Where Only Colors Screamed, Washington's War Time Escape- The Botanical Gardens


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JPK Huson 1863

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From an 1807 print, conservancies in Washington, DC, were already ' hothousing ' and documenting precious, natural resources.

One of the fiercest, albeit silliest attacks on a beleaguered Mrs. President Lincoln occurred in February, 1864. Flowers from the National Conservatory " Botanical Gardens " graced a ball at the home of New York congressman ( and author, as mayor of NYC, of a sincere albeit preposterous proposal that NYC secede ) confirmed self-promoter and general opportunist, Fernando Wood. WELL. A local writer of snark denounced Mary Lincoln, in her official role, having given permission for a bouquet to be sent to Mrs. Wood, as " Strewing our national posies at their feet "- the feet of treason. Hysterically inaccurate, flowers threatened to be a national scandal.

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How that battle ended.

Real story was that wives of DC politicians were permitted access to flowers from our famous Botanical Gardens, correct route being through the President's wife. With her ball looming, Mrs. Congressman Fernando Wood made an official request- and was sent a bouquet.

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The Botanical Gardens, foreground, dated by how complete our dome is, 1861.
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One part of a ' conservancy ' there, although photo may be post war.

The thing is, one terrific reason the ' scandal ' threatened to take, er, root is because our National Conservatory- much better known as The Botanical Gardens was a huge, big deal. In the midst of war, a Union in shambles, and a struggle over the future of 4 million, American souls- we loved our flowers, gardens, butterflies, bugs and bulbs. Loved? Elaborate, much-fountained, lush, blooming and extravagantly landscaped, " Botanical Gardens " were a huge draw. Springing up in every, major city, these fantastic, moist, acres-long greenhouses hosted lavish displays of exotic and domestic plants, flowers, trees shrubs and frequently, some wildlife.

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Another from the series, 1807, called " Botanical Gardens ", who knew begonias could look so lovely?

And they were a day out, with the kids! Who liked it! Who knew? Try interesting most small children, in 2018, in a shrub, see how well it goes. Our then-Botanical Gardens were part of our National Conservatory. Still around and amazing today, in 1850 they were located, like most of the city, on reclaimed swamp, within sight of the Capitol. Not exactly ' new ', in 1864. Our Founding Fathers liked flowers, too- just don't tell anyone.
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This is from that era, one of the walks through this escape into exotic nature.


1816, it was the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences' idea. Create a botanic garden- intent was to benefit Americans by a kind of United Nations of all-growing-things. A ' give and take', too- originally ' distributing ' plants, the result of careful seed and plant collecting. Congress liked flowers, too, green ( sorry ) lighting our national treasure in 1820. Until 1837 , when the Institute folded, the garden seems to have been smack on the grounds of the Capitol.


The Wilkes Expedition helped hugely revitalized a notion of a National Conservatory, coming 'home' with an astonishing, wonderful collection of living plants from all points of the globe. By 1850, the old Institute's site saw what became the era's elaborate, extensive Botanical Gardens, Washington, DC.

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From a ' Botanical Garden ', in England, plants were exchanged, making our garden a kind of communal, national museum of ' green ', and peace

I'm sorry but wow did we get it right! The best, most extensive florist slash arbor slash natural museum slash entertainment, too. In the middle of a muddy, worn, worried and dirty city, frantic with ' war ', you could escape into a world where the loudest sound was the color red, on a rose bush.

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This series, on NYPL is awesome. The Latin name of each flower is documented and a careful ' study ; made- an Egyptian Water Lily, with pyramids in the distance. From these ' conservators ', really, guardians of, and guides to nature.

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GS

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It is interesting how Victorians survived the polluted Industrial Age by turning to "all things botanical", evidenced by plants and bugs being the favorite subjects of era artists, their explorers bringing home plants the likes of begonias, and huge glass terrariums being built to keep them all alive, while they themselves breathed smoke and ash-filled air.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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We enjoy going to our Buffalo Botanical Gardens on cold wintery days. It's like a tropical vacation for a few hours.
It appears to be very similar to the Washington Botanical Gardens.

https://www.buffalogardens.com/pages/history

Thank you for the link! Made me smile, since it seems nothing much changes, really? You said it's like a little vacation- sounds so similar to why so many have been attracted for 150 years. And puts these gardens on my list. Buffalo's must seem a respite indeed, given snow measured in feet up there, not inches.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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It is interesting how Victorians survived the polluted Industrial Age by turning to "all things botanical", evidenced by plants and bugs being the favorite subjects of era artists, their explorers bringing home plants the likes of begonias, and huge glass terrariums being built to keep them all alive, while they themselves breathed smoke and ash-filled air.

Right? Our poor ancestors got to deal with the explosion of industries- and they did seem to stay engaged with all-things-growing-and - green. You should see the endless books on gardening, flower growing, outdoor activities set in gardens and yes, terrariums, in Hathitrust, etc. It's quite wonderful!
 

Mrs. V

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Here in Lakewood, we live on what was once the estate of Mr. Jared Kirtland. He collected all sorts of botanical wonders. We used to wonder if the Chinese Elm that was in our back yard might have been part of his estate. It was huge, in fact the arborist we hired to see if it could be saved said he’d never seen one so large. I remember having my son, hubby and I try to circle the trunk with our arms and not being successful...I miss that tree!

I wanted to comment too, that visiting “garden” cemetaries was quite popular in the day.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Here in Lakewood, we live on what was once the estate of Mr. Jared Kirtland. He collected all sorts of botanical wonders. We used to wonder if the Chinese Elm that was in our back yard might have been part of his estate. It was huge, in fact the arborist we hired to see if it could be saved said he’d never seen one so large. I remember having my son, hubby and I try to circle the trunk with our arms and not being successful...I miss that tree!

I wanted to comment too, that visiting “garden” cemetaries was quite popular in the day.

May I be nosy, please? Is a Chinese Elm something popular of the era, and did yours get a disease or do they reach a stage where they just die? You do hate to see trees go- we lose a lot around here because 2 separate bugs have gotten loose in the woods, attacking both Hemlock and Ash trees. 80 foot, ancient old beauties, poof, gone, one after the other.
 

Mrs. V

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May I be nosy, please? Is a Chinese Elm something popular of the era, and did yours get a disease or do they reach a stage where they just die? You do hate to see trees go- we lose a lot around here because 2 separate bugs have gotten loose in the woods, attacking both Hemlock and Ash trees. 80 foot, ancient old beauties, poof, gone, one after the other.
Well, we think it was probably one of his “specimen” trees, as there was an Oak several houses up that had a “Heritage” plaque on it. That tree was downed by Hurricane Sandy. Well, actually enough of it came down that the tree had to be taken down.

Most trees do have a “life-span”. Our Elm kept losing branches, until finally it lost a huge section during an ice storm. That piece put a hole in the garage roof. I believe that it took out about a third of the total canapy. We called in an arborist who advised us to take the tree down, as it would just keep losing branches in inconvient places. And possibly the whole tree might fall. I’m trying to think how tall it was, and I know it was more than 3 stories. We had a terrible time finding a company that had a crane big enough to remove it. Chinese and Siberian Elm are very disease resistant, and there are not alot of narsty bugs to go after it. No Emerald Ashborers need apply. (Folks have been treating their Ash trees at the cabin..stupid expensive!)
 

Bruce Vail

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I've visited the Washington Botanical Garden, and enjoyed it very much.

My Mom loved botanical gardens (especially the one in the Bronx) and I've inherited her feeling. I always think of her when I visit, or pass one on the road somehere...
 

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