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History of Early American Landscape Design

Samuel Bard

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Samuel Bard (April 1, 1742 – May 24, 1821), was a professional physician and amateur botanist who designed several gardens in New York, including that at his country estate, Hyde Park.

History

While convalescing from a prolonged illness in 1756, fourteen-year-old Samuel Bard spent the summer at Coldengham, the remote, New York farm of his father’s friend, the botanist and government offical Cadwallader Colden. During his stay, Bard received instruction in botany from Colden’s daughter, Jane, who was carrying on the project of cataloguing indigenous New York flora begun a decade earlier by her father. An accomplished draughtsman, Bard “repaid the lady for her instruction, by making figures and drawings of plants for her.” [1] Five years later, having begun his studies at King's College in New York, Bard left America to complete his education in Britain. His ship was captured by a French privateer in November 1761 and he was held for five months, finally released through the agency of Benjamin Franklin, a family friend.[2] After reaching London in April 1762, he followed a course of medical instruction suggested by the Quaker physician, philanthropist, and plant collector John Fothergill (1712-1780), devoting the summers to botanical investigations in the countryside.[3] After several months, Bard transferred to the University of Edinburgh where he studied under John Hope (1725 –1786), Professor of Botany and Materia Medica and King’s Botanist. Hope had a particular interest in encouraging the study of Scottish plants, and in 1764 he awarded Bard the annual medal in botany for producing “the best herbarium or collection of dried plants, growing spontaneously within ten miles of Edinburgh.”[4] The "Hortus" survived for several decades. In 1817 Bard’s former student, the physician and botanist Samuel L. Mitchill (1764-1831), presented it to the New York Historical Society [view text].[5] In addition to his medical studies, Bard worked with a drawing master three hours a week. He reportedly had “a strong taste for delineation and perspective” and sketched with “exactness.” [6]

Texts

  • Bard, Samuel, April 1, 1764, letter from Edinburgh to John Bard (McVickar, 1822: 57-58)[7]

"I heartily wish I could be with you at laying out your grounds, as I imagine I could be of some assistance, although I may find it impossible to convey my notions upon that subject in writing. From what I have as yet seen, I find those the most beautiful where nature is suffered to be our guide. The principal things to be observed in planning a pleasure ground, seem to me, to be the situation of the ground, and the storms and winds the country is most liable to. By the first, I mean, to distribute my plants according to the soil they most delight in; to place such as flourish most in a warm exposure and dry soil, upon the sunny side of a hill; while such as delight in the shade and moist ground, should be placed in the vallies. By this single precaution, one of the greatest beauties of a garden is obtained, which consists in the health and vigour of the plants which compose it. By considering well the predominant winds and storms of the country, we are directed where to plant our large trees, so that they shall be at once an ornament, and afford a useful shelter to the smaller and more delicate plants. Next I think straight lines should be particularly avoided except where they serve to lead the eye to some distant and beautiful object—serpentine walks are much more agreeable. Another object deserving of attention seems to be, to place the most beautiful and striking objects, such as water, if possible, a handsome green-house, a grove of flowering shrubs, or a remarkably fine tree, in such situations, that from the house they may almost all be seen; but to a person walking, they should be artfully concealed until he suddenly, and unexpectedly, comes upon them; so that by the surprise, the pleasure may be increased: and if possible, I would contrive them so that they should contrast each other, which again greatly increases their beauty. The last thing I should mention, which, indeed, is not the least worthy of notice, is, to throw the flower garden, kitchen, and fruit garden, and if possible, the whole farm, into one, so that they may appear as links of the same chain, and may mutually contribute to the beauties of the whole. If you could send me an accurate plan of the situation of your ground, describing particularly the hollows, risings, and the opportunities you have of bringing water into it, the spot where you intend your house, and the situation of your orchard, I would consult some of my friends here about a proper plan, and I believe I know some who would assist us, and as I cannot obtain your gardener before November, if you sent the plan immediately, I shall be able to return it by him.

“In my last letter I sent you one from Dr. Hope, informing you of my having the prize; he has done me the honour to write also to Dr. Franklin upon the subject. He has also desired me to acquaint you, that a number of gentlemen here have formed themselves into an association for the importation of American seeds and plants, and would be much obliged to you to recommend a proper person as a correspondent.

“I know of no one who would answer so well as Mr. Bartram.”


  • Bard, Samuel, June 8, 1764, letter from London to John Bard (McVickar, 1822: 61)[7]
“I have lately received great pleasure and improvement in reading Lord Kames’s late work, and recommend it to your perusal, especially that part of it relating to gardening and architecture, before you go on in improving your place on the north river. He most justly condemns the cutting of gardens into formal parterres, or forcing nature in any respect; at the same time, points out, in a beautiful and philosophical manner, where we are implicitly to follow this amiable mistress, and when and how we may improve, by modest dress, her native beauties."


  • Bard, Samuel, March 16, 1766, letter from London to Mary Bard (McVickar, 1822: 86-87)[7]
"Were I a man of fortune… I would have… in my gardens, alcoves and temples dedicated to the memory of my best friends, and adorned with their portraits. By these means, I could never experience the fatigue of being tired of myself; for thus I could always enjoy the choicest company, without the interruption of idle intruders."


  • Bard, Samuel, July 22, 1776, letter from New York to Mary Bard at Hyde Park (McVickar, 1822: 106)[7]
“My little garden is in full luxuriance; it looks really beautiful, but alone, I cannot enjoy it. Oh! How I long for the time when we shall chase our little folks around the walks, and together cultivate and adorn it.”


  • Mitchill, Samuel Latham, November 5, 1821, "A Discourse on the Life and Character of Samuel Bard" (Mitchill: 1821: 12-13)[8]
“With the intention of encouraging the study of Scottish plants, and particularly of stimulating young gentlemen at the university to search for them and to know them, Dr. Hope offered a gold medal as a premium for the best herbarium or collection of dried plants, growing spontaneously within ten miles of Edinburgh. Bard obtained this testimonial of superior skill, in collecting, arranging, and preserving the vegetable species of that vicinity. It is reported that he had received the rudiments of the science from Miss Colden, daughter of Dr. Colden...; and that he had repaid the young lady for her instruction, by making figures and drawings of plants for her. It hence appears that before he left home, he was a tolerable proficient in that useful and charming art....

“A book of the plants then exhibited, is yet extant. It was presented to me some years ago, by Charles Boxton, M.D. It is a large folio, in strong binding, and lettered E plantis circa Edinam natis. C. By the letter C, it would seem that it was only one of several; or, that at least there were two more; of this, however, I am uninformed. The present volume contains about one hundred plants, glued to sheets of white paper, and these laid between larger sheets of purple paper. Their scientific names, their places of growth, and the season of gathering, are distinctly written on the opposite page. They are mostly in good preservation, after a lapse of fifty-seven years. In particular, the Conium maculatum, Parnassia palustris, Alisma plantago, AEsculus hippocastanum, Fragaria vesca, Geum rivale, Agrimonia eupatoria, Spiraea filipendula, Rubus idaeus, Papaver rhaeas, Stachys sylvatica, and Urtica diocia, look exceedingly natural.”


  • McVickar, John, 1822, A Domestic Narrative of the Life of Samuel Bard, M. D., LL. D. (1822: 155) [9]
"As a relaxation from business, Dr. Bard peculiarly prized the enjoyment of his garden and conservatory, which were stored with the choicest native and exotic plants. The pleasure he took in them was almost a peculiar sense: nor was it to him, as he asserted, without its moral uses. He has often told the writer, that nothing calmed and soothed his mind like a walk among his plants and flowers; and that he used it as a specific against the petty cares and anxieties of life.”


  • Bard, William c. 1822, on botanical instruction from his father, Samuel Bard (1822: 181-82)[10]
"The principal part of my instruction he took upon himself.... Our studies [of drawing and botany] generally ended with a walk in the woods, or a scramble among the rocks, in which I delighted to follow him. His pockets, on such excursions, were generally filled with such new plants as we could collect; affording a botanical lesson for the day, and specimens for future illustration. I had a little of his own fondness for drawing and plants, and look back with delight on the pleasure and employment I thus afforded him. An illustration of the system of Linnaeus, and subsequently, of Miss [Frances Arabella] Rowden’s botany [A Poetical Introduction to the Study of Botany (1801)], was the manner in which he made me unite these studies; ornamenting every page or two with a group or basket of flowers, with some appropriate sentence, either from Scripture, or our best poets....

Images


References

New York Public Library circulation records for Samuel Bard

Exotic Plant Inventory, Landscape Survey, and Invasiveness Assessment: Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites, Hyde Park, NY


Notes

  1. Samuel Latham Mitchill, A Discourse on the Life and Character of Samuel Bard, M.D. & LL.D.: Late President of the New-York College of Physicians and Surgeons; Pronounced in the Public Hall, at the Request of the Trustees, on the 5th Day of Nov. 1821 (New York: Daniel Fanshaw, 1821), 12 ; McVickar, 9-10, view on Zotero.
  2. McVickar, 15-20, 23,
  3. McVickar, 24-29, 37, 44
  4. Samuel Latham Mitchill, A Discourse on the Life and Character of Samuel Bard, M.D. & LL.D.: Late President of the New-York College of Physicians and Surgeons; Pronounced in the Public Hall, at the Request of the Trustees, on the 5th Day of Nov. 1821 (New York: Daniel Fanshaw, 1821), 12 ; McVickar, 56,
  5. “Transactions of Learned Societies,” The American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review, (August 1817), 1: 287; see also 47, view on Zotero; Mitchill, 1821, 6-7.
  6. McVikar, 59
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 John McVickar, A Domestic Narrative of the Life of Samuel Bard, M. D., LL. D. (New York: A. Paul, 1822), view on Zotero Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "McVickar" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "McVickar" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "McVickar" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Mitchill, 1821,
  9. McVickar, 1822, view on Zotero.
  10. McVickar, 1822

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