WINTER HAS ITS CHARMS
Winter had its charms for passersby on Bowne Street during the Winter of snow.
The historic Parsons era maple tree, Acer palmatum, was a spectacular sight, with its graceful branches covered in a powdery snow. The tree has been a feature at the Bowne House, whose gardens contain a number of species grown in the nearby Parsons Nursery, initiated by Samuel Parsons in Flushing and later commenced or developed by his sons Samuel Bowne Parsons, Sr. and Robert Bowne Parsons @1838-1840. Bowne House, ca. 1661, was occupied by the family until it became a museum in 1945; the last occupants of the house were the Parsons sisters.
During the late 18th and well into the 19th centuries, Flushing was a site of several famous nurseries. These nurseries included the Prince and Bloodgood nurseries as well as the Parsons nursery. Samuel Bowne Parsons traveled the world in search of unusual plant material to provide stock for his Flushing nursery. Some of his best known and most celebrated species, besides the maple, include the Weeping Beech, the rhododendron, and the Valencia orange. Many of these horticultural treasures, which are now common in American gardens, originated in Asian countries. Parsons passports and materials relating to his travels are in the archives of the Bowne House Historical Society.
The Bowne House Historical Society has sponsored a program and exhibit in the past on the Parsons Nursery’s contributions to horticulture.
THE BOXWOOD GARDEN AT THE BOWNE HOUSE
An interesting and historic feature at the Bowne House, the boxwood garden, located to the east of the kitchen and laundry area of the house, has its roots in English garden design. Boxwood (buxus) was introduced to America in the mid-1600’s, about the same time that John Bowne, along with his father and sister, arrived in Boston. The first known boxwood garden was at the 17th century Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, NY. Interestingly, John Bowne was a frequent visitor to the Manor and kept some horses there. The Sylvesters were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) as was Bowne.
Designs incorporating boxwood became popular in medieval times. They were traditionally used in kitchen gardens, such as the one at the Bowne House. When used as hedging material, they provided separation between different varieties of herbals and medicinal as well as providing a formal, decorative effect. Often gravel pathways were a feature; this is the case with the Bowne House garden.
Boxwood reached a height of popularity in the early 19th century, at the period of the Parsons family occupancy. Our boxwood garden probably dates to that time and most likely came from the Parsons Nursery; there are references in our archives to its existence in the mid 1800’s. In any event, it has been with the house a long time and is an important feature and part of the interpretation of the museum.
Boxwood comes in many species – over 90- and has almost 400 cultivars, according to the American Boxwood Society. Unfortunately, the recent arrival of a boxwood blight has presented a threat to American gardens. This is cause to be cautious in introducing new boxwood plants into the garden. Fortunately, the Bowne House boxwood has been with us a long time and is in robust good health, a tribute to its Parsons heritage.