History of the Garden

red rose from book

Spring flowers have a delicacy about them that touches one like poetry

1904 quote recorded in a commonplace book owned by Mary Yoder Brown Scott

Letters written by Brown family members in 1802 contain the first references to the Liberty Hall garden. The original layout of the garden is unknown, but parts of it were fenced. Later letters mention vegetables and fruit trees. In 1819 Margaretta Brown wrote to her son Orlando that, “Our June apples are now in perfection . . . we have more cherries than usual; and currants are everywhere so plenty, that they can find neither purchasers nor consumers.”

The Browns also grew grapes from the First Vineyard in the United States. Swiss immigrant John James Dufour established the vineyard on the banks of the Kentucky River (in today’s Jessamine County. As a shareholder in this vineyard, John Brown was entitled to vine cuttings. Dufour visited Liberty Hall’s gardens in 1802 to plant the grapes.

As time passed, Brown family members added ornamental plants to the garden. Roses have a long history here, as Margaretta brought them from New York to her new Kentucky home. Her daughter-in-law Mary Yoder Brown is said to have brought daffodils, lilies, and primroses from Spencer County. Mary Yoder’s daughter Mary Yoder Brown Scott had an extensive rose garden. Her commonplace book of advice copied from many sources mentions a dozen varieties, including the heirlooms Irish Elegance and Maidens Blush.

Housed in the Library & Archives the handwritten commonplace book contains instructions for growing flowers and vegetables and remedies for unwanted insects. The library also houses gardening books owned by family members. These include guides to growing vegetables, planting orchards, and tending to flowers and shrubs.

Catalpa optThere are many varieties of trees on the property. Some of the older ones include a Kentucky coffeetree, copper beeches, and holly trees. There are also three catalpas that are important memorials for the Brown family. The oldest, a knotty tree located directly beside Liberty Hall, is thought to have been planted in 1800. Behind it stands one planted in 1900, and in 2000, Brown family descendants planted a third tree behind the second one.

Mary Mason Scott, the last resident of Liberty Hall, is credited with introducing boxwoods to the garden around 1900 with slips from boxwoods from Mount Vernon. Most of the boxwood hedges in the gardens today date to 1964 and 1995, when they were planted to replace plants lost in severSmokehouse opte freezes.

Built elements also dot the grounds. The smokehouse behind Liberty Hall dates to the early 1800s. In the late 19th century, the family added a twig gazebo and furniture and enjoyed lawn tennis and other activities in the garden. A stone bench donated by the Presbyterian Church in 1926 commemorates Margaretta Brown’s involvement in the church’s Sunday School.

After Liberty Hall became a museum in 1937, the Garden Club of Kentucky began managing the garden. The Club hired Arthur Shurcliff, who had previously designed gardens at Colonial Williamsburg, to design an accurate 19th century garden plan. His and later designs were based in part on a map of the garden made by Mary Mason Scott in the 1920s.

In 1987, the garden was refurbished according to a plan developed by Sarah Broley, a landscape designer from Washington, D.C. Broley’s plan drew from earlier designs that reflected the cumulative gardening experiences of the Brown family and preserved some features already in place. In recent years, LHHS gardeners have added hardy perennials to ensure that there is always something growing in the gardens.


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