Early American Garden Book Borrowed from English Writers

As a guide for work in his famous garden Thomas Jefferson used an early book on gardening from Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard M’Mahon. The book was The American Gardener’s Calendar, published in 1806.

Jefferson became friends with M’Mahon and over the years he even depended on M’Mahon for seeds.

Garden historians recognize today that M’Mahon drew extensively from English garden writers for his book, which is a sizable volume.

Bernard McMahon's garden book, published in 1806

Bernard M’Mahon’s garden book, published in 1806

In the new book on Jefferson’s garden called A Rich Spot of Earth: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello the author Peter Hatch who has supervised the garden at Monticello for thiry years discussed M’Mahon’s book.

Hatch mentions that the English garden writer John Claudius Loudon reviewed M’Mahon’s book in his Encyclopedia of Gardening (1825) and there raised the issue of its origin in these words: “We cannot gather from the work any thing as to the extent of American practice in these particulars.”

Nonetheless The American Gardener’s Calendar proved, through several editions, an invaluable resource for American gardeners for decades.

Thomas Jefferson often referred to it for help with his vegetable garden at Monticello.

Today we know that Jefferson planted his garden in the prevailing English style, perhaps with ideas from M’Mahon’s book.

Hatch concluded that in M’Mahon’s book “the ideal kitchen garden was laid out in the British model, and it was generally adapted by Viriginia gentlemen gardeners like Jefferson.”

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