Last Saturday my friend and I took a trip to Fordhook Farm in Doylestown, the home of W. Atlas Burpee. Saturday was the Heronswood Hellebore Open
. As many gardeners know, Burpee Inc. bought Heronswood Nursery from Seattle, WA and closed it, choosing to take the fabulous Heronswood plant varieties back east and make them amenable to east coast conditions. Many people thought this a sacrilege. And I'm not exactly a fan of Burpee Inc. as I think George Ball (the current owner) is somewhat arrogant, but the farm was lovely and the plants were lovely and the history was interesting.
W. Atlas Burpee belonged to an established Philadelphia Family and was destined to become a physician, as his father and grandfather had done. Except his boyhood hobby was poultry breeding. In 1876, Burpee dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania and started a mail-order livestock and poultry catalog. In the next few years, the focus of the Burpee Seed Company would change as Atlas talked to farmers and realized that European Settlers were having problems with seed brought from their own countries...they just did not grow well here in the United States. By the 1880s, W. Atlas Burpee was the main supplier of feed and seed to the Northeast and the Midwest.
In 1888, Atlas bought Fordhook Farm in Doylestown and set about making it into a premiere plant development facility, developing varieties that are household names today. Did you know the Fordhook Bush Lima Bean was developed here, supplied by a farmer in Chester , Pennsylvania? Burpee also developed the first yellow sweet corn "Golden Bantam". Prior to its development, the public associated yellow corn with livestock and thought that only white corn was fit for human consumption. By the 1890s, Bur
pee was the largest seed company in the world.
To read more about the W. Atlas Burpee legacy you can go here
. He was an interesting man, as was his son, and is responsible for many of the flowers and vegetables that we see today. I think he is also the father of the seed catalog, giving all of us something colorful and dream inducing to while away the dreary days of late winter.
I didn't end up buying much. The Hellebores were beautiful but the ones I wanted were $40 and I just couldn't justify that for a single plant. A tree or shrub maybe. But not an herbaceous plant. I did buy a little plant called a Fire Pink (Silene virginica)
for $4. Pretty little thing. I am a sucker for red flowers.
We stopped at Waterloo Gardens in Exton on the way home (after a fabulous lunch at Classic Diner. Everything is good there!) and I was able to find a reasonable facsimile of the Hellebore I wanted for far less than $40. And two Endless Summer Hydrangeas. And a Euonymous "Manhattan". I so love plants.