beale Bordley wrote that the family yard should be planted in clean, closely cut grass & that its margins alone should be allowed to contain purely decorative flowers. Bordely explained that the well often stood near the family yard & wood yard. Sheep houses & pigsties commonly had their own individually fenced yards, & many poultry houses, or coops, had a distinct poultry yard often covered with fresh sand & gravel. Sections devoted to animals usually had watering troughs within their yards. The women in the family did the washing & ironing in washhouses, which were usually within or near a separately fenced area where the wash was hung on lines or spread across shrubs to dry. Contemporaries called these areas “bleach yards.”

Often colonials & early Americans would simply refer to their yards. Occasionally writers, especially visitors from England or the Continent, would leave the term yard off of a description of a court yard, simply referring to acourt. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Flowers & Plants in Early American Gardens - Blue-podded Capucijner Pea

Blue-podded Capucijner Pea (Pisum sativum cv.)

The Blue-podded Capucijner (cap-ou-SIGH-nah) is a hardy pea first grown by the Franciscan Capuchin monks in Holland and Germany during the early 1600s. Its particularly beautiful, bi-colored flowers are lilac-pink and wine-red, fading to blue as they wilt; pods are deep maroon to inky purple, fading to blue and leathery brown when mature. It is best used as a soup pea by picking when the pods are full; but it can also be grown as an edible-podded sugar pea by harvesting before peas have developed.

Contact The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at
Email chp@monticello.org
Phone 434-984-9819

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Gardening Books in Early America - Exchanging garden books

Many gentlemen gardeners ordered their design & planting instruction books, as well as seeds, plants, and even their gardeners from England. Despite wide discrepancies in both soil & climate among the colonies themselves and certainly between these "new" lands & mother England, gardeners up & down the Atlantic depended on English garden publications until well after the Revolution.
The British garden books that dominated the American market until the early 19th century, however inadequate & misleading their planting instructions, are valuable tools for reconstructing not only plant materials recommended but also methods used in designing & laying out 18th century gardens for both pleasure and food.

Catalogues of the circulating libraries that blossomed near the Atlantic after the Revolution are one important source in revealing gardening books used during this period. Other documents sometimes mentioning gardening books are letters, inventories, newspaper advertisements, diaries, and broadsides.

Some extant private book collections from the period remain in colonial libraries such as Thomas Jefferson's. Among the surviving libraries are those of the Ridgely family at Hampton in Baltimore County and the books of Charles Carroll the Barrister (1723-1783), housed at his home Mount Clare in Baltimore City.

An examination of the books read by colonial gardeners may help explain their tenacious refusal to let go of the formal garden concepts of the "ancients" -- like the geometric terraces found at both Hampton and Mount Clare--and accept the natural grounds revolution of their English contemporaries.

The surviving letters of 18th century Marylanders such as Henry Callister and Charles Carroll the Barrister often mention gardening books. Henry Callister (1716-1765) spent several years in a Liverpool counting house, before his employers sent him to oversee their store at Oxford on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Evidence of the frequent exchange of books among gardening readers on the Eastern Shore is found scattered throughout Callister's letterbooks.

The Eastern Shore tobacco factor Callister owned the 2 volume collection of Figures of the most beautiful, useful, and uncommon plants described in the Gardeners Dictionary. It had been printed for the author; and sold by J. Rivington in London, from 1755-1760. The illustrator was Philip Miller (1691-1771), one of the most important English horticultural figures of the 18th century.
Philip Miller, Plate CCXX. Ricinus. from Figures of the most beautiful, useful, and uncommon plants described in the Gardeners Dictionary

An acquaintance heard that Callister had the collection and knowing that Maryland's Governor Horatio Sharpe owned the Miller Gardener's Dictionary mentioned to him that Callister might sell the illustrations.

Callister wrote the Governor, offering him the watercolor plates for 15 pounds Maryland currency, which he declared was his actual cost, "Barclay favored me with the intimation of your Excellencies willingness to take off my hands Miller's Cuts. I have accordingly packed them up and deliver'd them to him. You will find inclosed an account of the nett prime cost. As your excellency is possessed of the Dictionary in folio, in which Mr. Millers Design was to adapt those cuts, they will be curious illustrations of his subject. But I have reason to think this was not his motive; your beneficence is seen in your laying hold of the occasion to ease me of a burthersome article' for the piece is indeed costly, and your taste seems to run rather on improvements in agriculture than mere entertainment in botany and natural history. For this I sincerely thank your Excellency."

The Governor did buy the books written and illustrated by Philip Miller, son of a Scotsman who served as a gardener in Kent before becoming a market gardener near Deptford.

Miller's Gardener's Dictionary was the backbone of most American garden libraries. It dealt with all aspects of gardening from kitchen gardens growing fruits, herbs, and vegetables to pleasure gardens. Virginians George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned copies as did many other Chesapeake gentry. The complete title surveys the scope of the work: The gardeners dictionary: containing the methods of cultivating and improving the kitchen, fruit, and flower garden. As also, the physick garden, wilderness, conservatory and vineyard... Interspers'd with the history of the plants, the characters of each genus, and the names of all particular species, in Latin and English; and an explanation of all the terms used in botany and gardening, etc. It was first published in London in 1731 and revised in many editions over the coming years.

Even Benjamin Franklin, not known to be a gardener, wrote to his wife Deborah Franklin, 27 May 1757: "In my Room, on the Folio Shelf, between the Clock and our Bed Chamber, and not far from the Clock, stands a Folio call'd the Gardener's Dictionary, by P. Miller ... Deliver ... to Mr. (James) Parker"
Frontis Piece from Philip Miller's Gardener's Dictionary. 1731

A copy of Miller's Gardener's Dictionary still exists in the library at Mount Clare in Baltimore City, home of Charles Carroll the Barrister, son of Dr. Charles Carroll (1691-1755). Dr. Carroll came to the colony about 1715 to practice medicine. He became a planter, ship-builder, land speculator, and part-owner of a large iron business. Like many other Maryland planters, the elder Carroll ordered his books directly from England, where he sent his son Charles to be educated. Charles Carroll the Barrister returned to Maryland a few months before his father died. One of the first things the Barrister did after his father's death was to pay debts his father owed a London bookseller.

In 1760, as the son began to plan his new country house near Baltimore, he ordered a copy of Miller's Gardener's Dictionary. By 1766, Charles Carroll the Barrister was ordering his seeds from his British factors by noting specific seed types directly from the English gardening books on his shelves. The Barrister's letters referred to Miller's treatise frequently using it to describe varieties of peach and apricot trees he wished to plant in his garden. He wrote, "The Nursery Man may Look into Millars Gardeners Dictionary where he will See the Names of Each.".

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Flowers & Plants in Early American Gardens - Mammoth Sandwich Island Salsify

Mammoth Sandwich Island Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius cv.)

Salsify has been cultivated in Europe for its edible, carrot-like root since the 16th century. Jefferson planted “Salsafia” as early as 1774 in his Monticello vegetable garden, and called it "one of the best roots for winter" in 1812. Mammoth Sandwich Island Salsify is a biennial, purple-flowering variety first distributed in New York in the late 1880s and was promoted for its high yield.

Contact The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at
Email chp@monticello.org
Phone 434-984-9819

Friday, January 18, 2019

Gardening Books in the early Chesapeake

Practical farming & gardening books far outnumbered books devoted exclusively to pleasure gardening on the bookshelves of colonial & early American gardeners. Agriculture was the main source of income for most colonial families. Once a landowner was producing enough off of his land to support his family, he might have the time & the extra funds to begin to transform some of his land, closest to his house, into a pleasure garden. It was his art.
Often the necessary agricultural instruction books contained information on gardening as well. We can learn which farming books were in use in the colonies from death inventories. Marylanders were fairly faithful inventory recorders. Although scattered estate inventory records dating back to 1674, do exist in the state, these documents are nearly complete after a 1715 law required all executors to make an estate inventory within 3 months of death.

Unfortunately inventory takers were not often very specific when recording book titles & seldom listed authors, so the interpretation of precisely what book was recorded in early property lists is difficult. The 1718 inventory of William Bladen, who was Secretary of Maryland in 1701, & Attorney General in 1707, listed John Evelyn's (1620-1706) The Complete Gardener published in London in 1693. It was a translation of a French work by Jean de la Quintinie (1629-1688). The "Art of Gardening" which appears in several early inventories was probably the work of the English author, Leonard Meager. His book, actually titled The New Art of Gardening, was published in London in 1697.

The extant letters of 18th century Marylanders Henry Callister & Charles Carroll the Barrister (of Mount Clare) often mention farming books. Henry Callister (1716-1765) spent several years in a Liverpool counting house, before his employers sent him to manage their store at Oxford on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Evidence of the frequent exchange of books among gardening readers on the Eastern Shore is found scattered throughout his letterbooks.

After his arrival in Maryland, Callister became acquainted with a prosperous planter William Carmichael, who lived near Chestertown. Callister borrowed Carmichael's copy of Jethro Tull's (1647-1741) Horse-Hoeing Husbandry: Or, an Essay on the Principals of Tillage and Vegetation published in 1733. The book was a classic, and Tull came to be called the "father of modern husbandry." Callister also owned a copy of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort's (1656-1708) History of Plants Growing about Paris, With Their Use in Physick, and a mechanical account of the operation of medicines. Translated into English, with many additions, & accommodated to the plants growing in Great Britain by John Martyn, it was published by C. Riverington in London in 1732.

Callister offered to sell this particular book to a fellow gardener in 1765, "I have a small posthumous work of Tournefort...it gives the description & use of plants in medicine, with their chymical analysis; it is an 2v. 12 degree worth 12/6 Currency. I shall send it if you like. I would now, as it might be return'd if not wanted, but there are a few things in it which I would read first."

The book's author Joseph Pitton de Tournefort became professor of Botany at the Jardin du Roi botanic garden in Paris in 1683, and later made various expeditions in Europe & the Near East in search of plants. In 1688, he took his degree of Doctor of Medicine at the University of Orange. The book's English translator, John Martyn (1699-1768) was Professor of Botany at Cambridge from 1732 until 1762.

By 1766, Charles Carroll the Barrister was ordering his seeds for Mount Clare from his British factors by noting specific seed types directly from the English gardening books on his shelves. That year he copied a long list of seeds "from Hale's Complete Body of Husbandry," first published in London in 1755/56, asking his English agents to send as many of them as possible to Maryland.

Another book referred to by the Barrister was Thomas Hale's Eden: or a compleat body of gardening...(or ratehr by Sir. J. Hill) published in London in 1756-57. John Hill (1716-1775) was the son of a Lincolnshire clergyman brought up to be an apothecary. During his apprenticeship he attended the lectures on botany of the Chelsea botanic garden. In 1750, he was granted a degree as a Doctor of Medicine from the University of St. Andrews. In 1760, he assisted in laying out a botanic garden at Kew & was a gardener at Kensington Palace. Carroll's copy of Hale's Complete Husbandry still exists in the library at Mount Clare.

The Barrister was also interested in the agricultural reforms sweeping England. He not only knew which specific books he wanted his English agents to buy but was able to direct them to the specific publishing houses in London that stocked the desired works. He ordered, "A new and Complete System of Practical Husbandry by John Mills Esquire, Editor of Duhamels Husbandry printed by John Johnson at the monument... Essays on Husbandry Essay the first On The Ancient and Present State of Agriculture and the Second On Lucern Printed for William Frederick at Bath 1764. Sold by Hunter at Newgate Street or Johnston in Ludgate Street."

The Barrister's distant cousin who signed the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), also ordered farming & gardening books from England. By the mid 1760s, his family's library in Annapolis contained Miller's Dictionary & Richard Bradley's (1686-1732) New Improvement of Planting and Gardening published in London in 1726. Bradley's work appeared in several Maryland inventories in the 1730's. Bradley studied gardening in France and Holland; and in 1724, he was appointed the first professor of Botany at Cambridge.

Another popular English publication in Carroll's library by the mid-1760s was Batty Langley's (1696-1751) New Principles of Gardening... with Experimental Directions for Raising several kinds of Fruit Trees, Forest Trees, Evergreens and Flowering Shrubs. Later the Carrolls added to their library Richard Weston's (1733-1806) Gardener's and Planter's Calendar published in Dublin in 1782. Weston was a thread hosier in Leicester who had travelled in France & Holland as Secretary of the Leicester Agricultural Society.

The letters of Henry Callister & the several Maryland Carrolls show that many of the books owned by Marylanders were imported directly from London in exchange for the annual tobacco shipment or goods such as iron ore. Before the Revolution wealthy planters & merchants depended on their own private libraries often exchanging books with one another. When literate farmers & planters died, their books were passed to others with deliberate care. At the death of Virginian gentleman William Ludlow in the mid 1760s, his books were offered for sale directly to Charles Carroll of Carrollton who chose two gardening books from the Virginian's collection including Batty Langley's treatise.

Direct trade with London booksellers gradually decreased, as tobacco became less important in the economic life of Maryland and as trade was curtailed during the Revolution. As a result, bookstores & circulating libraries began to appear in Annapolis & Baltimore. Their appearance coincided with the rise of a literate merchant class. Before the Revolution, there were a few booksellers in colonial Maryland. William Aikman was an early bookseller in Annapolis who imported quantities of books from London for sale directly to colonial readers. In the Maryland Gazette of June 23, 1774, he advertised for sale "Adam Dickson, A Treatise on Agriculture...2 vol. Edinburgh, 1770."

Several Maryland booksellers quickly realized that not all readers in the new nation could afford to buy books for their personal use & started offering less costly circulating library services to expand their businesses. By 1783, Annapolis had its own circulating library offering a few farming & gardening books to subscribers. These included Richard Weston's Gardener's and Planter's Calendar (published only a year earlier in Ireland) and Thomas Mawe's Everyman His Own Gardener published in London by W. Griffin in 1767. Mawe was the gardener to the Duke of Leeds who only lent his name to give an air of authenticity to the publication actually written by John Abercrombie (1726-1806).

The largest collection of 18th century gardening & agricultural books owned in Maryland is referred to in earliest catalogue of the Library Company of Baltimore. These books formed the nucleus of information for Baltimore farmers for many years. In the December 1780 Maryland Journal, William Prichard advertised that he was opening a bookstore & establishing a circulating library of 1000 volumes in Baltimore. By 1784, a 2nd literary entrepreneur William Murphy opened a circulating library in the city, but the most information remains about the Library Company of Baltimore, which had 60 subscribers & 1300 volumes when it was chartered in 1796. By 1809 when the first catalogue was prepared, the library had over 400 members & 7000 volumes. By the next year there were about 35,000 people living in Baltimore, many visiting the Library Company to borrow an English or classical book on gardening.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Why Garden? To impress Visitors & Passers-By

House & garden tours are not a new phenomenon. Eighteenth-century Chesapeake gentry & artisans alike enjoyed viewing gardens on their journeys & in their local neighborhoods & believed that one could tell a lot about people by the gardens they kept. Serious gardeners & even dedicated gossips recorded their observations. Annapolis silversmith & clockmaker William Faris, strolling the streets of Annapolis, jotted notes in his journal about his neighbors’ gardens.
Jonathan Buddington, View of the Cannon House and Wharf in Lower Manhattan, NY with Passers-By (detail) 1792 

John Adams was an inveterate garden watcher & often judged the status of his contemporaries by what he saw. He took note of Baltimore gardens in the winter of 1777, when the Continental Congress met there. At William Lux’s 1750s country seat, Chatsworth, he noted, “the large garden enclosed in lime and before the yard two fine rows of large cherry trees which lead out to the public road. There is a fine prospect about it. Mr. Lux lives like a prince.” The princely grounds, which included a 164-by-234-' terraced garden, were late sold to become a commercial garden & renamed Gray’s Garden.

Lux chose to protect his investment by building a stone wall directly connecting Chatsworth’s central-axis, symmetrical garden to the house, a feature it shared with several of the earliest Chesapeake gardens. Holly Hill, Maryland’s oldest surviving seventeenth-century brick house, had a geometrically balanced walled garden directly adjoining the L-shaped building. Bacon’s Castle, Virginia’s earliest seventeenth-century brick dwelling, was an exception. It’s rectangular garden was only partially walled & not connected to the main house. The Bacon’s Castle garden was set off to the side & was not a Palladian progression of the geometric lines of the dwelling.

Inside its brick wall, William Lux defined Chatsworth’s grounds by creating eight equal-sized rectangles, or “oblongs” as English garden authority Philip Miller called them. Miller, whose work The Gardeners Dictionary was widely read in the colonial Chesapeake, recommended central-axis gardens with matching squares on either side of a gravel walk leading out from a door at the center of the house. Most colonial gardeners adopted Miller’s advice & build their garden beds twice as long as broad. By mid-century, main-axis symmetry dominated most mid-Atlantic gardens.

William Lux planned Chatsworth’s walled garden before the Revolution, in the still wild Baltimore countryside, & he probably felt safer with the control a wall afforded him. His garden was reminiscent of medieval European walled gardens, which closed out interlopers & in which humans molded nature to their own uses. In late European walled gardens, the owners often toiled to perfect the Neoplatonic ideal of producing perfect examples of flowers & rare plants. There visitors could admire specimens of imported exotic as well as native plants either in pots or planted directly in the soil. And so it was in the colonies. Men & women alike became plant hunters in seventeenth- & 18th-century North America. They excitedly exchanged plants & sent new species back to England & Europe for study. William Byrd, in his diary entry for April 10, 1720, wrote of entertaining guests at Westover in Virginia: “After dinner we walked in the garden and I showed them several rarities.”

By mid-century, city-dwelling gentry, in the quickly growing towns up & down the Atlantic, often build brick-walled gardens as well. Charles Carroll of Carollton incorporated a wall into his grounds in Annapolis in 1774; his neighbor William Paca (1740-99) had enclosed his garden with a brick wall nearly a decade earlier. Brick walls were expensive & available to only a few in early America, but the served useful proposes. They kept vegetables & fruits safe from intrusion, & they announced that the owners were persons of means.

The Paca House garden, reconstructed in the 1970s, is unusual in that its main walk does not lead from a center door on the garden façade, so the garden does not sit on a central axis, relative to the house. The garden, for years buried under a paved parking lot, was restored as a typical geometric & symmetrical garden on the top terraces. The lowest terrace Paca designed with a lake & a summerhouse in a contrived naturalistic style. Charles Willson Peale included this lower terrace in a portrait of William Paca, & it is the only documented space in the garden. Paca had just retuned from England when he began building his garden in the 1760s, so he would have been familiar with the natural style in vogue in Britain at that moment.

Paca’s house, also built in the 1760s, was not at all large compared to the homes of English gentry, but for Annapolis it was quite grand. The brick structure comprises a 48-by-44-' two-story center section & two single-story wings-a kitchen wing of 32 by 16 ' and a corresponding office wing of the same size. Paca purchased two 198-by-198-' lots for his house & gardens. The gardens he planned consisted of three falls, narrowing as the dropped 16 ½ ' to the naturalized lowest level featuring the summerhouse & a Chinese-style bridge over a pond. Archaeologists found that the terrace closest to the house measured 80 ' in width, the next 55 ', & the last 40 '. This design allowed those viewing the two-acre garden from the house to see grounds that appeared larger than reality. Using optics to created an illusion of larger houses & grounds was particularly important in colonial Chesapeake towns, where space was limited, but the need to appear important was boundless.

Chesapeake gentry considered Oriental embellishments, such as the bridge in the Paca garden, high style in this period. In 1762 Philadelphia diarist Hannah Callender wrote of a local garden, “In the midst is a Chinese temple for a summer house.” Using Oriental designs signaled to those passing by & stopping in that the owner was a refined, genteel leader in society. Both summerhouses & temples served as social gathering sites in 18th-century America. Although in the Chesapeake they often sat on naturally elevated grounds, Paca placed his at the of his terraces.

Sloping falls gardens, such as Lux built in Baltimore & Paca built in Annapolis, could be found up & down the Atlantic coast throughout the 18th century. Because the topography of the area allowed it, many Chesapeake gentry whose homes sat on a rise of ground terraced their gardens. Many of these falls sloped down to a body of water, & the main approach to colonial houses was often by water.

Aesthetically, terraces provided a setting for he house, a pleasing view from upper stories, & a platform for surveying the surrounding countryside. A contemporary American garden authority acknowledged the garden as a stage when he wrote “regular terraces either on natural eminences or forced ground were often introduced…for the sake of prospect….one above another, on the side of some considerable rising ground in theatrical arrangement.” Such designs elevated the wealthy owner above the common audience passing by or strolling through. One look at nature so well ordered & the observed could have no doubt that here lived a person destined to be in charge.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, & his father were spending the decade of the 1770s worrying about the political direction of the colony & designing geometric gardens for their Annapolis home. Their gardens covered about 2 ¾ acres. Broadening terraces fell 24 ' from the house to Spa Creek. The garden terrace closest to the water was 50 ' wide, the next ascending terrace 40 ' wide, & the garden terrace, closest to the 45-'-long house, measured 30 ' in width. Their plan made the three-story house seem even more imposing when viewed by visitors approaching from the water, & made the water seem closed & broader when viewed from the house. The younger Carroll realized that a perception of superiority could work to his detriment in society. In a letter to a friend he wrote, “There is a mean low dirty envy which creeps thro’ the ranks and cannot suffer a superiority of fortune, of merit, or of understanding …my fortune will certainly make me an object of envy.” Nonetheless, it was an unsteady time in the colonies, and a visual representation of power & control probably would not hurt.

At the bottom of the terraces, where a walkway ran 400 ' along the water’s edge, the Carrolls places octagonal summerhouses, at each end of the walkway. “I like my pavilions,” wrote the younger Carroll, “they are rather small.” Between the pavilions, ladies often fished off of the walkway.

Many colonials referred to the level area of a terrace as “the flat.” They would plant these flats either in turf or in garden beds. The latter could include ornamental flowers as well as the useful vegetables & herbs that the Carrolls chose for their flats.

Terraced gardens usually had three to five terraces, the flats of which were planted with turf, or flowers, or fruits & vegetables & the sloping fronts & sides faced with turf. Garden visitors & workers moved between levels by walking up & down these grass ramps, called falls or slopes.

“I…oblige myself…to layout the next Garden or flatt from the Terras below.”


Falls appear very early in Virginia. Some speculate that falling gardens existed at Green Spring, build by Governor Alexander Spotswood installed terraced gardens at the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg between 1715 & 1719. Later the governor build his private estate, the Enchanted Castle, near Germanna, where William Byrd II came to call on September 28, 1732, & later reported, “the Garden…has…3 Terrace Walks that fall in Slopes one below another.” In the 1750s Speaker of the House Burgesses John Robinson installed “a large falling garden enclosed with a good brick wall” at his plantation, Pleasant Hill, overlooking the Mattaponi River.

It is certain that Virginian Lewis Burwell in the 1730s constructed a long rectangular garden, about 220 ' wide & extending almost 500 ' south from the house down to he James River, on his plantation, Kingsmill. Three turfed terraces led down to a large enclosed kitchen garden, which was divided into quadrants by two central walkways. Unlike the falls in Maryland gardens, Burwell’s were connected by stone steps rather than grass ramps. This same design was chosen by his cousin Carter Burwell in 1751 for the gardens at Carter’s Grove, near Williamsburg.

Also in the 1730s, Landon Carter, a son of wealthy planter Robert “King” Carter, built similar terraces at Sabine Hall on the north side of the Rappahannock River in Virginia. (He named his estate after Horace’s villa outside of Rome, Sabine Farm.) Landon Carter’s riverfront garden consisted of six deep terraces spanning the width of the house. His terraces were so steep that he “almost…disjointed” his hip by “walking in the garden” in 1764. Steeply terraced gardens could prove deadly in fact. Charles Carroll of Annapolis died, in 1783, as a result of a fall in his garden.

Terraced falls were popular among the Virginia gentry building in towns as well in the 18th century. In the city of Richmond, Colonel Richard Adams and his son Dr. John Adams built homes with gardens falling toward the James River near old St. John’s Church. Farther north, William Fitzhugh added terraced gardens to his home, Chatham, on the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg. Nearby, Colonel Frances Thornton & his father adorned The Falls & Fall Hill with terraces to the Rappahannock. In fact, terraced falls were so admired in Fredericksburg, that in 1777 eight lots were offered for sale with the notation that four were already “well improved with a good falling garden.” In 1780 another Fredericksburg newspaper advertisement touted “a good dwelling house with every conveniencey that a family can wish for…a falling garden.”

Greatly enamored of falls gardens, the gentry build them on any available natural rise, not just on riverbanks. In 1747 Colonel John Tayloe built five grassy terraces at Mount Airy, even though the Rappahannock was three miles away. Virginians kept building falls gardens well into the 19th century.

A few English country house gardens of the 18th century are depicted with classical terraces on their grounds, but apparently they were the exception rather than the rule, or they were not notable enough to record. The majority of early America’s terraced gardens were similar to the balanced, rectangular plan portrayed in Englishman William Lawson’s early-seventeenth-century work A New Orchard and Garden. Chesapeake garden design was almost untouched by the excesses & ostentations aspects of Italian Baroque & French grand manner garden styles of the time, & very little influenced by the 18th-century English natural grounds reaction to those formalities. Time, distance, an ideologies blunted their extremes of style.

As the population grew & colonists building in the countryside felt safer from intrusion by unwelcome people & animals, homeowners began to consider the aesthetic possibilities of opening up their gardens to the surrounding landscape. Unlike their English cousins, few in British America manipulated the structure & layout of the existing natural countryside outside of the grounds immediately surrounding their homes, & few owned all the land they surveyed about them.

Up & down the Atlantic seaboard, where the topography allowed, house sitting practices harked back to the defensive habit of building on the high ground. People continued to look for the highest situation, in part so they could remain on vistas & views available from the pinnacle of the property. The famous architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe wrote in 1798, “When you stand upon the summit of a hill, and see an extensive country of woods and fields without interruption spread before you, you look at it with pleasure…this pleasure is perhaps very much derived from a sort of consciousness of superiority of positions to all the monotony below you.”

Visitors often used the powerful verb command to describe the placement of a dwelling on a site surrounded with vistas. People noted that houses on high ground were situated on an “eminence.” Homage to power was due to the owner. Even when the houses themselves were unfinished or left to decay, impressive sites were still admired. In June 1760 Andrew Burnaby was traveling through Annapolis & noted, “the governor’s palace is not finished…it is situated very finely upon an eminence, and commands a beautiful view of the town and environs.” Five years later Lord Adam Gordon similarly described the still unfinished governor’s house: “the Situation is most Elegant…commanding the view of the Town, the River Severn, the Bay, and all the Creeks.”

In British America, gentlemen continued to construct mounts well into the 18th century. The gardens at George Mason’s Gunston Hall in Virginia are flanked by mounts overlooking the Potomac River. British Colonel Secretary William Eddis wrote of a house in Annapolis on October 1, 1769, “The garden is not extensive, but it is disposed to the utmost advantage; the center walk is terminated by a small green mount…commands an extensive view of the bay and the adjacent country.”

Bowling greens--smooth, level lawns used for playing bowls--capped many colonial falling gardens. Most bowling greens measured 100 by 200 ', & many were sunk slightly below the level of the ground surrounding them. Sometimes called “squares” in late-18th- & early-19th-century America, bowling greens offered beauty & ornament as well as recreation. As early as 1666 southern colonials “found…a plaine place before the great round house for their bowling recreation.” In the mid-Atlantic & South, playing at bowls often involved wagering. William Byrd wrote in his diary on May 5, 1721, “After dinner we walked to the bowling green where I lost five shilling.”

Flowers Planted to Impress

Before the Revolution, colonial gardeners sometimes created intricately designed beds of flowers. The most ambitious early gardeners attempted flower knots. In 1749, a house for sale advertisement touted “a garden, genteelly laid out in walks and alleys, with flower-knots, & laid round with bricks.” Flower knots were beds formed into curious, complicated, and fanciful shapes meant to please the eye, especially when seen from a higher elevation.

Flower knot designs sometimes imitated the intricate patterns of the embroidery and cut work executed by needleworkers of the time. The length of the flower knot bed was generally about one and a third times the width. Beds separated by narrow paths were usually mirror images of each other, their patterns repeated at the ends of the sections created within them.

Garden historian Rosemary Verey had written that 18th-century American gardens may have retained their formality because “in England the countryside had already been tamed by years of husbandry, while in America each new plantation was surrounded by wild, untamed land, to be kept at bay, not emulated.” Others, such as Elizabeth Pryor, have speculated that the alluring beauty of the natural landscape surrounding the Chesapeake Bay may help explain why gardeners were not seduced by the naturalistic style sweeping England. The Chesapeake woods, continuously cleared of underbrush by Indian fires, already resembled the “improved” landscape in the watercolors of English landscape architect Humphry Repton. In fact, another visitor to Howard’s home wrote: & “its grounds formed a beautiful slant toward the Chesapeake. From the taste with which they were laid out, It would seem that America is already possessed of a …Repton. The spot thus indebted to Nature and judiciously embellished was an enchanting within its own proper limits as in the fine view which extended far beyond them. The foreground possessed luxurious shrubberies and sloping lawns; the distance, the line of the Patapsco and he country bordering on the Chesapeake.” Another visitor to Belvedere claimed to “rejoice in the vistas and the sensations they inspire.”

Among the Howards’ oldest neighbors was an Irish physician. Dr. Henry Stevenson (1721-1814), who 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. A roadway wide enough for a horse-drawn wagon bisected the grass terraces up to the bowling green, & Stevenson planted double rows of trees across the width of the house, creating alleys along the outer edge of the fences that lined the terraces up to the house.

Another Baltimore county seat adorned with statues was built by Charles Carroll the Barrister (1723-83) in the early 1760s. Mount Clare stood just a mile from the Patapsco River. Its entrance façade was surrounded by a semicircular white picket fence extending from the dependencies to a spot directly in from of the main doorway. Statues of lions sat on pedestals on either side of the walkway leading to the central door. The terraced garden façade of Mount Clare was popular with visitors.

In 1770, Virginian Mary Ambler visited Mount Clare and 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.”

Garden watcher John Adams, in Baltimore for a session of the Continental Congress in February of 1777, spoke highly of Mount Clare. & “There is a most beautiful walk from the house down to the water; there is a descent not far from the house; you have a find garden then you descent a few steps and have another fine garden; you go down a few more and have another.”

The 18th-century pleasure gardens growing on the hillsides of the Chesapeake Bay were strikingly similar to the pleasure gardens that dotted the hills of Rome during an earlier republican era. Even town gardens of the middling classes harked back to classical precedents. The garden was the gentleman’s stage & a device with which to help define his position in the emerging republic. Order, control, & regularity dominated garden designs as landowners structured their external environments to project a positive image of themselves to passers-by. The 19th century would see gardens grow less & less formal, & in the 1840s Andrew Jackson Downing would vigorously promote an American natural grounds movement.