Reviving historic flower garden to help cultivate Philadelphia’s connection with river


Gardening — the slowest of all performing arts — can take years to develop a narrative, and a century to have a second act.

Bartram’s Garden has just raised the curtain on its new Ann Bartram Carr flower garden, not seen in more than 120 years.

“This was her specimen garden,” said Bartram’s Garden executive director Maitreyi Roy. “The garden where she show showed off her best-ofs.”

Ann Bartram Carr was the granddaughter of John Bartram, the American botanist who created the historic garden in 1728. By the time Ann and her husband, Col. Robert Carr, took over the business in 1810 — during the Industrial Revolution — it was a large commercial operation, growing and shipping 2,000 plant species around the world.

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“She opened up the garden to the public, and she was the first one in the family to do so,” said Roy. “People’s lives were changing because there was so much industry all over. She made it important for people to take plants home and enjoy green space at a time people were surrounded by industry.”

Carr planted a 1-acre garden in a half-circle in front of the original Bartram house to showcase exotic ornamentals. It was designed for strolling and enjoyment of the public, who would come via steamboat across the Schuylkill River to glean ideas on what they could plant at their own homes.

Carr died in 1858. By the time the entire 46 acres of Bartram’s Garden was given to the city of Philadelphia in 1893, her ornamental garden had disappeared. Most recently it was a large grassy lawn.

Using archival photographs and documents, Bartram’s Garden re-created the Ann Bartram Carr garden and attempted to plant it in a way she would have.

“The first step is bringing back a rose collection,” said Roy. Thirty-six species of roses will be planted, including the Climbing Prairie, the Tuscany Superb, and Champney’s Pink Cluster.

The larger vision

The garden is a small part of a large vision to connect Southwest Philadelphia to the Schuylkill River. Once the Schuylkill River Trail is completed (part of it is now under construction), the garden will be a gateway for pedestrians and bicyclists coming to Center City.

“It’s part of, I think, in big cities in America — the reconnection to rivers that we have been so isolated from for the last 100 years,” said city managing director Michael DiBerardinis, formerly head of Parks and Recreation under the previous administration. “Bartram’s is using its past as a catapult into the future.”

To both create the garden and restore the original Bartram house, Bartram’s Garden raised $2.7 million, half of which came from the city.

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