well as horticultural methods of growing plant material in what we know today as nurseries. The French successfully traded and bartered trees and plants. But it was an Englishman, Robert Prince, a descendant of Governor Thomas Prince of the Plymouth Colony, who came with his son William to the area and established America’s first commercial nursery in 1737. Between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, the area became the site of many rival nurseries.
The Parsons family, highly respected Quakers, established their Flushing nursery in 1838. It covered 95 acres and employed upward of 60 men. Fruit trees were in great demand as the country developed westward, and the nurseries prospered. By 1847, Samuel Bowne Parsons had traveled extensively, collect- ing ornamental shrubs and trees for American gardens, includ- ing the first pink-flowering dogwood (Cornus florida var. rubra) and the weeping European beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendula’). A specimen of the latter, which still stands on the site of the old nursery, is the progenitor of all weeping beeches in America and many others worldwide. On a trip to Europe in 1858, Parsons assisted Frederick Law Olmsted in his purchases of plant mater- ial for the new Central Park.
While the history of the Prince and the Parsons nurseries is central to Whitesell’s research, the Bowne name may be of equal importance in the history of Flushing. In the mid-seventeenth century, John Bowne, a Quaker, built a home – the oldest house in Queens – which still stands at 37th Avenue and Bowne Street adjacent to Kissena Park, the site of the former Parsons Nursery.
Bowne’s story is pivotal in the history of colonial religious freedom and is one of the contributing factors to the American Constitution’s later separation of Church and State. On December 27, 1657, the freeholders of Flushing formally protest- ed Governor Peter Stuyvesant’s ban on worship by denomina- tions other than the Dutch Reformed Church. (The Flushing Remonstrance is recognized as the first declaration of religious tolerance in American history.) Soon after, when John Bowne allowed his fellow Quakers to worship in his new home, Stuyvesant had him arrested and deported to Holland. Upon his arrival there, Bowne appealed to the governing body of the colony and persuaded it to overrule Stuyvesant and permit reli- gious freedom in the colony.
The Bowne House, with its important collection of Early American furniture, has been closed to the public for several years while undergoing major restoration. The structure and the grounds (which contain remnants of a Quaker Cross Garden) recently have become part of the Historic House Trust of New York City.
When the trustees of Bowne House offered Whitesell an internship – a requirement for all M.A. candidates at the BGC – he was given an opportunity to work with a trustee, Ronald G. (“Chuck”) Wade, a horticulturist and former executive director of the Queens Botanic Garden. Wade has taught horticulture at John Bowne High School in Flushing since 1984 and is active in the Queens Historical Society. At the 2004 Historic Plant Symposium at Monticello in August, Wade spoke on “The Prince Nursery of Flushing, Long Island,” and on October 25, 2004, he will make a presentation at the Flushing Town Hall entitled “Encounters with America’s Premier Nurseries and Botanical Gardens.” Working with Wade will afford Whitesell opportunities to continue to conduct research on the Prince and Parsons nurseries and their role in American horticulture. As a result, new facts may come to light that will advance our knowledge and understanding of the contribution of nineteenth- century nurserymen to landscape history. – Margaret Sullivan
Undoubtedly he most widely dis- seminated of Parson’s imports was the great Weeping Beech (Fagis sylvatica ‘Pendula’), memorialized at Weeping Beech Park on 37th Street, between Bowne Street and Parsons Boulevard. The “grandmother” of all the weeping beeches in American graveyards began life in 1847 as a cutting in a flower pot carried back to Flushing from a rare
plant expedition to Belgium. When it died in 1998, the tree stood more than 30 feet tall and was sur- rounded by a circle of offspring that had grown from its outer roots. Today the tree is a stump, but its offspring still flourish around it. Courtesy of City of New York Parks & Recreation Caption text and photograph by Benjamin Swett
Books and Exhibitions
The Flowering Amazon: Paintings by Margaret Mee from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew New York Botanical Garden, The William D. Rondina and Giovanni Foroni LoFaro Gallery of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library April 23–August 8, 2004
The name Margaret Ursula Mee (1909–1988) is familiar to anyone with an interest in botanical art, but few are aware of the courage she dis- played and her importance as a botanical explorer and con- servationist. A recent exhibi- tion at the newly opened gallery in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden puts her remarkable career in perspective.
As an art student in post- war London, Mee painted with a highly accomplished realism. In 1952, at mid-life, after moving to Brazil with her husband, she turned her talents to botanical illustra- tion. In 1956, inspired by the local flora, she made the first of 15 journeys in a dugout canoe along the Amazon River and its tributaries. Over the next 32 years, braving dis- ease, broken bones, and near drowning, Mee discovered various botanical species (nine of which were named after her) and produced hun- dreds of plant and animal portraits based on direct and
Aechmea Rodriguesiana, watercolor by Margaret Mee.
detailed observation. The modernist landscape designer and artist, Roberto Burle Marx, along with other influential Brazilians, recog- nized her exceptional skills both as a botanist and a painter.
With more than 50,000 identified plant species, Amazonia is the largest and most botanically rich complex of tropical ecosystems on earth. However, construction of the Trans-Amazon High- way in the 1960s abruptly increased the vulnerability of this region to development. When widespread deforesta- tion began in the 1970s, Mee became a pioneering conser- vationist. In concert with Marx, she zealously defended the increasingly embattled