Gardening in America
John Bartram (1699-1777), a Quaker farmer, began his garden in
1728. Though not a garden designer, he was the first person to
gather together a large collection of native North American plants.
His garden also had many species that were sent to him from other
colonies, the West Indies, and botanists world-wide. In 1729,
he established his own nursery and supplied plants to George Washington
at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. In 1736, Bartram
became a plant hunter and over the next 30 years, he made a series
of expeditions to gather new species of North American flora.
He is credited with introducing about 200 species into cultivation.
his farm of 102 acres in Philadelphia, Bartram practiced techniques
that helped him yield twice as many crops per acre as his neighbors.
The oldest Gingko biloba tree and yellowwood tree (Cladrastis
lutea) still exist in his gardens, which can be visited today
because they were made into a park in 1891 and donated to the
City of Philadelphia. His sons were the first to establish a mail-order
nursery catalog in the U.S.
1936, George Washington's vegetable, herb, and flower gardens
were restored, using the diaries he kept from 1748 to 1799. He
had a passion for fruit trees, and he scoured the countryside
looking for new native trees and shrubs for his garden. He was
a master gardener, as was Jefferson, and taken together, their
writings provide the fullest and best information on post-revolutionary
war gardening in the southern United States.
Minister to the court of Louis XIV, Thomas Jefferson was able
to study French gardens and during this time, he also toured English
gardens to study landscape gardening and horticultural skills.
This certainly contributed to the excellence of Monticello's design.
One of its main features is a long walk around the edge of a large
lawn with plantings on either side-native flowering plants and
shrubs. Monticello is beautifully maintained as a monument to
his ingenuity and wide interests.
Gardens and Gertrude Jekyll
gardens, border gardens, and wild gardens all have an overlapping
theme. A cottage garden combines a formal outline and sense of
enclosure of the old-fashioned garden where flowers neatly border
walks and walls (also called border gardens) with carefree wild
gardens. Roses are bushy, climbers are rampant, and tiny flowers
nestle under flowering shrubs, revealing a lush mix of growing
plants full of hidden treasures. It is the artists and writers
of the Victorian Period who have influenced how we look at the
cottage garden. William Robinson, writer and gardener (1838-1935),
in his book, The English Flower Garden, defines the charms
of the cottage garden as "the absence of any pretentious plan
which lets the flowers tell their story to the heart." The background
may be tall shrubs, a picket fence, or a wooden privacy fence.
Climbers arch over trellises and provide vertical lines. Robinson
advocated woodland gardening and championed the natural approach
of the informal garden. He liked to hide formal architecture under
a riot of mixed native and exotic perennials.
style most certainly is reflected in Gertrude Jekyll's (1842-1932)
designs. It is Gertrude Jekyll, friend and collaborator to Robinson,
who reconciled the two points of view, and any study of garden
design is incomplete without her contributions. A contemporary
of Robinson, she is credited with "inventing" and popularizing
the border garden. A border garden is a narrow planting along
some division or boundary in a garden: a walkway, wall, road,
or lawn. It can be a mix of plants or only a single species, from
the most permanent of shrubs to the most tender of annuals.
It implies a tapestry of different plants, regardless of placement.
Her planting schemes were profuse, carefully orchestrated, and
controlled to obtain the effect she wanted. As a painter, she
had spent time with the Impressionists in Paris, and when her
eyesight began to fail, she devoted her life to gardening, honing
her painterly color theory to make garden pictures with her borders.
This was an innovation, and in her partnership with Lutyens, the
architect who designed her house at Munstead Wood, created a new
English garden style.
border is part horticulture and part art, and a good one is a
masterpiece of both. It requires accurate knowledge of when plants
flower, growing requirements, orchestrating color harmonies, and
balancing forms. To achieve Jekyll's ends, she planted in generous
swaths, controlled the blending of colors, worked from a formal
layout for the plantings, used a mixture of plants including many
cottage garden favorites, and used lawns to lead away from buildings,
to unite gardens with woodland. Any ornamentation in the garden
was functional-seats, walls, stairs, urns and sculpture. One of
her greatest talents was her recognition of the value of harmony
and the importance of contrast to keep it from degenerating into
monotony. In her words from Colour in the Flower Garden:
planting of the border is designed to show a distinct scheme
of colour arrangement. At the two ends there is a groundwork
of gray and glaucous foliage……With this, at the near or western
end, there are flowers of pure blue, gray-blue, white, palest
yellow and palest pink; each colour partly in distinct masses
and partly inter-grouped. The colouring then passes through
stronger yellows to orange to red. By the time the middle
space of the border is reached the colour is strong and gorgeous…Then
the colour-strength recedes in an inverse sequence through
orange and deep yellow to pale yellow, white and palest pink;
with the blue-gray foliage. But at this eastern end, instead
of pure blues we have purples and lilacs….Looked at from a
little way forward…the whole border can be seen as one picture,
the cool colouring at the ends enhancing the brilliant warmth
of the middle.
The color schemes at Sissinghurst in Kent, England, especially
the White Garden, are renowned for illustrating Jekyll's gardens
of special color. A description from The Garden Book:
roses and honeysuckle combine to create a striking white colour-scheme,
which is harmoniously balanced by a background of green. The
White Garden…is one of the most influential… Planted in 1948…it
started a cult in gardening taste that can still be discerned
in gardens from Cape Town to Sydney….the overall layout… is
based on a series of 'garden rooms'-formal in shape but informally
One of the garden rooms at Sissinghurst is an extensive herb garden:
a large square intersected with paths that form a cross, dividing
it in four smaller squares. These are again divided into four
squares each, making a total of sixteen. Herbs included are: mints,
creeping thymes, dill,
southernwood, hyssop, sage, green santolina,
borage, strawberries, gray santolina, summer savory, angelica,
mullein, calendula, comfrey, caraway, parsley,
lemon balm, catnip,
and sweet cicely, to name a few.