March 1st, 2013

The Philadelphia Story

Organic Gardening staff members will be spending a lot of time in the City of Brotherly Love this week, as the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show—the world’s largest indoor flower show—officially opens on Saturday, March 2. If you’re planning to attend the show, be sure to visit the Garden to Table Culinary Studio in Room 204C, where Organic Gardening editors will be emceeing cooking demos by top chefs, and guests receive free swag bags. Also be sure to check out the speakers at the Gardener’s Studio, located on the show floor adjacent to the Hamilton Horticourt, which include Organic Gardening deputy editor Doug Hall. Doug will be discussing “Soil Matters: The Organic Way to a Healthier Garden,” presented by Espoma, on Tuesday March 5 at 7 p.m.

The theme of this year’s flower show is “Brilliant!” All things British will be on display, from a 21-foot-long Union Jack made entirely of plants to a recreation of Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. To pay tribute to the enormous influence that the U.K. has had on American gardening, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has partnered with Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society to bring the best of British gardening to the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Featured presenters include Mark Lane, gardens manager for the household of the British royal family, and Raymond J. Evison, author and lecturer and nurseryman for Guernsey Clematis Nursery.

Visitors to the flower show shouldn’t miss the opportunity to take a side trip to another Philadelphia gardening mecca: Bartram’s Garden. Here they will discover that America’s influence on British gardening may be every bit as large as British influence on American gardening. Much of that influence may be attributed to a self-taught botanist named John Bartram (1699-1777), who purchased the land now preserved as Bartram’s Garden in 1728. John was passionate about plants, traversing much of the Eastern Seaboard to collect botanical specimens and seeds. He established a correspondence with London merchant Peter Collinson, sending collections of seeds for resale. Five guineas would purchase a Bartram Box including 100 or more varieties of seeds. Many members of the British nobility eventually became Bartram’s clients, and Bartram was named Royal Botanist by King George III.

A wide spectrum of colorful plants native to North America—including magnolias, mountain laurels, azaleas, rhododendrons, sugar maples, black gums, viburnums, and sumacs—have changed the palette of British landscapes due to the enormous influence of John Bartram. John pursued his plant collecting as a business, creating one of the first plant catalogs in the United States in 1785. His son William Bartram and, later, granddaughter Ann Bartram Carr and her husband continued to operate the business until 1850, when financial difficulties forced it to close. During that time, the operation grew to include 10 greenhouses, a collection of more than 1,400 native plant species, and as many as 1,000 exotic species.

John Bartram’s house is shown in this 1903 painting attributed to Mary E. Bonsall. The core of the house was built by the original Swedish settler in 1684, but it was substantially enlarged by Bartram, who added the distinctive Ionic columns and other details.

John Bartram’s house is shown in this 1903 painting attributed to Mary E. Bonsall. The core of the house was built by the original Swedish settler in 1684, but it was substantially enlarged by Bartram, who added the distinctive Ionic columns and other details, like the carved inscription show at bottom left.

Since 1891, Bartram’s Garden has been owned by the City of Philadelphia. It is now managed by the nonprofit John Bartram Association in cooperation with the City of Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation. The house and many of the original stone outbuildings, including the one John used to package seeds for shipment to Europe, have been restored. And recently, the Bartram Nursery was reopened, offering the first selection of plants for sale since the 1850s. The plants are offered year-round at the Garden Shop and at seasonal sales. Some seeds from Bartram’s Garden may also be purchased through the garden’s online shop.

If you schedule your visit to Bartram’s Garden for Wednesday, March 6, 2013, plan to purchase tickets for a guided tour by Head Gardener Todd Greenberg. And while you’re at the Philadelphia Flower Show, be sure to attend one of the presentations by Kirk R. Brown of the Garden Writers Association, who interprets the life and work of John Bartram. He’ll be speaking at the Gardener’s Studio.

To read more about John Bartram and his circle of amateur botanists, check out The Brother Gardeners, by Andrea Wulf.

Note: You can follow Organic Gardening staff members and events at the flower show on Twitter (@ogmag and @PhilaFlowerShow, hashtags #flowershow and #subarugardens), Facebook (Organic Gardening Magazine), and Pinterest (pinterest.com/ogmag/philadelphia-flower-show).

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Comments

    We live in the Philadelphia area and missed the garden show this year. But I’ll certainly visit Bartram’s Garden this Spring. I didn’t know the residence of America’s first botanist was so close to us here in southern New Jersey.

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