Gardening to Meet on Common Ground
The high cost of gentility in the Chesapeake excluded many of the middle classes from the stylish affairs of the bon ton, but the garden became one aspect of gentility that could be achieved by most classes in the emerging republic, with attention to discipline rather than acquisition of indulgences.
After all, plants multiplied; fashionable goods & services were consumed. When cultivated into a garden, land became an area of common ground between the upper & middling classes, a place where genteel civility as well as plants could be cultivated & shared; & some of the fruits of such collaboration could even be eaten.
From Annapolis craftsman William Faris’s diary, we learn that the elite & the common man were discussing, trading, & growing edible & ornamental plants. The relationships between rich & poor perpetuated by mutual endeavors such as gardening confused English visitors to Maryland, both before & after the Revolution.
In a letter back to England in 1772, Maryland's colonial secretary William Eddis wrote, “An idea of equality also seems generally to prevail, & the inferior order of people pay but little external respect to those who occupy superior stations.”
Almost thirty years later visiting English agriculturalist Richard Parkinson wrote, “Now, with regard to the liberty & equality…among the white men in America, they are all Mr. & Sir so that in conversation you cannot discover which is the master or which is the man.”
Gardening was an area of commonality across the social strata of the new nation. It offered a possibility for true democracy, well, for the gentlemen, at least.
It was not taking tea or dancing together, it was more basic, more unifying, even spiritual. The garden produced physical sustenance & inspiring order & beauty, & it elevated all parties to a more virtuous plane, where differences of class blurred. The garden was the space between nature & culture, where each man could negotiate his individual position in the new democratic republic.