The 2nd Annual Celebration of Women in Horticulture took place on Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 at the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University. Women in Hort members gathered at the Hilda Justice building on campus to enjoy each others company, wonderful artifacts from the PA School of Horticulture for Women, and a lovely spread of food before heading to the lecture by Dr. Chantel White. This annual celebration has become a great way to kick off the spring season (or what I consider the real beginning of the year).
Kathy Salisbury, the 3rd woman to Direct the Ambler Arboretum, says the goal of this annual celebration is to recognize women continuing to influence, disrupt, change, and build the fields of horticulture. Last year's Annual Celebration showcased Beatrix Farrand’s rich history through Karyl Evans's documentary, The Life and Gardens of BEATRIX FARRAND. For the 2nd Annual Celebration we had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Chantel White, Archaeobotanical Teaching Specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center
for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAAM), present her research and findings. She has been the Teaching Specialist for Archaeobotany since 2015. Prior to arriving in Philadelphia, White was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Notre Dame after receiving her Ph.D. from Boston University in archaeology in 2013. In addition to teaching courses on ethnobotany and archaeobotany at Penn, her research interests include environmental archaeology, agricultural origins and intensification, and experimental archaeology. She has carried out field research in many regions around the world and maintains current archaeobotanical projects in Greece, Israel, Jordan, and the United States. Dr. White's passion for her work was evident throughout the whole program. She started by telling us a little about what archaeobotanical research is and why it interest her. Her presentation took us on an exciting journey through three of her projects: Istanbul's Market Gardens, Emily Dickinson's Garden, and Bartram's Garden.
Archaeobotany is used to understand gardens in the past. Dr. Chantel was drawn to her work because of what you can tell about everyday people, she's not interested in the lives of kings and queens. She likes reconstructing the lives of people of the past. Archaeology started in the 19th and 20th century. Artistic depictions indicate cultivating gardens and suggest some organization to the plantings. Soil plays an important role in understanding gardens from an archaeological point of view. Dr. White talked about garden ghosts, they are the outlines of gardens from long ago that showed up during extreme periods of droughts.
She said at an archaeology site many layers need to be examined. Pots, gardening implements, and tools help interpret a gardening space. Her work focuses on studying human interactions with plants, particularly through studying wood particles and seeds and matching archaeobotany with specific texts.
Dr. White introduced us to the world of archaeobotany with the example of Herod the Great, who showed his wealth by growing exotics plants in his Royal Garden in Israel around 10 BCE. Two-thousand years later archaeologists studying this site discovered a jar with seeds in it. The jar had been used to store dates from the date palm, Phoenix dactylifera. After studying and carbon dating the seeds, one of the seeds was planted and grew! The plant was named Methuselah and was planted at Kibbutz Ketura on November 24, 2011. You can read more about this incredible discovery here.
For the last two years Dr. White has studied Istanbul's Market Gardens. These gardens are there to grow food for local people and most of the gardening is done by immigrants. Each neighborhood is known for a special vegetable that they cultivate; lettuce, strawberries, mint. There are stories of a legendary lettuce that grows three feet high and when you bit into it it's juices runs down your chin.
The gardens are made up of a complex set of walls. Sadly, Istanbul's green spaces are threatened by development. The work that Dr. White is doing is trying to preserve cultural heritage, ways of living developed by a community and passed on from generation to generation. There are two types of cultural heritage, tangible cultural heritage (things which are preserved as part of a material record; artifacts, structures, features) and intangible cultural heritage (not directly preserved as part of the material record; traditional skills, techniques). She and her team are talking to gardeners to preserve the skills that they have. She brings students to learn techniques from the gardeners helping to preserve intangible cultural heritage.
From Istanbul Market Gardens we moved on to the excavation of Emily Dickinson's Garden in Amherst, Massachusetts. Emily Dickinson came from a long line of gardeners and was known as one of the best gardeners in Massachusetts. Her poetry provides some insight into how she thought about her gardens.
Dickinson took many science and botany classes at Amherst Academy and became well versed in the subjects. By the time she was 14 years old she had created over 400 plant pressings. Her entire herbarium has been digitized by the Harvard Library and is available to view online.
The Emily Dickinson Museum began a project to excavate her conservatory, which was added to the homestead in 1855. When Dr. White found out about this she called to see if they had an archaeobotanist on the team. When they said that they did not, she offered her services. Most of what we know about Dickinson's garden comes from her niece's memory. Martha Dickinson Bianchi, her niece, recalled, "There were grape trellises where full bunches of blue and purple and white grapes hung, and filled the air with their winey flavor...". The excavation has proven to be a bit of a challenge because for the past 50 years there has been modern gardening on the site. The museum has been trying to maintain the garden in a style that Dickinson would have approved of, therefore it is hard to tell what is from Dickinson's time. One technique Dr. White uses is called flotation; seeds and bits of wood float to the top when soil is soaked and those things are studied.
The final site presented in the lecture was Bartram's Garden, a 45-acre National Historic Landmark in Southwest Philadelphia. While many people are familiar with this garden, few know about the wealth of knowledge that has been discovered using archaeobotany. Bartram's Garden fostered three generations of plants people, John Bartram, William Bartram, and Ann Bartram Carr. The Bartram family lived on the property from 1728 to 1850. John Bartram (1699-1777) began cultivating the garden by collecting plants from all over North America and bringing them back to Philadelphia to grow and study. His son, William Bartram (1739-1823), followed in his footsteps by continuing to explore, discover, and document plants native to America. Ann Bartram Carr (1779-1858), John's granddaughter, continued in the family tradition of selling seeds and plants. During her time the garden was at it's largest and had 10 greenhouses. There was always a focus on native plants of eastern North America, although a wide range of exotic plants were also under cultivation in each generation. Luckily, there were always good records of what the Bartram's grew, including their seed catalog, called Bartram's Broadside. During this time seeds and plants were being shipped to Europe for the first time. Dr. White asks the question, "where did the Bartram family store their seeds for the winter and where did they pack up their crates" to send to Europe? It just so happens that when there was restoration work being done in the attic of the Bartram house someone had vacuumed up mice nests and saved the vacuum bag. Dr. White and her team examined the contents of that bag and were able to use the Bartram's seed catalog, Broadside, to identify 40-50 species of seeds, which included witch hazels, walnuts, sycamore, and magnolias. They were also able to glean information about the Bartram's kitchen garden. They were able to match seeds to William's dairy. Through this work they are able to start reconstructing the life of the Bartram family. A very timely article was published by Whyy that dives deeper into this story. It can be found here.
As you can see, Dr. Chantel White's work is incredibly fascinating! We are so thankful that she shared her fascinating findings with us, as well as opened our eyes to a field that many of us had never heard of. We want to thank Kathy Salisbury and the Ambler Arboretum for organizing and hosting this event! We also want thank the Master Gardeners of Bucks County who helped to cover the expenses of this evening.
Ambler is the prefect setting to celebrate women in horticulture. Temple University Ambler Campus and the 187 acre Ambler Arboretum began as the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women in 1911. Founded by Jane Bowne Haines and modeled after European schools she had learned about from her travelling friends. The school was one of only two in the country training women in horticulture. The women in this school were and continue to be trailblazers. Members of the Board of Directors of the School along with others would go on to found the Garden Club of America and the Women’s National Farm and Garden Association. Alum Mira Lloyd Dock became a member of the PA Forestry Commission, the first women appointed to a commission by the governor of PA. Directors and faculty of the school included the first professional practicing architect in Philadelphia Elizabeth Leighton Leigh and James and Louise Bush-Brown who authored America’s Garden Book, a classic reference for gardeners, used even today. PSHW alum Enesta Ballard and Temple Ambler LAHORT alum Jane Pepper would go on to lead the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. More recently, Stephanie Cohen, the Perennial Diva herself, author and speaker, graduated from this program and would go on to instigate the creation of the Ambler Arboretum, acting as its first director.
As Kathy pointed out, the Ambler campus and these gardens have a significant history in shaping horticulture in this region and throughout the county. The history of the Ambler Arboretum is what inspired Kathy to come up with a way to recognize those people who are still doing that. The women that continue to work hands-on in the field, adding new information to the horticultural body of knowledge, promoting horticulture, and inviting them in to share their work and their passion with us.
Special thank you to Kathy who allowed me to share some excerpts from her very well spoken opening remarks!