Monday, September 09, 2013

M'Mahon's "Bad Landscape Design" Description from 1806 (and today)


                              In gardening, nothing is really new. Yes, tools are invented to ease the aches and pains, and new discoveries allow us to add just the right something to make the flower grow or bloom a little longer, a little shorter, or a little more. Even our ideas about design are well-rooted in the past. Design concepts that worked in colonial America  continue to enhance our landscape enjoyment and use. The tools of the landscape design trade and the insider-tricks that are sure to get results are well founded in the historis of horticulture.

                An amazing description, for example,  of our modern suburban, cookie cutter, absent-of-any-sense-of-design developer driven landscapes was published in 1806.  Can you read this and not picture  the usual  21st century McMansion subdivision landscape or urban park installed under pressure by a developer eager to move on with maximum profit.

            "But some modern Pleasure-grounds, in which rural design is copied to an extreme, are often very barren of variety and entertainment as they frequently consist only of a grass lawn like a great field; having a running plantation of trees and shrubs all round it, just broad enough, to admit a gravel-walk winding through it, in the serpentine way, in many short twists and turns, and bordering at every turn alternately, upon the outward fence and the lawn; which are continually obtruded upon the sight, exhibiting the same prospect over and over, without the least variation; so as that after having traversed the walks all round this sort of pleasure-ground, we find no more variety or entertainment than at our first entrance, the whole having presented itself at the first view."[1]   

               If you are interested in any aspect of gardening from fruits and berries to vegetables, annuals to perennials, as well as houseplants, and are looking for an in-depth calendar of work;  and you want this to be completely organic as in no use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, then the work for you is The American Gardener’s Calendar by Bernard McMahon.

               M'Mahon was born in Ireland in 1775 and came to the United States in 1796 because of political instability in his native country. He settled in Philadelphia and established a seed and nursery business. Very shortly thereafter he began to collect and export seeds of American plants. Because of his work, many native American plants became established in Europe. The History of Horticulture web site continues:

"In 1804 his catalogue of seeds included 1,000 "species." He became acquainted with Thomas Jefferson as well as other distinguished men of his time. It is said that the famous Lewis and Clark expedition was planned in his home. His horticultural interests were very broad and his seed store became a meeting place for botanists and horticulturists. M'Mahon and Landreth, a noted Philadelphia nurseryman, distributed the seeds collected in the Lewis and Clark expedition. He published in 1806 the first really important horticultural book which was entitled, American Gardeners Calendar. This was a standard encyclopedia for many years. The 11th edition was published in 1857. M'Mahon was born in Ireland but came to America in 1796 because of political instability in that country. He settled in Philadelphia and established a seed and nursery business. Very shortly thereafter he began to collect and export seeds of American plants. By this means many nature plants became established in Europe. In 1804 his catalogue of seeds included 1,000 "species".




[1]  McMahon, B., 1806. The American Gardener’s Calendar; Adapted to the Climates and Seasons of the United States: Containing a Complete Account of All the Work Necessary to be Done ... for Every Month in the Year; with Ample Practical Directions for Performing the Same ..., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: B. Graves,.


1 comment:

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