While most public pleasure garden owners created formal gardens with walkways dividing the property into traditional squares & geometric configurations, some adopted a more natural, English approach, due in large part to the designs of visiting Samuel Vaughn. One of these was Gray's Gardens in Philadelphia.
English merchant Samuel Vaughan (1720–1803) designed the Gray's Gardens garden soon after his arrival in Philadelphia in 1783. Vaughn, who was only in the US from 1783-1787, designed the public State House Garden in Philadelphia & drew a plan for George Washington's garden at Mount Vernon, which he presented to President Washington as a gift.
A Public Garden - State-House Garden, Philadelphia. William Russell Birch. From The City of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania North America. Philadelphia, 1800.
His plan for the gardens at the State House was one of the most important early federal gardens. He wanted to honor the new union by bringing together native American trees & shrubs, featuring weeping willow, dogwood, elm, redbud trees along with mountain laurel. He gathered a list of hundreds of native species in collaboration on with botanist Humphry Marshall, whose correspondence is archived at the US Department of Agriculture. His plan for the garden included serpentine walkways, allees, and small groves of trees and shrubs amid raised grass berms plus painted Windsors chairs & benches along the gravel walks for guests to linger.
A Public Garden - Back of the State-House Garden, Philadelphia. William Russell Birch. From The City of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania North America. Philadelphia, 1800.
Gray's Gardens became one of the most important gathering places during the 10 years that Philadelphia served as the nation's capitol. Manasseh Cutler visited Gray's Gardens in 1787. "There we were entertained with scenes romantic and delightful beyond the power of description...serpentine gravel walks...the Greenhouse is a very large stone building, three storeys in the front and two in the rear, windows are enormous...some twenty feet in length, and proportionably wide, (the boxes behind the greenhouse) are handsomely furnished. On top of the house is a spacious walk, where we had a delightful view of the city of Philadelphia...most of the trees and fruits that grow in the hottest climates. Oranges, lemons...pineapples in bloom... (gardens) in a number of detached areas, all different in size and form. The alleys were none of them straight, nor were there any two alike. At every end, side, and corner, there were summer-houses, arbours covered with vines or flowers, or shady bowers encircled with trees and flowering shrubs, each of which was formed in a different taste. In the borders were arranged every kind of flower...three arched bridges...built in the Chinese style; the rails on the sides open work of various figures and beautifully painted...one of the finest cascades in America falls about seventy feet perpendicular. Grottoes wrought out of the sides of ledges of rocks...a curious labyrinth with numerous windings...a spacious summer-house... The roof was in the Chinese form. It was surrounded with rails of open work, and a beautiful winding staircase led up to it During the whole of this romantic rural scene, I fancied myself on enchanted ground."
The gardener worked closley with Samuel Vaughn to maintain the site with the full-time help of 10 laborers. Henry Wansey described the Grey's Gardens in 1794, "The ground has every advantage of hill and dale, for being laid out in great variety; and it is neatly decorated with alcoves, arbours, shady walks, etc. It stands at the ferry of the Skuylkill, about four miles from the city, and is much frequented by parties of pleasure from thence. This river makes a most beautiful meander just at this place; the fine curve it forms, appearing mathematically true." At the garden Wansey paid a half a dollar and had tea, coffee, syllabubs, cakes, and even hay for his horse was included in the entrance fee.