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

Nathaniel Popkin is co-founder of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (with Peter Woodall and Joseph E.B. Elliott) and two novels, Everything is Borrowed and Lion and Leopard. He is co-editor of Who Will Speak for America, an anthology forthcoming in June 2018, and the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
L&I An Overlooked Asset To Historic Preservation Efforts

L&I An Overlooked Asset To Historic Preservation Efforts

November 16, 2018  |  Vantage

Dana Rice looks at "demolition by neglect" and the potential of the Department of Licenses and Inspections as an unlikely ally in the fight to solve Philly's preservation crisis > more

The Making & Breaking Of The Philadelphia Commercial Museum

The Making & Breaking Of The Philadelphia Commercial Museum

November 14, 2018  |  Vantage

Edward Duffy takes us back when industry, commerce, and foreign trade flooded the halls of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum, the first institution of its kind in the United States > more

Rare Books Department At FLP Examines A City In Transition

Rare Books Department At FLP Examines A City In Transition

November 9, 2018  |  News

Affordable housing, displacement and gentrification, demolition for redevelopment--sounds a lot like today's local headlines, but Philly has been dealing with these issues for decades. This and more is addressed in the new exhibition, "Philadelphia: The Changing City," now on view at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Ali Roseberry-Polier has the review. > more

Dispatch From the Dolomites: Lamenting the Loss of Northern Italy's Philly Twin

Dispatch From the Dolomites: Lamenting the Loss of Northern Italy’s Philly Twin

November 7, 2018  |  Vantage

Contributor Ann de Forest dials home from Italy where she visits a little chapel that, until recently, had a sibling on Christian Street > more

Secluded Stone Stairway On Lincoln Drive Revealed

Secluded Stone Stairway On Lincoln Drive Revealed

November 2, 2018  |  Vantage

A mysterious set of stairs next to Monoshone Creek leads Sharon Barr on a path to uncover its origins > more

The Ghastly Tale Of South Philly’s Cult Of The Holy Ghost

The Ghastly Tale Of South Philly’s Cult Of The Holy Ghost

October 30, 2018  |  Vantage

A secretive cult dedicated to the worship of a Swiss woman met a horrific end in 19th century South Philly. Ryan Briggs unearths the grim details > more