Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Early Seed Dealers & Nursery Owners - Maryland

Throughout the mid-Atlantic, private gardeners were also selling bulb stock directly out of their gardens to meet the growing appetite for flowers among their neighbors. Henri Stier, a well-to-do Annapolis neighbor of William Faris, like Faris, sold tulips & other bulb plants to fellow Annapolitans by opening his garden at full bloom in the spring, so that buyers could mark with notched sticks the varieties they wanted dug from the ground after the blossoms & leaves had faded away in the heat of summer.

Dealers in Baltimore, Maryland

A second professional nurseryman from Europe, a German immigrant named Philip Walter, arrived in Maryland in 1786, a little over a year after Bellet’s first advertisement appeared. Walter wanted no part of the traveling life. He was a serious gardener who yearned to ten the land all year round.


Walter was determined to begin his American business venture as a settled commercial nurseryman specializing in orchard plants. He decided to sell his products near the busy Market House at the foot of Belvedere, the elegant estate of then-colonel John Eager Howard. Townspeople came to shop at the market on Wednesdays & Saturdays, when neighboring farmers would load up their wagons with produce to sell & journey to Howard’s Hill.


With an establishment at the market, Walter figured, clientele would be drawn continually to his location, & they would be inspired to new heights in gardening by the awesome example of Colonel Howard’s park like gardens & grounds. Walter first advertised in the spring of 1787, calling himself a seedsman & a nurseryman, but he concentrated on selling primarily orchard stock. Twenty years after arriving in the busting port town, Walter was robbed & murdered at his nursery, on Hookstown Road.


Crops maturing in Thomas Jefferson's Kitchen Garden at Monticello


While some European seed merchants & nursery owners such as Walter & Bellet decided to settle down & grow their stock in mid-Atlantic soil, others continued to import & travel. In the spring of 1790, John Lieutaud, a gardener & florist from France, passed through Maryland selling seeds, roots, & bulbs imported from France & Holland. Lieutaud used much of the same method of operation as his fellow Frenchman Bellet did on his mid-Atlantic selling rounds.


Lieutaud, who was from the province of Dauphiny, also offered the “curious” a printed catalogue. He boarded at the home of Captain Gould, on busy Charles Street in Baltimore, where potential customers could come to pick up a catalogue & he hoped, buy seeds. To supplement his income Lietaud proposed to prune, graft, & inoculate trees “at a moderate price.”




The next European seedsman & nursery owner to appear in Maryland records was Maximillian Heuisler, in immigrant from Munich, Bavaria. While Heuisler settled permanently in Baltimore, he often made day trips to neighboring towns, such as Annapolis, to meet local gardening enthusiasts & to hawk his wares. He was a regular seed supplies to William Faris.

Heuisler personally delivered both plants & seeds to his mid-Atlantic customers. His wife never knew whether her husband would return from these trips with cash, new plants, or baskets of food: Heuisler traded for new seeds & plants to expand his varieties & stock, he sold for cash, & he accepted produce in trade.


Plant dealer Heuisler’s first advertisement as a commercial seed vendor appeared in 1791. Aggressive in advertising his wares, he was always looking for new ways to attract potential customers. He paid to have his advertising notice in the February 1795 issue of a Baltimore newspaper illustrated with a woodcut of potted plants. His nursery situated on 40 acres about 1 ¼ miles north of Baltimore on the Philadelphia Road, was depicted on an 1801 map of the town. He regularly advertised an extensive assortment of trees & shrubberies, both useful & ornamental, for mid-Atlantic “plantation,” orchard, kitchen, & flower gardens, plus fresh garden seeds of every description.


Heuisler was thought by one contemporary to be the best professional gardener in Baltimore at the end of the 18C. In 1803, Heuisler sold his Philadelphia Road nursery &established one closer to his Annapolis market, on the Portland-Ferry-Branch, near the southwest corner of Baltimore. Maximillian Heuisler died in 1816, but his son, Joseph A. Heuisler, carried on his father’s determination to build & maintain a well-respected seed & nursery business throughout much of the 19C.




At least two immigrants to Baltimore who became professional nursery owners near the turn of the century began their careers in America as gardeners under contract to busy gentlemen who had planted elaborate gardens for both food & status. Each of these gardeners saved enough capital to become successful nursery owners as the new century dawned.

One was a French immigrant, John Bastian, who had come to Baltimore to supervise the elaborate gardens at Harlem, owned by Adrian Valeck. The other was James Wilkes, who had been apprenticed as a gardener in England then immigrated to oversee the gardens of George Grundy at his country house Bolton in Baltimore, where Wilkes worked for 3 years.


When Wilkes went into business for himself in 1798, he continued to offer his services as an independent gardener, available by the day, month, or year. To further supplement his income, he worked as a part-time nursery gardener for Heuisler. By 1803, he had amassed enough capital to buy Heuisler’s Philadelphia Road nursery, when the Heuislers opened the nursery in southwest Baltimore. Wilkes sold fruit trees & a large variety of ornamental shrubbery, greenhouse plants, & seeds imported from London, the same stock that had been the basis for Heuisler’s business at that location. From 1803 until the 1820s, Wilkes sold vegetables, flowers, & exotic hothouse & greenhouse plants from his nursery.


John Bastian arrived in Maryland before 1790, & was still working as gardener for the estate of Harlem in 1802. By 1808, he had begun his own independent seed & nursery business near Baltimore, & it continued until 1839. Even when his contract to tend Harlem had ended, Bastian augmented his income by tending gentlemen’s grounds & gardens. Just as many of his European colleagues did, Bastian offered a full range of services to the mid-Atlantic gardening public, from designing to planting to “repairing.”




The most successful nursery business in the late 18C Maryland was operated by an Englishman William Booth and, after his death, his wife, Margaret. They began the business around 1793, with the sale of imported seed at two locations. Booth advertised in a Baltimore newspaper in April of 1793, that he was lodging at the home of Thorowgood Smith, Esq., in downtown Baltimore, & offering garden seeds imported from London. His second location was at Bowley’s Wharf, at the harbor, where local shopkeepers acted as his agent.

By May of 1794, Booth had accumulated enough capital to lease a house, & he moved next to one of the town’s best-known citizens, Dr. James McHenry. Although Booth did not locate near one of the town’s busy farmers’ markets, the house was just a half-mile west of Baltimore town, & his choice of location was a clever one. The popular McHenry had been George Washington’s surgeon during the Revolution & was instrumental in developing the Constitution afterwards, so travelers & neighbors often stopped to pay their respects to him. In fact, the sociable McHenry organized regular fox hunts from his grounds into the surrounding countryside.


Initially Booth sold only seeds, which he imported from London. He worked tirelessly on the grounds & his stick during the summer, fall, & winter of 1794 & by spring of 1795, was ready for broader ventures. He placed a large notice in a local newspaper informing the public of his intention to establish a permanent nursery & seed shop on his premises adjoining the property of McHenry, with whom he had negotiated a long-term lease.




McHenry’s land & now Booth’s new shop & home were located on the road leading to the “Federal City” & to busy Frederick town. Also, access by road to the traditional Annapolis market was easier from the south side of Baltimore than from the north of the water-bound east side.

Booth had leased not only the land but also McHenry’s greenhouse & had bought all of McHenry’s hothouse plants, which he decided to offer for sale in pots. The surgeon had raised plants for medicinal use as well as botanical interest.


Nurseryman Booth had a grand design for these potted plants, & he advertised it in a Baltimore newspaper. He proposed that he ladies of the town & its environs ornament their interiors with these & other potted plants during the summer months, return them to Booth for care over the winter (for a slight fee), & receive them the following spring in “full perfection.” He had not only come up with an ingenious method for continuing to gain income from the pants after selling them, he planned to expand his clientele by appealing to the ladies & suggesting that they use plants to decorate the interiors of their homes, traditionally the real of women.

During this same period, Grant Thorburn (1773-1863), a New York store owner who would become a famous Atlantic coast seed dealer, was drawn less intentionally into the world of ladies & plants. Thorburn was born near Dalkeith, Scotland, and was employed as a nailmaker there; before he sailed for America at age 21. Thorburn arrived in New York in 1794. He sold novelties and hardware at his little store in New York City, but the he discovered that his flower pots sold better when they were painted and with flowers in them.


Until 1801, he had operated his small hardware store, where he also sold flower pots. “About this time,” he later wrote, “the ladies…were beginning to shrew their taste for flowers.” To make his pots more attractive, he painted some green & set them in a window. They were so popular that the following spring he added geraniums to his green pots, & from that point on he gave up the grocery business to become a seed & plant merchant. Thorburn began selling seeds in 1805. The G. Thorburn & Son’s catalog of 1822 was issued in pamphlet form and included illustrations. Thorburn died in New Haven, Connecticut on January 21, 1863.




Serendipity played less of a role in William Booth’s promotion of garden enterprises. Booth’s capitalistic brain had been working relentlessly during the winter of 1794-95. That spring he simultaneously announced a plan to carry on a kitchen garden business that would supply specific customers with fresh vegetables of their choice by the week, month, or year. The concept of planting pre-chosen vegetables to supply produce on a contractual basis to his clients was an inspired version of the traditional truck farming of the region. It was Booth’s clever attempt to control both his supply & demand. Booth continued his original line of business, selling seeds he imported from London, as he launched his nursery, greenhouse, & kitchen garden ventures in 1795.

Booth was soon the most successful professional gardener in Maryland. His training in Britain had been sound. The visiting English agriculturalist, Richard Parkinson, reported that booth had been a gardener for the Duke of Leeds before his arrival in America. 
In addition to his many other gardening pursuits, William Booth designed & planted some of Baltimore’s most famous gardens, including the terraced falls at Hampton & those at Solomon Birckhead’s Mount Royal.

Booth’s 1801 seed & plant catalogue is the earliest one remaining from the period in Maryland & lists hundreds of plants for the kitchen garden, sweet herbs, medicinal (“physical”) plants, “seeds to improve the lands,” fruit trees, annual flowers, biennial & perennial flowers, “herbaceous plants,” bulbous roots, forest trees, flower shrubs, evergreens, greenhouse, & “stove plants,” including “a great variety of new & elegant sorts.”


Nineteenth-century Maryland historians claimed that William Booth was among “the earliest botanists, florists, & seedsmen in the United States” & that “his own grounds. . . Were celebrated for the care & exquisite cultivation with which they were kept.” Booth’s nursery was depicted on the 1801 Warner and Hanna Map of Baltimore. When Booth died in 1818, his inventory recorded a diverse stock, which were being made available to the Baltimore public at his seed store & at his 5-acre nursery. His widow, Margaret Booth, continued to operate the seed store & nursery through the 1820s.



English immigrant Booth’s attempts to appeal to a broader market were apparently successful. In September of 1799 he advertised to the public a huge collection of “rare exotic” plants, raised in a greenhouse in cooperation with other seed & plant dealers in Philadelphia & New York. The advertisement also linked the name of William Booth with some of his well-known Atlantic seaboard colleagues, David & Cuthbert Landreth in Philadelphia & David Williamson in New York, who were acting cooperatively as agents for the sale of this large collection. Also arriving in Philadelphia at the turn of the century was Bernard M’Mahon, the most important of the early 19C seed & plant dealers and garden authors.

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