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History of Early American Landscape Design

Humphry Marshall’s Botanic Garden

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The Marshallton Botanic Garden


Alternate Names:Marshall's Garden; Marshall's Arboretum; Botany Farm
Site Dates: 1773-1813
Site Owner: Humphry Marshall; Moses Marshall
Site Designer(s): Humphry Marshall
Location: View on Google maps




Anonymous [“B. — A Massachusetts Subscriber”], 1850, “Trees and Pleasure Grounds of Pennsylvania,” (1851: 69-71)[1]

"The grounds which I described in a former number of the Horticulturist, were not only planted by the hand of taste, but had been kept with care; to the one of which I shall now speak, time had added new beauty in its stately trees, but his destroying finger was visible in all else. As we approached the former residence of HUMPHREY [sic] MARSHALL, (near the village of Marshallton,) the massive foliage of a variety of trees rising above a dilapidated fence, gave us a foretaste of what awaited us. We were directed to an old gate as the nearest entrance, but found, when it was with difficulty opened, that a huge Tecoma, or trumpet creeper, and Aristolochias twining their cordage like branches from tree to tree, barred the passage— the gentlemen of the party effected an entrance for us through the luxuriant vines, and we stood in what was once the pride and delight of one of the earliest arboriculturists. MARSHALL was first cousin to JOHN BARTRAM, and from him he probably derived much of his knowledge of plants, for in 1773 he followed his cousin's example, and commenced this botanic garden, where he gathered together the most interesting trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants of our country, with many curious exotics.

"In 1785, he published an account of our native trees and shrubs, entitled Arbustum Americanum, the first work of the kind printed in this country. It received little attention here, as it was half a century in advance of the age— it was, however, quickly appreciated abroad, and translated into most of the languages of modern Europe. He was in correspondence with many eminent men, and sent large quantities of American seeds and plants to England. When the infirmities of age and a cataract had rendered him nearly blind, he could still recognise his favorite trees and walks, and delighted to welcome his friends in the garden he had planted.
"Many of the trees have now, at the end of 77 years, attained a large size; the sovereign of the place is a Magnolia accuminata, which lifts up its ‘leafy crown’ to the height of one hundred feet, in form perfectly symmetrical, giving out branches from its stout trunk at regular intervals; it must be a glorious sight to see it in the spring, covered with its large, white [pale buff, Ed.] blossoms. Near by flourishes the Gymnocladus canadensis, or Kentucky coffee, whose broad green pods and divided leaves have a grotesque and foreign appearance. This tree would probably thrive well in New-England, as it grows in Canada. There were also fine specimens of the Carya olivaeformis, or peecan [sic] tree, the Illinois hickory as it is sometimes called; this tree fruits sparingly in the climate of Pennsylvania, yet it grows well, and is an ornamental tree.

"I noticed nearly the same variety of oaks as in BARTRAM’S garden, especially one of the Quercus heterophylla of a remarkably fine shape. This variety of oak I have never seen growing in Massachusetts, but it is worthy of a place in every pleasure ground, as its foliage has all the beauty of the willow, while the tree has the distinguishing characteristics of the oak. A few herbaceous plants still send up some pale flowers from amid the rank grass, which has overgrown both borders and walks. Some of the hardy and vigorous sorts have eradicated the native claimant of the soil, and grow luxuriantly, — as the Vinca or Periwinkle, whose brilliant dark leaves formed a bed many yards square.

"After examining the trees for some time, the grand nephew of HUMPHREY MARSHALL, who inherited the place, invited us into the house built by the botanist, where we were shown the telescope sent him by D. FOTHERGILL, of London, whose name is engraved upon it; he pointed out also, the place in the closet where MARSHALL concealed it by a false back, during the time that the British army were in the neighborhood, for MARSHALL added to his love of the flowers of earth, a taste for studying the stars.... We noticed the little observatory which he built in one corner of the house, where it was his delight to watch the motions of the heavenly bodies. It was with regret that I looked again upon the tangled wilderness, ‘where once a garden smiled, and now where many a garden flower grows wild,’ and walked towards the burial place of Bradford meeting, in which the remains of MARSHALL were interred nearly fifty years ago. We crossed a stile shaded by magnificent oaks, which must have been spared from the primeval forests. They formed a pretty group near the old fashioned meeting-house, their gnarled and picturesque appearance presenting a strong contrast to the usually plain and exposed state of the Friends' houses of worship. The grave-yard was a wide field, unvaried by shrub or stone, the undulating hillocks only marking the ‘furrows where human harvests grow.’ This neglect of the Friends to ornament the last resting places of their kindred, appears strange to one of a different faith, since there seems to be an innate desire in the breast of every human being, that some memorial should recall his name to survivors. Trees and shrubs at least, might relieve the monotony of these cheerless fields, for in such monuments there can be no ostentation; the poorest laborer can plant a seed, or set a tree. We were shown as nearly as possible, the place where MARSHALL’S grave is supposed to be, but tradition rarely speaks with certainty at the end of half a century. I sought for some memento of the spot to take to my distant home; the only blossom I could find in the rank grass, was a pale white Spiranthes, which I carried away from this desolate habitation of the dead.

"It is pleasant to trace out how much the taste of one person influences and improves that of a whole neighborhood. JOHN BARTRAM, by his love of collecting and planting rare and curious trees, inspirited his cousin to follow in his footsteps. MARSHALL embellished his paternal farm in Marlborough, the township where PIERCE’S Arboretum now flourishes. And the Woodlands, a visit to which I shall next describe, are in close proximity to BARTRAM’S garden, whose owner was a constant friend and assistant of HAMILTON."




  1. Anonymous [“B. — A Massachusetts Subscriber”], "Trees and Pleasure Grounds of Pennsylvania," The Horticulturalist, And Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste, 6 (February 1851): 69–71, view on Zotero.

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History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "Humphry Marshall’s Botanic Garden," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Humphry_Marshall’s_Botanic_Garden&oldid=15647 (accessed March 24, 2023).

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