Gardens and Gardening in the Chesapeake, 1700-1805

By Brown, C. Allan | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, October 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Gardens and Gardening in the Chesapeake, 1700-1805


Brown, C. Allan, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Gardens and Gardening in the Chesapeake, 1700-IBOS. By BARBARA WELLS SARUDY. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. xiv, 206 pp. $29.95.

THE study of American gardens has only recently become the focus of serious historical research. As yet no academic program in the United States is specifically devoted to garden history. During the past two decades, professionals from a number of disciplines-in particular, archaeology, architectural history, art history, cultural geography, English literature, horticulture, landscape architecture, popular culture studies, and social history-have staked claims to the developing field. The multidisciplinary approach to such a broadly defined subject has produced some fascinating, although usually uneven, results.

Barbara Wells Sarudy, executive director of the Maryland Humanities Council, has written a detailed account of gardens and gardening in the eighteenth-century Chesapeake region that presents a more complete picture than previously has been drawn. The book is organized into three sections: "Places," "Means," and "Motives." First she describes selected gardens of the middle class and gentry, then she explains how such gardens came into being, and finally she considers why they were created. Her concern is with both productive and ornamental gardens, "planned by a broad range of people" (p. xii). Abundant annotations reveal an impressive body of research, mostly in primary sources.

It is with the particular perspective of a social historian that Sarudy examines the dimensions of the topic. She writes engagingly of the social interactions that regularly took place within public and private gardens. The best chapters succeed in vividly bringing such activity to life. Contemporary English woodcut figures fill the pages throughout. The handsome volume is further illustrated with a number of black-and-white plans and twenty-one color plates.

The parameters of her investigation prove problematic, however. She defines the Chesapeake loosely as "an area extending from Pennsylvania to Virginia" (p. xi) yet concentrates on the localities of Baltimore and Annapolis. The gardens of Virginia and Pennsylvania are inadequately represented, not to mention the scant attention afforded southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. Moreover, it is not clear if Sarudy considers the Piedmont to be part of the Chesapeake. A twentieth-century plan of the unexceptional garden at Woodberry Forest, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, is included, but there is only a cursory treatment of Monticello. Plainly a study of this length was not intended to be comprehensive, yet it is difficult to defend the numerous important omissions in a book of its given title. And nowhere is the curious cutoff date of 1805 explained.

Much of the text is a reordered and slightly revised version of Sarudy's collection of articles published as a special issue of the Journal of Garden History in 1989. There she introduced historians to the remarkable gardening records of William Faris, Annapolis innkeeper and craftsman. …

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