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History of Early American Landscape Design

Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery

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Overview

Alternate Names: John Bartram & Sons; Bartram's Garden, Bartram House and Garden

Site Dates:

Site Owner(s):

Site Designer(s):

Location: Philadelphia, PA
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Fry, 2004, 25, 34-35, view on Zotero.


. “I must inlarge my nursery garden,” Bartram informed a friend in August 1769.[1]

George Washington visited the garden on June 10 and September 2, 1787 while in Philadelphia for the Continental Convention. [2] Although he disparaged the garden in his diary, describing it as “not laid off with much taste, nor was it large,” he was impressed by the many “curious pl[an]ts. Shrubs & trees, many of which are exotics.” (view text). Two years later he requested a catalog from the Bartrams (view text) and ordered a number of plants in 1792, recording 106 varieties in his “List of Plants & Shrubs from Mr. Bartram — March 1792.” Three hundred trees and shrubs from Bartrams Garden were planted in ornamental ovals at Mount Vernon.[3]


Images

Texts

  • Kalm, Pehr, September 19, 1748, describing Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (1937: 1:41) [4]
“Mulberry trees are planted on some hillocks near the house and sometimes even in the courtyards of the house.”


“he disdains to have a garden less than Pensylvania & Every den is an Arbour, Every run of water, a Canal, & every small level Spot a Parterre.”


"I have met wt very Little new in the Botanic way unless Your acquaintance Bartram....

"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.."


  • Bartram, John, June 24, 1760, in a letter to Peter Collinson, describing his plans for the Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (quoted in Darlington 1849: 224) [7]
“Dear friend, I am going to build a greenhouse. Stone is got; and hope as soon as harvest is over to begin to build it, to put some pretty flowering winter shrubs, and plants for winter’s diversion; not to be crowded with orange trees, or those natural to the Torrid Zone, but such as will do, being protected from frost.”


  • Alexiowitz, Iwan, 1769, describing Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (quoted in Darlington 1849: 50) [7]
“The whole store of nature’s kind luxuriance seemed to have been exhausted on these beautiful meadows; he made me count the amazing number of cattle and horses now feeding on solid bottoms, which but a few years before had been covered with water. Thence we rambled through his fields, where the rightangular fences, the heaps of pitched stones, the flourishing clover, announced the best husbandry, as well as the most assiduous attention....He next showed me his orchard, formerly planted on a barren, sandy soil, but long since converted into one of the richest spots in that vicinage.”


"[We] rid to see the Botanical garden of Mr. Bartram; which, tho’ Stored with many curious plts. Shrubs & trees, many of which are exotics was not laid off with much taste, nor was it large."


“It [the garden] is finely situated, as it partakes of every kind of soil, has a fine stream of water, and an artificial pond, where he has a good collection of aquatic plants.”


“There were several other hermitages, constructed in different forms; but the Grottoes and Hermitages were not yet completed, and some space of time will be necessary to give them that highly romantic air which they are capable of attaining.”


  • Lear, Tobias to Clement Biddle, October 7, 1789 (1993: 4: 124-25)[10]
"The President will thank you to get from Mr Bartram a list of the plants & shrubs which he has for sale, with the price affixed to each, and also a note to each of the time proper for transplanting them, as he is desireous of having some sent to Mount Vernon this fall if it is proper.

"It is customary for those persons who publish lists of their plants &c. to insert many which they have had, but which have been all disposed of— the President will therefore wish to have a list only of what he actually has in his Gardon."


  • Wilson, Alexander, August 10, 1804, "A Rural Walk. The Scenery drawn from Nature," Gray's Ferry (1876: 359, 361-64) [11]
“The Summer sun was riding high,
“The wood in deepest verdure drest;
“From care and clouds of dust to fly,
“Across yon bubbling brook I past;

“And up the hill, with cedars spread,
“Where vines through spice-wood thickets roam;
“I took the woodland path, that led
“To Bartram’s hospitable dome….

“The squirrel chipp’d, the tree-frog whirr’d,
“The dove bemoan’d in shadiest bow’r….

“A wide extended waste of wood,
“Beyond in distant prospect lay;
“Where Delaware’s majestic flood
“Shone like the radiant orb of day….

“There market-maids, in lovely rows,
“With wallets white, were riding home;
“And thund’ring gigs, with powder’d beauxs [sic],
“Through Gray’s green festive shade to roam.

“There Bacchus fills his flowing cup,
“There Venus’ lovely train are seen;
“There lovers sigh, and gluttons sup,
“By shrubb’ry walks, in arbours green.

“But dearer pleasures warm my heart,
“And fairer scenes salute my eye;
“As thro’ these cherry-rows I dart
“Where Bartram’s fairy landscapes lie.

“Sweet flows the Schuylkill’s winding tide,
“By Bartram’s emblossomed bow’rs;
“Where nature sports, in all her pride
“Of choicest plants, and fruits, and flow’rs.

"These sheltering pines that shade the path, —
"That tow'ring cypress moving slow, —
"Survey a thousand sweets beneath,
"And smile upon the groves below....

"From pathless woods, from Indian plains,
"From shores where exil'd Britons rove;
"Arabia's rich luxuriant scene,
"And Otaheite's ambrosial grove.

"Unnumber'd plants and shrubb'ry sweet,
"Adorning still the circling year;
"Whose names the Muse can ne'er repeat,
"Display their mingling blossoms here....

"For them thro' Georgia's sultry clime,
"And Florida's sequester'd shore;
"Their streams, dark woods, and cliffs sublime,
"His dangerous way he did explore.

"And here their blooming tribes he tends,
"And tho' revolving Winters reign,
"Still Spring returns him back his friends,
"His shades and blossom'd bowers again."


  • Pursh, Frederick, 1814, recalling a visit to Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery in 1799 (1814: 1: vi)[12]
"Near Philadelphia I found the botanic garden of Messrs. John and William Bartram. This is likewise an old establishment, founded under the patronage of the late Dr. Fothergill, by the father of the now living Bartrams. This place, delightfully situated on the banks of the Delaware, is kept up by the present proprietors, and probably will increase under the care of the son of John Bartram, a young gentleman of classical education, and highly attached to the study of botany. Mr. William Bartram, the well known author of “Travels through North and South Carolina,” I found a very intelligent, agreeable, and communicative gentleman; and from him I received considerable information about the plants of that country, particularly respecting the habitats of a number of rare and interesting trees. It is with the liveliest emotions of pleasure I call to mind the happy hours I spent in this worthy man’s company, during the period I lived in his neighbourhood.


  • Thacher, James, 1828, describing history of Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (1828: 1: 67)[13]
"Mr. Bartram was the first native American who conceived and carried into effect the plan of a botanical garden for the reception and cultivation of indigenous as well as exotic plants, and of travelling for the purpose of accomplishing this plan. He purchased a situation on the banks of Schuylkill, and enriched it with every variety of the most curious and beautiful vegetables, collected in his excursions, which his sons have since continued to cultivate."


  • Committee of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1830, describing Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (quoted in Boyd 1929: 428) [14]
“Mr. Carr’s fruit nursery has been greatly improved, and will be enlarged next spring to twelve acres—its present size is eight. The trees are arranged in systematical order, and the walks well gravelled. The whole is abundantly stocked, from the seed bed to the tree. Here are to be found 113 varieties of apples, 72 of pears, 22 of cherries, 17 of apricots, 45 of plums, 39 of peaches, 5 of nectarines, 3 of almonds, 6 of quinces, 5 of mulberries, 6 of raspberries, 6 of currants, 5 of filberts, 8 of walnuts, 6 of strawberries, and 2 of medlars. The stock, considered according to its growth, has in the first class of ornamental trees, esteemed for their foliage, flowers, or fruit, 76 sorts; of the second class 56 sorts; of the third class 120 sorts; of ornamental evergreens 52 sorts; of vines and creepers, for covering walls and arbours, 35 sorts; of honey suckle 30 sorts, and of roses 80 varieties.”


  • Wynne, William, 1832, “Some Account of the Nursery Gardens and the State of Horticulture in the Neighbourhood of Philadelphia,” describing the Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (Gardener’s Magazine 8: 272–73)
“I shall begin with Bartram’s Botanic Garden; the precedence being due to it, both for antiquity (it having been established 100 years), and from its containing the best collection of American plants in the United States. There are above 2000 species (natives) contained in a space of six acres, not including the fruit nursery and vineyard, which comprise eight acres. . . . Indeed, the most remarkable feature in this nursery, and that which renders it superior to most of its class, is the advantage of possessing large specimens of all the rare American trees and shrubs; which are not only highly ornamental, but likewise very valuable, from the great quantities of seed they afford for exportation to London, Paris, Petersburgh, Calcutta, and several other parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. This garden is the regular resort of the learned and scientific gentlemen of Philadelphia.”


  • Hovey, C. M., June 1837, describing Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (Magazine of Horticulture 3: 210)
“In the orangery attached to the large greenhouse are a great number of very old orange and lemon trees.”


  • Downing, Andrew Jackson, March 1837, "Notes on Some of the Nurseries and Private Gardens in the Neighborhood of New York and Philadelphia" (June 1837: 211)[15]
“It is with deep regret that we learn that one of the principal rail roads in the State of Pennsylvania, now constructing, will run to the city directly through the nursery of Col. Carr, and will cut up the grounds in such a manner as to entirely destroy their beauty; but what is a source of yet deeper regret, is the destruction which it will cause of some of the old and still beautiful specimens of trees which ornament the place; several of these, which have long served as a memento of the zealous labors of the elder Bartram and his sons, will fall by the woodman’s axe. It is a melancholy scene to the American horticulturist to see the few beautiful private residences and nurseries of which our country can boast, one by one, purchased by individuals or companies, to be cut up into building lots, or otherwise destroyed, by rail roads running directly through them. Dr. Hosack’s, at Hyde Park, N.Y., the best specimens of gardening in this country, was the first; Mr. Pratt’s, Laurel [Lemon Hill]], but little inferior in its style, next; and now one of the oldest nurseries, bounded by one of the best naturalists this country ever produced, is to follow, though not the same, a similar fate.”


“He [John Bartram] was, perhaps, the first Anglo-American who conceived the idea of establishing a BOTANIC GARDEN for the reception and cultivation of the various vegetables, natives of the country, as well as exotics, and of travelling for the discovery and acquisition of them.*
“* The BARTRAM BOTANIC GARDEN, (established in or about the year 1730,) is most eligibly and beautifully situated, on the right bank of the river Schuylkill, a short distance below the city of Philadelphia. Being the oldest establishment of the kind in this western world, and exceedingly interesting, from its history and associations,—one might almost hope, even in this utilitarian age, that, if no motive more commendable could avail, a feeling of state or city pride, would be sufficient to ensure its preservation, in its original character, and for the sake of its original objects. But, alas! there seems to be too much reason to apprehend that it will scarcely survive the immediate family of its noble-hearted founder,—and that even the present generation may live to see the accumulated treasures of a century laid waste—with all the once gay parterres and lovely borders converted into lumberyards and coal-landings.”


“884. At and near Philadelphia are Bartram’s botanic garden, now the nursery of Colonel Carr, and accurately described by his foreman, Mr. Wynne (Gard. Mag., vol. viii. p. 272.); Messrs. Landreth and Co.’s nursery; and that of Messrs. Hibbert and Buist; besides some commercial gardens in which, to a small nursery with green and hot-houses, are added the appendages of a tavern. These tavern gardens, Mr. Wynne informs us, are the resort of many of the citizens of Philadelphia, more especially the gardens of M. Arran, and M. d’Arras; the first having a very good museum, and the latter a beautiful collection of large orange and lemon trees."

References

Notes

  1. John Bartram to John Fothergill, August 12, 1769, quoted in Fry, 2004, 37.
  2. George Washington, The Diaries of George Washington, ed. by Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979), 5: 166, 183, view on Zotero.
  3. George Washington, The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, ed. by Robert F. Haggard and Mark A. Mastromarino (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2002), 10: 175-83, 272-73, view on Zotero.
  4. Pehr Kalm, The America of 1750: Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America. The English Version of 1770, 2 vols. (New York: Wilson-Erickson, 1937), view on Zotero.
  5. C. Colden, The Letters and Papers of Cadwallader Colden, 9 vols. (New York: New-York Historical Society, c. 1918-37), view on Zotero.
  6. Cadwallader Colden, "The Letters and Papers of Cadwallader Colden", vol. 4 (1748-1754), Collections of the New-York Historical Society (1920): 471-72, view on Zotero.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 William Darlington, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849), view on Zotero.
  8. George Washington, The Diaries of George Washington, ed. by Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979), view on Zotero.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Manasseh Cutler, Life, Journals and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler, L.L.D., ed. by William Parker Cutler and Julia Perkin Cutler, vol. 1 (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1888), view on Zotero.
  10. George Washington, The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, ed. Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), view on Zotero.
  11. Alexander Wilson, The Poems and Literary Prose of Alexander Wilson, the American Ornithologist, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, 2 vols. (Paisley: Alex. Gardner, 1876), view on Zotero.
  12. Frederick Pursh, Flora Americae Septentrionalis; Or, a Systematic Arrangement and Description of the Plants of North America, 2 vols (London: White, Cochrane, & Co., 1814), view on Zotero.
  13. James Thacher, American Medical Biography: Or, Memoirs of Eminent Physicians Who Have Flourished in America, 2 vols (Boston: Richardson & Lord and Cottons & Barnard, 1828), view on Zotero.
  14. James Boyd, A History of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1827-1927 (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1929), view on Zotero.
  15. Andrew Jackson Downing, "Notes on Some of the Nurseries and Private Gardens in the Neighborhood of New York and Philadelphia, Visited in the Early Part of the Month of March, 1837," The Magazine of Horticulture, 3 (June 1837), view on Zotero.
  16. J. C. (John Claudius) Loudon, An Encyclopaedia of Gardening; Comprising the Theory and Practice of Horticulture, Floriculture, Arboriculture, and Landscape-Gardening, new ed., corr. and improved (London: Longman et al., 1850), view on Zotero.

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History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Bartram_Botanic_Garden_and_Nursery&oldid=15446 (accessed November 29, 2021).

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