Episode 2: The Rose Garden

The Wyck rose garden dates to the 1820s and is widely recognized as the oldest rose garden in the United States still growing in its original plan. Home to over 50 cultivars of historic roses, the garden contains the original rose plants from the 19th century design, as well as plants from the 18th century kitchen garden, and later 20th century additions. The garden is a rare wonder for rose lovers and an important repository of plants that have disappeared from other historic gardens. 

Pencil sketch of symmetrical garden layout. "Plan of garden" written across center of page.

Above: Plan of garden drawn by Jane Bowne Haines I (1790-1843), 1821. From the Wyck Collection.

Overhead view of the house and garden.

Above: Bird’s eye view of the house and garden.

On the second episode of the Curiosity Cabinet, we are joined by Wyck’s very own horticulturist Martha Keen and renowned author, educator, and horticulturist Jenny Rose Carey to explore this crown jewel of Wyck’s collection. In this episode Jenny, Martha, and I explore the history of the garden and try to put into words the value of historic gardens generally. In Jenny’s own words, the value of Wyck’s garden lies in its somewhat intangible qualities: 

“It’s like going to an old cathedral or a mosque… where you walk in and you feel . . . all the people that have been there and used that space and what they’ve done, and it’s so different from teaching history from a textbook or online. It’s that experiential experience as you are in that space.” 

– Jenny Rose Carey on the Wyck rose garden
People in the rose garden. In the foreground a woman bends over to smell a rose.

Above: Visitors stop and smell the flowers at the Celebration of the Roses Festival, 2019. Photo by Ben Carlson.

Walking into the garden at Wyck your senses are immediately captivated and your mind is put at ease. You can somehow sense the generations of individuals who found peace tending the plants there. Originally designed in 1821 by Jane Bowne Haines I (1790-1843), the garden was lovingly tended to by her daughter, Jane Reuben Haines (1832-1911), and grand-daughter Jane Bowne Haines II (1869-1937) who went on to found Temple Ambler – originally the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women.  The episode explores the long history of not only horticulture at Wyck, but also the women who shaped and tended the gardens, and the importance of investigating their stories.

Woman crouches next to cat on rose garden path. Flowers in bloom around them.

Jane Reuben in the garden with cat, Puck, ca. 1890. From the Wyck collection.

For more information, listen to the podcast or watch this introductory tour of the garden.  

Historical objects can reveal so much about our shared past and help us recall some fascinating (and occasionally bizarre) stories. Tune in on the second Saturday of each month to learn about specific artifacts from the collections of Wyck Historic House, Garden, and Farm in Germantown, Philadelphia – home to a 200 year old cabinet of curiosities. Wyck was home to 9 generations of one family (1690 – 1973) and is still home to their accumulation of over 10,000 material culture artifacts. Whether you are a history nerd, a material culture enthusiast, or a story-teller/appreciator, this is the show for you.