Horticulture in the Philadelphia Area
John and Gertrude Wister, Swarthmore, Pa.
The Philadelphia area has a long history of horticulture. In the 18th century, John Bartram became engaged in explorations for showy native plants and in sending them to Europe. Among the plants he introduced to British gardens was Rhododendron maximum, which is native to within a few miles of the city. He and his son, William, explored in the southeastern states. Around their house on the Schuykill River they grew many native and European plants. This property, known as Bartram's Gardens, is now part of a city park.
The plantings of several other enthusiastic gardeners are now parts of arboretums. At Longwood Gardens may be seen splendid old trees planted by the Peirce brothers in the early 19th century, and at the John J. Tyler Arboretum, some that were planted by the Painter brothers a little later. Still later, Lydia Morris left the fine estate planted by her and her brother, now known as the Morris Arboretum, to the University of Pennsylvania. Also nearby are the collections of the Barnes Foundation, of Swiss Pines, and the plantings of the Scott Foundation on the grounds of Swarthmore College.
The active Pennsylvania Horticultural Society; founded in 1827, has about 5,000 members, who enjoy a broad program. It maintains handsome headquarters in three old 18th century houses in the Independence National Historical Park. It has an excellent library, and stages a succession of exhibits pertaining to horticulture and botany that are open to the public. Its beautifully kept 18th century garden. too, is open for public enjoyment. The Philadelphia Flower Show, which has always rated among the best in the United States, is now the entire responsibility of the Society. There are also several smaller general horticultural groups in the suburbs. There are many active local groups of national special plant societies and many garden clubs.
Among nurserymen and seedsmen, the names of Hoopes, Landreth, Dreer, Michel, Andorra, Buist, Moon, McMahon and Meehan were long well known over a large area. McMahon is commemorated in the genus Mahonia, and Meehan, who was also a botanist, in the genus Meehania.
Within a few miles of Philadelphia, in Delaware, Guy Nearing originated his Guyencourt Rhododendron hybrids, pioneer work in this genus for this climate. Another pioneer in Rhododendron breeding, Joseph B. Gable, has spent a lifetime within a hundred miles of the city.
Gardening has always been an important amateur activity here. From the first years of the settlements there have been gardens, which grew in number and beauty. On many estates, large and small, exotic trees have been planted through the years. There are many large specimens, too, of the many species of trees native here. At the time of the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, many rhododendrons were brought from Europe. Of those that found their way into private gardens. there are huge old ironclads that still survive, to grace old gardens.
In horticultural education, there are formal courses for credit at the Ambler Campus of Temple University, at the Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture, and at the University of Delaware; where there is a graduate course conducted in cooperation with Longwood Gardens. Longwood also has a summer course for horticultural students, a course for professional gardeners, and many courses as well as lectures for amateur gardeners. The Barnes Foundation also conducts courses in botany and horticulture.
The program of the Neighborhood Garden Association, founded by Mrs. James Bush-Brown, has attracted nationwide attention. Its work is carried on among the poor of Philadelphia. Through the cooperative efforts of volunteer workers and deprived city people who usually have had no previous experience with gardening, tiny parks and gardens are created, and homes improved with gay window boxes. The work results in more neighborliness, in the sprucing up of whole blocks, and lifting of morale.
In addition to Rhododendron maximum, which can be found wild within 25 miles of the city limits, Rhododendron nudiflorum is widespread throughout the local woodlands. R. viscosum can be found nearby along streams, and R. atlanticum is not far away on the coastal plain to the south.
All in all, this is a rich and stimulating region for the gardener and lover of plants with a wide range of possibilities in kinds of vegetation that can be grown and types of activity.