Archive for Bartram’s Garden

Historic Bartram’s Garden

Posted in garden to visit, native plants, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2012 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

John Bartram House, Philadephia, Pennsylvania, US


“Whatsoever whether great or small ugly or handsom sweet or stinking…every thing in the universe in their own nature appears beautifull to mee.”

John Bartram 1740


For Mother’s Day this May, I was surprised with a picnic and visit to Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US, the oldest surviving botanic garden in North America.  Prominent Philadelphia Quakers, John Bartram (1699-1777) and his son William (1739-1823) were the most important American plant explorers of the 18th century, traveling south to Florida, west to the Mississippi, and north to Lake Ontario.  They introduced more than 200 native plants into cultivation.  By mid-century, their 102 acre garden (now 45 acres) contained the most extensive collection of North American plants in the world.

Native Bartram oak, Quercus x heterphylla, a rare hybrid between red oak, Quercus rubra, and willow oak, Quercus phellos, discovered by John Bartram.

…the Botanick fire set me in such A flame as is not to be quenched until death or I explore most of the…vegitative treasures in No. America.”

John Bartram 1761


The intrepid Bartrams shared their discoveries with scientists throughout America and Europe, especially England.  John Bartram’s discoveries were considered so important that he was appointed Royal Botanist by King George III.  Bartram founded the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia with his friend and colleague Benjamin Franklin.  In addition, he started a thriving seed and plant business with his lists appearing in London publications as early as the 1750s.  In 1783, Bartram published the first American nursery catalogue.  [Historical information and quotes courtesy of Bartram’s Garden.]

John Bartram purchased his farm in 1728 and completed this portion of the stone house in 1731.

The house and gardens are a National Historic Landmark and have been well preserved despite their location in a very developed part of Philadelphia. Fortunately, they were acquired by the city in 1891 and became part of the public park system.  The property is on the banks of the Schuylkill River and is a joy to visit both to see the historic buildings and to wander through the peaceful gardens.  I would visit Bartram’s Garden just to see the specimen trees.   I am going to take you on a short photographic tour below, but I highly recommend an actual visit.

This formal façade, which faces the gardens, was added between 1758 and 1770.



Close up of the façade



Carved stone window in the facade



This pristine example of a two-level Pennsylvania bank barn was built in 1775.



Stone watering trough



John Bartram’s first experimental garden



Looking from the house towards the kitchen and stables



Walking along the wooden boardwalk by the river



The foundation of this simple mill based on an ancient European design was carved from the bedrock next to the river.



Apples were crushed in the circular trench by a wooden wheel.



There are some very beautiful wetlands on the shores of the river.


If you love trees, and especially specimen trees as I do, you don’t want to miss seeing the huge mostly native trees at Bartram’s Garden.  I include photos of some of them below, but they are so large that it is hard to get a good photograph.  You have to see them in person to truly appreciate their magnificence.


The oldest ginkgo tree, G. biloba, in North America planted by William Bartram in 1785.



Luckily there was a field below this amazing American yellowwood, Cladrastis kentukea, so I could get a photo of the whole tree.



The house next to the yellowwood gives it some scale.  We were fortunate to catch it in full bloom.



Yellowwood flowers



Under the yellowwood tree



American beech, Fagus grandifolia



Native willow oak, Quercus phellos




Native common hackberry, Celtis occidentalis

Bartram’s Garden is a public park and is open all year for self-guided tours except city-observed holidays.  I hope you have the chance to visit.



Nursery Happenings:  The nursery is closed until the fall.  Thanks for a great spring season!

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