Urban Gardens in the Mid Atlantic and Chesapeake Regions:

Their Relation to the Couper Family Gardens


After the Industrial Revolution the way that seeds and plants were sold changed dramatically in the Chesapeake region.This was caused by a growth of urban economies that gave rise to new commercial gardening ventures, nurseries, and seed stores.From about the mid 18th century on, gardeners close to Philadelphia could take advantage of local seed and nursery businesses.This meant that gardening for pleasure was no longer only for wealthy planters.It increasingly became a pastime of the expanding class of artisans and merchants.The role of Philadelphia, as a city with some of the earliest botanists and botanical gardens, as well as numerous nurseries and seed stores, meant that it played an important role in the development of New Castle gardens, especially the one at the Read House.

This garden, designed by the Couper family, was installed in the late 1840ís, at a time when many Americans were discovering a naturalistic landscape style as compared to a more formal, geometric style typical of earlier gardens.The naturalistic style of landscaping that can be seen in the garden was a major change from the confined, formal, geometric style brought to America by the colonists.Beginning in the 1840ís, harmony between the house and garden, as well as harmony with surrounding natural areas, became a new and desirable goal of gardeners.One very important nurseryman and writer, Andrew Jackson Downing, is often called the first practicing landscape architect in this country and many of his principles are reflected in the Couper garden.There is no documentation that Downing designed the garden for the Coupers, but many of his principles did influence the design.One thing Downing mentioned in his treatise was the problem people were having in reconciling the two different period designs; the formal house from an earlier time and the natural garden.To help resolve this he suggested laying out beds and walkways of the flower garden near the house in a symmetrical, slightly more formal form.This would allow the flower garden to reflect some of the regularity seen in the house architecture.From there it is easier to transition into the popular, naturalistic garden smoothly connecting the formal house to the more casual garden.Although urban gardens like the Couperís are contrived and somewhat artificial, designs similar to this one were called naturalistic in the 19th century and they represented a break from the formal tradition of earlier times.


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