Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery
The Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery, located on the west bank of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, is the oldest surviving garden in the United States. In the eighteenth century it contained an encyclopedic collection of indigenous American plants (many discovered by Bartram) as well as exotics sent to him from other parts of the world.
Alternate Names: John Bartram & Sons; Bartram's Garden, Bartram House and Garden
Site Dates: 1730s
Site Owner(s): John Bartram; John Bartram, Jr.; Ann Carr
Site Designer(s): John Bartram
Location: Philadelphia, PA
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- Fry, 2004, 25, 34-35, view on Zotero.
Through a number of property transactions made between 1728 and 1740, John Bartram acquired over 287 acres of rich, well-watered farmland on the Schuylkill River at Kingsessing, about three miles from the center of Philadelphia. The land had been in use since the mid seventeenth century and Bartram devoted most of it to agriculture. In addition to cultivating grains and raising livestock, he planted a kitchen garden in 1729 and built a stone farmhouse in 1731. Also early in the 1730s Bartram laid out a large garden of six or seven acres on a sloping terrace leading from the house down to the river. Practical rather than ornamental concerns shaped the design of the garden. Bartram’s insatiable botanical curiosity and far-ranging expeditions placed a premium on comprehensiveness, as did the garden’s function as a supplier of plants for sale and exchange. It was there that he cultivated native plants gathered while exploring wilderness areas from New York to Florida, and nurtured the non-indigenous plants sent to him by overseas correspondents. While initiating a trading relationship with J. Slingsby Cressy, a physician an botanist in Antigua, Bartram emphasized the breadth of his interests: “Whatsoever whether great or small ugly or handsom sweet or stinking…every thing in the universe in their own nature appears beautiful to mee,” Twenty years later, in a letter to his English friend and correspondent Peter Collinson, he crowed, “I can challenge any garden in America for variety.”Cite error: Closing
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Despite his love of variety, Bartram was initially reluctant to cultivate delicate plants that required inordinate care to survive Philadelphia’s climate. “I don’t greatly like tender plants what wont bear our severe winters,” he remarked to Philip Miller (1791-1771), curator of the Chelsea Physick Garden, in a letter of June 20, 1757 (view text). His position changed somewhat in 1760, the year of Bartram’s first visit to South Carolina, when he decided to build a greenhouse. As he explained to Peter Collinson, his plan was to construct the building of stone and to grow “some pretty flowering winter shrubs, and plants for winter’s diversion,” avoiding the orange trees and tropical plants cultivated in the greenhouses of less pragmatic gardeners.
Bartram's business was still thriving as it approached its third decade. “I must inlarge my nursery garden,” he informed a friend in August 1769.
George Washington visited the garden on June 10 and September 2, 1787 while in Philadelphia for the Continental Convention.  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 in 1792 ordered at least 106 varieties of plants. Three hundred trees and shrubs from Bartrams Garden were planted in ornamental ovals at Mount Vernon that spring.
- Bartram, John, 1740/41, letter to Peter Bayard describing hedges (1992: 174-75)
- “As to the evergreens for pyramids that which is called in Europe the silver fir in new England hemlock & our people spruice is esteemed one of the most beautiful evergreens for showey pyramids & yew & holy is also much esteemed…for hedges in A garden I like our red cedar or Juniper for tall natural pyramids the white or Lord weymouth pine & balm of gilead fir the larix & spruce fir & abor vita.”
- Bartram, John, June 11, 1743, letter to Peter Collinson, describing the garden of Dr. Christopher Witt (1675-1765) in Germantown, Pa. (1992: 215-16)
- "I have lately been to visit our friend Doctor wit [Witt] where I spent 4 of 5 very agreeable sometimes in his garden wehre I viewed every kind of plant I believe that grew therin.... I observed particularly the Doctors famous Lychnis which thee hath dignified so highly, is I think unworthy of that Character our swamps & low grounds is full of them I had so contemptible an opinion of it as not to think it worthy sending nor afford it room in my garden."
- "Mr. John Bartram is an Englishman, who lives in the country about four miles from Philadelphia. He has acquired a great knowledge of natural philosophy and history, and seems to be born with a peculiar genius for these sciences.... He has in several successive years made frequent excursions into different distant parts of North America, with an intention of gathering all sorts of plants which are scarce and little known. Those which he found he has planted in his own botanical garden, and likewise sent over their seeds or fresh roots to England. We owe to him the knowledge of many scarce plants, which he first found, and which were never known before."
- “About 16 years past I planted a hedge of red Cedars one foot long on a small bank About 2 foot asunder[.] they growed so well that in 3 or 4 years I had a A fine hedge 4 foot high 2 foot thick, & so close that A bird could not fly thro it.”
- Garden, Dr. Alexander, 1754, in a letter to Cadwallader Colden, describing Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (Colden 1920: 472) 
- “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."
- “I dont greatly like tender plants what wont bear our severe winters but perhaps annual plants that would perfect thair seeds with you without the help of A hot bed in the spring will do with us in the open ground.... Two roots of a sort is enough. I don’t want much of any one species but variety pleaseth me.”
Bartram, John, June 20
- “At present my fancy runs all upon the living curious seeds cuttings of bulbous roots[.] fibrous roots is difficult to send… for now every few nights I dream of seeing & gathering the finest flowers & roots to plant in my garden[.] pray my dear friend oblige me with one or two of thy best sorts[.] I want but one of A sort but I love variety [.] pray don’t let our dutch outdo me.”
- 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) 
- “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.”
- Bartram, John, May 1, 1764, letter to Peter Collinson in London (1992: 627-28)
- “I have many Carolina seeds come up this spring in the bed I sowed when I cam home…. Doctor Shippen gave me some seed last summer which he brought from the south of Europe one fine sumach grew 18 inches… I sheltered them with boards & thay are now very fresh the first I transplanted to one side of my walks.... Last summer there came up in my greenhouse from east India seed formerly sowed there an odd kind of Sumach (as I take it to be)[.] it growed in A few months near 4 foot high & continued green & growing all winter & this spring I planted it it out to take its chance it shoots vigorously & almost as red as crimson how it will stand next winter I cant say but I intend to cover the ground well above its root.”
- Alexiowitz, Iwan, 1769, describing Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (quoted in Darlington 1849: 50) 
- “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.”
- Washington, George, June 10, 1787, describing the Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (1979: 5: 166) 
- "[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."
- Cutler, Rev. Manasseh, July 14, 1787, describing the Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (1888: 1:273) 
- “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.”
- Cutler, Rev. Manasseh, July 14, 1787, describing the Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (1888: 1:277) 
- “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)
- "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) 
- “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,
- “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,
- “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,
- “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)
- "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.
- Baldwin, William, August 14, 1818, letter from Philadelphia to William Darlington (Darlington 1843: 277-78)
- " I spent several hours yesterday with our worthy old friend BARTRAM; and have made an arrangement with Col. ROBERT CARR, who has the management of the garden, to cultivate my S. American plants. He has now the Lantana Bratrami [sic] (for the first time) in flower in his garden…. Mrs. CARR (daughter of the late JOHN BARTRAM,) draws elegantly,— and has engaged to execute as many drawings for me as I want…..
- “I found yesterday…a new species of Prunella….On showing a specimen of it to Mr. BARTRAM, he thought he had seen it, — and considered it a new species. He will search for it, and let me know."
- "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) 
- “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)
- “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.”
- [[François André Michaux, 1841, describing the Bartram Oak at the Bartram Botanic Garden and Nursery (1: 37) 
- "Every botanist who has visited different regions of the globe must have remarked certain species of vegetables which are so little multiplied that they seem likely at no distant period to disappear from the earth. To this class belongs the Bartram Oak. Several English and American naturalists who, like my father and myself, have spent years in exploring the United States, and who have obligingly communicated to us the result of their observations, have like us, found no traces of this species except a single stock in a field belonging to Mr. Bartram, on the banks of the Schuylkill, 4 miles from Philadelphia…. [Fig. X]
- "Several young plants, which I received from Mr. Bartram himself, have been placed in our public gardens to insure the preservation of the species."
- “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."
- Bartram was experienced in stone quarrying, stone working, and construction, and may have built the house himself. Fry, 4, 7, 15-18, 22, 27-30.
- Fry, 2004, 4, 7, 18, 22.
- John Bartram to J. Slingsby Cressy, c. 1740, in Bartram, 1992, 131
- John Bartram to John Fothergill, August 12, 1769, quoted in Fry, 2004, 37.
- 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.
- See "List of Plants from John Bartram’s Nursery, March 1792," and George Augustine Washington to George Washington, 15–16 April 1792, in 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.
- Cite error: Invalid
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- Peter [Pehr] Kalm, Travels into North America: Containing Its Natural History, and a Circumstantial Account of Its Plantations and Agriculture in General, with the Civil, Ecclesiastical and Commercial State of the Country, the Manners of the Inhabitants, and Several Curious and Important Remarks on Various Subjects, trans. John Reinhold Forster, 3 vols. (London: John Reinhold Forster, 1770), 1, view on Zotero.
- Bartram, 1992
- C. Colden, The Letters and Papers of Cadwallader Colden, 9 vols. (New York: New-York Historical Society, c. 1918-37), view on Zotero.
- 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.
- Bartram, 1992,
- Bartram, 1992
- William Darlington, Memorials of John Bartram and Humphry Marshall: With Notices of Their Botanical Contemporaries (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849), view on Zotero.
- George Washington, The Diaries of George Washington, ed. by Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979), view on Zotero.
- 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.
- George Washington, The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, ed. Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), view on Zotero.
- 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.
- 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.
- William Baldwin, Reliquiae Baldwinianae: Selections from the Correspondence of the Late William Baldwin with Occasional Notes, and a Short Biographical Memoir, ed. William Darlington (Philadelphia: Kimber and Sharpless, 1843), view on Zotero.
- 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.
- James Boyd, A History of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1827-1927 (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 1929), view on Zotero.
- 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.
- François André Michaux, The North American Sylva; Or, A Description of the Forest Trees of the United States, Canada, and North America...Translated from the French of F. Andrew Michaux...Illustrated by 122 Finely Colored Plates by Thomas Nuttall, trans. by Augustus L. Hillhouse, 6 vols (Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1841), 1, view on Zotero.
- 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.