A Garden For the Trees………… Part IV: Awbury Arboretum

“A great many roots may be put in a box…under the Capt’s bed or sett in the cabin.  Nail a few small narrow laths cross it to keep the catts from scratching it.”    Peter Collinson in a letter to John Bartram 1735/36

“A box…20 inches or two feet square and 15 or 16 inches high & a foot in earth to be enough.”  Peter Collinson to J.B. 1735/36.  From which dimensions can be deduced the average size of the space underneath the ship’s Captain’s pillow.

Construction of a sea chest sturdy enough to withstand the weather of the North Atlantic crossing.
Without knowing how much it would impact my life, I began a correspondence with Peter Collinson.  He was a cloth merchant, a draper, who was also passionate about botanical science.  He became much more than my English friend.  He was at times mentor, contractor, intermediary, treasurer, benefactor, and Quaker.  Once begun, the correspondence led to a trade in actual botanical specimens and later to business in nursery production.  The first of its kind in North America.
The English could not get enough of the material that was free for the taking on my travels north, south, east and west.  Wherever I went, there was an abundance of material to be collected, catalogued, transported, and grown.  The shipments became regularized into “Bartram’s Boxes.”  A Five Guinea Box was delivered to the subscriber with a guarantee that it contained 100 different species of plants:  roots, cuttings, switches, corms, bulbs, slips, or seeds.  With as many as 1000 total bits of plant material to the carton.  At the greatest, we shipped 32 boxes.  That’s 32,000 plants. 
It wasn’t easy!
And the success of the venture was, by and large, dependent on the grace and good favor of the captain of the vessel that carried the crates.  It was a rough trade with a lot of vagary about it.  It could take months or in some cases years for the assignee to receive the shipment.  Sometimes–actually in more cases than I care to consider–the shipments didn’t arrive at all.
War.  Storms.  Theft.  Destruction by vermin, cats, crew, or passengers.  Ruination by salt water.  Baked in torrid calms or frozen in icy winters.  Captured by French Men-of-War in an unending series of conflicts and clashes.
The elements that conspired against the success of our venture were many and maniacal in their insidiousness.  But we persevered and ultimately triumphed. 

John Bartram in the Cope House

John Bartram welcomes all of the captains in the Cope House

A ship’s Captain was always welcome at our table and in a spare bed.  Kindness to him was always repaid with a better berth for the plants we were trusting to his traffic over the seas.   My wife was constantly encouraged to give them hospitality in my absence.  They were the partners in our endeavor who could most quickly ruin the merchandise. 

They could literally “sink our ship!”  

The Cope’s were another Quaker family in Philadelphia.  Their trade was in trade.  They owned and operated one of the most successful shipping enterprises out of the docks.  Their packets were some of the fastest and sleekest to be found in the world of their time.  And with the thriving of their business our trade was enriched.
Bartram’s plants were responsible for reforesting the entirety of Southern England.  It had been denuded after the great harvest of trees that built the wooden wall to defend the Island against the Spanish Armada.  My shipments went directly into the ground of some of the finest country homes and aristocratic landscapes of the English supremacy.
And money flowed both ways across the Atlantic.  Fortunes were made in the trade that included the horrors of slavery as two legs of the shipping triangle.

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

Ground plan for the creation of the Cope family compound that was to become Awbury Arboretum

With their success in shipping, the Cope’s purchased acreage west of the city.  Germantown in the early days was a very rural and pastoral setting.  The Cope property became their haven and summer refuge against the formal heat of the city house.
Germantown PA John Bartram Kirk R. Brown
The original Cope house at the heart of the Awbury Arboretum

First, one summer-house was constructed on a knoll at the high point of the land.  Then, it was joined by the construction of additional houses for dependent generations of the original family.  Sons, daughters, grandchildren, spouses, in-laws and cousins.  It became a family compound.  And then it was gathered up and preserved with an endowed trust for nature.

The Cope summer property became Awbury Arboretum.  It was a sanctuary for grand trees and memories of another world in a gentler age.  The landscape was designed in the English Country manner.  In other words, in the style of an English Country Manor.  http://www.awbury.org/
It was the style then in vogue.  That vogue was established by the export/import of my trees and shrubs to a list of subscribers setting new standards for landscaping the South of England. 
Let me clarify my point:
Awbury Arboretum John Bartram Kirk R. Brown
The Cope house in the English-style landscape of the Awbury Arboretum
John Bartram traveled throughout North America to discover and identify North American native flora.  I exported it to England where the novelty of the plants becomes the rage of an age.  This new 18th Century trade in luxury goods from our wildlands is used to decorate the landscapes of the English countryside.  The new style is identified with the English Aristocracy and is exported back to the colonies to be copied as if our “betters” were allowing us the use of an exotic gift.
John Bartram Kirk R. Brown Awbury Arboretum

John Bartram stands at a focal point in an English-style landscape at Awbury Arboretum. It is the closest that he's gotten to the actual thing.


In other words, MY plants came back to us identified only as select parts of an “English Country Landscape.”  Somewhere, God is laughing.  At the time, my family just continued to sell the same trees.  They just didn’t have to ship them as far.


A Garden For the Trees…………. Part III: Medford Leas Arboretum

“I and most of my son Billy’s relations are concerned that he never writes…”     John Bartram to his brother, William about John’s son William in a letter dated December 27, 1761.

Medford Leas New Jersey John Bartram
John Bartram is pictured with his great-grandson times seven removed John David Bartram.  There are two more generations of John that follow him throughout my patrimony.  This is a unique view into four generations with some of my numerous descendants.
For a long time, I have forgiven Billy for the many shortcomings with which I took exception to his life during my days with him.  We could not reach consensus on a number of his major personal choices.  His failure to write to his mother while on his plantationing experiment in Florida came as no surprise to me.  But it caused her extreme anguish and mental distress.  I am happy to say that subsequent generations of my descendants have not been so unfilial or inconsiderate. 
I have had the pleasure of speaking to several groups in the midst of which I recognized my direct great-grandson, J. David Bartram.  On my last visit to Medford Leas, he even served as the specialist in charge of my acoustic, visual and electrical media needs.  He is a spirit of my own making.  He defines the future and takes responsibility for it! 
J. David Bartram lives under the banner of the natural preserve in which he now resides:  Medford Leas.  The “J.” stands for John because his father was similarly named.  There was the chance for confusion, so the family adopted what had been given as his middle as the name for his recognition.  With his permission, I quote from the description of his parcel of land:
“Situated on the edge of the Pine Barrens, the Barton Arboretum and Nature Preserve of Medford Leas is a unique blend of accessible public gardens, collections, and preserved natural areas set amidst private residential space. Spanning more than 200 acres with campuses in Medford and Lumberton, NJ, the Arboretum offers visitors a diverse horticultural array of designed gardens, landscaped grounds, meadows, natural woodlands and wetlands, and one of the most extensive plant collections — including natives — in all of southern New Jersey.
The Arboretum’s mission is to promote the appreciation and knowledge of horticulture and to emphasize the importance of integrating nature into people’s living, working and recreational environments. Further, the Arboretum strives to be a model for good land stewardship by achieving greater ecological responsibility through bio-diverse and sustainable practices.”    http://www.medfordleas.org/
With David caring for the technical needs on my last visit, I spoke to the members of the Pinelands Garden Club with visitors attending their annual luncheon from the Haddonfield and Moorestown Garden Clubs.

Pinelands Garden Club Medford Leas New Jersey John Bartram Kirk R. Brown

A large group was gathering as J. David Bartram help John set up his presentation for the day's entertainment.

 I am constantly amazed at the ease with which I am welcomed into any group.  This day was an especially notable opportunity.  It is with some hesitation that I take on the weight of performing in front of good friends let alone members of my immediate family.
I always question my abilities under such circumstances.  I have what I think is called “stage fright!”  But for this case, in particular, I thought of life’s great circle.  How rare it is when we can see such a span of life and connection and history all in one place.  How amazing it is to me that after all of these years, one of my heirs has chosen to reside in an arboretum.  He has put aside some amount of personal convenience and elected to live with the trees.
So to the old question:  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  I have to inquire whether my penchant for Botany is something internal to my  being.  Is this “natural seed” something that can be passed on through the generations?  Did I give David his passion for the Horticultural world?  Or, is this need to live in and with nature a reflection of God’s true nature?
In either case, if there is such a thing, can this seed be transplanted into the lives of others who care less or not at all about preserving God’s nature?  That has become an adjunct search to the main premise of my travels.  I am looking for the “seed” that will give others the spark to preserve and protect.  Our society must evolve and perhaps if we can find the way to transplant this seed we can all change that much the quicker.
We shall grow with time and need.  Let us pass the seeds of our own sustainability.  That is a hope for the children of my grandson’s grandson times seven.  It could be such a wonderful world!