The English Garden Beneath The Barnes

Barnes Museum | Photo: Peter Woodall

Last Sunday I sat in the newly restored French neoclassical garden of the Rodin Museum, the last of the day’s sun illuminating the dusty Gates of Hell.

The truly lovely garden renovation was done in a way that will enforce a connection to the new landscape being installed at the Barnes Foundation across the street. And soon you’ll be able walk this connection among eras and ideas in art and horticulture; all the while you’ll probably start muttering in French. The Rodin after all was designed by two Frenchmen living in Philadelphia, Paul Cret and Jacques Gréber; Cret also designed the original Barnes from which the new Barnes is abstracted and reassembled; both buildings filled with French art (assembled by two of Philadelphia’s greatest collectors, Albert Barnes and Jules Mastbaum), on the deeply French influenced Parkway designed by Gréber and Cret.

Bloody right you will! For long before the French arrived, this was Springettsbury, the English estate imagined by William Penn and built in the 1730s by his son Thomas. According to Sharon White, in Vanished Gardens, the Springettsbury manor house stood on the site of the Barnes Foundation. Not just any estate, writes White, Penn built

a brick house with a main wing and a kitchen and rooms for servants in the back, a greenhouse, and a long walk down a small valley to a stream. Nearby ran a path to a fish pond where visitors admired the glitter of goldfish in the clear water…Thomas Penn designed his house and garden to reflect the fashion in England of a landscape with natural contours and views framed with trees or formal hedges.

Here was the first greenhouse in America and the first professional gardener. In the 1730s, London businessman Peter Collinson sent seeds and cuttings for Penn’s garden to John Bartram with instructions for Bartram to dress and act well and deliver them to the Governor.

Penn left the place in 1741 and the Penn family managed it until 1787. The house burned in 1794, but the gardens lived on, decadent and wild, for decades more, “the prettiest old-fashioned garden that I was ever in,” wrote Deborah Logan, wife of James Logan’s grandson, in 1815.

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is also senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine.



Comments are closed.

Recent Posts
Rodeph Shalom As A Beacon On North Broad

Rodeph Shalom As A Beacon On North Broad

August 27, 2014  |  Morning Blend

A look at the historic Jewish synagogue’s expansion, the economic importance of bike lanes, Suzanne Roberts Theater gets $2.5 million boost, remembering the Philadelphia Trades School, and approvals from the Historical Commission > more

Spruce Street Harbor Park To Remain Open Extra Month (Updated)

Spruce Street Harbor Park To Remain Open Extra Month (Updated)

August 27, 2014  |  Buzz

The overwhelming success of the pop-up park convinces officials to keep the party going > more

When Columbia Avenue Erupted

When Columbia Avenue Erupted

August 27, 2014  |  Vantage

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the Columbia Avenue riot, an incident that would deeply impact North Philadelphia and the politics of the city for decades to come. "When Columbia Avenue Erupted" is the first installment of a four-part series that begins today. > more

PhillyU’s Roxboro House Now A Repository For Arlen Specter’s Papers

PhillyU’s Roxboro House Now A Repository For Arlen Specter’s Papers

August 26, 2014  |  Morning Blend

A look at the renovated historic home in East Falls, talking with UCD’s Gupta on UCity walkability, judge strikes down Girard College program overhaul, and what to expect at 8th & Filbert come next summer > more

The Wheels of Steal: Scrap Metal Theft Is On The Rise, Again.

The Wheels of Steal: Scrap Metal Theft Is On The Rise, Again.

August 25, 2014  |  News

A new wave of scrap metal theft is sweeping the city, and it is no holds barred. From residential copper wiring to SEPTA rail plates, everything appears to be up for grabs. Max Marin sheds some light on the familiar trend. > more

Port Authority Getting Serious About $10 Million Renovation Of Franklin Square Station

Port Authority Getting Serious About $10 Million Renovation Of Franklin Square Station

August 25, 2014  |  Morning Blend

With a “renaissance,” Franklin Square Station might reopen; Philly renters more involved than first thought; Comcast VP confident in philanthropy’s ability to fund DNC and Pope visit; Quaker modesty and tree naming; and Mini Golf in a South Kensington warehouse > more