Where: Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia, PA
When: July 2017
On Sunday, I drove to Philadelphia to visit Bartram’s Garden, the oldest surviving botanic garden in North America.
John Bartram (1699-1777), a well-known early American botanist, purchased a 102-acre farm in 1728. He built the original stone house soon after and he also founded Bartram’s Garden in the same year.
The gate was open where I entered one of the gardens in front of the house.
John Bartram’s garden started as a personal landscape but as he devoted more time to exploration and the discovery of new North American species, the garden(s) evolved into the most varied collection of North American plants in the world. This placed John Bartram at the center of a lucrative business with a focus on transatlantic transfer of plants.
Other than a staff gardener in the distance, I had Bartram’s Garden all to myself.
The informal garden had a mix of softer plantings and bold colors.
Dwarf English boxwood, which makes a nice low growing hedge planting, lined each side of the garden path.
The boxwood creates a formal border along the walkway leading to the front entrance of the house.
45-minute house tours are offered Thursday through Sunday from April to December. Tickets are available in the welcome center.
The House and Garden were dedicated as a National Historic Landmark in 1963.
John Bartram was instrumental in sending seeds of North American trees and flowers to European gardeners. Many plants were first introduced into cultivation in Europe by this route; it changed forever the English garden landscape.
Every autumn Bartram’s seed boxes were shipped to a London merchant for distribution throughout Britain.
Bartram’s clients included gardeners, nurserymen, titled nobility and professional scientists.
Bartram’s plants were shipped to the Chelsea Physic Garden, Kew Gardens and King Charles III.
The boxes contained up to 100 or more varieties of seed. Live specimens were more difficult to transport and were saved for special occasions.
I walked to the other side of the house…
A lush natural-style square garden is in the back along with a gravel walkway.
During the several decades that Bartram lived here, he made numerous expeditions in search of plants and natural history specimens.
During the mid-1700s, Bartram traveled as far north as Lake Ontario, south to Florida and west to the Ohio River. (I can’t imagine Florida at the turn of the 20th century, let alone in the 1700s! I wonder how he dealt with mosquitoes?)
During Bartram’s travels, he developed a wide circle of like-minded acquaintances; he founded the American Philosophical Society in 1743 with Benjamin Franklin.
The original Bartram’s garden featured a rustic arbor twined in vines. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were all guests under the arbor.
Bartram also hosted curious visitors along with potential customers, an important part of maintaining a public botanic garden.
It is unknown where the original arbor was located. This re-creation features native American Wisteria vines.
The herb garden includes basil, chives and mint.
Snap-style green peas…
As I was about to leave the garden and enter the courtyard I saw this very old looking granite tub. I ran into the gardener and asked him if it was here when Bartram was alive. He said, yes and that it’s known as “Bartram’s tub.”
After seeing these slate garden markers, I ordered a couple of sets for our garden.
Just when I was about to leave I finally saw a couple of people who walked up from a lower trail on the property.
I entered the brick courtyard where the welcome center is located.
Plants are for sale…
After I had briefly transported myself to the colonial era, I emerged from the courtyard and Philly’s skyline was smack dab in front of me.
It’s free to visit Bartram’s Garden until dusk. House tour tickets are $12 (Adults) and $10 (children).