I am merrily reading The Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf and let me just say that approaching history through gardening is absolutely delightful! I always thought George Washington was a pretty righteous dude, but knowing he shivered in his tent during the revolution and distracted himself by thinking of his garden at Mount Vernon and writing letters to his estate manager telling him what to plant and where, well that just endears him to me all the more.
Picturing Jefferson and Adams going on a whirlwind tour of English gardens over the course of a week while waiting for the British parliament to decide whether or not they would sign a trade treaty (they declined) is a hoot.
And learning that delegates at the Constitutional Convention enjoyed talking gardening during breaks and over meals and, when they had reached an impasse, took a day’s break to go visit Bartram’s garden, well that just tickles me. Imagine all these important men hopping into their carriages to go make an impromptu visit to William Bartram.
Who is William Bartram you ask? He was a famous naturalist, plantsman and gardener and son of John Bartram a man equally famous for the same thing. Except William hobnobbed with Jefferson and Washington and Adams and the like, and received requests from England and Europe for American plants and seeds. He also published a number of books about his travels and produced some gorgeous botanic and ornithological drawings and paintings.
And while it is all so very interesting reading about America’s founders and their passion for plants, I have suddenly found myself fascinated by William Bartram, a man I had never heard of before. And so today I had a little bit of a flurry requesting books from the library about and by Bartram. I don’t know why Bartram has wiggled my imagination and interest, but he has.
And this, my friends, is the danger of reading. You read happily along and then, wham! You are struck by a sudden need to know more about someone or something in your book. And the reading pile grows ever taller.
So consider yourselves forewarned, you’ll be hearing more about William Bartram in the coming weeks. And if you have ever been to Bartram’s garden, feel free to tell me how wonderful it is so I can envy you and curse your good fortune.