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Early Nineteenth Century New Bedford’s English Garden Look

Herman Melville summed it up in his book Moby Dick : “Nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like houses, parks and gardens more opulent, than in New Bedford. “Whence came they?…Yes; all these brave houses and flowery gardens…”

In 1976 The Garden Club of Buzzards Bay put out a book with wonderful illustrations of early New Bedford.

The book’s title says it all: Brave Houses and Flowery Gardens of Old New Bedford. That is a reference of course to the famous Melville phrase in his book where he mentions early New Bedford.

The Rotch-Jones-Duff house on County Street was built back then in 1834. [below]

Rotch, Jones, Duff mansion on County Street in New Bedford, built in 1834.

Its owner William Rotch Jr. had the resources to create also a beautiful garden that reflected the English garden design of the wealthy at that time.

The garden at the Rotch-Jones-Duff house in New Bedford.

The book by the Garden Club of Buzzards Bay says, “The garden [R-J-D] , with its formal design and boxwood borders, its latticed gazebo, casting shadow patterns along the walks, follows the formal English pattern of 18th century gardens.” [right]

It was the arrival in New Bedford of new exotic plants that made the gardens there so contemporary.

Plant hunters were sending back to England the newest in garden flowers from South America, Africa, and Asia. These were plants that both the English and certain wealthy Americans desired for their own gardens.

The Rotch garden in New Bedford was no exception.

At that time Mr. Rotch shared an avid interest in horticulture. He had even hired a gardener to help keep up the demanding work of the garden.

The new flowers also included varieties that the whaleships brought back from foreign ports.

The plants included hydrangeas, calla Lillies, oleanders, wisteria, and also dahlias.

Only the wealthy could afford these plants. Because the whaling industry was booming, New Bedford was home to several gardens with these newest exotic plants.

Such gardens were also appearing, of course, in England among the landed gentry.

Thus America was following the garden ideas of the English both in plant choice and landscape design.

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