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Awestruck 19th Century Horticulturist

Who would think that a horticulturist would be struck one day by the beauty of topiary?

Well, it happened to Robert Buist (1804-1880).

Buist owned his own plant business in Philadelphia where he sold various kinds of plants, including the new flower called ‘dahlia’. In the drawing below ‘roots of dahlia’ are noted for sale at Robert Buist’s nursery. [below] [1, Oscar Alexander Lawson, Rob[er]t Buist, Nurseryman & Florist, n.d.]

Buist was awestruck by a garden of topiaries he saw in a visit to England in the nineteenth century.

Todd Longstaffe-Gowan writes in his fascinating book English Garden Eccentrics about Buist’s reaction to topiaries he had seen.

Longstaffe-Gowan says, “Perhaps not surprisingly, when the garden gates were thrown open, it prompted a sudden rush of interest in this ancient horticultural technique.

“Few were as spellbound by the gardens as the American nurseryman Robertn Buist, who paid a visit during the course of a tour of Britain in 1852.

“So much, he exclaimed, was I absorbed with what I could barely realize to be real, that 10 1/2 o’clock of the night found me under the soft silver beams of the moon, still enjoying these magical scenes…I retired to rest, but I found none for my excited imagination.

” In the nineteenth century Thomas Appleby, however, may too be credited with a most original response to ‘the fresh scenes of beauty’ that greeted him at every corner during the course of a visit in 1850: he professed that ‘such was the sensations of pleasure the sight gave us, that we actually threw our body down upon the soft lawn in an ecstasy of delight.”

And so he too found a sense of awe in the simple topiary in the garden.

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