The possibility of growing tender plants in greenhouses had fascinated early Americans at least since the 1st half of the 18C in colonial America. But the price of glass in colonial & early America remained high until nearly the middle of the 19C, making greenhouses available only to those with extra disposable income.
Mount Vernon's Greenhouse
As British America was being colonized in the 17th-century, English garden writers were focusing on greenshouses which needed glass to allow the sun to reach the growing plants. Glass was becoming more affordable & glass no longer needed to be hand-blown. In England, in 1664, diarist & gardener John Evelyn (1620-1706) advised, "Set your...Windows and Doors of the Green-houses and Conservatories open." And in his diary on 30 October 1683, he mentioned, "Greene houses for oranges and mirtles." Born in Surrey into a family that owned the monopoly on the manufacture of gunpowder in England, Evelyn was able to devote his life to intellectual pursuits. In addition to translating noted French gardening books, Evelyn was the author of Kalendarium Hortense. His Diary is full of references to gardens, & to his own famous garden at Sayes Court. In 1691, the London Gazette mentioned another "new Conservatory or Green-House" in a house-for-sale ad.
Detail John Evelyn (1620-1706) by Hendrick van der Borcht, 1641.
In early 18th century England, J. James' 1712 translation of Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond's (1679-1719) The Theory and Practice of Gardening; ; wherein is fully handled all that relates to fine gardening, commonly called pleasure gardens explained that, "Green-houses are large Piles of Building like Galleries...for preserving Orange-Trees, and other Plants...during the Winter." Le Blond was a French architect & garden designer who became the chief architect of Saint Petersburg in 1716, just 3 years before his death. He had derived his gardening expertise from André Le Nôtre (1613-1700), and he illustrated & helped write Dezallier d'Argenville's (1680-1765) seminal work on the principles of French formal garden design. In England, Phillip Miller had published a plan for a greenhouse in his 1754 Gardener's Dictionary, which was owned & read in the British American colonies.
Much like today, the 18th century colonial greenhouse was a glass-windowed structure of wood or brick or stone in which tender plants were reared & preserved. Revolutionaly iron & glass greenhouses would appear in the first half of the 19th-century allowing more light into the structures.
Virginian William Byrd II (1674-1768) painted by Hans Hysing 1724
Early in 18th-century Pennsylvania, botanist John Bartram (1699-1777) wrote to English botanist Peter Collinson (1674-1768), on July 18, 1740, about Colonel William Byrd's (1674-1744) grounds at Westover in Virginia. "Colonel Byrd is very prodigalle...new Gates, gravel Walks, hedges, and cedars finely twined and a little green house with two or three orange trees...he hath the finest seat in Virginia."
Twenty years later, John Bartram wrote to Peter Collinson in 1760, "I am going to build a green-house. Stone is got...to put some pretty flowering winter shrubs, and plants for winter's diversion, not to be crowded with orange trees."
Peter Collinson 1694-1768
John Bartram was much more than just a commentator on the homes of colonial gentry, but he certainly would have been intrigued by the possibilities of Byrd's early greenhouse. Born in Darby, Pensylvania, son a Quaker farmer, Bartram was the most important botanist in the colonies. His son William Bartram (1739-1823) helped him collect, replant, & ship his specimens. In 1728, John Bartram established a botanic garden at Kingsessing on the west bank of the Schuylkill, near Philadelphia, where he collected & grew native plants. His correspondence with Peter Collinson, led to the introduction of many American trees & plants into Europe.
Charles Willson Peale's 1808 William Bartram
Greenhouses in Europe filled with Bartram's Boxes of American plants. His plant specimens & seeds traveled across the Atlantic to the gardens & greenhouses of Philip Miller, Linnaeus, German botanist Dillenius (1687-1747), & Dutch botanist Gronovius (1686-1762); and he assisted Linnaeus' student Swedish Pehr Kalm (1716-1779) during his collecting trip to North America in 1748-1750. Although Bartram never visited Britain, in 1765, he was appointed Botanist to King George III. Linnaeus called him "the worlds greatest botanist." Bartram traveled from Lake Ontario in the north, to Florida in the south and the Ohio River in the west. His Diary of a Journey through the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, a trip taken from July 1, 1765, to April 10, 1766, was published. His son William accompanied his father documenting plants, animals, birds, & native peoples of North & South Carolina, Georgia & Florida. William published Travels, writings with his own illustrations in 1791, which impacted the 19th century romantic movement as well as natural history.
Not far from Bartram's nursery just outside of Philadelphia, John Smith described the plantation owned by the family of William Penn at Springettesbury Manor in 1745, "On our way thither we stopped to view the proprietor's greeen-house, which at this season is an agreeable sight; the oranges, lemons and citrons were some green, some ripe, some in blossom." Springettesbury Manor had been named in honor of William Penn's first ie, Gulielma Maria Springett (1644–1694).
Ten years later, Daniel Fisher also described the Proprietor's greenhouse, "What to me surpassed every thing of the kind I had seen in America was a pretty bricked Green House, out of which was disposed very properly in the Pleasure Garden, a good many Orange, Lemon, and Citrous Trees, in great profusion loaded with abundance of Fruit and some of each sort seemingly ripe then."Bartram traveled South in the colonies through Charleston several times, where greenhouses were used to entice real estate buyers.
In the South Carolina Gazette, November 14, 1748, a house for sale advertisement noted, "TO BE SOLD...Dwelling-house...also a large Garden, with two neat Green Houses for sheltering exotic Fruit Trees, and Grape-Vines."
Exotic plants captured the fancy of colonials early in the century; and by the end of the 18th-century, formal botanical gardens dotted the Atlantic coast. These were both outdoor and indoor, public and private garden areas, where proud collectors displayed a variety of curious plants for purposes of science, education, status, and art.
By 1760, Rhode Islander Abraham Redwood Jr was writing to his farm manager, "I desire that you put up in Durt one dozen of Small orange Trees...four young figg trees and some Guavas roots, to put in my greenhouse...twenty two feet long, Twelve feet wide, and Twelve feet high." In 1743, Abraham Redwood purchased 140 acres farmland near Newport, Rhode Island, where he built a country estate that was considered one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in North America, which grew plants & trees imported from all over the world.
Abraham Redwood 1709-1788
Josiah Quincy (1744-1775), who kept a journal as he traveled South from Boston for his health in 1773, was also impressed with a greenhouse, when he visited Philadelphia on May 3, 1773, and noted, "Dined with the celebrated Pennsylvania Farmer, John Dickenson Esqr, at his country seat about two and one-half miles from town...his gardens, green-house, bathing-house, grotto, study, fish pond...vista, through which is distant prospect of Delaware River." John Dickinson (1732-1808), who was actually an attorney trained at Middle Temple, had married Mary Norris, daughter of Isaac Norris, Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and moved to the Norris estate of Fairhill, near Germantown. There he wrote, under the pseudonym "A Farmer,"12 essays against the Stamp Acts.
1773 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Mary Norris (Mrs. John Dickinson) with their daughter Sally.
In 1787, clergyman, merchant, & lawyer Manasseh Cutler (1742-1823), wrote of the greenhouse at Gray's Tavern, in Philadelphia. "(The Greenhouse) is a very large stone bulding, three stories in the front and two in the rear. The one-half of the house is divided lengthwise, and the front part is appropriated to a green-house, and has no chamber floors. It is finished in the completest manner for the purpose of arranging trees and plants in the most beautiful order. The windows are enormous. I believe some of them to be twenty feet in length, and proportionably wide...We then took a view of the contents of the green-house, beautifully arranged in the open air on the south of the garden. Here were most of the trees and fruits that grow in the hottest climates. Oranges, lemons, etc., in every stage from blossoms to ripe fruit; pine-apples in bloom, and those were fully ripe."
Visiting English agricultural writer Richard Parkinson (1748-1815) stopped at John O'Donnell's (1743-1805) estate named Canton near Baltimore, in 1798. Irishman John O'Donnell had grown wealthy by sending the first ship into China in 1785, for trade goods to sell in America. Parkinson wrote that O'Donnell had, "a very handsome garden in great order, a most beautiful greenhouse and hot house...a very magnificent place for that country."
1787 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Sarah Chew Elliott (Mrs. John O'Donnell) in her garden in front of a curving wall with urns used as finials.
In 1793 Massachusetts, Boston merchant Joseph Barrell (1739-1804) was ordering plants & a gardener from Britain for his new Pleasant Hill greenhouse, "I want a person that understands green house plants...you will send the trees by the same opportunity the gardener comes that he may attend them on the passage."
John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) Joseph Barrell c 1767
Wishing for more land outside of Boston to try new gardening styles & modern farming techniques, Barrell purchased 211 acres of land across the Charles River in Charlestown, where he created a ferme ornée. Charles Bulfinch designed the house & grounds, one of his 1st commissions.
John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) Hannah Fitch (Mrs Joseph Barrell) c 1771
In Deborah Logan's journal, she mentioned that in 1799 Philadelphia,William Logan had a "Green house in town, as well as a good one (at Stenton). He had many rare and beautiful plants: indeed the large and fine orange and lemon trees which now ornament Pratt's greenhouses at Lemon Hill were originally of his raising."
William Logan (1717–1776) was the son of William Penn's secretary James Logan who became a Philadelphia Mayor & Supreme Court Justice. William inherited Stenton in 1751, and he used it as his country seat, while living in Philadelphia.
In the same year, English born seedsman and nursery owner William Booth of Baltimore advertised in the Federal Gazette and Baltimore Advertiser:" To Botanists, Gardeners and Florists, and to all other gentlemen, curious in ornamental, rare exotic or foreign plants and flowers, cultivated in the greenhouse, hot-house, or stove, and in the open ground. A large and numerous variety of such rarities is now offered for sale...After reserving a general and suitable stock, he had to spare a well assorted and great variety of those things comprising a beautiful collection, sufficient to decorate, furnish, and ornament a spacious or handsome greenhouse at once... The whole is a truly valuable collection such as is very rarely to be met with for sale on this side of the Atlantic -- indeed a moiety of them would comprise a very desirable and exclusive variety, consisting of many or most of the tropical fruits, and other rare and curious finely ornamental trees, scrubs and plants; with a numerous and abundant assortment of choice bulbous, tubrous, and fibrous rooted flowering and ornamental plants in mixtures... please apply to John Cummings, at the alms-house, Messrs. David and Cuthbert Landreth, gardeners and nursery-men... Now is as good time and proper season to build a green-house, and to remove plants."
Many of Booth's clients and contemporaries in the Chesapeake were becoming excited about collecting and displaying non-native varieties of plants. In his diary, silversmith, clockmaker, & gardener William Faris (1728-1804) noted in Annapolis that his neighbor Dr. Upton Scott (1722-1814) was, "fond of botany and has a number of rare plants and shrubs in his greenhouse and garden." The practical Faris used his cellar as his greenhouse.
Some gardeners & plant collectors were obsessed with showing off their unusual plant collections to visitors. In November of 1803, Manasseh Cutler (1722-1823) wrote to Mrs. Torrey about his visit to William Hamilton's (1745-1813) Woodlands, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, "We then took a turn to the garden and greenhouses...ornamented with almost all the flowers and vegtables the earth affords...The greenhouses which occupy a large space of ground, I cannot pretend to describe. Every part was crowded with trees and plants, from the hot climates, and such as I had never seen...He assured us, there was not a rare plant in Europe, Asia, Africa, from China and the islands in the South Sea, of which he had any account, which he had not procured...When we turned to rare and superb plants, one of the gardeners would be called, and sent with a lantern to the green house to fetch me a specimen to compare with it. This was done perhaps twenty times."
Benjamin West (American-born painter, 1738–1820) William Hamilton (1745-1813) of Woodlands with His Neice
Authors Joseph Dennie & John Elihu Hall reported on the greenhouse at the Woodlands in their 1809 Portfolio II, "The front, including the hot-house on each side, measures one hundred and forty feet, and it contains nearly ten thousand plants, out of which number may be reckoned between five and six thousand of different species, procured at much trouble and expense, from many remote parts of the globe, from South America, the Cape of Good Hope, the Brazils, Botany Bay, Japan, the East and West Indies, &c. &c. This collection, for the beauty and rich variety of its exotics, surpasses any thing of the kind on this continent; and, among many other rare productions to be seen, are the bread-fruit tree, cinnamon, allspice, pepper; mangoes, different sorts, sago, coffee from Bengal, Arabia, and the West-Indies, tea, green and bohea, mahogany, magnolias, Japan rose, rose apples, eherimolia, one of the most esteemed fruits of Mexico, bamboo, Indian god tree, iron tree of China, ginger, olea fragrans, and several varieties of the sugar cane, five species of which are from Otaheite. To this green-house, so richly stored, too much praise can hardly be given. The curious person views it with delight, and the naturalist quits it with regret."
On Christmas day in 1803, in Prince George's County, Maryland, Rosalie Stier Calvert (1795-1821) wrote to her father who had returned to Europe, "I am also going to have a small greenhouse built where you planned it--at the wash-house. The cellar makes a very good orangerie." In another letter to her father in 3 years later, she mentioned that the cellar would no longer serve as the greenhouse, "We also have to build a small house, a smoke house, a sairy, and an orangerie."
Gilbert Stuart (Early Americn artist, 1755-1828). Rosalie Stier Calvert (1778 -1821) in 1804
I can find only one other reference to an orangery or orangerie in early America beside those of Rosalie Stier Calvert, leaving me to suspect that the term orangery became popular in America in the 19th century when refering to greenhouses, old and new.
There are earlier references in England, where John Evelyn wrote in his diary on 4 July 1664, "The orangerie and aviarie handsome, and a very large plantation about it." Another reference appears in the 1705 London Gazette, "The Mansion-House, called Belsize, ...with...a fine Orangarie, is to Lett."
In America in 1790, Thomas Lee Shippen, describing Stratford Hall in Virginia, to his father reported, "It was with great difficulty that my Uncles, who accompanied me, could persuade me to leave the hall to look at the gardens, vineyards, orangeries and lawns which surround the house."
By the time Englishman John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) wrote his 1822 Encyclopedia of Gardening, the orangery had fallen out of favor. He wrote, "The orangery is the green-house of the last century, the object of which was to preserve large plants of exotic evergreens during winter, such as the orange tribe, myrtles, sweet bays, pomegranates, and a few others. Geraniums, heaths, fuchsias, and other delicate plants requiring much light, were then unknown. The orangery was generally placed near to or adjoining the house, and its elevation corresponded in architectural design with that of the mansion. From this last circumstance has arisen a prejudice highly unfavorable to the culture of ornamental exotcis, namely, that every plant-habitation attached to a mansion should be an architectural object, and consist of windows between stone piers or columns, with a regular cornice and entablature. By this mode of design, these buildings are rendered so gloomy as never to present a vigorous vegetation, and vivid glowing colors within ; and as they are thus unfit for the purpose for which they are intended, it does not appear to us...that they can possibly be in good taste."
In Maryland, Rosalie Calvert grew plants in pots that could be brought outside in warm weather or ornament the interior of Riversdale house in winter. In 1803, she wrote, “I have arranged all the orange trees and geraniums in pots along the north wall of the house, where they make a very pretty effect, and the geraniums, being shaded, bear many more blossoms and are growing well.”
By 1809, she had added several more types of potted plants, and wrote that they were “a marvelous source of entertainment for me—geraniums, heliotropes, jasmines, China rose bushes, etc. I don’t have any aloes or any of those other plants whose only recommendation is their rarity and which lack beauty.” Heliotropes, she wrote, would be transplanted “outdoors in the summertime with the geraniums, jasmine, rose bushes, etc.” While we do not have a painting of Rosalie Calvert's indoor parlor plant arrangement, we do have this painting from Connecticut in 1816,
George Freeman (Connecticut artist, 1787-1837) Widow Elizabeth Fenimor Cooper 1816
Rosalie Calvert's orangerie never materialized. Instead, she used a central room of the house, her “grand salon,” with three large south-facing triple-hung windows, as her conservatory. She bragged to her father in 1813 about “my lemon trees. I have four superb specimens which in winter we place in the four corners of the salon, where they make a lovely effect. Last November one of them produced 87 large lemons.”
American diplomat David Bailie Warden visited Riversdale and described Rosalie's salon, "The hall is ornamented with lemon-trees, geraniums, polianthusses, heliptropes, and other plants, which in the summer evenings, invite the humming-birds to taste of their sweetness; and afterwards struggling to escape, they fly incessantly backwards and forwards near the ceiling, until from fatigue they perch on a stick or rod, when they are easily taken by the hand."
Another nurseryman living in Philadelphia was also promoting plants and pleasure gardens. In 1806, Irish American horticulturalist, seedsman, & writer Bernard M'Mahon (1775-1816), whose book would be read by gardeners in America for the next 50 years, explained the difference between the greenhouse and a conservatory,
"A Green house is a garden building fronted with glass, serving as a winter residence, for tender plants from the warmer parts of the world, which require no more artificial heat than what is barely sufficient to keep off the front...A greenhouse should generally stand in a pleasure ground and if possible, upon a somewhat elevated and dry spot fronting the south...the building ought to be of brick or stone, having the front almost wholly of glassowrk, ranging lengthwise east to west, and constructed upon an ornamental plan...
"The Greenhouse and Conservatory have been generally considered as synonimous; their essential difference is this: in the greenhouse, the trees and plants are either in tubs or pots, and are planted on stands or stages during the winter, till they are removed into some suitable situation abroad in summer.
"In the conservatory, the ground plan is laid out in beds and borders, made up of the best compositions of soils that can be procured, three or four inches deep. In these the trees or plants, taken out of their tubs or pots are regularly planted, in the same manner as the plants in the open air.
"This house is roofed, as well as fronted with glass-work, and instead of taking out the plants in summer, as in the Greenhouse, the whole of the glass roof is taken off, and the plants are exposed to open air."
Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822), Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826).
Thomas Jefferson, who was always experimenting and adding onto his property, was interested in a greenhouse as well. On August 2, 1807, from Albemarle County, Virginia, even Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) received a letter listing sizes of glass he would need for a "green house."
1799 Artist Lambert ? Bouche. Ann Ogle (Mrs. John Tayloe III) and daughters Rebecca and Henrietta.
The Minute Book of John Tayloe III (1770-1828) noted on August 2, 1812 at his country seat Mount Airy in Richmond County, Virginia, "Gardeners attending to the Greenhouse at Mt. Airy." Tayloe's city residence was Octogon House in Washinton D. C.
Wye House (18th-century greenhouse with hot air duct system, still owned by descendants of Edward Lloyd) Copperville, Talbot County, Maryland. Photo by Janet Blyberg.
By the early 19th century in the new republic, men & womenemen were building greenhouses, conservatories, orangeries, hot houses, pineries, and stove houses to grow tender plants for their food value and to impress their neighbors. Some even had their portraits painted holding their favorite plants.
1801 Rembrant Peale (1778-1860) Rubens Peale with Geranium