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History of Early American Landscape Design

Alexander Garden

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Alexander Garden (January 1730-April 15, 1791), a Scottish-born physician and naturalist, lived for many years in Charleston, South Carolina, where he pursued horticultural experiments in the garden of his town house and at his country estate, Otranto. Garden discovered several new genera of plants, and engaged in plant and seed exchanges with prominent botanists and plant dealers in Europe and America. A genus of jasmine was named Gardenia in his honor.


While studying at Marischal College from 1743 to 1746, Garden served as an apprentice to Dr. James Gordon, professor of medicine, who introduced him to botanical studies and “tinctured my mind with a relish for them.” [1] At sixteen, Garden served as a surgeon’s mate in the Royal Navy, resigning in 1750 in order to seek a medical degree at the University of Edinburgh. [2] He continued his study of botany under Charles Alston (1675-1760), professor of botany and medicine and Keeper of the Garden at Holyrood and King’s Botanist.[3] Reflecting on his deep immersion in botanical studies, Garden later remarked to Alston: “I then & even to this day remember every Genus nay Every Species that is either in the King’s Garden or in the Physic Garden. I could go to the very spot where it grows.”[4]

In search of greater professional opportunities and a warm climate better suited to his health, Garden set out in 1751 for South Carolina, arriving in April 1752. En route, he apparently stopped at Lisbon, where he purchased a four-volume Italian translation of Francesco Eulaio Savastano’s botanical treatise, Botanicorum seu institutionum rei herbariae (Naples, 1712), which he brought to Charles Town along with Alston’s Catalogue of the Edinburgh Garden. [5] Within days of his arrival in Carolina, Garden began sending native plants to Alston and other colleagues at the universities at Aberdeen and Edinburgh. [6] He would later contribute essays on indigenous American plants for publication by the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh, which elected him a member in 1761.[7]The British merchant and naturalist John Ellis (c. 1710-1776) offered to present Garden’s descriptions of new plants to the Royal Society in London, and to have drawings made by the botanic artist George Dionysus Ehret. In return, Ellis received “a pretty curious collection of seeds” from Garden. Ellis sent them to be germinated by the professional London nurseryman, Christopher Gray (1693/4–1764), who had experience in acclimating American plants to English conditions, having previously performed this service for the naturalist Mark Catesby. [8]

In the fall of 1752 Garden met a fellow amateur botanist, the Carolina planter and politician William Bull II, who lent him several foundational botanical studies, including Carolus Linnaeus's Fundamenta Botanica (1736) and Classes plantarum (1738), as well as John Clayton’s Flora Virginica (1739), the first catalogue of plants indigenous to the American South. [9] Garden established a botanical relationship with another Charles Town planter, Eliza Pinckney, whom he joined in experimenting with silk worm and indigo cultivation. [10] Guided by Linneaus’s books, Garden dissected 1,000 local plants and wrote scientific descriptions of several. [11] He continued to share information with prominent European naturalists, piquing their interest with offers to name newly discovered genera in their honors. [12]

During the summer of 1754 Garden traveled to New York, venturing as far north as Coldengham, the remote Hudson Highland estate of a fellow Scot, the physician and amateur botanist Cadwallader Colden. [13] Like Garden, Colden and his daughter Colden were skilled in the Linnean method of plant classification and had begun the systematic cataloguing of plants native to their region of New York. Garden exchanged plants and seeds with the Coldens for several years following his visit.[14] [view text] The highlight of Garden’s visit was a chance encounter with the Philadelphia gardener and plant collector John Bartram, who stopped at Coldengham while exploring the area.[15] At Bartram’s invitation, Garden visited him in Philadelphia before returning south. He spent several days touring Bartram’s botanic garden and nursery and joined Bartram on rambles through the surrounding countryside in search of plants. [16] [view text]


"I have met wt very Little new in the Botanic way unless Your acquaintance Bartram, who is what he is & whose acquaintance alone makes amends for other disappointments in that way.... One Day he Dragged me out of town & Entertain'd me so agreably with some Elevated Botanicall thoughts, on oaks, Firns, Rocks & c that I forgot I was hungry till we Landed in his house about four Miles from Town....

"His garden is a perfect portraiture of himself, here you meet wt a row of rare plants almost covered over wt weeds, here with a Beautiful Shrub, even Luxuriant Amongst Briars, and in another corner an Elegant & Lofty tree lost in common thicket — on our way from town to his house he carried me to severall rocks & Dens where he shewed me some of his rare plants, which he had brought from the Mountains &c. In a word he disdains to have a garden less than Pensylvania [sic] & Every den is an Arbour, Every run of water, a Canal, & every small level Spot a Parterre, where he nurses up some of his Idol Flowers & cultivates his darling productions. He had many plants whose names he did not know, most or all of which I had seen & knew them — On the other hand he had several I had not seen & some I never heard of."

  • Ogilvie, George, 1776, describing Alexander Garden's villa, Otranto, in Carolina; or, The Planter: Written in 1776 (Berkeley and Berkeley, 1969, 352-57)
"And lo! my friend, where all the muse demands,
"On Goose-creeks banks thy own Otranto stands!
"Where pleas'd and wond'ring as we thrid the maze,
"We doubt what beauty first demands our praise
"The river bounded by the impervious shade,
"The smooth green meadow, or the enamel'd glade,
"Where all the pride of Europe's florist yields

"To the assembled wildings of our fields....

"Here Pales seems with Flora to have strove,

"To blend the beauties of the lawn and grove....

Bright as the blush of Venus when she loves,
"Sweet as the woodbine of her Paphean groves...
"From tree to tree the flow'ry tindrils rove
"Till one continu'd garland binds the grove
"Winding through shady walks, we slow descend,

"To skirt the mead, or trace the river's bend...

"There midst the grove, with unassuming guise
"But rural neatness, see the mansion rise!...

  • Garden, Alexander, July 24, 1789, to Cadwallader Colden ("The Letters of George Ogilvie and Alexander Garden," 1986: 117)[17]
"A few unconnected remarks on the situation and productions of Otranto [and] the Reasources of Carolina are inclosed. Such of them as you can weave into a description of that once beautiful and roman tick spot, may show what a Carolina situation ornamentted with only the natural productions of the Country can arrive at when so laid out.— The magical deception of the winding of Streight walks was not the least ornament of the garden for while walking in the garden you saw no straight walk & yet when turning and walking along the Bank of the river you saw none but Streight walks & not one of these winding walks thro the meanders of which you had visited all parts of the Garden while in it. And what is it now— possessed by a Goth! It sickens my soul to think of it.

"Diversified grounds— Hill & Dale— A fine winding River— The opposite banks covered with tall primaeval trees with many a flourishing shrub making the most picturesque background.....

"The house on the top of the hill commanding a fine prospect of the adjacent grounds and many different views of the meanderings of the River— guarded on the West from the afternoon's sun by two large Liriodendrons or Tulip trees full of foliage and beautiful Blossoms during May June and part of July. Remember the large Liriodendron between the fish ponds rising eighty feet without a branch then spreading out into a large head having a large opening in the middle thro which the full moon about an hour high was seen from the Piazza of the house — Never was Cynthia seen so much to advantage before having not the simple fig leaf that Mother Eve resorted to but a full grown beard of tulip tree leaves and flowers. Had Endymion seen her thus arrayed what would he have said?

"Near the house is a rural Library overshaddowed with an Umbrageous Catalpa & Lofty magnolia under Cover of which the first Company of the world reside ...[Milton, Tasso, Ariosto, Gay, Voltaire, Horace, Theocritus, Thompson] Lineaus & Bufon accompany you to the Fields — Sir Issac & Cassini to the Celestial dance.....

"The gently hanging garden where Art only gives easy access to the Various inimitable productions of Nature....

"...Aromatick and flowering shrubs give a lovely glow to the gardens of Otranto that your cold bleak gardens of Albion can never see or produce....

"Fair Peaches— the Kennedy Peach when full ripe exceeding in richness and flavour any other fruit or what even fancy can suggest&mash; a taste the cold clime of Albion with all her art can never Emulate.




  1. > Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, Dr. Alexander Garden of Charles Town (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), 10, view on Zotero;, 10,
  2. Berkeley, Alexander Garden, 15-20
  3. Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (Edinburgh: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1921), 12: vii, ix
  4. Garden to Charles Alston, February 18, 1756, quoted in Berkeley,1969, 24
  5. Berkeley, 1969, 24-25, 27; see also Charles Alston, Index Plantarum, Præcipue Officinalium, Quæ, in Horto Medico Edinburgensis (Edinburgh: W. Sands, A. Brymer, A. Murray, and J. Cochran, 1740) and Francesco Eulaio Savastano, I Quattro libri delle cose botaniche del P. Francesco Eulalio Savastano,... colla traduzione in verso sciolto italiano di Giampetro Bergantini,... e colle annotazioni di esso autore ed altre aggiuntevi (Venice: P. Bassaglia, 1749).
  6. Berkeley, 1969, 29, 35
  7. Berkeley, Alexander Garden, 30-31, 168
  8. Berkeley, 1969, 54; see also 55-57, 75, 132-33 for Garden’s criticisms of Catesby. For Gray and Catesby, see Joyce D. Chaplin, “A Skeptical Newtonian in America,” David R. Brigham, “The Patronage of Natural History,” and Therese O’Malley, “Mark Catesby and the Culture of Gardens” in Amy R. Meyers and Margaret Beck Pritchard, eds., Empire's Nature: Mark Catesby's New World Vision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1998), 77, 129-30, 151,
  9. Berkeley, 1969, 33,
  10. Berkeley, 1969, 34; Feeser, 2013, 101, view on Zotero; Ben Marsh, "Silk Hopes in Colonial South Carolina," Journal of South History, 78 (2012): 807–54 passim, view on Zotero; Ravenel, 1896, 102, 130-31, view on Zotero.
  11. Berkeley, 1969, 35, 66,
  12. Berkeley, 1969, 35-39; see also 185-86
  13. Raven, 2002, 73, 223, view on Zotero; Meroney, 1991, 52, 56, [view on Zotero; Hoffmann and Van Horne, 2004, xx,view on Zotero; Berkeley and Berkeley, 1969, 33, 35, 53, 42-46, view on Zotero.
  14. Berkeley, 1969, 51-52, 69, 96
  15. Berkeley and Berkeley, 1969, 43,
  16. Berkeley and Berkeley, 1969, 44-45,
  17. "The Letters of George Ogilvie and Alexander Garden," The Southern Literary Journal, 18 (1986): 117–34, view on Zotero.

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History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "Alexander Garden," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Alexander_Garden&oldid=12884 (accessed January 29, 2023).

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