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History of Early American Landscape Design

Bernard M’Mahon

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Bernard M’Mahon (before 1765–September 18, 1816), self-described “Nursery, Seedsman, and Florist,” wrote a popular calendar for American gardeners in 1806, ran a successful nursery and botanic garden in Philadelphia, corresponded with Thomas Jefferson about his gardening and agricultural endeavours, and cultivated previously undescribed botanic specimens collected by the Lewis and Clark expedition.

History

The details of Bernard M’Mahon’s birth and youth in Ireland prior to his immigration to the United States remain largely unknown. While Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography gives his birth date “about 1775,” historian Robert Cox has pointed out that that the 1810 census records list him as one of two men in his household over 45 years of age, suggesting a birth no later than 1765, and probably several years earlier.[1] By 1806, he claimed already to have had experience “of near thirty years, in practical gardening,” so he must have begun an apprenticeship as a gardener or horticulturist around the year 1776.[2] The precise reasons for and year of his immigration are also unknown, but the botanist, physician, and congressman William Darlington (1782–1863) attributed his motivation to political unrest in Ireland, which came to a head with the failed French invasion of 1796 and the Irish rebellion of 1798.

Fig. 1, Title page for the first edition of The American Gardener's Calendar (1806)

Knowledge of his life after his arrival in Philadelphia rests on firmer foundations. By 1799 he was residing in the city, where he first met Darlington during an outbreak of yellow fever. As of 1802, M’Mahon “had established his nurseries of useful and ornamental plants” (view text).[3] He recognized a need for pamphlets and books about plants tailored to American climates and species, which he set out to satisfy. In 1804 he published the first American seed catalog in booklet form.[4] This was followed in 1806 by his most significant work, The American Gardener's Calendar, which broke up the seasonal labors of gardening into monthly lists of tasks over the course of 648 pages [Fig. 1]. By 1807, he ran a successful flower shop, nursery and seed business at 39 South 2nd Street in Philadelphia.[5]

Fig. 2, Receipt for payment received by Bernard M’Mahon from the American Philosophical Society, recto, 1806
Fig. 3, Receipt for payment received by Bernard M’Mahon from the American Philosophical Society, verso, 1806

In addition to his publishing and commercial activities, M’Mahon was an active member of the Philadelphia horticultural and scientific communities. A receipt in M’Mahon’s handwriting [Fig. 2–3] reveals that he sold seeds and plants to the American Philosophical Society, which shipped them to Amsterdam.[6] Perhaps the most intriguing but least successful of his professional organizations and business interests was a viticulture endeavor known as the Pennsylvania Vine Company, run by Peter Legaux (1748–1827), which M’Mahon helped govern from 1807 to 1811.[7] He also participated in the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, which listed him as a member in 1812.[8] As a member of the Philadelphia community of seedsmen and botanists, M’Mahon likely met many of the preeminent figures in these fields. Two undated letters attest to his correspondence and acquaintance with the botanist and physician Benjamin Smith Barton (1766–1815).[9] He must also have visited Bartram’s Garden, another celebrated botanic garden outside of Philadelphia, although no direct evidence of such a visit survives. The botanist Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859) named a genus of evergreen shrubs Mahonia after him (known today as Berberis aquifolium after Frederick Pursh’s earlier naming). Following M’Mahon’s death in September of 1816, his wife Ann and son Thomas took over the nursery. After an unsuccessful attempt to auction the land and its contents in 1818, Ann M’Mahon ran the garden until 1830, when Thomas Hibbert, business partner of Robert Buist, purchased the property.[10]

Bernard M’Mahon’s practical impact on early American landscape design is revealed by his correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, who sought useful new American species to plant at Monticello. In 1806, M’Mahon sent a letter offering a copy of his Calendar to Jefferson, who gladly accepted. This gift inaugurated the exchange of what would amount to thirty-seven letters between the men by the time of M’Mahon’s death in 1816. As Peter Hatch notes, Jefferson’s notebook on gardening contains more than a few entries that precisely replicate M’Mahon’s specifications for layout and maintenance.[11] In addition to following the guidance of the Calendar, Jefferson purchased a wide variety of seeds and plants from M’Mahon. In exchange, Jefferson not only paid M’Mahon for his goods, but also created new professional opportunities for him. When the noted Parisian botanist André Thouin sent Jefferson a collection of international seeds in 1808, Jefferson forwarded them on to M’Mahon to cultivate and sell as he saw fit.[12]

In addition to his international connections, Jefferson also helped M’Mahon secure his place within the American community of seedsmen and botanists. In the winter of 1806, just eight months after their correspondence had begun, Jefferson arranged for M’Mahon to become one of two recipients of the botanic specimens collected by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their expedition to the Pacific Ocean.[13] The other designated recipient was William Hamilton, also based in the Philadelphia area at his estate The Woodlands. M’Mahon received seeds and specimens from the expedition in early 1807, and by 1808 he was growing as many as twenty species and six genera that were previously undescribed in the botanical literature.[14] M’Mahon hired a German botanist named Frederick Pursh to describe and illustrate the specimens collected by Lewis sometime in the winter of 1807–1808, but the project stalled when Lewis’s health declined in 1808. Lewis proved unable to visit Philadelphia and answer questions about damaged specimens before he died in 1809. Pursh left Philadelphia with his notes and drawings, unpaid, and eventually published a description of the discoveries in England in December of 1813 without the permission of the remaining expedition team.[15] M’Mahon finally began selling plants from the expedition in 1812, advertising a variety of fragrant currant (Ribes odoratissimum) “collected by Messrs. Lewis and Clarke, on the shores of the rivers Columbia and Jefferson, and in the Rocky Mountains.[16] By the end of 1813 he had also relocated his shop from 39 South Second Street to 13 South Second Street, several blocks closer to the center of Philadelphia (view text).

In 1808 M’Mahon purchased some land “on the township line road, near the Germantown road,” in the area of what is today Fotterall Square, where he opened a nursery and botanic garden called Upsal Botanic Garden.[17] Referencing the botanic garden of Uppsala University in Sweden restored by the celebrated botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707– 1778), the name of M'Mahon's nursery and garden emphasized his knowledge of the history of botany and his scientific ambitions. Although no descriptions of Upsal survive from M’Mahon’s lifetime, early histories and guides to the city briefly mention it as an attraction, including James Mease’s 1811 The Picture of Philadelphia.[18] The earliest extant description, written in 1818, two years after M’Mahon’s death, records about twenty acres of “variegated” land, with “an ample fish pond and island, supported by a never failing spring” on the property, and several buildings including a “two-storied stone dwelling; a brick and frame kitchen, a large stone building, Green House, a frame stable, coach house, and out buildings” (view text). With its pond, mixed soils, and green house, the land at Upsal must have afforded M’Mahon with diverse growing conditions for a wide variety of species. The garden continued to attract botanically-minded visitors in the decades following M’Mahon’s death, like the Scottish botanist David Douglas (1799–1834), who visited the property in 1823. In his journal, Douglas briefly described Upsal’s Osage orange trees (Maclura pomifera), which were among the most celebrated specimens collected by the Lewis and Clark expedition (view text). As late as 1830, visitors remarked on the “green house 60 feet long,” the “beautiful fish and water plants” with which the pond was stocked, and “a row of native oaks, planted by him [M’Mahon], containing 30 varieties; being all the kinds that he could collect in his day, either with money or zealous exertion” (view text).

The American Gardener’s Calendar also outlived M’Mahon by several decades, reprinted in a total of eleven editions between 1806 and 1857 in Philadelphia. The Calendar provided readers with month-by-month instructions for the care and maintenance of kitchen gardens, orchards, and nurseries. In both structure and content, it borrowed heavily from English garden manuals, and only lightly from American sources. M’Mahon himself admitted his admiration for the Gardener’s Dictionary by the English botanist Philip Miller (1691–1771).[19] Other sources included John Abercrombie’s Every Many His Own Gardener, which provided a general structure for the work.[20] M’Mahon was not, however, completely beholden to these English models. He cited Philadelphian John Beale Bordley’s 1799 Essays and Notes on Husbandry and Rural Affairs in his discussions of animal husbandry. The distinctly American perspective of the text appears most clearly in his discussion of indigenous flowering plants. Even before M’Mahon received specimens from the Lewis and Clark expedition, he pleaded with American gardeners to incorporate indigenous species in their ornamental plantings: “In Europe plants are not rejected because they are indigenous, on the contrary they are cultivated with due care; and yet here, we cultivate many foreign trifles, and neglect the profusion of beauties so bountifully bestowed upon us by the hand of nature” (view text).

Within M’Mahon’s lifetime, he became especially known for his championing of hedges as live fences, and his calendar may have helped popularize them wherever it was read. In 1816, his obituary singled out his innovative approach to planting “Quickset hedges” from European white thorn (Crataegus laevigata), based on observation of the weathering and germination of Hawthorn seeds in the wild (view text). As Brenda Bullion points out, M’Mahon himself understood these live fences as a response to the deforestation of the American countryside, recommending them “particularly in those parts of the Union in which timber has got scarce, and must inevitably become more so in a very rapid progression.”[21] Here, as elsewhere, his Calendar had both practical and aesthetic implications for the development of American landscape design.

Landscape design principles formed a small but significant part of the book’s content, and in 1841, the landscape gardener A.J. Downing described the American Gardener’s Calendar as the “only American work previously published which treats directly of landscape gardening.”[22] Squeezed into the month of January, M’Mahon’s introductory overview of “The Pleasure, or Flower Garden” quotes extensively from The Universal Gardener and Botanist by John Abercrombie.[23] This overview effectively popularized a design vocabulary drawn from earlier English works for American audiences, employing terms for plantings like lawn, hedge, and parterre; architectural elements such as temple, pyramid, and obelisk; and earthworks including slope, terrace, and eminence.[24] M’Mahon’s taste and those of his sources subtly shaped this vocabulary. He expressed a preference for the “modern garden” in imitation of nature rather than the “too formal works” that characterized the Ancient style (view text).[25] Lifting passages from Abercrombie’s Universal Gardener and Botanist verbatim, he advocated variety in garden design, rather than single-minded adherence to any individual design principle (view text).

The Calendar quickly gained a wide readership among the agricultural, botanical, and even medical communities (an early copy is listed in the New York Hospital library inventory of 1811).[26] M’Mahon’s horticultural and agricultural guidelines were excerpted in a variety of gardening manuals and almanacs like Fessenden’s 1828 The New American Gardener, which contains roughly twenty short passages attributed to M’Mahon.[27] In 1819, one unscrupulous publisher named Fielding Lucas Jr. went so far as to reproduce the work nearly in its entirety, retitled The Practical American Gardener.[28] The book was also known in Europe, where John Claudius Loudon praised its pioneering subject and completeness in the 1822 edition of his Encyclopaedia of Gardening, but expressed skepticism concerning just how widespread the horticultural and agricultural techniques described within really were: “We cannot gather from the work any thing as to the extent of American practice in these particulars” (view text). The American Gardener's Calendar was so successful that in 1846, some thirty years after M’Mahon’s death, his acquaintance Darlington cited it in his Address Before the Chester County Horticultural Society, claiming that “although his book was published forty years ago, it is, in my opinion, about as well adapted to our wants—and as replete with practical common sense—as any thing of the kind which has yet appeared in our country.”[29]

Alexander Brey


Texts

“In designs for a Pleasure-ground, according to modern gardening; consulting rural disposition, in imitation of nature; all too formal works being almost abolished, such as long straight walks, regular intersections, square grass-plats, corresponding parterres, quadrangular and angular spaces, and other uniformities, as in ancient designs; instead of which, are now adopted, rural open spaces of grass-ground, of varied forms and dimensions, and winding walks, all bounded with plantations of trees, shrubs, and flowers, in various clumps; other compartments are exhibited in a variety of imitative rural forms; such as curves, projections, openings, and closings, in imitation of a natural assemblage; having all the various plantations and borders, open to the walks and lawns.”
“In these rural works, however, we should not abolish entirely, the appearance of art and uniformity; for these when properly applied, give an additional beauty and peculiar grace, to all our natural productions, and sets [sic] nature in the fairest and most beautiful point of view.
“But some modern Pleasure-grounds, in which rural design is copied to an extreme, are often very barren of variety and entertainment, as they frequently consist only of a grass-lawn, like a great field; having a running plantation of trees and shrubs all round it, just broad enough, to admit a gravel-walk winding through it, in the serpentine way, in many short twists and turns, and bordering at every turn alternately, upon the outward fence and the lawn; which are continually obtruded upon the sight, exhibiting the same prospect over and over, without the least variation; so as that after having traversed the walks all round this sort of pleasure-ground, we find no more variety or entertainment than at our first entrance, the whole having presented itself at the first view.”
  • M’Mahon, Bernard, 1806, describing the usefulness of formal gardens to “diversify” landscapes (1806: 69)[32]
“The perpetual show of stiff formality, displayed by this kind of fancy, has induced many to discontinue it; but some of these run into the contrary extreme, by excluding all formal regularity and uniform appearances; and substituting various dissimilar arrangements, in the formation of the different compartments, in fancied imitation of natural rurality as much as possible.
“However, for the sake of diversity, some of the more elegant regular works, ought still to be admitted, which would form a beautiful contrast with the general rural improvements, and diversify the whole scene, so as to have a most enchanting effect.”
  • M’Mahon, Bernard, 1806, endorsing the ornamental use of “indigenous” flowers (1806: 72)[33]back up to History
“Here I cannot avoid remarking, that many flower-gardens, &c. Are almost destitute of bloom, during a great part of the season; which could be easily avoided, and a blaze of flowers kept up, both in this department, and in the borders of the pleasure ground, from March to November, by introducing from our woods and fields, the various beautiful ornaments with which nature has so profusely decorated them. Is it because they are indigenous, that we should reject them? ought we not rather to cultivate and improve them? what can be more beautiful than our Lobelias, Orchis’, Asclepias’ and Asters; Dracocephalums, Gerardias, Monardas and Ipomoeas; Liliums, Podalyrias, Rhexias, Solidagos and Hibiscus’; Phlox’s, Gentianas, Spigelias, Chironias and Sisyrinchiums, Cassias, Ophrys’, Coreopsis’ and Cypripediums; Fumarias, Violas, Rudbeckias and Liatris’; with our charming Limadorum, fragrant Arethusa and a thousand other lovely plants, which if introduced would grace our plantations, and delight our senses?
“In Europe plants are not rejected because they are indigenous, on the contrary they are cultivated with due care; and yet here, we cultivate many foreign trifles, and neglect the profusion of beauties so bountifully bestowed upon us by the hand of nature.”


  • Anonymous, 1807, Review of The American Gardener’s Calendar (The Medical Repository vol. 4: 177-180)[34]
“Mr. M’Mahon has parcelled his work into twelve great divisions. These correspond to the months of the year. In each he prescribes the work to be done, and the way of doing it. In this manner he has constructed a Calendar, beginning with January, and proceeding regularly to June, and thence forward to December. By attending to this arrangement, the person who consults the volume can readily find the months, by casting his eye to the top of the pages, and below them the labour and preparation during each.
“Besides this distribution of his precepts and directions, according to the sun’s place in the zodiacal signs, the author has made a methodical disposition of the business of every month. The operations in the kitchen-garden, fruit-garden, orchard, vineyard, nursery, flower-garden, green-house, and hot-house, are placed under distinct heads; and its is easy to find under one or another of these titles, whatever the Calendar contains for all the months of the year. By adverting thus to a division of his publication, into twelve parts or months, and these again into a subdivision of each into eight sections, Mr. M. has rendered it very easy to find any thing it contains. And, by attending to this, it is scarcely more difficult to examine the directions for the pleasure garden in September, the orchard in March, or the hot-house in December, &c. &c. Than to search for a word and its correlatives in the Encyclopaedia, or to examine passages in the Bible by the aid of a Concordance.
“The reader is not to expect that the work should be wholly original. The author does not pretend to this. A candid acknowledgement is made, that in writing the treatise, he consulted the best publications in the American States, and in the transatlantic countries, especially those extant in the English, French, and Latin tongues. To bring into one compendious tract the information scattered in many books, composed in different languages, hard and costly to procure, laborious to examine when procured, and requiring more literature than falls to the lot of the great body of cultivators, is a very laudable and useful undertaking. Our fellow citizens, we confidently believe, will concur with us in opinion, that he has done them worthy and acceptable service. He is perfectly aware that in some cases he may be mistaken, and in others may have made omissions; and these he is ready to amend as soon as they shall be discovered. But he has employed a good share of judgment in the directions he has given for the rearing of thorn-quicks and other plants for live fences; for cultivating liquorice, manna-ash, and rhubarb for medicines; planting madder and weld for dyeing; cork tree, fuller’s teazel, tanner’s-sumac, and paper mulberry for the economical arts; sea-kale for the dining table; grapes for the preparation of wine; and mulberry trees and insects for the manufacture of silk. And, in addition to all his knowledge derived from preceding authors, Mr. M. lays claim to the attention of his readers, by the experimental skill derived from a large and extensive course of practical gardening, pursued for almost thirty years. . . .
“We were pleased to find that the American plants which beautify the woods, fields, and swamps, had not been overlooked or neglected by our author. Many of them are duly noticed, and the cultivator’s attention called to them among the instructions for the flower-garden in the month of August. And we were gratified also with a piece of convenient economy, by substituting oak leaves newly fallen in autumn, instead of tanner’s bark, as described in the section which relates to the hot-house department for October.
“But we forbear any further comments or criticisms. A book of such great extent, and various contents, cannot be easily analized [sic] in a general way further than we have gone. And to proceed more deeply into particulars would be inconsistent with our plan and limits: we therefore observe, that as the taste for gardening is increasing, and the appearance of the book is opportune, we expect it will be sought with avidity, and thereby become the incentive and the guide to capital improvements in that interesting art. And we shall be disappointed, if nursery-men, florists, and gentlemen of taste, leisure, and fortune, do not add to their libraries, however select and small, M’Mahon’s American Calendar.”


“Last month I purchased in the vicinity of this City [Philadelphia] 20 Acres of ground, well adapted for a Nursery & Botanic Garden, and hope that, in a few years, I shall enrich that spot, and through it, in some measure, the country in general, with as extensive and useful a collection of vegetable productions, as can reasonably be expected from the small means of which I am possessed.”
  • Anonymous, 1811, Description of Upsal Botanic Garden published in the Census Directory for 1811, reprinted in various newspapers (1811: 426-27)[36]
“Upsal Botanic Garden
“A Botanic Garden and Nursery was commenced in the spring of 1809 in the immediate vicinity of this city [Philadelphia], near the junction of the Germantown and township line roads; the extent of the ground is 20 acres, well and advantageously watered, the varieties of soils and exposures which it produces and exhibits, is of considerable importance in an institution of this kind.
“In the summer of the last year, the proprietor erected an elegant building for the preservation of exotics, which is now furnished with an immense variety; and the garden generally, at this time, is said to contain several thousand species and varieties of plants, foreign and indigenous, many of which are of considerable importance in medicine, agriculture, horticulture and the arts.—The proprietor of this garden, Mr. Bernard M’Mahon, a few years ago, published in this city a work on horticulture in general, entitled “The American Gardeners’ Calendar,” which appears to have thrown a new light on our former system of gardening; the good effects of which are here generally acknowledged, and are visible in the superabundance of fine fruits and vegetables, annually accumulating in the markets of this city.”
  • Anonymous, December 28, 1813, advertisement in the Democratic Press for M’Mahon’s new store at No. 13, South Second Street, Philadelphia[37] back up to History
“Grass and Garden Seeds, &c.
“BERNARD M’MAHON
Nursery & Seedsman.
“HAS recently moved his stock in trade from No. 39, to No. 13, South Second street where he intends permanently to reside. He is amply supplied, as usual with an extensive variety of Grass Garden and Flower Seeds; Bulbous Flower Roots, of numerous species and varieties, Garden Tools, Agricultural, Gardening and Botanical Books, &c. He has also for sale at his Botanic Garden [Upsal] near this city, a numerous variety of the most beautiful hardy perennial, tuberous and fibrous FLOWER ROOTS, ornamental Trees and Shrubs as well as Green House Plants, collected from various parts of the Globe, with some very valuable Fruit Trees, such as superior English Gooseberries, large red and white Antwerp Raspberries, red white and black Currants, Apples, Pears, Peaches, Nectarines and German Medlars, &c. with superior Strawberry and Asparagus Plants.
“Dec. 22—if w10t”
“Died—On Wednesday Morning, at his Botanical Garden, called Upsal, two and a half miles from this city, Mr. BERNARD M’MAHON, well known throughout the Continent and among the Botanists of the Old World. Mr. M’Mahon came to this city, from Ireland, about twenty years since, and from his previous experience and industry, and great enthusiasm in the profession to which he was bred, he has rendered very eminent services to the United States, (more, indeed, than all who had preceded him,) by applying the principles of Agricultural Science to the varieties of the climates of this continent; pointing out the errors which had retarded improvement, he contributed to the comforts, and the most delightful of human recreations, planting the shrub, and nursing the buds into bloom, and tendril into vigor. His Book of Gardening is a precious treasure, and ought to occupy a place in every house in this country; its principles are eternal, and its instruction fruitful of advantage. His theory of Planting, has removed the difficulties heretofore deemed insurmountable in the production of Quickset hedges, from the white thorn—he urged, that he learned it from Nature, who scattering stone fruit on the surface of the earth opens the stone by the frost, and the earth to receive the kernel by the thaw—following this observation, he laid his white thorn seed, or the dried haw on the smooth surface of the ground upon which he proposed to plant, preparing the soil only to suit the operations of Nature. It was his desire, while living, to be useful; and it is in conformity with his usual mode of thinking, that we think fit to notice, at the same time that we notice his demise, his practice in an invaluable branch of knowledge, which many may see on this occasion, who have not before heard of it.
“His funeral will take place at Upsal, this morning at ten o’clock, where his friends are requested to attend.”
BOTANIC GARDEN.
“REAL ESTATE, &c.
“PURSUANT to an Order of the Orphans’ Court, held at Philadelphia, for the city and county of Philadelphia, on the 20th day of March, A.D. 1818, before the Honourable Jacob Rush, William Moulder, and Thomas Armstrong, Esquires, Justices of the said Court,
“Will be Exposed to Public Sale,
“On Tuesday, the 12th day of May, at seven o’clock in the evening, at the Merchants’ Coffee House, the following described Real Estate, late of James M’Mahon, deceased, to wit:
“All that tract or piece of Land situate in Penn township, in the county of Philadelphia, on the township line road, near the Germantown road, and about two and a half miles from the city—adjoining lands of Charles Wharton, Esq. and others; containing 19 acres and 128 perches, on which is erected a two storied stone dwelling; a brick and frame kitchen, a large stone building, Green House, a frame stable, coach house and out buildings. The ground is variegated, and in high cultivation. Terms at sale.
“By order of the Court,
“Thomas F. Gordon, Clerk.
“Ann M’Mahon, Widow and Administratrix of James M’Mahon, deceased.
“AT THE SAME TIME AND PLACE,
“Will also be exposed to Public Sale, either collectively or separately, as may best suit the purchaser or purchasers. The whole of the Green House plants, (about three thousand) and other articles, very many of which are peculiar, valuable, and far sought for. The ground is sufficiently variegated, to admit of every species of Botany, and is probably the best BOTANIC GARDEN in the country. It contains an ample fish pond and island, supported by a never failing spring, having therein Gold and Silver fish, in great variety and quantity. There is a great variety of Scots Fir, Silver Spruce, Larch, with other trees and shrubs—A pump of the finest water, &c. &c.
“Catalogues will be made out, and the property may be viewed at any time previous to sale.
“John Dorsey, Auc’r.”
  • Loudon, J. C. (John Claudius), 1822, describing Bernard M’Mahon and the American Gardener’s Calendar (1822, I: 106)[40] back up to History
“M’Mahon, already mentioned, is a seedsman at Philadelphia, and ‘has connected with the seed-trade a botanical, agricultural, and horticultural book-store.’ His work is the first of the kind which has appeared in America, and includes every department to be found in our calendars. Ample instructions are given for growing the pine, vine, melon, and other delicate fruits, and also for the forcing departments both of the flower and kitchen gardens; but we cannot gather from the work any thing as to the extent of American practice in these particulars.”
“Friday, August 22nd.
“. . . . I made a journey to Mr. McMahon, which is three miles north of the city. I did not find him at home; I looked round the garden, and after a patient search found Maclura, two plants, height about seventeen feet, bushy and rugged; they had a few fruits on the trees; it is well described in Pursh’s Preface of his ‘Flora Amer.’ Then I called at Bartram’s old place, but found no person at home.”
  • Anonymous, c. 1831, Report on the condition of Upsal for the Horticultural Society of Pennsylvania, maintained after M’Mahon’s death by his wife (1831: 10–11)[42] back up to History
“Mrs. M’Mahon’s Garden is about 3 miles north of Philadelphia. It contains a green house 60 feet long and calculated to hold a great many plants. The collection is good. The establishment is 19 years old, and was founded by that enterprising and distinguished horticulturist, Mr. B. M’Mahon, husband of the present proprietor.
“Here is the largest Portlandia that we have seen, and a good selection of the succulent family, with many oranges, lemons, shaddock, etc. A very large tree of Maclura aurantiaca or osage orange; a highly ornamental tree, with bright green foliage, and standing longer in the fall than any other of the deciduous tribe. It bears a large green fruit, not unlike an orange. We think that Mr. M’Mahon was the first to introduce this tree, brought back by Lewis and Clark. Here we saw an uncommon large shrub of the Lonicera tartarica, or tartarian honeysuckle; it is twenty feet in diameter, and high in proportion.
“The ground contains about 20 acres, distributed in nursery stock, and growing vegetable seeds.
“Those two beautiful shrubs, the Symphoricarpos racemosus and Ribes aureum, were propagated in this nursery before any other in our vicinity; and this was the case, too, with many other shrubs and trees. Of European trees there are several valuable specimens, such as Fraxinus, Tilia, Ulmus, Fagus, Betula, Carpinus, Platanus and Pinus. On these grounds are ponds well stocked with beautiful fish and water plants, among these last is the Nymphaea odorata, with its showy white flowers, yellow anthers and sweet fragrance.
“Mr. M’Mahon was an indefatigable arborist, and his garden now exhibits a row of native oaks, planted by him, containing 30 varieties; being all the kinds that he could collect in his day, either with money or zealous exertion. The willow-leaved oak is the most conspicuous, and forms a very handsome conical tree.
“Perhaps we owe as much to the late Mr. M’Mahon, as a horticulturist, as to any individual in America. Besides his efforts in collecting and propagating we are indebted to him for his excellent book on “American Gardening,” which has passed through many editions.
“There is a small nursery connected with this, in Camac street.
“Attached to this establishment is a Seed Store, in Second below Market street, where there is sold an extensive variety of seeds, foreign and native, to the amount of 2,000 kinds; with a variety of horticultural implements, and a collection of botanical and horticultural books.”
  • Wynne, William, 1832, “Some Account of the Nursery Gardens and the State of Horticulture in the Neighbourhood of Philadelphia,” describing Hibbert Nursery, vicinity of Philadelphia, Pa. (Gardener’s Magazine 8: 273)[43]
“A Mr. Hibbert keeps a small nursery, in which he grows roses and other plants in pots, which he sells chiefly in the city market. I understand Mr. Hibbert has taken a piece of ground formerly occupied as a nursery by Mr. M’Mahon, and has taken into partnership Mr. Buist, a gardener in the neighbourhood.”
  • Darlington, William, 1846, on the significance of M’Mahon’s American Gardener’s Calendar (1846: 13)[44]
“To instruct us in the management of the Flower and Kitchen Garden, we have “The American Gardener’s Calendar,” by the late Bernard M’Mahon—one of the pioneers among us, in the good work of teaching horticulture. Although his book was published forty years ago, it is, in my opinion, about as well adapted to our wants—and as replete with practical common sense—as any thing of the kind which has yet appeared in our country.”
  • Darlington, William, 1857, on his recollections of Bernard M’Mahon (in M’Mahon 1857: xii-xiii)[45] back up to History
“I am much gratified to learn that a new edition of M’Mahon’s “American Gardener’s Calendar” is in press. That work was among the earliest of its kind in our country, and I have always regarded it as among the best. It is at once comprehensive and complete; and, moreover, remarkable for its judicious, practical, common sense views of the subject.
“I had the pleasure of knowing Bernard M’Mahon, in my youthful days. He was, I believe, one of those Exiles of Erin who sought and found a refuge in our country, near the close of the last century. In the autumn, I think of 1799, he passed some weeks at my native village of Dilworthtown, in Chester County, in order to avoid the ravages of yellow fever, in Philadelphia, where he resided; and in that rural retreat I first knew him. I renewed the acquaintance in 1802, 3, and 4, while attending the medical lectures in the University of Pennsylvania, by which time he had established his nurseries of useful and ornamental plants: and I ever found him an obliging, intelligent, and instructive friend. He was a regularly educated gardener, of much experience, and great enterprise. He gave the first decisive impulse to scientific horticulture in our State; and to him we are mainly indebted among other favors, for the successful culture and dissemination of the interesting novelties collected by Lewis and Clarke, in their journey to the Pacific. When, in 1818, Mr. Nuttall published his Genera of North American Plants, he named a beautiful shrub “in memory of the late Mr. Bernard M’Mahon, whose ardent attachment to Botany, and successful introduction of useful and ornamental Horticulture into the United States, lay claim to public esteem:” and although the genus has been reduced by later botanists to a section of Berberis, it is generally known by—and I trust will long retain—the popular name of Mahonia.
“It was a well-deserved tribute of respect, from one who intimately knew, and could justly appreciate the merits it commemorated: and I am happy in the opportunity, even at this late day, to add my own humble and inadequate testimonial to that of so accomplished a judge of botanical worth, as Thomas Nuttall.”

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“Monticello's Twinleaf Journal Online: Bernard McMahon, Pioneer American Gardener”

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Notes

  1. Robert S. Cox, ed., “‘I Never Yet Parted’: Bernard McMahon and the Seeds of the Corps of Discovery,” in The Shortest and Most Convenient Route: Lewis and Clark in Context, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 94, no. 5 (American Philosophical Society, 2004), 131, view on Zotero.
  2. Bernard M’Mahon, The American Gardener’s Calendar: Adapted to the Climates and Seasons of the United States. Containing a Complete Account of All the Work Necessary to Be Done... for Every Month of the Year.... (Philadelphia: Printed by B. Graves for the author, 1806), v, view on Zotero.
  3. Joseph Ewan, “Bernard M’Mahon (c. 1775–1816), Pioneer Philadelphia Nurseryman, and His American Gardener’s Calendar,” Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History 3, no. 7 (October 1960): 366, view on Zotero.
  4. Bernard M’Mahon, A Catalogue of American Seeds (Philadelphia: Printed by William Duane, 1804), view on Zotero.
  5. See “M’Mahon, Bernard” in James Robinson, The Philadelphia Directory for 1807: Containing the Names, Trades, and Residence of the Inhabitants of the City, Southwark, and Northern Liberties: Also, a Calendar, from the 1st of February, 1807 to the 1st of February 1808, and Other Useful Information (Philadelphia: Printed for the publisher and sold by W. Woodhouse, 1807), view on Zotero.
  6. Now in the American Philosophical Society Archives, reproduced in Ewan 1960, 366–67, view on Zotero.
  7. For his membership in the Vine Company see Robinson 1807, xlvii, view on Zotero; Census Directory for 1811: Containing the Names, Occupations, & Residence of the Inhabitants of the City, Southwark & Northern Liberties, a Separate Division Being Allotted to Persons of Colour; to Which Is Annexed an Appendix Containing Much Useful Information, and a Perpetual Calendar (Philadelphia: Printed by Jane Aitken, No. 71, North Third Street, 1811), 426, view on Zotero. The society, which floundered throughout the first decade of the nineteenth century, is discussed in Thomas Pinney, A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 113, view on Zotero.
  8. Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, Laws of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, as Revised and Enacted at the Annual Meeting, Held on the 14th January, 1812. To Which Is Prefixed, a List of the Members of the Society. Incorporated February 14, 1809. (Lydia R. Bailey, 1812), 6, view on Zotero.
  9. American Philosophical Society Archives, Violetta Delafield-Benjamin Smith Barton Papers, ALS, 1p. (letter from M’Mahon to Barton inviting him to a meeting), and AMsS, 1p. (letter from Barton to M’Mahon about fish).
  10. Alexander Gordon, “Notices of Some of the Principal Nurseries and Private Gardens in the United States of America, Made during a Tour through the Country, in the Summer of 1831; with Some Hints on Emigration,” The Gardener’s Magazine 8, no. 38 (June 1832): 284, view on Zotero.
  11. Peter J. Hatch, “A Rich Spot of Earth”: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 76, view on Zotero.
  12. Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, 1766-1824, with Relevant Extracts from His Other Writings, Annotated by Edwin Morris Betts, ed. Edwin Morris Betts (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1944), 383, view on Zotero.
  13. Jefferson 1944, 328, 337, view on Zotero.
  14. As quoted in Jefferson 1944, 345, 373, view on Zotero.
  15. Frederick Pursh, Flora Americae Septentrionalis; or, a Systematic Arrangement and Description of the Plants of North America, vol. 1, 2 vols. (London: White, Cochrane, & Co., 1814), view on Zotero. Cox 2004, 12, view on Zotero.
  16. M’Mahon regularly advertised in the Philadelphia Aurora, and the currant appears in the edition of March 11, 1812, as quoted in Cox 2004, 127, view on Zotero.
  17. John William Harshberger, The Botanists of Philadelphia and Their Work (Philadelphia: Press of T. C. Davis & Son, 1899), 117, view on Zotero.
  18. James Mease, The Picture of Philadelphia: Giving an Account of Its Origin, Increase, and Improvements in Arts, Sciences, and Manufactures, Commerce and Revenue. With a Compendious View of Its Societies ... (Philadelphia: Published by B. & T. Kite, 1811), 351, view on Zotero.
  19. Sarah Pattee Stetson, “American Garden Books Transplanted and Native, before 1807,” William and Mary Quarterly 3, ser. 3 (1946): 366, view on Zotero.
  20. For the most comprehensive analysis of his sources to date, see Brenda Bullion, “The Science and Art of Plants and Gardens in the Development of an American Landscape Aesthetic” (PhD diss., Cornell University, 1990), 293–95, view on Zotero.
  21. Bullion 1990, 304–5, view on Zotero.
  22. A. J. Downing, A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America; with a View to the Improvement of Country Residences... with Remarks on Rural Architecture (New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1841), 20, view on Zotero.
  23. See the entry on Pleasure-Garden in the 1778 and, even more similar, 1797 editions of Thomas Mawe and John Abercrombie, The Universal Gardener and Botanist, or A General Dictionary of Gardening and Botany (London: Printed for G. Robinson et al, 1778), view on Zotero.
  24. M’Mahon 1806, 55–69, view on Zotero.
  25. M’Mahon 1806, 66 (perspective), 55–56 (modern garden), view on Zotero.
  26. See the catalog of books in An Account of the New-York Hospital (New York: Collins & Co., 1811), 63, view on Zotero.
  27. Thomas Fessenden, ed., The New American Gardener, 1st ed. (Boston: J. B. Russell, 1828), view on Zotero. Fessenden also quoted liberally from M’Mahon in several of his later works.
  28. Ewan 1960, 378, view on Zotero.
  29. William Darlington, Address Before the Chester County Horticultural Society, at Their First Annual Exhibition, in the Borough of West Chester, Sept. 11, 1846 (West Chester, PA, 1846), 13, view on Zotero.
  30. M’Mahon 1806, 55, view on Zotero.
  31. M’Mahon 1806, 56, view on Zotero.
  32. M’Mahon 1806, 69, view on Zotero.
  33. M’Mahon 1806, 72, view on Zotero.
  34. “Review of The American Gardener’s Calendar,” The Medical Repository 4 (1807): 174–80. view on Zotero.
  35. Jefferson 1944, 401, view on Zotero.
  36. Census Directory for 1811, 426–427, view on Zotero. Reprinted verbatim in “From the True American. Botany,” Concord Gazette, April 23, 1811, 3, view on Zotero.
  37. Bernard M’Mahon, “Grass and Garden Seeds, &c.,” Democratic Press, December 28, 1813, view on Zotero.
  38. “Died—on Wednesday Morning...,” Aurora, September 19, 1816, view on Zotero. Reprinted verbatim in “Died—on Wednesday Morning...,” Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, September 20, 1816, view on Zotero.
  39. “Botanic Garden. Real Estate, &c.,” Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, April 4, 1818, 3, view on Zotero. See also Cox 2004, 132, note 22, view on Zotero.
  40. J. C. (John Claudius) Loudon, An Encyclopaedia of Gardening; Comprising the Theory and Practice of Horticulture, Floriculture, Arboriculture, and Landscape-Gardening, 1st ed. (London: Longman et al, 1822), 106, view on Zotero.
  41. David Douglas, Journal Kept by David Douglas During His Travels in North America 1823–1827 Together with a Particular Description of Thirty-Three Species of American Oaks and Eighteen Species of Pinus, with Appendices Containing a List of the Plants Introduced by Douglas and an Account of His Death in 1834 (London: W. Wesley & Son, for the Royal Historical Society, 1914), 8, view on Zotero.
  42. Report of the Committee Appointed by the Horticultural Society of Pennsylvania for Visiting the Nurseries and Gardens in the Vicinity of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: W. Geddes, 1831), 10–11, view on Zotero.
  43. William Wynne, “Some Account of the Nursery Gardens and the State of Horticulture in the Neighbourhood of Philadelphia, with Remarks on the Subject of the Emigration of British Gardens to the United States,” The Gardener’s Magazine and Register of Rural & Domestic Improvement 8, no. 38 (June 1832): 273, view on Zotero.
  44. Darlington 1846, 13, view on Zotero.
  45. Bernard M’Mahon, The American Gardener’s Calendar: Adapted to the Climates and Seasons of the United States. Containing a Complete Account of All the Work Necessary to Be Done... for Every Month of the Year...., 11th ed. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Company, 1857), xii–xiii, view on Zotero.

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