Kirk Brown
Image by Kirk Brown

Kirk Brown embodies America's early botanist and explorer, John Bartram.

Episode 115: John Bartram

John Bartram (1699–1777) was an American-born botanist, horticulturalist, naturalist, and explorer. He has been lauded as the “father of American botany” and the "greatest natural botanist in the world." He made significant contributions to the collection, study, and international introduction of North American flowering trees and shrubs and was a pioneer in the importation and cultivation of non-native plants.

John only had a common country schooling, but at a young age developed an interest in botany and ‘natural history’.He later inherited a farm on which he established himself and his young family. Married twice, he was the father of 11 children. His third son, Willian (1739–1823), became a noted botanist, natural history artist, and ornithologist in his own right.

John Bartram started his botanical career by devoting a small area of his farm to growing plants he found interesting. Later, he made contact with European botanists and gardeners interested in North American plants and developed his hobby into a thriving business.

Bartram was particularly instrumental in sending seeds from the New World to European clients. The Boxes", as they became known, were shipped for distribution in England to a wide list of clients. The boxes generally contained 100 or more varieties of seeds, and sometimes included dried plant specimens.

Bartram traveled up and down the East Coast virtually every year from 1735 through 1766, gathering unusual plants and touring gardens from New England to Florida. Bartram visited New Jersey and New York, and while exploring the Catskill mountains in 1742, he made the first of several visits to physician and botanist Cadwallader Colden and his daughter Jane, with whom he carried on a lengthy correspondence. In 1743, he was commissioned by the British crown to visit the Indian tribes and explore the wilderness north to Lake Ontario in Canada. His attention to the natural habitats of plants shaped Bartram’s understanding of botany and his approach to his own garden.

Bartram’s Garden, established in 1728, is considered the first botanic garden in the United States. Still operating in a partnership between the city of Philadelphia and a non-profit foundation, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Bartram was a friend of Benjamin Franklin and an original member of the American Philosophical Society. He was one of the first practicing Linnaean botanists in North America and named the botanist for the American colonies to King George III.

Kirk Brown, a graduate of Cornell University, is an expert in garden history, garden design, and garden photography. He brings John Bartram to life on this episode of Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. His meticulously researched portrayal of America’s first ‘plantsman’ describes the horticultural history of America at the very beginning of the international world of plant discovery and identification. Kirk travels the country wearing the mantle of two of America's foremost practitioners of the Art of Gardening: John Bartram and Frederick Law Olmsted. Additionally, he delivers design and garden history lectures as himself.

Hosts: Tim Kennelty and Jean Thomas

Guest: Kirk Brown

Photo by: Kirk Brown

Production Support: Linda Aydlett, Deven Connelly, Teresa Golden, Xandra Powers, Jean Thomas, Annie Scibienski



Xandra Powers
Community Horticulture Coordinator
518-828-3346 x106

Last updated April 4, 2024