At the August Garden Writers Associaton annual meeting, held this year in Indianapolis, I took a short walk around the hotel.
On that excursion I noticed in a courtyard the trumpet vine, hanging off a trellis a half-city block long.
The trumpet vine, or Campsis radicans, once draped the walls of the greenhouse of English plant collector Peter Collinson in the eighteenth-century.
English gardener and explorer John Tradescant, the younger, had introduced this vine, with its bright, cone-shaped orange flowers, in 1656. Andrea Wulf in her book The Brother Gardeners wrote “In the next century it became one of the most popular plants for the English garden”.
The trumpet vine illustrates how the English, who had become serious plant collectors, coveted American plants.
Though English explorers returned with plants from America as early as the late 1500s, it was not until well into the nineteenth century that American gardeners themselves considered native species as important ornamental plants.
Many of the plants the English used they referred to as “exotics,” a name to indicate a plant that was suitable for the garden but came from another part of the world, often America.
And so it was with the trumpet vine.
Joel Fry, the Bartram garden historian, wrote that John Bartram listed the Campsis radicans in his catalog of 1783, an American plant that eventually came back to American gardens but only after the English had cultivated it for over a century in their own gardens.
And so you might say that the simple trumpet vine serves as an early example of both the battle of native vs exotic and the American desire to reflect the English garden.