A Trip To South Carolina

“I would like to challenge you this year to keep your passion for Greater Greenville Master Gardeners alive!   Our mission is to teach and educate within our community. Together we can accomplish great things.”       –Anita Humphries

“Since ten years old, I had a great inclination to plants.  I knew all that I observed by sight, though not by the proper names having no person or books to instruct me.”            —John Bartram

John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown, Hortitoptia, Greater Greenville Master Gardeners, South Carolina

Leaving my home on the Schuylkill River is always the start of a horticultural adventure.

I am returning to the Carolinas on February 2, 2013.  I have been absent a very long time.   I will appear at “Hortitopia” sponsored by the Greater Greenville Master Gardeners Association of Greenville South Carolina.  My amanuensis, Kirk R. Brown will be presenting a secondary topic called, “Sustainability and the American Dream” during the afternoon of the same day.

John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown, Hortitopia Master Gardeners Greenville South Carolina

John Bartram speaks of his travels across the Eastern seaboard of the North American Colonies.

Previously I found it convenient to visit the Carolinas because my half-brother, William, held title to a plantation named Ashwood on the Wilmington-Fayetteville Road.  He was the younger son of my father, William, and his second wife Elizabeth.

Walking up the Bartram's Garden path, Kirk R. Brown John Bartram, Hortitopia

“Welcome home to Bartram’s Garden!” always greeted me as I walked up the path to the house.

The story is made more complicated by explaining that my father was murdered by Tuscarora Indians in a raid conducted on his farm near present-day Swansboro, North Carolina.  My step mother and her two children were taken prisoner during the raid and remained captives until their escape or release nearly a year later.

Prior to my father’s precipitous and calamitous move to the south, I had been parceled out to my paternal grandmother and grandfather (another John Bartram) while my younger brother, James, lived with my mother’s family, the Marshalls.

Hortitopia, John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown

Many quakers can claim a relationship to John Bartram. Meetings such as Hortitopia is an opportunity to expand the family tree.

I continue to carry with me the scars of my father’s tragic death.  Throughout all of my subsequent dealings with Native Americans, I continue to mistrust their offers of help.  I hesitate to believe their stories.  I avoid direct contact–always suspect that I would misunderstand their actions, or words, or directions.  I would sooner travel alone–especially if I am a familiar with the geography of the area.

Half-brother, William, returned to the Carolinas and became a successful landowner.  His plantation, Ashwood, was located along the Wilmington-Fayetteville Road in the Cape Fear area of North Carolina.  It was his position among the landed the gentry that gave me free access and rights of travel through all of my early years.  He was a delegate to the Governor’s council in New Bern.  It was through a bill of his own introduction that defined the town and township of Wilmington.  You have William to thank for giving his name to the community and environs.

Horitopia, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram, Greater Greenville Master Gardeneres, South Carolina

Hortitopia is a congress of gardeners gathered together to discuss finer details of gardening.

I have been to both the Carolinas numerous times over the years. I was free to travel with William’s assistance in providing me letters of credit.  It was on one of the trips that started in Wilmington that took me south through the swamps and forest of Georgia where I discovered the copse of trees that history recognizes as the last found in the wild of Franklinia alatamaha.

John Bartram, William Bartram, Kirk R. Brown, Franklinia alatamaha

John and William Bartram discovered the unique Franklinia during a collecting trip along the Alatamaha River in Georgia.

My son, William, accompanied me on many of his trips.  In later years, his travels in these colonies were noted more by the locals than by his own identification.  His mother and I rarely knew where he was.  He never wrote.  But today, there are numerous nature walks that bear the Bartram name because of trails he blazed.  We have a great family history in the south.

Stenton, James Logan, John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown

Yet another magnolia to investigate. This one is in the garden at Stenton, James Logan’s plantation house outside of Philadelphia in the modern community of Germantown.

I’m looking forward to my return.  It will be an exciting time!

Rooted to the Spot!

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”  –Michelangelo

Kirk R. Brown, Steve Tobin, John Bartram, Roots

Roots. Actual. Cast in Bronze.

“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.”  ––Martin Luther

Steve Tobin, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram, Roots, Glass Technology

Glass Technique from Tobin Studio. Flying debris or Eagles soaring?

I started on my journey to the congress of arboriculture in Indianapolis.  I didn’t travel far before my path crossed with a vast open site devoted to the cultivation and display of roots:  metaphysical, organic, actual, symbolic, historic and ultimately esthetic.  It caught my eye like a fish bone would capture a swallow.  I couldn’t get rid of it.

Kirk R. Brown.  John Bartram.  Steve Tobin

The Cemetery. Glass. Memento mori. Headstones. Visit the room of memories

So I stopped and began to capture the scene.  There was a name over the door:  TOBIN.  Cryptic.  Could it be read as a hope:  “To Be In…?”  I tried the door.  It opened and gave me access to a parallel universe of exploded forms differing from my 18th Century experience.  The colors and shapes and textures and lines and volumes were familiar.  But the media and the technology and the idiom were totally foreign.

Kirk R. Brown.  John Bartram.  To Be In

To be in. Simple. Sometimes. Or not.

It was as if God wanted us to see His creation as something empowering and we mere mortal phantoms were only secondary–or imaginary–to His primary goals and objectives.  The shapes took on iconic resonance with everything in His nature that draws me to it.  I am a slave to God’s nature.

Kirk R. Brown.  John Bartram.  Roots.  Trees.  Steve Tobin

Forest Floor in Bronze. The finest technique in keeping with the baptistery doors in Florence. Ancient and modern

I was rooted to the spot.  Tobin, if he was the owner, was not present.  But his life took shape on the table before me and was illustrated in his selection of art displayed about the room.

Kirk R. Brown.  Steve Tobin.  John Bartram

Dancing on the table. Name the rhythm. Test the steps.

His collection was displayed in maquette form.  Smaller than life.  Illustrious of what might be or what might yet be dreamed.  It was strewn in a magical order of rhythmic hierarchy across a natural wood expanse of conference table.  They were dancers.  Moving mystically, hysterically, literally.  And yet they were just roots to trees.  Intertwined, enmeshed, moving through their quadrilles, waltzes, tangos, embraces.  There was a sadness of passion presented in their intertwined limbs. 

Fred and Ginger.  John Bartram.  Kirk R. Brown.  Steve Tobin.  Dancing.  Roots

Fred and Ginger. I can’t state it any more simply. Can’t you see “Road to Rio?”

The decor surrounding this collection of dancers was eclectic. 

John Bartram.  Kirk R. Brown.  Roots.  Steve Tobin

Trees. Topiary. Horticultural Letters. Look very, very closely. This is hundred of hours of human labor.

It consisted of African tribal stools, contemporary leather sling chairs, patinated cupric towers, spheres, and eggs welded of cast letters.  Large images of his work decked the walls. 

Kirk R. Brown.  John Bartram.  Steve Tobin

Steve Tobin signing monographs. Artist. Artistically.

There was a rack full of cast bronze women’s shoes filled with the bounty of the garden.  They were empty of the life of the women but filled to overflowing with the bounty of Ceres.  God-like patinated reminders that solid form can become brittle bones or over-made rouged phantasms.

Kirk R. brown.  John Bartram.  Shoes hurt my feet.  Buckles.  Steve Tobin

Shoes. Bronze. Hard to wear. Solid. Not functional. Natural.

Small glazed pottery vessels spoke of natural volcanic eruptions.  Earthen-ware plates demonstrated a high technical skill rivaling any produced by ancient civilizations around the world.  And there was a layer of activity, production shop dust, stasis, and disuse about the space.  The real work and ethic happened behind the door.


Steve Tobin introduced himself with his art before I ever had the pleasure to meet him.  He came into the atelier later.  After I had time to sit down, remove my gloves, and absorb some of the eternity that had filled the previous fifteen minutes.DSC_0095

It all became a rush to discuss the root of the matter.  Were we talking about trees or art or nature or glass.  Was it a discussion of hard material or matter-of-fact dreams.  The roots were something tangible as he drove and I drooled.  He had me get out of the vehicle and view them from under, around and through. 

Roots.  John Bartram.  Kirk R. Brown.  Steve Tobin

Large Roots

He asked me to name another artist who captured in the same fashion the worlds he had created.  I was incapable or coming up with a contemporary name:  Gaudi’s sinuous curves and gothic arches, Durer’s detail and fantastical worlds, Escher prints, Italian, African, Old World, Prehistoric atavism.



International Arborists Gather

Quakers should be taught the “…Use and Service of Trees”       —From “A Mite Into the Treasury” by Thomas Lawson 1680

John Bartram, Wyck Rose Garden, Kirk R. Brown, International Society of Arboriculture

In any garden, John Bartram uses first his eyes and then his intelligence to identify the unique plant material and the botanical connections

“Since ten years old, I had a great inclination to plants.  I knew all that I observed by sight, though not by the proper names having no person or books to instruct me.”     —John Bartram

American Philosophical Society, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram, International Society of Arboriculture

I passed the American Philosophical Society’s headquarters behind the State House on many a walk through the city of Philadelphia. The trees have prospered as well as the institution.


Indiana.  Indianapolis.  The name harkens back to an ancient Greek city-state:  “The City of the Indians.”  I’m told that it’s inhabited by a race of Hoosiers:  A species unknown to me in my youth, but entirely recognized as yet another of the subspecies of inhabitants we now know as Americans.  I used to fear and distrust the indians of my region.  But I’m told that the western settlements have been safe and quite civilized for these many years since.  There is even a well-respected zoo in this metropolis.  Perhaps it’s where they keep the more wild members of the community.

I’m traveling into the dark interior of this vast and daunting continent to conference with a band of arborists.  As you might know, an arborist is a person who specializes in the study and care of trees.  That would be me.  I introduced many dozens of them into the trade I conducted with my European counterparts:  Acer rubrum, Quercus rubrum, Magnolia grandiflora, M. stellata, M. virginiana, and so many more that I hesitate to have it appear that my pride overtakes my study of science.

Stenton, James Logan, John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown

Yet another Magnolia to investigate. This one is in the garden at Stenton, James Logan’s plantation house outside of Philadelphia in the modern community of Germantown.

Many people contributed to my success in the world.  Correspondence with Carl Linnaeus, The Dukes of Richmond and Norfolk, Mr. Philip Miller, Peter Collinson, Dr. James Fothergill, Peter Kalm and Robert James Petre (Baron Petre) of Thorndon Hall Essex gave me the professional encouragement that my lack of formal education denied me.  Personal friendships on this side of the Atlantic with Benjamin Franklin and James Logan allowed me to connect with a much wider circle of scientists, writers, and gentlemen than a farmer with 700 acres on the banks of the Schuylkill River could ever hope to reach.

Awbury Arboretum, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram, International Society of Arboriculture

I always plan a detour when I hear that there’s a monumental tree in the neighborhood. This is in the garden at Awbury Arboretum.

I am an Arborist.  I consider myself a botanist.  King George III officially recognized my accomplishments by naming me “Royal Botanist to the North American Colonies.”   By extension, I believe that I can lay claim to the title of King’s Arborist.  I gave him many of my favorite discoveries.

John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown, International Society of Arboriculture, Scattergood Foundations

Large trees of great age are very expressive but silent sentinels in any landscaped space.

The meeting in Indianapolis will be conducted as a congress of professionals.  My amanuensis, Kirk R. Brown will also be delivering lectures on “Sustainability and the American Dream” with a great deal of help from Mr. Jefferson’s fundamental writings on the subject of Democracy.  His other presentation involves additional legalities confronting the horticultural community with “Storm Over Water:  Municipalities Regulate Land Use.”

I invite you to participate if you are resident in the area.  I also encourage those of you who read this to communicate any of your own observations on the topics under discussion.

Williamson Free School Gardeners and the Quaker Botanical Trade

“I am continually impelled by a restless spirit of curiosity in pursuit of new productions of nature, my chief happiness consists in tracing and admiring the infinite power, majesty, and perfection of the great almighty Creator, and in the contemplation, that through divine aid and permission, I might be instrumental in discovering and introducing into my native country, some original productions of nature, which might become useful to society.”    William Bartram

Williamson Free School, Kirk R. Brown, John Bartram, Philadelphia Flower Show

The flag is displayed proudly on the parade ground of Williamson Free School where all classes and categories of students gather each morning for roll.

The landscape and horticulture students at Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades are working on an exhibit demonstrating the complexity of trading in botanical specimens during the 18th century.  Their investigations in the trans Atlantic crossing of seeds, roots, cuttings, divisions and containers will be unveiled to the horticultural public during this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show:  http://www.theflowershow.com/  It will be a brilliant assemblage of English landscape design and American scientific ingenuity.

John Bartram, Philadelphia Flower Show, Kirk R. Brown, Williamson Free School

This miniature model of Independence Hall displays the level of professionalism and horticultural excellence attained by featured exhibits on the show floor.

The senior class, under the tutelage of Chuck Feld, invited me to tour their campus and discourse on the technical challenges of sending the dozens of Bartram’s Boxes that successfully landed on English shores.  Officially, the students attend this school to receive training in programs that award them a degree as an Associate in Specialized Technology.  Also helping the Horticulture, Landscaping and Turf Management class will be the combined efforts of the other programs in Carpentry, Paint and Coatings, Construction Technology and Machine Tool Technology.  http://www.williamson.edu/about/history.htm

John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown, Philadelphia Flower Show, Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades

John Bartram joins the seniors of the Horticulture, Landscape and Turf class at Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades.

The display will showcase all of the native North American botanicals that I introduced to the world of horticulture through my correspondence with many of the world’s most famous men of letters, science, and industry:  James Logan, Peter Collinson, Philip Miller, Carl Linnaeus, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Catesby, Peter Kalm, Johann Gronovius, and Johann Dillenius.

John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown, Philadelphia Flower Show, Williamson Free School

John in a familiar pose of writing to his many horticultural correspondents.

Featured in the exhibit will be rooted seedlings of the Franklinia alatamaha.  This tree, collected on a tour through the swamps of Georgia along the Alatamaha River, was never again found in wild after the early part o the 19th century.  The examples that we now have of it are all descendants of the original copse of trees that my son William and I discovered in 1765.

John Bartram, William Bartram, Kirk R. Brown, Franklinia alatamaha

John and William Bartram discovered the unique Franklinia during a collecting trip along the Alatamaha River in Georgia.

The exhibit will educate the masses about the how, why, when, where, and who of the start of international horticulture.  This fine concept will ultimately recognize the amazing vitality and economic incentive given the art and science of botany by those members of the Philadelphia Quaker community.  Please stop by the booth on your trip through this “Brilliant” Philadelphia Flower Show between March 2 and 10.  I will be fronting the booth to welcome all comers during the first weekend of the display.

Williamson Free School, John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown Philadelphia Flower Show

The senior carpentry class from Williamson Free School will be constructing the bones of the Philadelphia Flower Show Educational Exhibit

As the spring season opens, more will be said about the specifics of the display and the difficulty of translating a vision of 300 years of international plant search and sharing.

A Seeker After Trees and Truth

“Scilicet ut vellem curvo dinoscere rectum atque inter silvas Academi quarere…”  (So that, you know, I was eager to distinguish the straight from the crooked, and to hunt for truth in the groves of Academe.. )   Horace

I am a quester.  That is:  a seeker.  The word comes from the Latin verb, Quarere.  The meaning is “to seek, to ask.”

John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown, American Philosophical Society, Questers, Quercus rubra

John Bartram co-founded the American Philosophical Society with his friend and mentor, Benjamin Franklin

In my searches I have discovered many new genus and species of plants.  I have also discovered amongst the roots of nature a trail that leads straight to God.  Quarere Deum.  Search for God.

James Logan, Stenton, John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown

John Bartram in the Library at Stenton

Did I know that I was searching for God along the trails, among the natives, abreast with fellow seekers?  Life always becomes more clear by the nearer you come to the end of the story.

Wyck, Quaker Horticulture, John Bartram, Kirk R. Brown

John Bartram traveled far and wide to discover new genus and species. Here is admires the prized antique roses at another Quaker garden: Wyck.

Perhaps through self-revelation, the Latin word for Oak is quercus.  Derived from the same Latin root.  It is the stately tree in ancient forests to which the mages, priests, elders and sages traveled to question their natural gods.  It was the tree through which all answers came.

John Bartram, Awbury Arboretum, Kirk R. Brown, Historic Trees

John Bartram under a record-holding tree. Regardless of genus or species, he invariably traveled out of his way to see the premiere example of the plants he went on to collect.

I question everything and notice much.  My quest is to discover the reasons for God’s handiwork.  As a quester, I strive to extend the reach of man’s knowledge to benefit all and praise a benevolent deity.

Kirk R. Brown, Independence Hall, John Bartram, Founding Fathers

John Bartram traveled in company of the famous and the scholarly. His garden was only a short trip from the political center of Independence Hall

I am a quester.  Then.  Now.  Forever.  I will be appearing with others of my stock when the Moland House Questers gather on January 9.  I look to meet and greet as many as I may.  My spirit will forever stay young in the search for wisdom and knowledge and fellow travelers!