In Late Eighteenth Century Philadelphia, Woodlands Was Designed in English Garden Style

Recently I came across a wonderful article by Beth Kephart in the Philadelphia Enquirer called “Finding Refuge, Seeking Perspective.”  She tells the story of how she found solace and an inner comfort just in walking the grounds of William Hamilton’s home in Philadelphia called Woodlands.

At the end of the eighteenth century William Hamilton (1745-1813) designed the landscape for his home Woodlands in the modern English garden style. He loved botany and gave America the ginkgo, the Lombardy poplar, and the Norway maple.

Thomas Jefferson too admired Woodlands.

Woodlands’ landscape served as an important early example of the English garden in its natural or picturesque style on American soil.

Even Grace Tabor in her book Old-Fashioned Gardening, written in 1913, said: “The fame of Woodlands spread so that all visitors of cultivation and taste who came to Philadelphia had heard of it, and made a point of seeing it.”

William Birch, "The Woodlands Seat of Mr. Wm Hamilton." tinted litho from Country Seats, 1809.  Print & Picture (Castner) Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia

William Birch, “The Woodlands Seat of Mr. Wm Hamilton.” tinted litho from Country Seats, 1809.
Print & Picture (Castner) Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia

Then she mentioned famous visitors to the garden, “John Bartram and Humphrey Marshall were both friends of William Hamilton and much of his success may have been inspired by the counsel and advice of these two botanicals.  The natural style, which by this time was quite the rage, driving everything else before it, found an advocate in him, and ‘Woodlands’ was probably the best example of it that the country possessed at the close of the eighteenth century.”

You can still visit Woodlands today. The property is now designated a National Historic Landmark District in recognition of its unique history and rich resources.

What I like in Tabor’s book is that she made such a point about Woodlands’ importance in American garden history. She even referred to the garden style, the natural, as the rage at that time.

Thus William Hamilton’s property emerged as an example of modern landscape gardening where people could see for themselves the current form of the English garden.

Comments

  1. I thank you for this — a gorgeous place, a place of solace.

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