Monday, September 30, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Cloth of Gold Crocus

Cloth of Gold Crocus (C. angustifolius)

Cloth of Gold Crocus was introduced in 1587 and described in early British herbals including John Parkinson’s Paradisi in Sole (1629). In 1812, Thomas Jefferson was sent a dozen bulbs of this early-flowering “herald of spring” from Bernard McMahon, a Philadelphia nurseryman and author of The American Gardener’s Calendar (1806), who offered many rare and unusual plants. McMahon described it as “golden yellow, striped with brown outside.” It is also known as Crocus susianus. Cloth of Gold can readily naturalize in flower beds, lawns, and deciduous woodlands.

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Saturday, September 28, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Cardamom

Cardamom (Amomum cardamomum)

This tropical member of the Ginger family was introduced from the rainforests of India and the East Indies in 1820. The aromatic seeds are used as a popular spice, but it is also grown in gardens and as a houseplant for its attractive, fragrant foliage. This plant needs to be field-grown to produce flowers and fruit.

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Long Island Mammoth Dill

Long Island Mammoth Dill (Anethum graveolens cv.)

This strongly aromatic, self-seeding herb is native from the Mediterranean region to Southern Russia and was cultivated for its carminative, or gas dispelling, properties by the Greeks and Romans. Both its fern-like foliage and spicy seed have been used for centuries to flavor soups, sauces, and pickles. Long Island Mammoth Dill is an heirloom variety popular for its vigor and use in pickling. Dill attracts beneficial insects and is the larval host for the black swallowtail butterfly.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Lupine

Lupine (Lupinus perennis)
The perennial Lupine is a North American native that was introduced to Europe by 1658 and listed in Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon’s 1804 Broadside. The plant forms showy spikes of blue, pea-like flowers that are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds, and large, palmately-lobed leaves arranged in a rosette.

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Monday, September 23, 2019

Early American Book - 1806 M'Mahon's Gardening within a Frame in January

Bernard M'Mahon's 1806 American Gardener's Calendar published in Philadelphia

Gardening within a Frame during January


Many will think that the instructions hereafter given, for the raising of early Cucumbers and Melons, in frames, are too diffuse; especially in a country which abounds in these kinds of fruit, produced in such quantities, in summer and autumn, without artificial heat, or very much trouble.

The remark may be just, but the principal motive for giving these lengthy instructions, is to exercise the young Gardener, in the art of managing Garden-Frames in general; an art absolutely essential to every good Gardener, and which cannot be better exemplified than in the raising of early Cucumbers and Melons. And besides these fruit coming into use at an early season, will be much valued and esteemed.

As several other kinds of Kitchen-Garden vegetables are desirable at an early season, such as cresses, rape, lettuce, mustard, radishes, Sec. to cut while young; asparagus, radishes, peas, kidney beans, &c. to be forwarded to early perfection; cauliflower and cabbage plants, to succeed those sown in September, and to produce a principal crop for early summer use; you should now provide the necessary supplies of hot stable dung, rich earth, and other requisites proper for their cultivation in hot beds, as explained for each, under its respective head.

Figures Pour L'Almanach de Bon Jardinier

Hot-bed-Frames and Lights.

If not already provided with hot-bed-frames and lights, you may get them made agreeably to the following instructions. Large frames ought to be made of inch and half, or rather two inch plank,

of the best yellow pine, nine feet two inches long, four feet ten inches wide, as high again in the back as in front, to give the top a due slope to the sun and a proper declevity to carry off the wet when covered with glass lights, to move off and on occasionally ; every jomt ought to be tongued, the better to prevent the admission of cold air into, or emission of warm air out of the bed, but in such manner as the gardener may think proper. The back and front are to be nailed to corner posts, so as to admit the ends to fit in neatly, which ends are to be made fast to the posts by iron bolts keyed in the inside, for the greater facility of taking the frame asunder when necessary; each end must be made one inch and a half higher than the back and front, so as that one half its thickness may be grooved out on the inside, for the sash to rest and slide on, and the other half left for its support on the outside ; when finished gWe it two or three good coats of paint before you Use it, and with a little care and an annual painting, it may last you twenty years.

These frames will take three lights of three feet wide each, each light containing five rows of glass panes, six inches by four, overlapping one another about half an inch, which of all other sizes is the most preferable, on account of their cheapness in the first place, the closeness of their lap, their general strength and trifling expence of repairs; however, each person will suit his own convenience as to the dimensions of glass. Where the sashes when laid on the frame meet, a piece of pine about three and a half inches broad and near two thick, should run from back to front morticed into each, for their support, and for them to slide on; in the centre of which, as well as in the ends of the frame, it will be well to make a groove, five-eighths of an inch wide and near a quarter of an inch deep, rounded at bottom to receive and carry off any wet which may 'work down between the sashes.

But with respect to particular dimensions of frames, they are different according to the plants they are intended to protect, but generally from nine to twelve feet long, from four feet eight inches to five feet wide, from eighteen inches to three feet six inches high in the back, and from nine to eighteen inches in front, being for the most part twice as high in the back as in front, if not more.

The common kitchen garden frames may be of three different sizes, that is, for one, two and three lights, the latter of which however, are the most material, and which are employed for general use: but it is necessary also to have one and two light frames, the former as seedling frames, and the latter as succession or nursery frames, to forward the young plants to a due size for the three-light frames, in which they are to fruit.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Rose Campion

Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)

When Jefferson noted the "Lychnis bloom" at Shadwell in 1767, he was probably referring to the wooly-leaved, self-seeding Rose Campion, a biennial or short-lived perennial popular in early American gardens. It has attractive magenta or white flowers in early summer as well as ornamental, silver foliage that resembles Lamb's Ears (Stachys byzantina). Rose Campion was sold by Bernard McMahon, the Philadelphia nurseryman, in 1804.

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Friday, September 20, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Bare Root Native Persimmon

Bare Root Native Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)

While serving as Minister to France in the 1780s, Thomas Jefferson would often promote the natural products of his native land, including various botanical specimens such as the Persimmon tree, which he requested twice from friends. This North American tree is native from Connecticut to Florida, and west to Kansas and Texas. It was listed on Philadelphia nurseryman and plant explorer John Bartram’s 1783 broadside catalogue.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - White Yarrow

White Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

This long-cultivated member of the Aster family is native to North America, Europe, and western Asia. Also called Soldier’s Woundwort, it has been used to control bleeding, reduce inflammation, and promote perspiration to relieve fevers. The Common Yarrow’s ability to naturalize was noted as early as 1709 when John Lawson recorded “Yarrow abundance” in A New Voyage to Carolina. Although its growth may need to be kept in check, A. millefolium makes a fine addition to cottage gardens, butterfly gardens, and meadows, works well as a cut flower for fresh and dried arrangements, and is not attractive to deer due to its aromatic foliage.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

John Tradescant the Elder and his son John collect plants

John Tradescant the elder (c 1570-1632) (portrait attributed to Cornelis de Neve)

John Tradescant (c 1570-1632) & his son, also named John (1608-1662), became gardeners to the nobility & royalty of England. Both traveled widely collecting botanical specimens & other rarities.

Perhaps John Tradescant the Elder, (c 1570-1632) naturalist & gardener, with his 3rd wife, Elizabeth Day

John Tradescant, the elder (d. 1638), was probably born in England, perhaps in the 1570s. He seems to have had family connections in East Anglia. English researchers record possible candidates for his parents at Corton, while his son John Tradescant (1608-1662) left legacies to "namesakes" (described by his wife as "kinsmen") at Walberswick. Both of these villages are on the Suffolk coast.

The Apricooke_ (that is booth Long and greet)

The earliest record of Tradescant's life is his marriage in 1607, at Meopham in Kent, to Elizabeth Day, daughter of the late vicar of the parish.  As Tradescant began collecting plants, John Parkinson & John Gerard became his close friends.  

the great French stra(w)bere

Tradescant's 1609 employer was Robert Cecil, 1st earl of Salisbury, at Hatfield House. In 1611, at Salisbury's behest, Tradescant traveled through the Low Countries & Flanders to Paris, buying trees, flowering shrubs, vines, & bulbs for the gardens at Hatfield. Following the death Robert Cecil in 1612, Tradescant remained in the employment of the 2nd earl, on whose behalf he again visited France. Tradescant left Hatfield in 1614, to farm for himself & to work with Edward, 1st Baron Wotton, at the former monastery of St Augustine at Canterbury.

The grene pescod plum

At Canterbury, his success in growing melons, mandrakes, & other exotics attracted admiring comments from Sir Henry Mainwaring & others. Tradescant accompanied a delegation to Tsar Michael Feodorovich, led by Sir Dudley Digges. Tradescant's diary of this "Viag of Ambusad" survives among the Ashmole manuscripts in the Bodleian Library. While the ambassadorial party set off for the imperial court, he spent 3 weeks doing fieldwork noting the characteristics of plants & other wildlife—the first such investigations recorded on Russian soil—& gathering specimens for shipment back to England. Parkinson (Paradisi, 346; Theatrum, 705) identifies white hellebores, purple cranesbill, & other plants among those brought to England on that occasion by "that worthy, curious & diligent searcher & preserver of all natures rarities & varieties, my very good friend, John Tradescante."

The grete -Early- yollow peech

Tradescant accompanied the English fleet sent in 1620–21, to quell the Barbary pirates who were proving an increasing hazard to English shipping. He collected specimens as he could on land, when circumstances permitted. Parkinson reported that Tradescant had collected on this trip the wild pomegranate "was never seene in England, before John Tradescante … brought it from parts beyond the Seas, & planted it in his Lords Garden at Canterbury."

The grete Roman Hasell Nut

In 1623, Tradescant entered the service of George Villiers, 1st duke of Buckingham, for whom he again visited the Low Countries & Flanders, buying trees & other plants. A 1625 letter written by Tradescant in Buckingham's name & addressed to Edward Nicholas, then secretary to the navy, asks sea captains, ambassadors, & overseas merchants to furnish the duke with all manner of natural & artificial curiosities. In 1625, when the duke was sent to France to provide an escort for Charles I's bride, Henrietta Maria, on her introductory journey to England, Tradescant followed in his wake with "my Lords stuff & Trunkes &c" taking the opportunity to acquire further specimens for the duke's gardens at New Hall in Essex. In 1627, he accompanied the duke again to France, when Buckingham attempted to bring relief to the besieged protestants of La Rochelle, where Buckingham's army was decimated on the Île de Ré.

The Imperyall plum

Following Buckingham's assassination in 1628, the elder Tradescant moved to South Lambeth in Surrey, where he would live for the rest of his life. Propagating unknown plants & procuring rarities grew to dominate his life.

1648 attr Thomas de Critz (British artist, 1607-1653) John Tradescant the Younger (1608–1662) as a Gardener

In Lambeth, Tradescant would plant the specimines he was collecting, establish a public museum, & raise his family, including his plant collecting son, John the younger.

An Early ripe Apple and good in taste

The younger Tradescant was fascinated by the idea of Virginia & collecting in the New World.  Tradescant the elder gave money so that in 1609, Captain Samuel Angall could find the best route to Virginia.

1652 attr Thomas de Critz (British artist, 1607-1653) John Tradescant the Younger (1608–1662) 1648-52

It is speculated that John Tradescant the younger went along on the trip & sent plants back. One plant sent back was Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana).  By 1616, he was a shareholder in the Virginia Company & paid for the transport of 24 settlers to the Virginia Colony.  This would have entitled him to buy 1,200 acres in Virginia.

The May Cherry

 John Tradescant names 40 North American plants in his garden-list of 1634. Tradescant is credited with being the first to grow the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), Aquilegia canadensis, Aster tradescantii, Rudbeckia laciniata, Tradescantia virginica, &, possibly Robinia pseudo-acacia. Lemmon (1968:5) says that the Tradescants brought back the first lilac, gladioli, lupins, the pomegranate, the hypericum & many crocuses.

The whighte peech

Among them was the plant with which his name is most closely linked, Tradescantia virginiana, of which Parkinson wrote, "This Spider-Wort is of late knowledge, & for it the Christian world is indebted unto that painfull industrious searcher, & lover of all natures varieties, John Tradescant … who first received it of a friend, that brought it out of Virginia." (Parkinson, Paradisi, 152) 

1650s attr Thomas de Critz (British artist, 1607-1653) John Tradescant the Younger (1608–1662) with Roger Friend and a Collection of Exotic Shells

By 1634, Tradescant's own plant collection was large enough for a visitor Peter Mundy to report spending "a whole day in peruseing, & that superficially, such as hee had gathered together" (R. C. Temple, ed. The Travels of Peter Mundy in Europe & Asia, 1608–1667, Hakluyt Society, ser. 2, vols. 45–6, 1919, 1–3). A description of the collection from 1638, includes the earliest mention of its most famous surviving treasure, "the robe of the King of Virginia, better known as "Powhatan's Mantle."

The Mussule plum

In 1630, he was chosen by the king as "Keeper of our gardens, Vines & Silke-wormes" at Oatlands Palace near Weybridge in Surrey, where he reportedly helped lay out a new bowling green & build a shelter for 200 orange trees. It was later destroyed by Cromwell. The Tradescants continued to amass collections of ornamental flowers & trees, most notably fruit trees, publishing a catalogue in 1634. A year before the elder Tradescant died, he was appointed custodian of the Oxford Physic Garden in 1637.

The Nuingetonn peeche

John Tradescant the younger (1608-1662) sailed to Virginia between 1628-1637, to collect plants. He settled around the area of Yorktown & Belfield, Virginia. Tradescant brought back more than 90 new plants. Among specimens the younger John brought back to their gardens at South Lambeth were American trees, like the Magnolia, Bald Cypress, & Tulip tree, plus garden flowering plants such phlox & asters. In addition to the more than 700 species of plants growing in the garden & orchard, the house itself (known as Tradescant's Ark) was a cabinet of curiosities, where father & son displayed novel items they had collected during their travels. To the original botanical collections, the Tradescants added sea shells; fossils; crystals; birds; fishes; snakes; insects; gems & coins; poisoned arrows; Henry VIII’s hawking bag & spurs; & the hand of a mermaid.

The whight Date

In 1656, John the younger published a catalogue called "Musaeum Tradescantianum" which recorded in detail the contents of the house & garden. In this 1656 catalogue, John Tradescant listed  30 or 40 more American species.  They included the red maple, the tulip tree, the swamp cypress & the occidental plane; the vines Vitis labrusca & V. vulpina; Adiantum pedatum, Anaphallis margaritacea, Lonicera sempervirens, Smilacina racemosa & Yucca filamentosa.

The portingegale Quince

The younger Tradescant bequeathed his library & museum (or some say it was swindled from him-another story) to Elias Ashmole (1617–1692). These collections were to become the core of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, where the Tradescant collections remain largely intact. The collection includes these 1611-1630 fruit sketches probably made by the elder Tradescant.

The quene mother plum

Tradescant Road, off South Lambeth Road in Vauxhall, marks the former boundary of the Tradescant estate which included the botanic gardens & museum. Tradescant the elder was buried in the churchyard of St-Mary-at-Lambeth, as was his son. Part of the church is now established as the Museum of Garden History.

The Red pescod plum

Monday, September 16, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Formosa Lily

 Formosa Lily (Lilium formosanum)
Formosa Lily (Lilium formosanum)

Introduced from Taiwan in the 1880s, Formosa Lily is a spectacular self-seeding, perennial lily that bears large, extremely fragrant, funnel-shaped white flowers, suffused wine-purple on the outer side of the petals, in mid to late summer. The flowering stems of this easy-to-grow lily rise high above a basal mound of dark green, strap-like foliage, and the ornamental seedpods are attractive in dried flower arrangements.

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Gardener & Agricultural Innovator - Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722-1793) of South Carolina

Eliza Lucas Pinckney (c 1722-1793) was born into a family of privilege on the Caribbean island of Antigua, where her British military officer father was stationed. She was sent back to England for a proper education & then she sailed with her family to South Carolina. Ironically, as a teen-ager she would manage her father's Carolina plantations, while he was away in the military; and, years later, she would manage her husband's plantation after his death.

When Eliza was 16, her father, seeking a healthier situation for his ailing wife, brought her & their two daughters to a plantation, which he had inherited on Wappoo Creek in South Carolina, near Charleston, in 1738.

As the conflict between England & Spain, called the War of Jenkins’ Ear, heated up, forcing him to return to his military assignment in Antigua in 1739, the management of Wappoo, and of her father's 2 other plantations in the Carolina low country, fell to Eliza.

At age 16, Eliza Lucas Pinckney was managing her father’s 3 plantations, while taking care of her younger sister & her dying mother. We have many details of Eliza's life & hopes; because when she was 18, Eliza began keeping her letters & memoranda from 1740 until 1762. Her letterbook is one of the largest surviving collections of letters of a colonial woman. Her rich letters reveal her quick-witted perseverance & grit, as she forged an unique life for herself & plotted a new path for agriculture in South Carolina.

When she was 18, Eliza wrote of her new situation to a friend in England, on May 2, 1740. "I like this part of the world, as my lott has fallen here... I prefer England to it, ’tis true, but think Carolina greatly preferable to the West Indias, and was my Papa here I should be very happy...

Charles Town, the principal one in this province, is a polite, agreeable place. The people live very Gentile and very much in the English taste. The Country is in General fertile and abounds with Venison and wild fowl...

My Papa and Mama’s great indulgence to me leaves it to me to chose our place of residence either in town or Country, but I think it more prudent as well as most agreeable to my Mama and self to be in the Country during my Father’s absence. We are 17 mile by land and 6 by water from Charles Town where we have about 6 agreeable families around us with whom we live in great harmony.

I have a little library well furnished (for my papa has left me most of his books) in which I spend part of my time. My Musick and the Garden, which I am very fond of, take up the rest of my time that is not imployed in business, of which my father has left me a pretty good share and indeed, ’twas inavoidable as my Mama’s bad state of health prevents her going through any fatigue.

I have the business of 3 plantations to transact, which requires much writing and more business and fatigue of other sorts than you can imagine. But least you should imagine it too burthensom to a girl at my early time of life, give me leave to answer you: I assure you I think myself happy that I can be useful to so good a father, and by rising very early I find I can go through much business.

The teenager brought her infectuous love of learning with her to Wappoo. She reveled in music & could “tumble over one little tune” on the flute. She quoted Milton, read Richardson’s Pamela, & spoke French. She actually enjoyed reading John Locke, Virgil's Plutarch, & Thomas Wood. But, her favorite subject was botany.

She tutored her sister Polly & “two black girls,” whom she envisioned making “school mistress’s for the rest of the Negroe children,” if her father approved. In 1741, she recorded sighting a comet whose appearance Sir Isaac Newton had predicted. Eliza enjoyed brief soical visits in Charleston, but devoted most of her energy to her family & to plotting the success of her father's business in Carolina.

In July of 1740, she wrote a memorandum, "Wrote my Father a very long letter on his plantation affairs and... On the pains I had taken to bring the Indigo, Ginger, Cotton and Lucerne and Casada to perfection, and had greater hopes from the Indigo (if I could have the seed earlier next year from the West India’s) than any of the rest of the things I had tryd."

Eliza recognized that the growing textile manufacturing industry was creating a worldwide market for good dyes. In 1739, she began cultivating & creating new strains of the indigo plant from which blue dye could be made. She introduced the successful cultivation of the plant indigo used in making dye to the American colonies.

While she was forging ahead in her agricultural experiments, she worried about her father, who was her only support system. Her letters let him know that she believed he cared about his country & career more than his family. She wrote in 1740, to him in Antigua, where he remained on military duty, "I want of words to Express the concern we are under at not hearing from you. The dangerous situation you are in terrifies us beyond expression and is increased by the fearful apprehensions of your being ordered to some place of immediate danger. . . I know how ready you are to fight in a just cause as well as the love you bear your Country in preference to every other regard..."

She continued to look for ways to make a profit from the family's plantations. On April 23, 1741, she wrote a memorandum, "Wrote to my Father informing him of the loss of a Negroe man, also the boat being overset in Santilina Sound and 20 barrels of Rice lost. Told him of our making a new garden and all conveniences we can to receive him when we are so happy to see him. Also about Starrat and pitch and Tarr."

In June of 1741, she finally heard from her father after 6 months without any letters, and she wrote him in return, "Never were letters more welcome than yours...We expect the boat dayly from Garden Hill [one of their other plantations] when I shall be able to give you an account of affairs there. The Cotton, Guiney corn, and most of the Ginger planted here was cutt off by a frost.

I wrote you in a former letter we had a fine Crop of Indigo Seed upon the ground, and since informed you the frost took it before it was dry. I picked out the best of it and had it planted but there is not more than a hundred bushes of is come up - which proves the more unluckey as you have sent a man to make it. I make no doubt Indigo will prove a very valuable Commodity in time if we could have the seed from the west Indias in time enough to plant the latter end of March, that the seed might be dry enough to gather before our frost. I am sorry we lost this season. We can do nothing towards it now but make the works ready for next year."

Eliza hoped a fine grade of blue indigo grown in Carolina could be prepared into dye cakes for cloth manufacturers in England. The market for South Carolina rice had dwindled with the war, and indigo could be bought from South Carolina to supply British markets instead of from the French Carribean islands, if she was successful at introducing a 2nd staple crop to the colony. Indigo accounted for over one-third of the value of the colonies’ exports before the Revolutionary War.

“I was ignorant both at the proper season for sowing it [indigo] and the soil best adapted to it”, Eliza wrote, but she perservered. Her determination brought to success experiments in growing this crop which had been tried & discarded near Charleston some 70 years earlier.

Knowing how complex was the process of producing the dye from the fresh-cut plants, Colonel Lucas sent her an experienced indigo maker from the French island on Montserrat in the summer of 1741. Optimistically, Eliza wrote her father that October “informing him we made 20 weight of Indigo….’Tis not quite dry or I should have sent him some. Now desire he will send us a hundred weight of seed to plant in the spring.”

Inidgo Production in South Carolina. William DeBrahm, A Map of South Carolina and a Part of Georgia. . . London, published by Thomas Jeffreys, 1757.

She was also experimenting with other crops. In April of 1742, Eliza wrote, "I have planted a large figg orchard with desighn to dry and export them. I have reckoned my expense and the prophets to arise from these figgs."

At the age of 19 in September of 1741, was fully immersed in the business of the colony. She noted, "Wrote to my father on plantation business and concerning a planter’s importing Negroes for his own use. Colo. Pinckney thinks not, but thinks it was proposed in the Assembly and rejected. He promised to look over the Act and let me know. Also informed my father of the alteration ’tis soposed there will be in the value of our money- occasioned by a late Act of Parliament that Extends to all America - which is to dissolve all private banks, I think by the 30th of last month, or be liable to lose their Estates, and put themselves out of the King’s protection. Informed him of the Tyranical Government at Georgia."

A month later, she recorded, October 14, 1741, "Wrote to my father informing him we made 20 w[eight] of Indigo and expected 10 more. ’Tis not quite dry or I should have sent him some. Now desire he will send us a hundred weight of seed to plant in the spring."

In April of the next year, she wrote to her friend in England, about her daily routine, "In general then I rise at five o’Clock in the morning, read till Seven, then take a walk in the garden or field, see that the Servants [slaves] are at their respective business, then to breakfast. The first hour after breakfast is spent at my musick, the next is constantly employed in recolecting something I have learned least for want of practise it should be quite lost, such as French and short hand. After that I devote the rest of the time till I dress for dinner to our little Polly and two black girls who I teach to read...

The first hour after dinner as the first after breakfast at musick, the rest of the afternoon in Needle work till candle light, and from that time to bed time read or write. . . . Mondays my musick Master is here. Tuesdays my friend Mrs. Chardon (about 3 miles distant) and I are constantly engaged to each other, she at our house one Tuesday⎯ I at hers the next and this is one of the happiest days I spend at Woppoe. Thursday the whole day except what the necessary affairs of the family take up is spent in writing, either on the business of the plantations, or letters to my friends. Every other Fryday, if no company, we go a vizeting so that I go abroad once a week and no oftener..."

She wrote to her friend again in May of 1742, "Wont you laugh at me if I tell you I am so busey in providing for Posterity I hardly allow my self time to Eat or sleep and can but just snatch a minnet to write you and a friend or two now. I am making a large plantation of Oaks which I look upon as my own property, whether my father gives me the land or not; and therefore I design many years hence when oaks are more valueable than they are now -- which you know they will be when we come to build fleets.

I intend, I say 2 thirds of the produce of my oaks for a charity (I'll let you know my scheme another time) and the other 3rd for those that shall have the trouble of putting my design in Execution. I sopose according to custom you will show this to your Uncle and Aunt. 'She is [a] good girl,' says Mrs. Pinckney. 'She is never Idle and always means well.' 'Tell the little Visionary,' says your Uncle, 'come to town and partake of some of the amusements suitable to her time of life.' Pray tell him I think these so, and what he may now think whims and projects may turn out well by and by. Out of many surely one may hitt...

The 1744 indigo crop did, indeed, "hitt" & was a success. Six pounds from Wappoo were sent to England and “found better than the French Indigo.” Seed from this crop was immediately distributed to many Carolina planters, who soon were profiting from Carolina's new staple export product.

While she was busy with plantation affairs, she also took time to survey the gardening efforts of her neighbors. South Carolinian Eliza Lucas Pinckney described her neighbor William Middleton's mount at his estate Crowfields in 1743, “to the bottom of this charming spot where is a large fish pond with a mount rising out of the middle-the top of which is level with the dwelling house and upon it is a roman temple.”

At Crowfields, she noted, the amazing fishponds, "...a large fish pond with a mount rising out of the middle-- the top of which is level with the dwelling house and upon it is a roman temple. On each side of this are other large fish ponds properly disposed which form a fine prospect of water from the house."

She surveyed the use of ornamental plants at Middleton's, "The house stands a mile from, but in sight of the you draw nearer new beauties discover themselves, first the fruitful Vine mantleing up the wall loaded with delicious Clusters." Of the formal garden, she noted, "From the back door is a spacious walk a thousand foot long; each side of which nearest the house is a grass plat ennamiled in a Serpentine manner with flowers."

At Crowfields, she noted the mounts & bird-friendly area of wilderness,
"Next to that on the right hand is what immediately struck my rural taste, a thicket of young tall live oaks where a variety of Airry Chorristers pour forth their melody."

Eliza described, in May, 1743, "I...cant say one word on the other seats I saw in this ramble, except the Count's large double row of Oaks on each side of the Avenue that leads to the house--which seemed designed by nature for pious meditation and friendly converse."

She also paid attention to the ornamental aspects of her own garden and grounds. She wrote in a letter in 1742, "You may wonder how I could in this gay season think of planting a Cedar grove, which rather reflects an Autumnal gloom and solemnity than the freshness and gayty of spring. But so it is...I intend then to connect in my grove the solemnity (not the solidity) of summer or autumn with the cheerfulness and pleasures of spring, for it shall be filled with all kind of flowers, as well wild as Garden flowers, with seats of Camomoil and here and there a fruit tree--oranges, nectrons, Plumbs."

On May 27, 1744, Eliza Lucas married attorney Charles Pinckney, a childless widower more than 20 years her senior. Pinckney built a house on Charleston’s waterfront for his bride, but as usual, she chose to spend most of her time in the country. At his plantation on the Cooper River, Eliza initialized the culture of silkworms to establish a “silk manufacture.” While in England in 1753, during an audience with the Princess of Wales, Eliza Lucas Pinckney presented her with a dress made of silk produced from her plantations.

By 1746, Carolina planters shipped almost 40,000 pounds of indigo to England; the next year the total exported was almost 100,000 pounds. Indigo sales sustained the Carolina economy for 3 decades, until the Revolution cut off trade with England.

Eliza & Charles Pinckney had 4 children within 5 years. Eliza vowed “to be a good Mother to my children…to instill piety, Virtue and true religion into them; to correct their Errors whatever uneasiness it may give myself….”

Charles Pinckney's appointment as commissioner for the colony in London took the family in April of 1753, to England. They had hoped to live there with their family, until their sons finished their education. When war with France broke out, Eliza & her husband returned in May of 1758, to Carolina, leaving the boys at school in England.

Pinckney contracted malaria & died in July of that year. Again Eliza turned to plantation business as she directed her husband’s seven separate land holdings in the Carolina lo country.

Eliza wrote this letter to the headmaster of her son's school in England, "This informs you of the greatest misfortune that could have happened to me and my dear children on this side Eternity! I am to tell you, hard as the task is, that my dear, dear Mr. Pinckney, the best of men, of husbands, and of fathers, is no more!

"Comfort, good Sir, Comfort the tender hearts of my dear children. God Almighty bless them, and if he has any more blessings for me in this world may He give it me in them and their sister.

"The inclosed letter for the dear boys be so good to give them when you think it a proper time. What anguish do I and shall I feel for my poor Infants when they hear the most afflicting sound that could ever reach them!"

By 1760, Eliza was once again fully immersed in managing a plantation and her husband's business affairs in South Carolina. "I find it requires great care, attention and activity to attend properly to a Carolina Estate, tho’ but a moderate one, to do ones duty and make it turn to account, that I find I have as much business as I can go through of one sort or other. Perhaps ’tis better for me, and I believe it is. Had there not been a necessity for it, I might have sunk to the grave by this time in that Lethargy of stupidity which had seized me after my mind had been violently agitated by the greatest shock it ever felt. But a variety of imployment gives my thoughts a relief from melloncholy subjects, tho’ ’tis but a temporary one, and gives me air and exercise, which I believe I should not have had resolution enough to take if I had not been roused to it by motives of duty and parental affection."

Eliza recorded her last letter in her letterbook in 1762. She wrote, "I love a Garden and a book; and they are all my amusement except I include one of the greatest Businesses of my life (my attention to my dear little girl) under that article. For a pleasure it certainly is &c. especially to a mind so tractable and a temper so sweet as hers. For, I thank God, I have an excellent soil to work upon, and by the Divine Grace hope the fruit will be answerable to my indeavours in the cultivation."

Pinckney spent 30 years, after her husband's death, overseeing their plantations & helping her family. She invested monies she earned from exporting indigo into her children’s education. Both of her sons became involved with the new nation. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746-1852) signed the United States Constitution, and Thomas Pinckney (1750-1828) served as South Carolina Governor & as Minister to Spain & Great Britain.

Hampton Plantation near Georgetown, South Carolina.

Eliza lived with her widowed daughter Harriet at Daniel Huger Horry's estate, Hampton. There, they continued to improve the grounds. In 1790, they added a portico to the land side of the house. When George Washington visited during his Southern Tour in 1791, they asked him whether a certain oak tree should be cut down to create a better view from their new portico. He replied that he liked the tree, and it was saved.

Eliza died of cancer on May 26, 1793, in Philadelphia, where she had gone for medical treatment. At her funeral, President George Washington, then presiding over the United States government in Philadelphia, served as one of her pallbearers.

Dyes from Native & Garden Plants in Early America

Early Dying in Mesoamerica

Garden & Native Plant Dyes

Plants have been used for natural dyeing since before recorded history. The staining properties of plants were noted by humans & have been used to obtain & retain these colors from plants throughout history. Native plants & their resultant dyes have been used to enhance people's lives through decoration of animal skins, fabrics, crafts, hair, & even their bodies.

The first to use native dye plants in the United States were the Native Americans. Their culture was totally dependent on what the land produced. Native Americans learned about the plants in their environment through general trial & error & through communication with other tribes. 

With the coming of European settlers much in the way of native plant dyes was lost. Some European settlers brought European dye plants for private use or to grow commercially. Indigo, which is native to India, was one of the 1st dye plant early settlers tried to grow, but because of the strict timing involved with harvest & treatment & competition with British production, its popularity faded. High tariffs on dye stuffs placed on American grown indigo by the British made it more profitable for settlers to grow other crops. 

After the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson & Dolly Madison urged the growth of dye stuffs such as madder, indigo, woad, & weld, again all European or Asian plants. Settlers preferred European manufactured dyes because homemade dye colors & fastness are variable. With improvements in chemistry more people were able to use home-grown dye plants but still the majority of the recipes were copies from European books & non-native plants in early America. In the late 18C it was discovered that coal tar compounds could be made into reliable dyes & the 19C synthetic dyes were on their way. 

Before the advent of synthetic dyes in the mid-1800s, only dyes from naturally-occurring substances were available to those who colored textiles, yarn, baskets, or other materials. There are 2 primary types of natural pigments used in dyeing: fat-soluble & water-soluble pigments. Fat-soluble pigments such as chlorophyll or carotenoids occur in all plants to varying degrees. 

As a rule, natural dyes are extracted from plants by pounding, shredding, or cutting them up. Plant parts are then placed in water & heated to a temperature just below the boiling point until the color has transferred into the water. When the color is added to a mordant-saturated material, the dye will then adhere to the fiber of the material. Mordants help set colors permanently into fibers.

Native Americans used a number of naturally-occurring mordants which include: natural alum precipitated from some drying soils, tannic acid from sumac (berries, branches, or leaves), lye made from wood ashes, urine, a sheep manure & water mixture, & smoke.

Natural dye materials that produce durable, strong colors & do not require the addition of other substances to obtain the desired outcome are called substantive or direct dyes. Sumac (Rhus spp.) & walnut (Juglans spp.) are native plant examples of direct dyes. Because these species are high in tannic acid, they do not require additional substances to be added for the dye to attach to fibers & form a durable bond. Dyes that need this type of assistance are called mordant dyes.

10 plants used by many Native Americans for dyes 

Mountain Alder

Red Alder


Rubber rabbitbrush

Smooth sumac

Canaigre dock

Eastern cottonwood

Black walnut

Skunkbrush sumac


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Lacinato Kale

Lacinato Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala)

An 18th-century Italian heirloom, Lacinato Kale remains popular today due to the superior flavor of its sturdy, savoyed, dark blue-green leaves and high nutritional content. Jefferson recorded the planting of “Cavolo nero (Coleworts)” in his vegetable garden at Monticello on March 12, 1777. Cavolo Nero, or Lacinato Kale, is also known as Tuscan Kale, Dinosaur Kale, and Black Kale.

For more information & the possible availability for purchase

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Black- Eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Introduced to European gardens by 1714, this favorite native wildflower grows in open meadows and sunny sites throughout North America. A self-seeding biennial or short-lived perennial, Black-eyed Susan bears bright yellow flowers with distinctive black eyes in summer and is attractive to butterflies and birds, but not deer.

For more information & the possible availability for purchase

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - French Mallow

French Mallow (Malva sylvestris)

When Thomas Jefferson noted “French mallow” on an 1806 list of flowers, he was probably referring to Malva sylvestris, a European and Asian native with handsome, hollyhock-like, purplish-pink flowers. The perennial French Mallow is similar in appearance to its more familiar mallow cousin, the hollyhock. Another common name is “Cheeses Mallow,” a reference to the shape of the seed clusters.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Plant Lists - From Peter Collinson 1694-1768 in London to John Custis 1678-1749 in Virginia

In July of 1736, Peter Collinson in England wrote to John Custis in colonial Virginia,

"I shall be obliged to you for some more o the yoppon, & if the other sorts can be procur'd with Little Trouble please to add some of the Rest for tho' I have Engough already myself, yett I think there is no Greater pleasure then to be Communicative & oblige others. It is Laying an obligation & I seldome fail of Returns for Wee Brothers of the Spade find it very necessary to share amongst us the seeds that come annually from Abroad. It not only preserves a Friendly Society but secures our collections, for if one does not raise a seed perhaps another does & if one Looses a plant another can Supply him. By this Means our Gardens are wonderfully Improved In Variety to what they was Twenty Years agon."

Brothers of the Spade, Correspondence of Peter Collinson, of London, and John Custis, of Williamsburg, Virginia, 1734-1746
By E. G. Swemm, Director Emeritus, William and Mary College
Published by the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1949

John Custis (1678-1749) was a prominent citizen of Williamsburg with an apparently most impressive garden. John Bartram, the Philadelphia naturalist and botanist, commented to Peter Collinson that Custis’ garden was second only to that of John Clayton, the English born Virginia naturalist of Gloucester County. Peter Collinson (1694-1768) was a wealthy English Quaker woolen merchant. He maintained an extensive correspondence with American naturalists, especially John Bartram. His famous garden at Mill Hill contained many American plants, many he obtained from both Bartram and Custis. Custis’ correspondence with Collinson, the subject of Swemm’s Brothers of the Spade, depicts both the joys and trials experienced by early gardeners in their exchange of plants across the Atlantic. List prepared by Peter Hatch of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

Plants sent to Virginian John Custis by Peter Collinson from London

Botanical Name, Date, Common Name

Collinson’s Notes:

Abies alba 1738 "silver fir"

Abies sp. 1741 "gilded firs ... which are natives of the

Aesculus hippocastanum 1734 "horse chestnuts"

Alcea rosea 1735 "Hollihocks"

Allium neapolitanum lily leek 1737 "white moley"

Amaranthus tricolor Joseph’s coat 1742/3 "Amaranthus Tricolor"

Arbutus unedo 1737 “strawberry tree,” "Arbutus"

Asphodeline lutea 1737 "yellow asphodel,” "yellow asphodill"

Asphodelus albus 1739/40 "white Asphodills"

Brassica oleracea 1736 "cabbage"

Buxus sempervirens cv. 1736 “striped box"

Callistephus chinensis 1736 "China Aster"

Cedrus libani 1735 "Cedar of Lebanon"

Celosia cristata 1738 "tall coxcombs"

Chamaecyparis thyoides 1739 "white cedr"

Citrullus lanatus 1736 'Astrican Water Mellon"

Convallaria majalis 1738 "lilly of the valley"

Cucumis melo 1736 "Affrican Mellon," "Calmuc Mellon
with fruite 2 feet long," "Italian

Melon," "Muscovy Mellon 3 sorts,"
"Sir Charles Wagers Melon,"

Cucumis sativis 1736 "Muscovy Cucumber,” "cucumber,"
"long cucumber"

Cupressus sempervirens 1735 "cypress"

Cyclamen sp. 1739/40 "Cyclamens"

Cyclamen coum 1742/3 "spring cyclamen"

Dianthus chinensis 1738 "Double Flowering China or India
pink," "India pinks"

Dictamnus albus gas plant 1742/3 "White Fraxinelloes"

Dictamnus albus ‘ruber’ 1742/3 "Red Fraxinelloes"

Digitalis purpurea 1738 "rose colored foxglove"

Digitalis purpurea ‘alba’ 1737 “flatt?] stalk full of white long hollow
blossoms," "White Fox Glove"

Echinops sphaerocephalus or E.
1738 "globe [thistle?]"

Eranthis hyemalis 1739/40 "spring Acconite”

Fragaria chiloensis 1736 "Chili strawberry"

Fragaria vesca hautboy strawberry 1736 "Houtboye”

Fritillaria imperialis crown imperial lily 1739 "orange colord"

Fritillaria imperialis lutea 1737 "yellow ones," "lemon colord crown

Fritillaria imperialis cv. 1738 "striped"

Gomphrena globosa globe amaranth 1737 "Amarantheodes,” "Amaranthoides"

Helichrysum orientale 1736 "yellow everlasting flower"

Hesperis matronalis cv. dame's rocket 1735 "Double Rockketts,” "white double

Hibiscus syriacus rose-of-Sharon 1736 "althea”

Ilex aquifolium cvs. 1738 "[gilded?] hollys," "silver holly," "gold

Ilex aquifolium "Ferox” 1736 "Hedge Hog Holley"

Jasminum sambac 1738 "Arabian jessamins"

Juniperus communis 1735 "juniper berrys"

Laburnum anagyroides golden chain-tree 1735 "laburnum"

Larix decidua 1736 “larch tree”

Laurus nobilis English laurel 1736/7 "Bay Berries,” "bays"

Lavandula stoechas French lavender 1735 "crysanthamum arabian stecus,”

Lilium bulbiferum or
1742/3 "fiery lily"

Lilium martagon or chalcedonicum martagon lily? 1739 "red,” "scarlet," "sorts of martigons"

Lilium sp. 1736 "striped Lilly's”

Lonicera sp. 1740 "honey suckles"

Lonicera sp. 1735 "double honysuckles"

Lonicera periclymenum belgica Dutch Woodbine1740 "dutch [honeysuckles]"

Lycospersicon lycopersicon tomato 1742/3 "Apples of Love," "Tamiata”

Malus pumila var. paradisiaca paradise apple 1736 "dwarf apple trees [?] stocks"

Morus nigra 1738 "black mulberry"

Nerine sarniensis 1736 "Gurnsey Lillies"

Nicotiana sp. tobacco 1736 "tob: seed"

Phaseolus sp. 1737 "beans"

Phlomis tuberosa 1736 "Spanish sage trees"

Phoenix dactylifera 1735 "Dates"

Picea abies Norway spruce 1742/3 "spruce Firr"

Picea sp. 1738 "Spruces"

Pinus cembra Swiss stone pine 1738 “stone pines,” "Siberian Cedars"

Pistacia vera 1735 "Pistacioes Nutts, "Pistacios,"

Pisum sativum 1737 "peas"

Polianthes tuberosa 1735 "Tuberorse,” "Italian Tuberoses"

Polygonum orientale prince's feather 1736/7 "Oriental Persicary"

Primula x poliantha 1736 "polyanthus"

Prunus dulcis cvs. 1734 almonds: "green shell,” "brown shell,
"cornell,” "soft shell,” "hardshell,"
"thin shelld"

Prunus insititia damson plum 1736/7 "Bullice,” "Damosins"

Prunus padus or Cornus mas European bird cherry or
Cornelian cherry
1738 "cluster cherry"

Prunus persica cvs. 1737 "best peaches, "variety of peaches"

Prunus persica ‘Catherine’ 1740 "Catherine," "Katherine peach"

Prunus persica cv. 1734 "Double Blossome peach"

Prunus persica 'Nutmeg' 1736/7 "Nutmeg peach"

Prunus persica nucipersica 1737 "Nectarines"

Prunus sp. 1735 "chery seeds"

Prunus spinosa blackthorn plum 1736/7 "Sloes"

Pulmonaria officinalis lungwort 1735 "Jerusalem Cowslip"

Quercus suber cork oak 1736-37 "Evergreen Oke whose Bark is the

Cork wee use for Bottles"

Quercus ilex holly oak 1736/7 "Italian Evergreen Okes"

Ranunculus asiaticus Persian ranunculus 1741 "ranunculus"

Rancunculus ficaria 1737 "double yellow pile Wort"

Rhamnus cathartica 1742/3 "Buck thorn"

Ribes sativum 1738 'White Dutch'"White Currants,”
“dutch white currant bushes”

Rosa centifolia muscosa 1740 "Moss province"

Rosa x damascene var. 1740 "monthly rose"

Rosa x damascene versicolor 1742/3 "York & Lancaster Rose"

Rosa foetida Austrian briar rose 1736 "yellow rose"

Rosa gallica versicolor Rosa Mundi 1740 “moonday rose"

Rosa gallica 1736 "red rose"

Rosa x hemisphaerica 1735 "yellow province rose," "double yellow
rose," "other yellow rose"

Scilla peruviana 1737 "Blew & White Hyacinth of peru”

Spartium junceum 1736 "Spanish Broome"

Sternbergia lutea winter daffodil 1739-40 "Autumn Narciss with a yellow
Crocus Like flower"

Syringa vulgaris 1737 "lilacks" [other than "pale blew"]

Syringa persica 1738 "persian lilack, "persian lilock"

Tulipa cvs. 1735 "Double Tulips," "tulips," "early

Vigna unguiculata 1736 "Italian beans," "black eyed indian

Vitis vinifera 1736 "grape seeds," "Vines," "White Grape"

“mountain flax” [1742] Swemm says snakeroot but JC
requests this as a medicinal plant he
believes to be very common in

“Oriental [?], plant of

Spanish sage trees [1736] Phlomis tuberosa ?

“syringa[“?] [ 1741] listed among bulbs ?

Laurells [1736] "which I [JC] had very plenty of
before" Magnolia grandiflora, Laurus
nobilis, Prunus (Lauroceraus)
"The name of the flower white
on one side red on the other"
Possibly Asphodelus albus -- white
w/brown bracts

“Drassenis” 1741] Swemm indexes as "Dracaena”

"small bulbous roots like
[1736] scilla?.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Plants in Early American Gardens - Sweet Four O'clock

Sweet Four O'clock (Mirabilis longiflora)

In 1812, Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon sent Thomas Jefferson seed of the "Sweet-scented Marvel of Peru.” Native to the arid regions of the southwest and Mexico, Sweet Four O'Clock is an unusual cousin of the more familiar Common Four O’Clock, or Marvel of Peru, M. jalapa. It bears strongly fragrant, long, tubular, pure white flowers that open at dusk for pollination by night insects including hummingbird moths. This species is as rare in gardens today as it was in 1812.