John Bartam was a Quaker farmer, passionate botanist, and life-long plant collector of the 1700s. He traveled extensively, particularly around the southeastern United States, and brought back many plants to his 102-acre Philadelphia garden. From there, Bartram propagated and sold these species to other avid plant collectors, especially those in Europe. The garden was able to stay in this family of plant enthusiasts through three generations and is now being cared for by the John Bartram Association.
Standing at the Bartram’s Garden entrance, Longwood fellows listen to curator Joel Fry, as he describes the development of the city of Philadelphia around the garden. (Left to right: Joel Fry, Andrea Brennan, Mackenzie Fochs, Keith Nevison, and Fran Jackson.)
On August 15th, the Class of 2016 was able to explore the remaining 45 acres of the historic Bartram’s Garden. They were welcomed by executive director, Ms. Maitreyi Roy, and curator, Mr. Joel Fry, clearly talented individuals, both devoted to the garden. Bartram’s Garden is composed of a diversity of landscapes: tidal wetland, meadow, water front, and urban farm. It was first conceived that the garden would be surrounded by city housing, but the area actually became quite industrial, making Bartram’s Garden an oasis.
Unfortunately, Bartram’s Garden went through a period of mild neglect, but this was followed by a major revitalization effort in 2007 that still continues today. Ms. Roy and Mr. Fry were excited to tell the Fellows about three new capital projects currently in process at Bartram’s Garden: the Schuylkill River Trail expansion, the Carr Garden Restoration, and the John Bartram House restoration. Bartram’s Garden is also now offering after-school programs to channel and engage neighborhood children with environmental stewardship.
Curator Joey Fry chronicles the history of the John Bartram House and the surrounding garden. (Left to right: Joel Fry, Mackenzie Fochs, Stephanie Kuniholm, Fran Jackson, and Keith Nevison.)
Another major effort at Bartram’s Garden involves the Schuylkill River, which, given the two acres of waterfront, plays an important role at the site. In the past though, the community has had understandably negative views of the river due to a history of pollution and crime. However, Bartram’s Garden is working to change these perceptions, even creating a new staff position to address the issue. River pollution is down considerably, aided by Bartram’s very successful and thriving tidal wetland. Now the garden is working to reconnect the community to the river with engagement initiatives like the trail expansion and River Festival.
This tree is believed to be North America’s oldest specimen of Ginkgo biloba.
After hearing about the fascinating history and numerous exciting community engagement efforts of Bartram’s Garden, the Class of 2016 had the opportunity to explore the site. Mr. Fry led the tour and provided a wealth of information. The fellows were able to see a wide variety of historical plants, including the 21 medicinal species described by John Bartram in 1751 and what is thought to be North America’s oldest specimen of Ginkgo biloba. Also encountered were various species and variants of Magnolia, Rhododendron, Dahlia, and Zinnia, discovered and made available by John Bartram.
The Class of 2016 completed their tour of Bartram’s Garden with one of the most significant species of the garden: a blooming specimen of Franklinia alatamaha.
Bloom of the Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha)
This tree is descended from the seeds of the original specimens discovered by John Bartram and his son, William, in southern Georgia in 1765. Franklinia alatamaha is now extinct in the wild, but is still able to exist in cultivation today, thanks to the botanical passion of the Bartram family.
For more information on this fascinating family and garden, please visit: http://www.bartramsgarden.org/.