Friday, December 31, 2021

South Carolina - Garden Contractors

Charles Fraser (1782- 1860). Mr. Gabriel Manigault's Seat at Goose Creek, 1802. The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina. The estate was called Steepbrook.

Independent Gardeners Working in South Carolina

Gardeners appear in South Carolina records in a variety of ways--deeds, estates, administration records, and newspapers. Often, the identification "gardener" is all that is available about these men. They don't place ads seeking work or advertising plants, but they should not be ignored.
1796. Charles Fraser (1782-1860). The Seat of Joseph Winthrop, Esq. on Goose Creek, South Carolina. The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina. Joseph Winthrop was married to Charles Fraser's older sister.  Thanks to South Carolina native Charles Fraser (1782 - 1860 ) we have a chance to see, through his eyes, the homes & gardens there as he was growing up. These were some of the gardens & grounds, that the independent gardeners listed here helped plant & tend. Although Fraser was primarily known for his miniature portraits, he created watercolors of historical sites, homes, & landscapes, while also working as a lawyer, historian, writer, & politician. Today, many of Fraser's works are housed & displayed in Charleston's Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art.

The first professional gardener on record in South Carolina was a Frenchman. Mathurin Guerin was a French Huguenot who took refuge in the province and requested to be naturalized as an English citizen under the act passed on March 10, 1697, designed to grant to all aliens that were inhabitants of the Province of South Carolina the same privileges as those persons born of English parents. Mathurin Guerin was a native of St. Nazaire, son of Pierre Guerin, and of Jeanne Bilbau. His wife was Marie Nicholas, daughter of Audre Nicholas and Francoise Dunot.

While Guerin may have been the first French Huguenot gardener in South Carolina, he certainly was not the last. French gardeners and seedsmen arrived in the Mid-Atlantic and upper south after the Revolutionary War. But in South Carolina, French gardeners influenced the gardening from the beginning of the 18th century. South Carolina saw a large influx of French Huguenots – individuals who were probably familiar with the garden designs of Le Nôtre. Garden designs in South Carolina continued to have a formal aspect well into the 19th century.
1803. Charles Fraser (1782-1860). Ashley Hall near Charleston, South Carolina.The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina. Fraser wrote in his Reminiscences that the oak trees were planted by a "visitor," Mark Catesby, who came to Carolina in 1722, and whose Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands was published in England a decade later.

More independent white gardeners appear in South Carolina records earlier than in the northern colonies. While most independent gardeners in the Mid-Atlantic and upper south worked in public gardens, fewer independent gardeners appear in the records at private properties in early Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia during the first half of the 18th century.
Charles Fraser (1782-1860). A Seat on the Ashely River, April, 1802. Carolina Art Association The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina. This house is typical of much South Carolina & West Indies plantation architecture which have a basement story of masonry and upper floors of wood. The double stairway to the semi-classic porch is also very characteristic of this architecture.

South Carolina’s next gardener of record was Bartholomew Garret who was dead in 1719, when his widow Elizabeth (Major), originally of London, declared her “love and affection” for Thomas Hayward of Charleston.
Charles Fraser (1782-1860). Another View of Brabants. The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina.

In the South Carolina Gazette of May 12, 1757, Henry Middleton placed a notice to settle the estate of his deceased gardener, George Newman.

The only knowledge of gardener Robert Hunter comes from his June 15, 1767 notice in the Gazette, "NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN THAT frequent and repeated trespasses have been committed, at Mr. Daniel Cannon’s garden, up-the-Path, This is therefore to inform and forwarn all persons whatsoever, for the future, as they must expect to answer the consequences by a gun, or dog, or both. ROBERT HUNTER, Gardener."

In 1774, John Bert is identified as a gardener in a land transaction. George Reynolds is listed in the 1790 Charleston City Directory as a gardener at 42 George Street. He also appeared as a gardener in sureties and administrative settlements beginning in 1782.
Charles Fraser (1782-1860). Another View of Mepkin, May, 1803. The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina.

Peter Boutiton
was a feisty French gardener who also signed his name Pierre. He was active in the Charleston area from 1776, until his death in 1783. He married he widow Mary Air on January 9, 1777 at St. Philip’s. Mary Air was the granddaughter and heir of Charleston merchant, Peter Benoist. On July 21 of that year he placed the following notice in the Gazette of the State of South Carolina in Charleston, "PETER BOUTITON, Gardener, near and wit in the town gate, having suffered…frequent robberies of the produce of his hard labour, and greatly also by loss of rest, is watching by himself and two negroes, and frequent firing of guns, with no other intent than to deter the thieves-which not having answered his purpose-He now gives public notice and warning. That whoeverhereafter shall presume to enter his inclusures in the night, must do it at the risk of their lives.” Boutiton was identified as having been a gardener in Charleston during the settlement of his estate in 1783 ,and in South Carolina court records for several years thereafter.
1797. Charles Fraser (1782-1860). Mrs. Robert Gibbe's Place on John's Island, South Carolina. The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina. The two sea-islands lying southwest of Charles Town were originally named after two parishes in the Barbadoes, St. James & St. John, but soon the locals were calling them simply James’ Island & John’s Island.

Anthony Farasteau
was another French gardener. His was alternately listed as a gardener and a weaver in several land transactions and at the settlement of his estate, in the Charleston papers. He was active in Charleston records from 1776, until his death in 1785. Weavers often were also gardeners who grew their own dye plants.

William Kirkpatrick appeared in 1786 in the will of a friend mentioned as a gardener to the estate of the late Colonel Maurice Simons. Philip Hartz was also mentioned as a gardener in a will in 1788.
Charles Fraser (1782-1860). Another View of Richmond, May, 1803. The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina.

Charles Gross was listed as a gardener in the 1790 Charleston City Directory at 152 King Street. He moved to Hampstead in 1792-1793 and began to garden and sell seed from there, until he died in 1802. Englishman James Sommers appears in the settlement of his estate after his death in 1794 as having been a gardener in Charleston. In his will he mentions being from Ilfondcombe in the County of Devon in England.

The will of gardener Robert Johnston noted that he came from Greenwill Street, Newtownards, Ireland, where he owned a house and land. Morris Conner was a gardener from St. Bartholomew’s Parish who died in testate in 1795. Elisha Diven was a gardener in Charleston in the same era. He is identified as a gardener in a 1797 estate proceeding and at his own death in 1798.
1796. Charles Fraser (1782-1860). A View of Mr. Lindsay's in Charleston, South Carolina, Taken from Savage's Green. The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina. In Fraser’s Reminiscences he states, “There was Savage’s Green at the lower end of Broad Street, which, until the building of the old Theatre, was entirely vacant, and spacious enough to be used for military exercise. The old battalion often paraded and fired their pieces there.” Fraser remarks that the end of Savage’s Green was a favorite swimming place for boys. Across the creek from the Green “was the town house of Mr. Thomas Ferguson, a large planter of the Parish of St. Paul, and a prominent leader of the Revolutionary party.. His house in Charles Town long bore the mark of a British cannon ball fired into the town in 1780.”

John Hope
was listed as a gardener of Charleston at the administration of his estate upon his death in 1800. Neal McGregor (1773-1819) was a gardener who was born in Perthshire, North Britain in 1773, and immigrated to Charleston, sometime before his December 1802, marriage to Mrs. Jane Phipps. He was listed as a gardener in the 1809 Charleston City Directory and when he was naturalized in 1813. He and his wife lived on Vanderhorst Street in Charleston, until his death in 1819.

George Smith was a Charleston gardener who was born in Wicklow, Ireland, in 1784. He immigrated sometime before his 1810 Charleston marriage to Margaret Morgan in 1810. James Mair was a gardener who was born in Scotland in 1772. He immigrated to Charleston, and went into partnership with Robert Brown of Beaufort until 1801. He owned 779 acres of land on John’s Island and was listed in the 1809 Charleston City Directory as a gardener operating on King Street. He married Martha Graham, the youngest daughter of the then deceased Rev. William Graham in January of 1805, and he died in September of 1809. He was in partnership, until his death, with James Fraser, son of John Fraser, seedsman, nurseryman, and botanist of London.
Charles Fraser (1782-1860). The Seat of John Julius Pringle, Esq. on Ashley River, 1800. The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina. When the land was bought by John Julius Pringle in 1795, the Duke de la Rochefoucault Liancourt spent some time with him in Charleston. He wrote of a trip up the Ashley River to the new property, “We crossed the River, and stopped at a plantation lately purchased by Mr. Pringle, the former name of which was Greenville, but which he has named ‘Susan’s Place’ in honour of his lively wife…The new mansion…will be finished this summer.”

Samuel Anderson
was also listed as a gardener of Hampstead in the Charleston City Directory and appeared in several Charleston County land transactions from that time on.

James Neswitt
was noted to be a gardener of Charleston Neck in the administration of his estate in 1813. John Jarman is another gardener of Charleston identified through estate matters between 1805 and 1818.

And Daniel A. Stark was a gardener with wanderlust who preferred not to walk, according to a notice in the Charleston Times on April 19, 1819. "Caution. A MAN, who said his name was DANIEL A. STARK, and had been working as a Gardener for Mrs. Kennedy, at Gordon & Spring’s Ferry, absconded on Wednesday week last, taking with him a Gun, Shot-Bag and Powder-Flask; and on the next day a Horse belonging to Mrs. K. was missing."

Robert DuBois (1740-1823)
who was also listed as a gardener in the 1809 Charleston City Directory, working out of King Street. At the time of his 1823 will, he was living at Charleston Neck in the forks of the road of King Street.

James Waddell was another South Carolina gardener and weaver originally from Ireland. He and his wife Ann, the widow of Benjamin Wood, appear in 1783 and 1785 estate matters. In 1798 and 1799, they appear in land records as residents of Charleston Neck and members of Christ Church parish. In 1804, Waddell conveyed 1,082 acres he owned on John’s Island. The City Gazette in Charleston on June 5, 1823 reported his death.
Charles Fraser (1782-1860) The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina.

Marmaduke Jenny
was identified as a gardener “late of Charleston and the village of Washington” when he died in 1821.

Joseph Parsons (c1743-1823) was also listed as a gardener on Hampstead in the 1809 and 1813 Charleston City Directories. Parsons was born in Henrico County, Virginia. He married Alcey Goolsby in 1763 in Laurens, South Carolina, and served as an Indian spy in the Revolutionary War.

Joseph Parsons appeared in the records as a gardener in 1807, as the husband of Esther, the widow of Conrad Hook, a carpenter. They appeared in land records; until his death in 1823. His obituary in the City Gazette in Charleston on April 23, 1823 read, “Died, in the city on Monday, the 7th inst. after a long illness, Mr. Joseph Parsons, aged 40 years, formerly of Wiscasset, but for the last 20 years a resident of this state.” When he died, they were living in Hampstead “near Mr. Nell’s Rope-Walk.”.
1802. Charles Fraser (1782-1860). A View Near Charleston, South Carolina. The Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina. 

Fraser wrote, “A large part of Harleston (a village) and more especially the lots bordering upon the low ground and marches of Coming’s Creek, was nearly acquired by Mr. Thomas Bennett Sr., who, with Daniel Cannon, utilized the ebb and flow of the tides by establishing on these water large lumber mills. This tidal power was also used largely upon the rice-growing rivers for pounding mills, which separated the husk from the grain;…Nor was it only the waterpower which was utilized, for among the lots conveyed in 1804 by Thomas Bennett Sr. to Thomas Bennett, Jr., later Governor of South Carolina, was the lot of marshland on which the windmill stood near by a branch of Coming’s Creek.” 

In the Charleston Courier December 15, 1825, appeared a notice: “At Private Sale…that large Brick Wind Mill, situate on Harleston’s Green, adapted for the sawing of lumber. ” Windmills & watermills with vast undershot wheels, worked by the tides, were common in the neighborhood along the Ashley River.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Trees & Shrubs in a Thicket "where a variety of Airry Chorristers pour forth their melody."


In the design of 18C pleasure grounds, a thicket is an intentionally planted or natural collection of small trees, dense underbrush, or shrubs growing thickly together, which are left in the landscape to add intrigue to the view and to attract singing birds. A thicket usually has tangles and vines protecting it from intrusion and providing a thermal cover for birds and small animals. Thickets are a little intimidating and a little joyful all at the same time.

In 1593, William Shakespeare wrote in 3 Henry VI, "Leave off to wonder why I drew you hither, into this cheefest Thicket of the Parke."

While John Milton wrote in in 1667, "How often from the steep Of echoing Hill or Thicket have we heard Celestial voices to the midnight air...singing."


In 1704, when Sarah Kemble Knight was traveling from Boston to New York on horseback, she was apprehensive when, "we rode on very deliberately a few paces, when we entered a thicket of trees and shrubs, and I perceived by the horse's going we were on the descent."

In 1743, Eliza Lucas Pinckney describing William Middleton's Crow-Field in South Carolina, wrote, "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."

Traveler Peter (Pehr) Kalm described the area around Philadelphia in 1748 as containing “The common privet, or Ligustrum vulgare L., grows among the bushes in thickets and woods.”
When Manasseh Cutler visited Grey's Gardens in 1787 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he noted, "We came into a spacious graveled walk, which directed its course further along the grove, which was tall wood interspersed with close thickets of different growth. As we advanced, we found our gravel walk dividing itself into numerous branches, leading into different parts of the grove.”

Rochefoucauld-Liancourt noted on his 1796 visit to Drayton Hall in South Carolina"The Garden here is better laid out…in order to have a fine garden, you have nothing to do but to let the trees standing here and there, or in clumps, to plant bushes in front of them, and arrange the trees according to their height. Dr. Drayton’s father…began to lay out the garden on this principle and his son…has pursued the same plan."

In planning the grounds around Monticello in 1804, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The best way of forming the thicket will be to plant it in labyrinth spirally, putting the tallest plants in the centre and lowering gradation to the external termination, a temple or seat may be in the center then leaving space enough between the rows to walk and to trim up, replant the shrubs...and...This [grove] must be broken by clumps of thicket, as the open grounds of the English are broken by clumps of trees. plants for thickets are broom, calycanthus, altheas, gelder rose, magnolia glauca, azalea, fringe tree, dogwood, red bed, wild crab, kalmia, mezereon, euonymous, halesia, quamoclid, rhododendron, oleander, service tree, lilac, honeysuckle, brambles."


Jefferson was still contemplating the design of the landscape near his house, when he wrote in 1806, “The grounds which I destine to improve in the style of the English gardens are in a form very difficult to be managed...They are chiefly still in their native woods. which are majestic, and very generally a close undergrowth, which I have not suffered to be touched, knowing how much easier it is to cut away than to fill up. The upper third is chiefly open, but to the South is covered with a dense thicket of Scotch broom (Spartium scoparium Lin.) which being favorably spread before the sun will admit of advantageous arrangement for winter enjoyment...

“Let your ground be covered with trees of the loftiest stature. Trim up their bodies as high as the constitution & form of the tree will bear, but so as that their tops shall still unite & yield dense shade. A wood, so open below, will have nearly the appearance of open grounds. Then, when in the open ground you would plant a clump of trees, place a thicket of shrubs presenting a hemisphere the crown of which shall distinctly show itself under the branches of the trees. This may be effected by a due selection & arrangement of the shrubs, & will I think offer a group not much inferior to that of trees. The thickets may be varied too by making some of them of evergreens altogether, our red cedar made to grow in a bush, evergreen privet, pyrocanthus, Kalmia, Scotch broom. Holly would be elegant but it does not grow in my part of the country.

“Of prospect I have a rich profusion and offering itself at every point of the compass. Mountains distant & near, smooth & shaggy, single & in ridges, a little river hiding itself among the hills so as to shew in lagoons only, cultivated grounds under the eye and two small villages. To present a satiety of this is the principal difficulty. It may be successively offered, & in different portions through vistas, or which will be better, between thickets so disposed as to serve as vistas, with the advantage of shifting the scenes as you advance your way.”



Also in 1806. Bernard M’Mahon wrote in his The American Gardener’s Calendar, “First an open lawn of grass-ground is extended on one of the principal fronts of the mansion or main house, widening gradually from the house outward, having each side bounded by various plantations of trees, shrubs, and flowers, in clumps, thickets, &c. exhibited in a variety of rural forms, in moderate concave and convex curves, and projections, to prevent all appearance of a stiff uniformity...
“Thickets may be composed of all sorts of hardy deciduous trees planted close and promiscuously, and with various common shrubs interspersed between them, as underwood, to make them more or less close in different parts, as the designer may think proper. They may also be of ever-green trees, particularly of the pine and fir kinds, interspersed with various low-growing ever-green shrubs.”

In the introduction to his 1808 book The Country Seats of the United States, Englishman William Russell Birch (1755-1834), who hoped to promote "taste" in America for both architecture & landscape design, saw the result of the American balance of ornament and utility, and he tried to explain it this way: "The comforts and advantages of a Country Residence, after Domestic accomodations are consulted, consist more in the beauty of the situation, than in the massy magnitude of the edifice: the choice ornaments of Architecture are by no means intended to be disparaged, they are on the contrary, not simply desirable, but requisite. The man of taste will select his situation with skill, and add elegance and animation to the best choice. In the United States the face of nature is so variegated; Nature has been so sportive and the means so easy of acquiring positions fit to gratify the most refined and rural enjoyment, that labour and expenditure of Art is not so great as in Countries less favoured."

Saturday, December 25, 2021

South Carolina's Magnolia Plantation Gardens - Holding onto The Sweet Divine

Holding on to The Sweet Divine - The Lord God took man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & to keep it. Genesis 2:15

 South Carolina's Magnolia Plantation Gardens

This article deals with the bones of an 18C garden which has been taken over by The Sweet Divine - a  triumph of man's design over-run by Nature's glory.  

Thomas Drayton and his wife Ann arrived from Barbados to the new English colony of Charles Towne and established Magnolia Plantation along the Ashley River in 1676. Thomas and Ann were the first in a direct line of Magnolia family ownership that has lasted more than 300 years and continues to this day.

Magnolia Plantation saw immense wealth and growth through the cultivation of rice during the Colonial era. Later, British and American troops would occupy its grounds during the American Revolution, while the Drayton sons would become both statesmen and soldiers fighting against British rule.  The establishment of the early gardens at Magnolia Plantation in the late 17th century would see an explosion of beauty and expansion throughout the 18th century, but it was not until the early 19th century did the gardens at Magnolia truly begin to expand on a grand scale.

Upon his death in 1825, Thomas Drayton, the great grandson of Magnolia's first Drayton, willed the estate successively to his daughter's sons, Thomas and John Grimké. As he had no male heirs to leave it to, he made the condition in the will that they assume their mother's maiden name of Drayton. Some time later, while in England preparing for the ministry, young John Grimké Drayton received word that his older brother Thomas had died on the steps of the plantation house of a gunshot wound received while riding down the oak avenue during a deer hunt. Thus, having expected to inherit little or nothing as a second son, young John found himself a wealthy plantation owner at the age of 22.

Despite the prestige and wealth inherent in ownership of Magnolia and other plantations, he resolved still to pursue his ministerial career; and in 1838 he entered the Episcopal seminary in New York. While there, he fell in love with, and married, Julia Ewing, daughter of a prominent Philadelphia attorney. Returning to Charleston with his bride, he strove to complete his clerical studies while bearing the burden of managing his large estate. The pressure took its toll, and his fatigue resulted in tuberculosis. His own cure for the illness was working outside in the gardens he loved. He also wanted to create a series of romantic gardens for his wife to make her feel more at home in the South Carolina Lowcountry. A few years later, as though by a miracle, his health returned, allowing him to enter the ministry as rector of nearby Saint Andrews Church, which had served plantation owners since 1706 and still stands just two miles down the highway towards Charleston. But until his death a half-century later, along with his ministry, Rev. Drayton continued to devote himself to the enhancement of the plantation garden, expressing his desire to a fellow minister in Philadelphia, "...to create an earthly paradise in which my dear Julia may forever forget Philadelphia and her desire to return there."

In tune with the changes he had seen taking place in English gardening away from the very formal design earlier borrowed from the French, John Grimké Drayton moved towards greater emphasis on embellishing the soft natural beauty of the site. More than anyone else he can be credited with the internationally acclaimed informal beauty of the garden today. He introduced the first azaleas to America, and he was among the first to utilize Camellia Japonica in an outdoor setting. A great deal of Magnolia's horticultural fame today is based on the large and varied collection of varieties of these two species–not the abundant and lovely Southern Magnolia for which the plantation just happened to have been named.

The outbreak of the American Civil War would threaten the welfare of the family, the house, and the gardens themselves. But the plantation would recover from the war to see additional growth of the gardens as they became the focus of the plantation over agriculture when the gardens opened to the public for the first time in 1870 and saved the plantation from ruin. 

Please click on the publication website in the title above for more information.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

"Middleton Place - South Carolina's Great Colonial Garden"

A French traveler wrote in 1769 that at Middleton Place, “the river which flows in a circuitous course, until it reaches this point, forms a wide, beautiful canal, pointing straight to the house.”

This blog entry is based on the following article with a few boring details I felt compelled to ad.

"Middleton Place - South Carolina's Great Colonial Garden" from The New York Times by George McMillan March 30, 1986, Section 10, Page 21

In 1678 a group of Barbados planters left the island because, as one of them said, it was such a ''brutish'' place. They set sail for Charleston, where they hoped to find or create a more genteel place to live. In a surprisingly short time they had done so. The rice economy was making Charleston one of America's richest cities, with a sophisticated 18th-century urban environment.

Charleston soon became known for its gardens & seeds were being imported from London - sweet alyssum, daisy, foxglove, periwinkle, snapdragon, thrift & violet. It was not long before West Indian flowers were brought to Charleston - the yellow begonia, the four o'clocks & the Parkinsonia.

One of the people caught in the enthusiasm of mid-18C South Carolina for botany was Henry Middleton (1717-1784), son of Arthur Middleton (1681-1737) & his wife Sarah Amory (1690-1722). Henry was the grandson of Edward Middleton (1640-1685) & his wife Sarah Fowell (1650-1685), some of those original Barbadian immigrants. 

Henry Middleton (1717-1784)

Henry became, in 1741, one of the richest men in the American colonies. That year he decided to build a garden on a piece of property he owned in a curve of the Ashley River 12 miles upstream from Charleston. When Henry Middleton started his garden, he was said to own 800 slaves & 10,000 acres.

The site, the dowry of his wife, Mary Baker Williams (c 1721-1761}, was dominated by a high bluff & fell down to the Ashley in a long slope. This was worthless for rice cultivation, which depended on the ebb & flow of tidal rivers to flush the fields. Middleton created his garden on that long slope.

Middleton molded the slope's wide contours into a series of sweeping terraces that were graduated, steplike, down to the river, where he designed two symmetrical butterfly lakes. He built a house on top of the bluff that gave him a view of his altogether pleasing imposition on the geography of the Low Country.

For all the perfection of its design, the glory of Middleton Gardens is in the profuse blossoms of its thousands of subtropical plants, & most especially of its azaleas & camellias. There are azaleas almost everywhere you turn, with the most dramatic display along the Azalea Hillside, a bank rising at the rice mill pond that was planted in the 1930's with about 35,000 bushes. And today, with later plantings, there are said to be 60,000 azaleas there. When these are in bloom from mid-March through mid-April they make one of the most spectacular sights in American horticulture. The camellias, in bloom from December through mid-March, are in two clusters. Those planted before 1940 form a breathtaking allee along the border with the greensward. 

At the site, pains have been taken to make Middleton's long story accessible - & you may as you walk see signs & displays that give you not only Middleton's history as a garden, but also its history as a great colonial rice plantation & the seat of one of America's most distinguished political families. Henry Middleton (1717-1784) was President of the First Continental Congress & both his son & grandson were active in national & local affairs.

Middleton Gardens has been ravaged several times, first by British troops during the Revolutionary War, then by Union troops in 1865 at the end of the Civil War, & again by an earthquake in 1886. There are few written records of the garden & no contemporary references to its designer nor the actual building of the garden. Tradition says that Middleton employed an English landscape gardener; whoever did design it was an artist of the first rank & a competent engineer.

What is known with certainty is that the garden that sits along the Ashley in 1986 is in its architecture the same garden Henry Middleton built, or started building, in 1741. The essential esthetic of the garden is its exactness. A safe inference is that it was drawn from some French gardens. It is often assumed that Henry Middleton got his sense of what a garden should be from a book popular at that time, ''Theory & Practice of Gardening,'' by Dezalier d'Argenville, a student of Andre Le Notre, the designer of the gardens at Versailles. As for the actual construction, the legend is that it took 100 slaves 10 years to build it.


The formal gardens are to the right of the house site & were planted within a large right triangle. Within this triangle smaller gardens were laid out in a variety of geometric shapes. Within the triangle are the azaleas, the Middleton Oak, thought to be one of the oldest live oaks in the United States, & almost every variety of plant found in the southeastern United States.

Arthur Middleton (1742-1787) Detail from a painting by Benjamin West

Arthur Middleton, Henry's son (1742-1787) & his wife Mary Izard (1747-1814), reigned over the garden too briefly & were too busy to do anything more than maintain it. Although Arthur only lived to be 44, he signed the Declaration of Independence & was, like his father, a member of the Continental Congress & a prisoner of war during the American Revolution. He is buried in the Middleton garden along with his mother.

The garden owes almost as much to the 2nd Henry Middleton (1770-1846) & his wife Mary Helen Hering (1772-1850). Henry was son of Arthur Middleton (1742-1787) &, as it does to his grandfather. Although the 2nd Henry also had a life in public service - he was Governor of South Carolina, a Congressman & Minister to Russia - he was an enthusiastic botanist.

In just one plant order to England, he purchased 253 different species, including 52 types of flower seeds, 54 sorts of bulbs, 71 hardy herbaceous plants, 41 varieties of greenhouse plants & 35 kinds of vegetable seeds. The earlier Middletons did not keep records, or the records were lost, but Henry did keep a diary. He notes the blooming of violets, jasmine, arrowhead, andromeda, wild orange, roses & sassafras.

It was Henry's good fortune that the French botanist, Andre Michaux, arrived (1785) while the garden was in his hands. They were close friends for 10 years. It was during his friendship with Michaux that Henry planted the first azaleas at Middleton. Michaux brought to Middleton mimosa, gingko, varnish tree, tea, candleberry tree & four camellia Japonica, three of which survive. They are the oldest camellias in America.

The next Middleton to take over the garden was Henry's son, Williams Middleton (1809-1883), who seems to have considered it a chore from the time he inherited it in 1846. He planted new grass, but he neglected the formal gardens and, under his stewardship, the designs became blurred & indistinct. Williams was a Secessionist, & he abandoned the gardens & fled when the Civil War started. It seemed to rest on his conscience, for he wrote sadly later that ''the camellia flowers in every hue were wasting their beauty on the desert scene.'' 

What followed after the war was, according to one account, ''50 years of neglect.'' The earthquake of 1886 ripped gaping holes in the terraces & sucked the butterfly lakes dry. It was not until the 1920's that another Middleton descendant, J. J. Pringle Smith, took over the gardens & what had become a mammoth task of restoration.

One of the striking things about Middleton Gardens is that it was set in the middle of a working rice plantation. In fact the gardens & the butterfly ponds once functioned as part of the waterway in which rice was grown. If you stand in the front door of the house looking left toward the river, you see flooded rice fields & to the right a rice mill pond. The original rice mill is at the foot of the gardens. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

South Carolina - Design Components of Gardens

Charles Fraser (1782-1860) Golden Groves The Seat of Mrs (John) Sommers Stono River. Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum, Charleston, South Carolina

Landowners in eighteenth century South Carolina tended to jeep one eye on the sun and the other on the latest, most fashionable garden design, as they planned the gardens and grounds around their homes. Carolina gardeners used the same traditional European design components as their fellow colonists up and down the Atlantic coast, but they seldom forgot to plan for the oppressive Carolina summer heat. Shady trees and cooling water played a large part in the colonial South Carolina garden design.

Trees - Alleys and Avenues

Garden planners charted walkways, alleys, and avenues to form the basic skeleton of their gardens. Most colonial British Americans called the entire outdoor area surrounding their living quarters “gardens.” Property owners often divided these garden areas into geometric beds for growing flowers and vegetables; yards for enclosing a variety of outdoor work; and larger turfed open areas for playing lawn games or visiting with friends and family.

South Carolinians especially enjoyed alleys of trees, because they offered cooling shade for year-round exercise. Alleys also directed the onlooker’s line of sight, defined garden compartments, and added ornament to the grounds. Gardeners usually planned an alley as a walkway bordered with single or double rows of trees or hedges. Alleys leading from a center door of a dwelling through the center of an adjoining garden were wider than subsidiary intersecting walkways.

Occasionally garden architects intentionally manipulated the perspective, so that the apparent size of an alley was lengthened by gradually narrowing the width of the alley towards the far end. Some gardeners called those walkways between beds of plants bordered by low-growing shrubs alleys.

On May 22, 1749, in Charleston, a landowner advertised, A garden, genteelly laid out in walks and alleys, with flower-knots, & laid round with bricks” for sale in the South Carolina Gazette.

Plantation owners in mid-eighteenth century South Carolina often employed even larger avenues of trees as well. Garden architects designed avenues as wide, straight roadways approaching plantation houses or public buildings lined with single or double rows of trees and often cutting through a lawn of grass. Planners left avenues wide enough for a horse or carriage to pass, and some were much wider with many being the width of the house. Avenues leading to the entrance façade of a dwelling were wider than subsidiary intersecting ones and often were wide enough that the entire façade of the house was visible from the far end. Usually a 200’ long avenue was about 14-15’ wide, a 600’ avenue was about 30-36’ wide, and a 1200’ long avenue was about 42-48’ wide. Gardeners occasionally manipulated the perspective of even these broad avenues as well, so that the apparent size of an avenue was lengthened by gradually narrowing the width of the avenue towards the far end. In the colonies, the term avenue also referred to a public tree-lined town street.

In May, 1743, Eliza Lucas Pinckney wrote from Charleston, "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 friends converse.”

Growing an avenue of trees took special planning and many years. Often the avenue of trees was planted years before the house was built on the property. On June 18, 1753, William Murray wrote to John Murray Esquire of Murraywhaithe in Charleston, "By all means mention the fine Improvements of your garden & the fine avenues you’ve raised near the spot where you’r to build your new house.”

Twenty years later, commercial nurserymen promoted grown trees for sale to the Charleston public. On January 1, 1776, an advertisement in the South Carolina and American General Gazette offered, "For sale…Magnolia or Laurels fit for Avenues…any height from three feet to twenty.”

By this time a French visitor noted that avenues of trees lined the public streets of Charleston as well. He wrote in 1777, "There are trees along most of the streets, but there are not enough of them to make it pleasant to promenade along the streets in the heat of the day.”

Nurseries growing trees for decoration and for food flourished in South Carolina. Planters usually enclosed private or commercial nursery gardens to grow young plants, especially fruit trees which were practical as well as ornamental. On June 5, 1736, landowner Daniel Wesshuysen advertised, A Plantation containing 200 Acres…An orchard well planted with peach, apple, cherry, fig and plumb trees; a vineyard of about two years growth planted with 1200 vines; a nursery of 5 or 500 mulberry trees about two years old, fit to plant out” in the South Carolina Gazette.

Eliza Lucas Pinckney wrote in 1742, "I have planted a large figg orchard with design to dry and export them. I have reckoned my expense and the prophets to arise from these figgs.”  Nearly 20 years later in 1761 she was still fretting about a nursery when she wrote, "I will endeavor to make amends and not only send the Seeds but plant a nursery here to be sent you in plants at 2 years old.”

David Ramsay noted that Henry Laurens’ Charleston garden wasenriched with everything useful and ornamental that Carolina produced or his extensive mercantile connections enabled him to procure from remote parts of the world. Among a variety of other curious productions, he introduced olives, capers, limes, ginger, guinea grass, the alpine strawberry, bearing nine months in the year, red raspberries, blue grapes; and also directly from the south of France, apples, pears, and plums of fine kinds, and vines which bore abundantly of the choice white eating grape called Chasselates blancs."  Gardeners up an down the Atlantic seacoast experimented with growing grapes for wine throughout the eighteenth century.

Drayton Plantation


Trees - Clumps, Groves, and Thickets

Owners of larger plantations also used clumps of trees for shade and decoration. They often intentionally planted clusters of trees or thickets of shrubs on the pleasure grounds near their dwellings to relieve the monotony of open ground. Some South Carolinians were lucky enough to have their clumps ready made. Rochefoucauld-Liancourt noted on his 1796 visit to Drayton Hall, "The Garden here is better laid out…in order to have a fine garden, you have nothing to do but to let the trees standing here and there, or in clumps, to plant bushes in front of them, and arrange the trees according to their height. Dr. Drayton’s father…began to lay out the garden on this principle and his son…has pursued the same plan."
Drayton Plantation


Trees - Bird-songs, Dovecotes

Landowners also took advantage of shady groves, which were small clusters of large, spreading shade trees either occurring naturally and intentionally left in the landscape or purposefully planted in the pleasure grounds near a swelling in the eighteen century. Usually the term grove referred to large trees whose branches produced food attracting local songbirds. At Crowfield Eliza Lucas Pinckney noted “a thicket of young tall live oaks where a variety of Airry Chorristers pour forth their melody.”

Birds were prized in South Carolina for both their songs and their taste. In the South Carolina Gazette on June 5, 1736, an advertisement for the sale of a plantation near Goose Creek offered “A Plantation containing 200 Acres…a necessary-house neatly built, and above it a dove-house with nests for 50 pairs of pigeons.” And a 1772 ad in the South Carolina and American General Gazette offered a plantation to be rented on the Ashley River near Charleston which contained “two well contrived AVIARIES.”


Dovecote from Shirlet Plantation

But Eliza Lucas Pinckney also realized that to some colonials, a grove was a solemn place for spiritual contemplation. She worried about the symbolism when she wrote to a friend in 1742, "You may wonder how I could in the 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."

A 1770s poem commemorates Alexander Garden’s Otranto near Charleston, “There midst the grove, with unassuming guise/But rural neatness, see the mansion rise!”



Trees - Wilderness, Mazes, and Labyrinths

South Carolina planters also adopted the European concept of wilderness for their pleasure grounds. A wilderness was an ornamental grove of trees, thicket, or mass of shrubbery intentionally set in a remote area of an eighteenth century pleasure ground, pierced by walks often forming a maze or labyrinth. Gardeners designed these green puzzles to confound guests as well as to offer cool exercise and privacy for courting.

On February 2, 1734, a landowner advertised in the South Carolina Gazette "To Be Let or Sold…A delightful Wilderness with shady Walks and Arbours, cool in the hottest seasons.” In May, 1743, Eliza Lucas Pinckney wrote of William Middleton’s Crowfield, "My letter will be of unreasonable length if I don’t pass over the mounts, Wilderness, etc.”


Plants - Beds, Edging, and Borders

However, trees and water did not push traditional garden components out of South Carolina gardens, especially those gardens on smaller plots in the town of Charleston. The flower knots mentioned in the May 22, 1749 South Carolina Gazette ad were flower beds formed into curious, intricate, and fanciful figures meant to please the eye especially when seen from a higher elevation such as a second story window, a mount, or a belvedere. Gardeners planned knot designs to be symmetrical. Sometimes they imitated the intricate shapes and patterns of the embroidery and cut work done by contemporary needleworkers. Flower knots were separated by paths and walks. The length of the flower know was generally about one and a third times the width, sometimes up to one and a half times but seldom longer. Beds separated by narrow paths were usually mirror images with patterns repeated at the ends and sides of quarters.

The term bed commonly was used to describe a level or smooth piece of ground in a garden, often somewhat raised for the better cultivation of the plants with which it is filled. Often beds were also referred to as squares, and they were usually designed in geometric shapes. Beds were separated by walkways and were often two, three, or four times the width of the central garden walks. Most beds were used to grow vegetables, although beds of flowers certainly existed in eighteenth century South Carolina. In 1756, Martha Daniell Logan advised, “Trim and dress your Asparagus-Bed.”



Hedges

South Carolina gardeners also planted hedges or bushes or woody plants in a row to act as defensive fences, decorative land dividers, or windbreaks. On May 22, 1749 notice was given in the South Carolina Gazette that land, “Will be raffled…a garden, genteelly laid out in walks and alleys, with… cassini and other hedges.” Charles Fraser remembered that in the 1790s in Charleston, "Watson’s gardens (was), a beautiful cultivated piece of ground, between Meeting and King-streets..adorned with shrubbery and hedges.”



Water - Basons and Canals

Water played a more important part in colonial South Carolina gardens than those to the north. Gardeners often dug basons or reservoirs of water into their pleasure grounds near their dwellings. In 1743 Eliza Lucas Pinckney wrote that at William Middleton’s Crowfield, “As you draw nearer…a spacious bason in the midst of a large green presents itself as you enter the gate that leads to the house..” Richard Lake advertised in the South Carolina Gazette on January 30, 1749, “To be sold…a very large garden…with a variety of pleasant walks, mounts, basons, and canals.”

Some affluent south Carolina homeowners constructed artificial canals near their gardens and homes, some were even navigable. These waterways afforded irrigation, decoration, and fish. On May 22, 1749, the South Carolina Gazette noted that in Charleston land was to be, “raffled…a garden…at the end of which is a canal supplied with fresh springs of water, about 300 feet long, with fish.” A French traveler wrote in 1769 that at Middleton Place, “the river which flows in a circuitous course, until it reaches this point, forms a wide, beautiful canal, pointing straight to the house.”

Water - Fountains, Cascades, Grottoes, and Bath Houses

More elaborate waterworks were also available to South Carolinians. On November 17, 1752, in the South Carolina Gazette a professional garden architect offered, “To Gentlemen…as have a taste in pleasure..gardens…may depend on laving them laid out, leveled, and drained in the most compleat manner, and politest taste, by the subscriber, who perfectly understands…erecting water works…fountains, cascades, grottos.” A cascade is an artificial rocky waterfall that noisily breaks the water as it flows over stone steps. In the eighteenth century, cascades usually were designed so that the water splashed over evenly stepped stone breaks with a slight lip on the top of each course. A grotto is an artificial subterraneous cavern meant to add mystery, ornament, coolness, bathing, and privacy to a garden.

Some South Carolina grounds contained bath houses sitting ready for a cooling dip. In 1733 an ad in the South Carolina Gazette noted “A Plantation about two Miles above Goose-Creek Bridge..[had] frames, Planks & to be fix’d in and about a Spring within 3 Stones throw of the House, intended for a Cold Bath, and a House over it.”


Charles Fraser (1782-1860). Entrance to Ashley Hall with Fishpond near Charleston, South Carolina.

Water - Fish Ponds

But by far the most popular South Carolina garden water decoration was also the most practical, a fish pond. Landowners usually dug these ponds close to their homes to serve as an artificial fresh water reservoir stocked with fish. On August 4, 1733 an advertisement in the South Carolina Gazette noted, “To be sold…a garden on each side of the House…a fish-pond well stored with pearch, roach, pike, eels, and cat-fish.” In the same paper on June 5, 1736 another ad told of a “Plantation containing 200 Acres…An artificial fish-pond, always supplied by fresh water springs, and well stored with several sorts of fish.”

Eliza Lucas Pinckney described Crowfield’s pond in May, 1743, “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 as a roman temple. On each side of this are, other large fish ponds.” (13) Another South Carolina Gazette notice on July 13, 1745 advertised, “To be sold…six Acres of Land, with a Dwelling house, Kitchen, two Summer houses, a large Garden and a Fish Pond.” A similar South Carolina Gazette ad on July 9, 1748, noted property, “TO BE SOLD…a beautiful Pond, supplied with Fish at the End of the Garden.” Richard Lake’s January 30, 1749 South Carolina Gazette notice also promoted “a very large garden…with a large fish-pond.” Again on May 22 of 1749 a South Carolina Gazette ad touted “a kitchen garden, at the end of which is a canal supplied with fresh springs of water, about 300 feet long, with fish.”

On June 18, 1753, William Murray advised John Murray Esquire of Murraywhaithe of Charleston, “You’ll certainly dig a Fish pond & another for geese & Ducks & one Swan.” Charles Fraser remembered French Quarter Creek near Charleston as the Seat of the Lake Bishop Smith “Brabant, or Brabants…having a fine garden, shrubbery and ornamental lake…long known as ‘the Bishop Fish Pond’.”

Plants - Greenhouses and Botanical

Some South Carolina gardeners planted tender plants in wooden-box beds and pots in glass greenhouses where delicate plants could be pampered away from winter weather. An advertisement in the South Carolina Gazette on November 14, 1748 offered a, “Dwelling-house…also a large Garden, with two neat Green Houese for sheltering exotic Fruit Trees, and Grape-Vines.” Exotic plants captured the fancy of colonials early in the century; and by the end of the eighteenth century, formal botanical gardens dotted the Atlantic coast. These were both outdoor and indoor, public and private garden areas, where proud collectors displayed a variety of curious plants for purposes of science, education, status and art.

One notice in the Charleston Courier on May 11, 1807 extolled the “Botanick Garden of South Carolina…as large a collection of plants, as any garden in the United States, and it is peculiarly rich in rate and valuable exoticks…Lovers of science…acquire a knowledge of the most beautiful and interesting of the works of nature. The Florist may be gratified with viewing the productions of the remotest clime, and the Medical Botanist with the objects of his study…affords an agreeable recreation both to those who visit it merely for amusement, and who seek…information.”

Sites and Sights - Seated, Command, Eminence, 
Vistas and Prospects

Collecting rare plants gave the colonial gardener status, but even more important was where the owner built his home and how he designed and maintained the grounds surrounding it. South Carolina homeowners in the eighteenth century knew that their home and grounds were a direct reflection of themselves and other ability to control their affairs. The eighteenth century was the culmination of thousands of years of agrarian society. The nineteenth century would bring the industrial revolution. But until then, mankind based its economy on its ability to manipulate nature in order to raise an trade crops. The work day was measured by the rising and the setting of the sun. One strong storm or flood could ruin a year’s work. And when people could raise enough crops and food to sustain a comfortable life, they challenged nature even further by manipulating their outdoor environment into a living art form, a garden. Most societies even gave the garden religious symbolism. The garden was the balancing point between human control on the one hand and mystical nature on the other. In the garden one could create an idealized, highly personal order of nature and culture.

Visitors judged both towns and homes on where and how they were planned by their originators. Both houses and towns were esteemed if they were “seated” on the highest “eminences” with the most advantageous “prospects” and “vistas.” Lord Adam Gordon visited Charleston on December 8. 1764; and he declared that “The Town of Charleston is very pleasantly Seated, at the conflux of two pretty rivers, from which all the Country product is brought down, and in return all imported goods are sent up the Country.” Towns and houses were noted to “command” vistas and prospects of the neighboring countryside. There was a component of inherent power in being able to survey and control the land around.

When Jedidiah Morse wrote his 1789 American Geography he noted that in Charleston, "The streets from east to west extend from river to river, and running in a straight line…open beautiful prospects each way…These streets are intersected by others, nearly at right angles, and throw the town into a number of squares, with dwelling houses in front, and office houses and little gardens behind.”

Colonial men usually planned the home and garden sites and escorted visitors around the grounds; bit the colonial woman usually managed the maintenance of the garden once it was in place. Henry Laurens noted in 1763, “Mrs. Laurens is greatly disappointed, as she is not yet able…to get into our new House & become mistress of that employment which she most delights in, the cultivating & ornamenting her Garden.”

A French visitor reflected on the site of a “small plantation, named Fitterasso..situated on a small eminence near the river. The site for the house, for none has hitherto been built, is the most pleasant spot which should be chosen in this flat, level country, where the tedious sameness of the woods is scarcely variegated by some houses, thinly scattered and where it is hardly possibly to meet with a pleasant landscape. His garden is separated from the River by a morass, neatly drained; the whole extent of the northern bank of the river is nearly of the same description. Dr. Baron intends to purchase the intervening space, and to convert it into meadow-ground. This alteration will improve the prospect, without rendering it a charming vista.”

A February 2, 1734 advertisement in the South Carolina Gazette offered a house, "on an island which commands an entire prospect of the Harbor.” The term prospect appears time and again in colonial references to gardens. A prospect was an extensive or commanding sight or view of vital importance in closing a site for a dwelling or garden in the eighteenth century. When describing William Middleton’s mount at Crowfield in 1743, Eliza Lucas Pinckney noted, upon it as 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.”

On May 22, 1749, the house “Belonging to Alexander Gordon…From the house Ashley and Cooper rivers are seen, and all around are vista’s and pleasant prospects” was advertised in the South Carolina Gazette. Vistas were planned as intentional viewpoints for surveying pleasant aspects of the adjoining landscape in eighteenth century gardens and pleasure grounds up and down the Atlantic seacoast.

Sites and Sights - Mounts

Colonial gardeners often constructed artificial viewing sights to survey their gardens and the nearby countryside. These mounts usually consisted of a pile of earth heaped up to be used as the base for another structure such as a summerhouse or as an elevated site for surveying the adjoining landscape or as an elevated post for defensive reconnaissance or just a spot for fresh and cooling air in the summer. Occasionally gardeners planted their mounts with ornamental trees and shrubs. Mounts were often formed from the earth left from digging of cellars and foundations. Walks leading up the slope of a mount sometimes had their breadth contracted at the top by one half to add the illusion of greater length.

Eliza Lucas Pinckney described Crowfield’s mount in 1743, “to the bottom of this charming sport 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.”  Many gardeners constructed more than one mount on their grounds. An advertisement offered for sale "a very large garden both for pleasure and profit, with a variety of pleasant walks, mounts, basons, canals” in the South Carolina Gazette on January 30, 1749.

Mounts and bowling greens were components of English gardens long before the natural garden movement swept England in the eighteenth century. Colonials looked to traditional English garden design for their models as an ad in the 1739 South Carolina Gazette attests, “To be sold a Plantation…on Ashley River, within three Miles of Charleston…the Gardens are extensive, pleasant and profitable, and abound with all sorts of Fruit trees, and resemble old England the most of any in the Province.”

Bowling Greens

The British American colonial bowling green evolved from a formal space dedicated to playing bowls to an open level green where people gathered for recreation and social affairs. Bowling greens were found in both public and private garden spaces and offered a smooth level turfed lawn which certainly could be used for playing bowls. Bowling greens could be circular or rectangular, those often measuring 100’ x 200’, and they were often sunken below the general level of the ground surrounding it. Eliza Lucas Pinckney noted that at Crowfield, “is a large square boleing green sunk a little below the level of the rest of the garden with a walk quite round composed of a double row of fine large flowering Laurel and Catalpas which form both shade and beauty.”

Sometimes called a square in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century America, the bowling green offered beauty and ornament as well as recreation. Bowling greens appeared early in South Carolina. A traveler noted on July 30, 1666, in Port Royal South Carolina, “a plaine place before the great round house for their bowling recreation.” An ad in the South Caroline Gazette on October 10, 1740 noted, TO BE LET…the house near Mrs. Trott’s Pasture, where the Bowling Green sits.”


Arbors and Bowers

South Carolina garden planners often trained plants into living arbors or bowers, which were open structures formed from trees, shrubs, or vines closely planted and twined together to be self-supporting or climbing up latticework frames. The size of eighteenth century arbors varied greatly. Arbors offered shade, privacy, or protection to many people such as gatherings of troops, picnickers, or worshipers or to a few people such as an arbor over as bench in a garden. Some colonials referred to a shaded alley or walkway as an arbor. On February 2, 1734, a landowner advertised in the South Carolina Gazette property “with shady Walks and Arbours, cool in the hottest seasons.”


English Style - Natural, Romantic

Certainly components and concepts of the natural English garden abounded in the South Carolina countryside as Eliza Lucas Pinckney noted in mid-century. Apparently she planter her fig orchard in something other than rigid rows. In April, 1742 she wrote, “I have planted a large figg orchard…but was I to tell you…how to be laid out you would think me far gone in romance.” She also noted at Crowfield that From the back door is a spacious walk a thousand foot long; each side of which nearest the house is a grass plat enameled in a Serpenting manner with flowers.” 

Another natural garden component was the use of vines trained to grow up wood and brick walls and columns of dwellings and outbuildings offering fruit, decoration, shade, bird food, and fragrance. In 1743 Pinckney noted that Middleton’s "house stands a mile from, but in sight of the road…as you draw nearer new beauties discover themselves, first the fruitful Vine mantleing up the wall loaded with delicious Clusters.”

Despite the preponderance of traditional English garden components, South Carolinians attempted to adopt the new English garden designs which were more natural than geometric. Even so, a French traveler noted in 1796 that Middleton “is esteemed the most beautiful house in this part of the country…The ensemble of these buildings calls to recollection the ancient English country seats…badly kept…the garden is beautiful, but kept in the same manner as the house.”

As late as 1806 emulation of English gardening concepts was a selling point as property changed hands in South Carolina. In the Charleston Courier in 1806 an advertisement for a plantation for sale outside of Charleston noted “the handsomest Garden in the state, and laid out when belonging to the late Mr. Williamson, by English Gardeners…and has since been much improved and additions made also by another English Gardener.”

South Carolina gardeners used the beauties of the natural countryside and adopted those European concepts that were both pleasing to the senses and practical to adorn the landscape they worked and played in daily. Whether these Carolina gardeners possessed a formal education and knew of Dutch, French, and English garden influences or knew nothing of classic design, most of them maintained their grounds as an art form, where they manipulated nature into their own unique concepts of order, utility, and beauty.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Wilderness in the American Garden

In an 18th century British American colonial or Early Republican garden, a wilderness refers to an ornamental mass of trees, thicket, or mass of shrubbery intentionally set in a remote area of a pleasure ground, pierced by walks sometimes forming a maze or labyrinth. Wildernesses often were integrated into the design of southern colonial grounds designed for hot weather exercise, the shade of the trees offering cooling relief from the summer sun.

The South Carolina Gazette advertised in February of 1734, that near Charleston, was a property, "To Be Let or Sold...on an island which commands an entire prospect of the Harbor...A delightful Wilderness with shady Walks and Arbours, cool in the hottest seasons. A piece of Garden-ground where all the best kinds of Fruits and Kitchen Greens are produced."

In May, 1743, Eliza Lucas Pinckney wrote describing William Middleton's plantation Crow-Field in South Carolina, "My letter will be of unreasonable length if I dont pass over the mounts, Wilderness, etc..."

Daniel Fisher described The Proprietor's Garden in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in May of 1755, "a pretty pleasure garden...a small Wilderness, and other shades that shows that the contrivor was not without Judgement."
1790s Christian Gullager (American artist, 1759-1826) George Washington.

In January of 1785, President George Washington was writing in his diary of riding throughout his properties searching for trees to use in the planning of his landscape at Mount Vernon, "Road...in search of the sort of Trees I shall want for my Walks, groves, and Wildernesses."  Washington continued to concentrate on the wilderness throughout the spring of 1785...

Thursday 17th. 1785
Laid out a walk for the Wilderness intended on the South of the Serpentine road on the left.

Friday 18th. 1785
I went to my Dogue run Plantation to make choice of the size, & to direct the taking up of Pine trees, for my two wildernesses. Brought 3 waggon load of them home, and planted every other hole round the Walks in them.

Monday 21st. 1785
Staked up the largest of my Trees in the avenues and Wilderness and Shrubberies to day, which from the softness of the ground & impression made on them by the Wind were leaning.

Tuesday 22d. 1785
Mrs. Grayson sent me 8 Yew & 4 Aspan trees & Colo. Mason some Cherry Grafts. Planted the intermediate holes round the Walk in the Wilderness on the right and filled the spaces between with young Pines.

Wednesday 23d. 1785
Finished Planting the Pine trees in the wilderness on the left and planted 4 of the live Oak Trees (which I had received from Norfolk) in the Shrubberies on the right and left on the grass plat in front of the House. Staked most of the Pines that had been planted.

Thursday 24th. 1785
Finding the Trees round the Walks in my wildernesses rather too thin I doubled them by putting (other Pine) trees between each.

Friday 25th. 1785
Planted some of the largest Pine trees on the Circular bank which is intended to inclose the Court yard, Shrubberies &ca. and Staked most of those wch. had been planted in the two Wildernesses.
Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Tadeusz Andrzej Bonawentura Kosciuszko (1746 - 1817)

Another American President, Thomas Jefferson, was also planning his wilderness in September of 1804, writing, "The Brooms wilderness on the South side to be improved for winter walking or riding."

At least one commercial public pleasure garden in the Early Republic added a wilderness as one of its components. A description of Grays Gardens in Philadelphia which appeared in the European Magazine and London Review, Volume 39, recounting a letter sent from Philadelphia in June of 1790 noting, "If we proceed straight forward, we pass through an elegant arched gate, which stems to be guarded by the figure of a satyr, extremely well painted. But this, as well as all the smaller avenues, alike produces os in the wilderness, into which we enter, passing over a neat Chinese bridge, preparing with much pleasure to penetrate a recess so charming. It is, indeed, a wilderness of sweets, and the views instantly become romantically enchanting, the scene is every moment Changing. Now side long bends the path; then pursues its winding way: now in a stratght line; then in a pleasing labyrinth is lost, until, in every possible direction, it breaketh upon us, amid thick groves of pines, walnuts, chesnuts, mulberries, & we seem to ramble, while, at the same time, we are surprised by borders of the richest and most highly cultivated flowers, in the greatest variety, which even from a royal parterre we might be led to expect."

The first American garden writer to describe the use of the wilderness in the garden was Bernard M'Mahon.  He described the wilderness in his 1806 American Gardener's Calendar published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "...to diversify the scenery...a wilderness... being generally planted in close assemblages, with serpentine walks between; some leading in private meanders toward the interior parts, or braking out...some places being closely bordered with tall trees, to effect a gloominess and perfect shade: the different walks leading now and then into circular openings, each being surrounded with plantations as aforesaid; making the principal walks terminate in a grand opening in the centre of the wilderness, in which may be some edifice, or fine piece of water."

Bernard M'Mahon's 1806 American Gardener's Calendar. B. Graves, no. 40, North Fourth-Street, Philadelphia