Watersheds and Turning Leaves

“Fall is the best time to sow the native seeds…spring may do but many miss comeing up that year!”  John Bartram to his son William, 1761
There are moments in life when a backward view shows how momentous change was wrought with an easy nod or a spirited statement. 
Stephanie Cohen's Garden Posting

We have images in our mind's eye that make our personal and private garden a masterpiece. Whether the fact matches the dream is left to the definition of those friends that we allow to visit.

Moving into this particular autumn, I reflect on many of these moments in my life and recognize how turning leaves and watersheds are so symbolic of my own travels, trails and trials.

Bartram’s Garden is a masterpiece whether the world notes it or not.  It is my dream and conception of it that is perfect.  Execution be damned.
I am blessed with a good wife, responsible children, and many goodly friends.  I owe my present condition to them.   Without them, I wouldn’t anticipate the future with such unrestrained enthusiasm and optimism. 
I am here because of the urging of one friend in particular.  It is she who first crafted the dream that cracked the butterfly’s chrysalis.  I dined with her recently. 
Stephanie Cohen runs an open garden

Stephanie Cohen's open door policy extends to her house, garden and life. She welcomes one and all to her bountiful brand of wisdom, wit and verve.

Stephanie Cohen is operatic in her perennial overtures.  She is constantly connecting and dispensing.  She is welcoming, warming, and wonderfully quixotic with humor and happening.  In all of our recent conversations, she urges us all to, “pay it forward!”  And I love her the more for it.  She reminds me to live in my own world and let others join or follow.  The example I set or the passion I feel will only be positive if it’s shared.  My door should be open to all possibilities. 

I am standing here in my autumn to pay it forward.  There have been many others like Stephanie throughout my life that allow me to view the world from a high vantage point.  My correspondence and my conversations with the learned and the notorious have prospered my business. 


This education has come to me for the asking.  The generosity of the true professionals has always astounded me in its honesty and selflessness.  The goodness in this green industry can be found like running water in nature.

Which brings me to how my life in this particular autumn is one rich watershed.   

W. Scott Douglas

W. Scott Douglas, President Cook's Creek Watershed Association

Plentiful water resources grace North America.  We must take responsibility for protecting them with what we put on or in the soils through which that water moves.  Cook’s Creek is an area of roughly 30 square miles in Bucks County, north of Philadelphia.  It is closest to the Richland Friends Meeting founded in 1723. 

The meeting waits on John Bartram's message
Cook’s Creek Watershed Association
I had the marvelous opportunity to discuss my views of the importance of preserving our natural resources with the Cook’s Creek Watershed Association.  They are a long-established group to be so closely defined on such a specific subject in such a small geographic area.  They are to be treasured.  It comforts me that even at my advanced years, I can still be surprised by the political causes that others choose to embrace.  This topic is one that should electrify the world.  It needs to energize and empower.  We need 1,000 more Cook’s Creek Watershed Associations in order to produce a meaningful effect. 
Our lives need to encourage the nature around us not endanger it.  This watershed association connection needs to become an episode in my public discourse:  a watershed call to action.
In this autumn, I need to “pay it forward.”  This can be my watershed autumn of turning a new leaf. 

“Cogito ergo sum”


Philosopher Descartes


“I think, therefore I am”   Rene Descartes,  Principles of Philosophy, 1644


It was April 1757.  Overseers at the Darby Meeting of Friends entered a complaint against me for not believing in Christ as the Son of God.  After 13 months of discussion, I was formally disowned.

I was excommunicated for my heresy.  I was thrown out of the membership of Friends in which I had been raised.  I was 59 years old. 

I’ve spent my life passionately dedicated to the belief that God is visible in all we see.  His power is transcendent in his creation and doesn’t require the existence of a junior or a ghostly version. 

Jeffersonian Bible Clippings

I subscribe to Mr. Jefferson’s vision as eventually composited and published as “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.”  My Friends and family took great exception.  They reached their consensus without consulting my own “Observations” 

I was too much noticed in our society.  I had a wide range of notable other friends not within the inner circle of my meeting’s powers.  My sociable ways and my outspoken views were held up against a model of orthodoxy and found severely wanting.  Independence of thought and originality of spirit was too challenging for the group seeking to preserve Penn’s Legacy.

That word—Legacy!—flew into the proceedings like an evil black-winged bird.  I was a challenge to the Legacy of our community. 

I live my life in my garden.  My garden in its entirety includes as many plants as ideas.  Corresponding as I do with some of the world’s most recognized specialists in Botany, Philosophy, Medicine, and Geology, I can respond to these smaller minds with demonstrated facts.  I am not bound by dogma and supernatural effects.  My library has several dozens books!

Mr. Thomas Jefferson John Bartram Friend

Mr. Thomas Jefferson from life


“I cannot live without books!”  Thomas Jefferson.


When I am out in nature, I commune with my God.  His creation has been perfectly and beautifully defined by the new system of Latin nomenclature identified by Carl Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae of 1735.  I regularly correspond with Mr. Linnaeus.  His system defines the world of plants by counting the number of stamens and pistils.  He defines God’s naturally ordered world by an exacting description of a plant’s reproductive parts.

The mere thought was anathema for certain members of my community of Friends.  The smaller the reproductive parts, the smaller the mind.

So I am left outside.  I am officially unorthodox.  I think mostly because I am reputably social and recognizably honest in observation.  I compel recognition that God is alone and to be seen in all things.  My wonderful garden is full of His botany.  Stamens, pistils, genera, species, seeds and selections are all to be understood by His science. 

I exist in the world and God has created it after his singular image.  My plants are found in His nature and live to procreate with his sufferance. 

Over these many intervening years, I have moved beyond my Friends at meeting.  The world changes on a moment to moment basis.  Nothing is immutable.  The variety of shades of green in my world doesn’t discourage me from continuing the search for new, different, unusual, better.  I am caught up in nature’s drama and can’t be concerned with the distractions of those that must define it as tragedy or comedy.

I am officially out of meeting but I am now in attendance of God’s natural world.  I worship in the wild.  I can sing now in the country and shout to the heavens without fear of retribution.  The world is GREEN and I cannot be a happier, God-fearing member of that world than I am.  Let the rest contemplate damnation.

John Bartram in an English-style landscape that utilized all of the plants that he'd introduced to England.

John always finds it odd that "English-style" landscapes in this country utilize almost all of the trees that he introduced to England.

Proven Winners in Horticulture

“Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God.”     Thomas Jefferson

John Bartram speaks at Garden Clubs
Wayne Woods Garden Club with a demonstration of Proven Winners in the horticultural world.

I have spent my entire adult life trying to prove that the plants I collect and install will survive in the mix of climate, soil type, solar acclimatization, and wind resilience in my garden.  I want to trade in only those plants that are “Proven Winners.”  It is a delight to me to see that similar minds are there with me.  I have long believed that there is room in the horticultural marketplace for another brand other than my trade as Bartram’s Garden.

 To stamp a product with the label “Proven Winner” impresses me with a level of sincerity and transparency that I could never deliver.  It becomes a sinecure.

It was my extreme pleasure to meet with a roomful of gardeners in the area of Wayne Woods close by Valley Forge to the West of Philadelphia.  These ladies tend their gardens with the understanding that what news is gleaned is shared under the banner of a loose National Federation.  Their club presents monthly topics of horticultural enlightenment.

I was Wednesday’s topic.   I appreciate a roomful of strangers when I can be the subject of their rapt attention.  And I was certainly well attended.

You see in this photo their joy in receipt of the latest introductions from the brand name that fulfills all of my wildest expectations.  And Proven Winners prints its catalogue in full color with ring binding for ease of use.  Franklin never thought that mail-order publications would be the success they’ve become.  To say nothing about the ability to converse over the air through a combination of 1’s and 0’s.  I love technology! 

Proven Winners, Horticulture, Blooming plants, John Bartram

Attention to the latest plant releases from Proven Winners. A new season of bloom and delight.John Bartram encourages photographs.John Bartram encourages photographs.John Bartram encourages photographs.

Wayne Woods photographer

John Bartram encourages photographs.

“Annoso robore quercus…”

“An Oak in aged strength…” like the wooden walls of Old England was raised against the would-be conquering Spanish Armada.  The English Oak, Quercus robur, or “Hard Oak” has been conjoined with English history for so long that they wanted to claim all further discoveries of other species as just another variant of their own native tree.

For years, my own shipments of our North American native were viewed as little more than a choice selection of England’s vaunted domestic variety.  It took confirmation from Carl Linnaeus that mine were distinctly different and entirely new introductions.  Most notably my shipments included Quercus rubra.  Red Oak.  And today, the color of England’s fall is made much more brilliant by this addition to the trade. 

Bartram Red Oak

Bartram added species variety and color to Britain's fall landscape designs

Not only Q. rubra but also Q. phellos, Q. alba, Q. velutina, and Q.heterophylla (my own hybrid between rubra and phellos) were standouts in the shipments that traveled from my garden in Philadelphia to the estates of the landed gentry in Southern England.  It was through my efforts that the British Isle was reforested after the massive logging efforts necessitated by the construction of Britain’s Imperial Fleet.

The mists and the myths of time bring many stories of the naming of this ancient genus.  The Romans first named it “Quercus” because it was through asking questions of this tree that the pantheon of pagan gods could be heard.  Our word “query” derives from the superstition that the Oak tree was a conduit through which the gods foretold the future of men.

To the even older Celts that inhabited the darker world of northern Britain and Europe, an Oak was the most sacred member of the forest.  It represented the axis mundi (center of the universe) and was given the name “Daur” from which our own word door has been taken.  The roots of this tree were literally seen as a door into the Otherworld of spirituality.  The word Druid is actually a combination of the Celtic words for oak and seeing.  A Druid was the priestly seer who knew the tree magic and stood as the guardian of the door to the Otherworld.

Today, we take such superstitions as a child understands a bedtime story:  they are notions that strike somewhere between our real hearing and sight and the mind’s eye that opens after sleep becomes dream.   My majestic Oaks are nothing of the kind.  They are iron-hard things that stand as sentinels marking the boundaries of a human age.   They are proud and ceaseless in their service to our God and His nature.  They are to be treasured and spread as thickly across this planet as it is within our power to plant.  All of them.  However many Carl can name, I can deliver.