Photo Blog

George Ball in the Study
Photo by Dean Fosdick
This is the study where our founder, W. Atlee Burpee, wrote the Burpee annual seed and plant catalogues from 1889, when he bought Fordhook Farm and moved his family up from Philadelphia, until his passing away in 1915. From 1875 to 1888, he wrote them in his small office in the original Burpee Building downtown on 5th and Market. It was torn down in the 1920s, after the company moved the packeting and storage operations to a large four story building in North Philadelphia.
At first, the sequence was: In the spring he left by steamship to Europe, where he started in the southern countries visiting seed growers. From Spain, Italy, and southern France he’d travel north to the Loire Valley, then to Normandy, across to Switzerland, up to Germany, then to Scandinavia, over to Holland, across to the UK, so that by late August he was done evaluating flowers, vegetables and herbs, and talking with all the seed growers. In effect, he’d followed the sun, inspecting plants out in the fields, as they grew. In transit—literally on the trains—he’d collect his notes from his small field book, the early form of the digest-sized Burpee catalogue. (Today he’d use a laptop to organize his field notations.) On the ship back to the US, he used the solitude to capture more details of his observations. For example, he compared them with those he took last year. We have many of these notebooks in the Burpee archives. He also made simple sketches—ideas for future illustrations.
Back in Philly in late summer, (about now), he’d make his final choices from the hundreds of cultivars he’d seen, and write to the growers in Europe to place or confirm orders, with quantities, qualities (seed grade) and prices. He was very careful and precise. Trust is the absolute foundation of the horticulture industry.
Finally, he began writing and designing the final “Burpee Annual” catalogue, a sort of embellished form of his notebook. Still today, it is called “the BA”. Upon receiving the seed a couple months later—mid to late autumn—he would finalize the book and send it to the engravers, lithographers and printer. Sometimes he worked a year ahead, as well as in the current year, specifically for perennial and biennial crops. Nevertheless, in January, the BA would be sent to our customers and, after receiving and shipping the bulk of their orders, he began to prepare for the spring voyage to Europe. Legend is he never missed a year.
However, by the mid 1880s, Mr. Burpee became concerned that European vegetables and flowers were not adapted to the diverse climates of the lower latitude of the US continent. He concluded that he needed his own “American” research and seed production farms. Thus, after much exploration, Fordhook Farm was purchased in 1888. Later he bought smaller farms in New Jersey and California. The original Burpee seed and plant farms spanned over 1,000 acres.
While much has changed in 133 years, my staff and I continue to travel the world searching for the best varieties to test here on our farms and gardens in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Washington state. Also, we conduct research and produce seeds and plants around the world, searching for the best. That’s the spirit of Burpee, as well as Heronswood Nursery and The Cook’s Garden.

Pump House

Photo by Dean Fosdick
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ in the back and Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Longwood Blue’ in the front of the frame. Leycesteria formosa ‘Golden Lanterns’ is on the left, Aster laterifolius ‘Lady in Black’ and Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Jogasaki’nearer the lawn. The ruin of our springhouse is in the distance. A strong hurricane took down a beech that towered over the area, and its trunk fell between the walls, smashing the thick cedar roof. Not a single stone was touched, so the ruin will probably age very nicely. It’s one of our oldest structures, dating from 1760 to 1770. Now it stands at the north end of a long springhouse and creek garden leading down to a new pair of pools, and then farther to a ravine, all of which areas were planted the last two years with Heronswood perennials and shrubs.
Yard Art
Photo by Dean Fosdick
Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and Buddleia davidii ‘Adonis Blue’ in the foreground along the front of the verandah looking east toward the gently sloping lawn next to the Carolina Shade Garden, where stands one of Steve Tobin’s “Roots” sculptures—this one is bronze and over nine feet tall at the top.
English Garden
Photo by Dean Fosdick
The verandah walk in front of the main house. We let things grow raggedy because I like it. On the left are Sedum erythrosticum ‘Frosty Morn’ and ‘Walker’s Low’, Salvia x sylvestris ‘May Night’, Coreopsis ‘Crème Brulee’, Artemesia ludoviciana ‘Silver King’, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’and towering from the lower border beds are Celosia ‘Orange Temple Bells’ and ‘Glowing Spears’. At right are Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’.
Fordhook from the Lawn Expanse
Photo by Dean Fosdick
Taken of the Main House on the left, publicity tent in the middle and Stone Barn on the right. Upper right is the upper edge of the Carolina Shade Garden. The trees are beech, maple and the big American Linden left of the house. In the foreground midway down the creek from the Springhouse Garden are a Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ on the left, Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cabaret’ in the middle and Sliphium perfoliatum on the right, both growing within a few feet of the narrow creek.

Garden Gate

Photo by Dean Fosdick
Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ to the left of the gate to the Carolina Shade Garden behind the viewer. At the near end of the main house on the first floor is the Burpee study, hidden by the tall holly that you see behind the edge of the publicity tent put up for the Open House weekend. Verandah Garden and American Linden skirt the house and to the left.
This entry was posted on Friday, September 12th, 2008 at 2:19 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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2 Responses to “Photo Blog”

  1. Judy Daniel said:

    Your website is fabulous! I am a gardener and am thrilled you moved East. You can always write full time if you ever retire from the plant business! you are a brilliant writer!! Please send me your catalog or add me to your mailing list.

  2. Laurie said:

    Hi George,
    Today was one of the best of the last year – I discovered your blog 🙂 You are a wonderful writer and touch on so many subjects close to my heart. I live in NE Washington and wish I had heard of Heronswood earlier. My husband and I are in the landscape business (37 years)and are now starting our own nursery out in the country; sounds like a good retirement to me. I look forward to your future posts.

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