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Bernard McMahon Pioneered Garden Writing in America

In the nineteenth century it was important that garden books come from practical gardeners who wrote about their experience in the garden.

One such garden writer was Bernard McMahon who was born in Ireland and came to America in 1796.  He settled in Philadelphia where he ran a seed and nursery business.

Thomas Jefferson, among many botanists and horticulturalists of the day,  visited McMahon’s seed store.

In 1806 McMahon wrote a book called American Gardener’s Calendar, which became such an important garden book that it was

A new edition of McMahon's book, first introduced in 1806.

published in several additions throughout the century.

Philadelphia nuseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly of 1872: “Bernard McMahon is our first grand horticulturalist – the earliest Adam of us all.”  Though that line may seem an extreme bit of praise, his words show you the respect that McMahon enjoyed for decades.

McMahon copied English garden writers and divided his book by the months of the year, specifying the work that had to be done in the garden or field for a particular month. McMahon borrowed particularly from John Abercrombie, author of Every Man his own Gardener, first published in England in 1767 under the name of Thomas Mawe.

Meehan wrote that even though McMahon copied Abercrombie’s work “the real merit of McMahon is the adaptation of this great book to American readers.”

Bernard McMahon’s contribution cannot be understated. He  was a seedsman who provided an early book for American gardeners, a book based largely on the English garden style.

He insisted on  “open spaces of grass-ground”  in the landscape in the English garden design.

McMahon, ever the gardener, wrote in his book about propagating hawthorns, based on his 20 years of experience.  What reader could resist such practical advice?

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