Pennsylvania Horticultural Society records
Held at: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society [Contact Us]McLean Library, 100 N. 20th Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19103
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) was founded on November 24, 1827 by fifty-three prominent Philadelphians; among them, Horace Binney, David Landreth Jr., William Davidson, George Pepper, Nicolas Biddle and Moses Brown. Emulating similar societies existing in England at the time, the men formed their Society to promote “a highly instructive and interesting science for the purpose of improving the growth of vegetables, plants, trees, fruits and flowers.” Since that time, the Society and its membership has fostered “…an appreciation of plants, acquiring scientific knowledge about them, disseminating horticultural information, and involving the public in gardening and beautifying the City of Philadelphia” (Ball, A Celebrated History…, p. 9). In fact, more recently, the Society has worked specifically to beautify the city and help realize William Penn’s founding vision for Philadelphia to be a “greene countrie towne.”
In the beginning, PHS membership (which did not include women until 1835) actively participated in the effort to promote horticulture in a few ways. At meetings, they displayed new technologies, exchanged seeds, propagated new plants, corresponded with European horticultural groups, and hosted wine tastings. In November 1828, PHS held its first flower show. The following year, at the Masonic Hall, it hosted the first ever public flower show in America at which the poinsettia was introduced in the United States. In 1836, PHS introduced sugar beet seeds to the United States. The Society hosted annual Harvest Shows beginning in 1832 and intermittent Spring Shows until 1871, at which point they were made an annual part of PHS programming.
Throughout its history, membership and membership dues played a vital role in the Society’s finances and activities. Overall, PHS witnessed a steady increase in membership over time (from fifty-three members at its founding to 17,000 members in 2010); however, there were periods of significant decline, especially during wartime, that severely weakened the PHS’s finances. It was during these periods that PHS found new ways to expand its programming, ultimately growing its membership. For example, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society established, around the time of the Civil War, a Woman’s Committee to campaign for new members. Shortly thereafter, PHS instituted a formal lecture series. In the late 1910s and 1920s, Society President James Boyd reached out to amateur gardeners and created an alliance with the Flower Show of the Main Line. A library and reading room was also established. The Philadelphia Horticultural Society officially established the Philadelphia Flower Show together with the Florists’ Club in 1923. Since its establishment, the annual Philadelphia Flower Show has grown to be the largest indoor flower show in the world. Other activities established in the 1920s included competitive flower shows, trips and member garden tours. Membership benefits at that time also included a subscription to the magazine Horticulture.
The mid to late twentieth century was equally productive. True to its mission to preserve Philadelphia as a “greene countrie towne,” PHS activities focused on planting gardens throughout the city and involving the community at large. In 1953, PHS planted the azalea garden in Fairmount Park and presented it to the city. In 1974, PHS established the “Community Vegetable Garden Program,” encouraging people to make productive use of vacant lots in their neighborhoods. This program eventually evolved into the nationally regarded “Philadelphia Green,” which focused more generally on neighborhood beautification, including vacant lot clean up, planting vegetable and flower gardens, and sidewalk trees, as well as the provision of items such as public garbage receptacles.
PHS has benefitted from at least five strong and productive leaders. The first, William Shaffer, was president from 1867 to 1884 and brought the Society back from near financial ruin due to a drop in membership, among other things. He gave generously, restored the annual Spring and Harvest Shows, formed the Women’s Committee, and revived a program of monthly exhibits. James Boyd was president from 1919 to 1929, and established the Philadelphia Flower Show, re-wrote the Society’s bylaws to change PHS from a professional to an amateur organization, and restructured the budget to generate more income. Frederick C. Stout, who from 1929 to 1950 led the Society with the help of Secretary John C. Wister, built up membership, organized the program “Garden Days,” involved PHS in the newly formed Pennsylvania Federation of Garden Clubs, and increased annual income to $36,000. Ernesta Ballard, who started her work for the Society as a volunteer, became the first paid president of PHS in 1973. She instituted the Philadelphia Flower Show Preview Dinner, which benefitted the Community Vegetable Garden Program. Jane Pepper assumed presidency in 1981. During her tenure, the Philadelphia Flower Show became the largest indoor flower show in the world, the library’s holdings grew, and by 1993, the “Greene Countrie Towne” initiative was underway.
The Horticultural Society has occupied several homes since its 1827 founding. It held its first meetings at the Franklin Institute, the American Philosophical Society, the Athenaeum and a few other locations throughout the city. In 1867, it built Horticultural Hall at Broad and Lardner Streets. In 1917, due to poor finances, PHS sold the building and moved to an office in the Finance Building on South Penn Square. From 1923 to 1946, PHS was housed in offices in the new Insurance Company of North America Building at 1600 Arch Street. From 1946 to 1964, it occupied office space above Suburban Station. In 1964, PHS joined with the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture in order to move into a historical row house in the Society Hill neighborhood, which was being included in the Independence National Historical Park. As of 2010, PHS resides at 100 N. 20th Street.
Ball, Liz. “A Celebrated History: 175 Years of Philadelphia Horticultural Society.” Green Scene, December 2002, pp. 8-14.
Ball, Liz. “Growing Bigger and Better by Year.” Pennsylvania Heritage, Spring 2001.
Peeples, Edwin A. “Summary for a Sesqui.” Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Philadelphia: 1977.
This is a collection of administrative records from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The collection contains minutes, correspondence, photographs, reports, slides, pamphlets, financial records, publications, scrapbooks, awards, printing blocks and medals. The records date from 1791 to 2006 and cover topics such as community-based horticultural programs and events, including Philadelphia Green and 10,000 Trees. The records document individuals such as Pennsylvania Horticultural Society President Ernesta D. Ballard and Pennsylvania Horticultural events such as the Philadelphia Flower Show and the Chrysanthemum Show. The collection is divided into ten series: “Governance,” “Administration,” “Education,” “Shows and Exhibits,” “Regional Greening Projects,” “Awards,” “Publications and Printed Materials,” “Other Collections,” “History of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society,” and “Special Formats.”
The first series, “Governance,” dates from 1791 to 1992 and is arranged in chronological order. The series contains a list of Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Council members from 1935, bylaws, constitutions, articles of incorporation and publications of bylaws with a library catalogs. Of interest in this series is the list of Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Council members from 1935, which contains a list of the members as well as notations on the members. Entries include information about the awards members received, their positions, when they died and plants they specialized in.
The second series, “Administration,” is composed of nine sections, including “Office of the President,” “Presidents,” “Committees,” “Financial Records,” “Buildings and gardens,” “Membership,” “Public relations and marketing,” “Public relations and marketing scrapbook” and “Human resources.” The records are arranged under the headings in the order listed, then chronologically. The records date from 1827 to 2006. The records consist of scrapbooks, minutes, correspondence, reports, membership cards, budgets, taxes and blueprints.
The “Presidents” section of the “Administration” series includes numerous records from Ernesta D. Ballard, the most well documented president in the collection. Folders that include information about Ballard not in the “Presidents” section of “Administration include the committee records for the “Number One Event,” which was a dinner organized to honor her, and records relating to the 150th Anniversary of PHS. The “Buildings and gardens” records document the many buildings that the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society resided in and some of the Society’s many works on various local gardens. Described in detail in the “Buildings and gardens” records are the creation and maintenance of the Azalea Garden, the 18th Century Garden and PHS’s move to the location in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Also of interest in the series “Administration” are the “Public relations and marketing scrapbooks.” The public relations and marketing scrapbooks consist of numerous materials related to the history of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society documented through photographs, newspaper clippings, records of radio and television publicity and various ephemera. The public relations and marketing scrapbooks include scrapbooks related to flower shows, Philadelphia Green, the 18th Century Garden and the Victory Garden Harvest Show. The flower show discussed most extensively is the Philadelphia Flower Show, but there is a scrapbook for the Victory Garden Harvest Show of 1942, which was a show that benefited Army and Navy relief. The scrapbook contains newspaper clippings, notes on radio publicity and photographs. The photographs contain numerous pictures of Philadelphia model Loretta Hannings, who was named Miss Victory Gardens’ “Theme Girl.” The 18th Century Garden scrapbooks contain a tremendous amount of information regarding the project, which was the creation and maintenance of an 18th Century-style garden outside of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society when it was located at Independence Historical National Park. The 18th Century Garden was meant to be in the horticultural style of Colonial America. The garden’s plants were changed throughout the seasons and different exhibits appeared for each season. The 18th Century Garden is well documented in the scrapbooks, which are arranged chronologically, and documents include items such as garden plans, photographs, receipts, volunteer lists, public relations material, notes and newsletters. The Philadelphia Green scrapbooks contain information on a variety of the public programs performed by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Philadelphia Green was a program created by PHS to aid Philadelphians in adding horticultural elements to their neighborhoods. This was done through lectures, workshops, or physically aiding the neighborhood in adding the plants. Philadelphia Green included programs such as the Vegetable Garden Program, the Street Tree Program, the Sitting Garden Program, and the Neighborhood Garden Block Program. Many of these programs required neighborhood involvement and participation. The scrapbooks for the Eighteenth Century Garden contain evidence of these communities and their participation through thank-you cards directed to PHS for their help, photographs and documents of project outcomes including newspaper clippings.
The third series, “Education” dates from 1915 to 1976 and is arranged chronologically into three parts, “Educational programs,” “Lectures and workshops” and “Library.” These records document PHS efforts to create an educational film called “Room to Grow” to distribute to the Philadelphia School District. The film promoted students’ ventures into the plant sciences. The records also document PHS’s garden camps, which were workshops that promoted horticulture to children and young adults. The “Library” records mostly document the exhibit “From Seed to Flower,” which was an exhibit featuring numerous rare books that PHS displayed as part of Philadelphia’s celebration of the Bicentennial in 1976.
The fourth series, “Shows and Exhibitions,” contains a variety of material from PHS’s early flower shows to the later, more elaborate shows. The records are arranged alphabetically by flower show or exhibition title. Within each alphabetized grouping, the records are further arranged chronologically. Records mostly include schedules, passes, flyers, catalog, pamphlets, press releases and photographs. The series mostly documents the Philadelphia Flower Show, but there are also numerous records documenting other shows including the Annual Exhibition, the Christmas Carnival and Winter Flower Show, the Chrysanthemum Show, the Iris Show and the Lily Show. Of special interest in this series are the Philaflora materials. Philaflora was a proposed six month long flower show and a permanent horticulture center to be created as part of Philadelphia’s celebration of the 1976 Bicentennial. The program’s research is all present and well documented through correspondence, reports, notes, drawings, plans, budgets and proposals. However, despite a tremendous amount of resources and planning given towards Philaflora, the program eventually folded without ever being fully implemented due to issues such as conflicting political involvement and inconsistent financial commitments. Of particular use for those interested in Philadelphia and economics are the reports of the potential economic impact of Philaflora on Philadelphia and the economic impact of the Philadelphia Flower Show on Philadelphia.
The fifth series “Regional Greening Projects” is arranged alphabetically; within each alphabetized grouping, the records are arranged chronologically. The “Regional Greening Projects” series is reserved for various materials relating to PHS’s work in several horticultural areas throughout Philadelphia. The projects include small local gardens, like those planted in Philadelphia Green, to massive planting projects, such as the 10,000 Trees Program, which was a program with a mission to plant 10,000 trees throughout the Philadelphia area for Philadelphia’s Bicentennial. Heavily documented greening projects include the Governor’s Mansion Garden project, 150th Anniversary, and 10,000 Trees. Of interest is the 150th Anniversary Committee, which was a committee established to put into action and create funds for a variety of competing horticulture projects from numerous organizations and people throughout the Philadelphia area. The records contain photographs, correspondence, proposals, reports and brochures, which all document various organizations’ proposed projects to PHS and outcomes of the projects.
The sixth series, “Awards,” contains various photographs of awards given by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, descriptions and summaries of awards, correspondence involving awards, minutes regarding awards, photographs of gardens that received awards, and medals given to and by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The series dates from 1926 to 1994 and is arranged in chronological order within three different sections, “Awards given by PHS documents,” “PHS medals,” and “Medals.” The selection of records titled “Awards given by PHS documents” consists of photographs, historical notes, correspondence, and minutes regarding the various PHS medals. The section “PHS Medals” contains various awards given to individuals and nurseries by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for excellence in various horticultural endeavors, including accomplishments in cultivating certain varieties of plants as well as community involvement. The section “Medals” contains a variety of medals given to PHS from other societies, including the Garden Club of America. Of particular note in the series are the gardens in the Philadelphia region that received the Garden Award medal given by Pennsylvania Horticultural Society from 1930 to 1943. These gardens are photographed and annotations to tell the viewer where the home is located and what award, gold, silver, or bronze, the garden received. Also of interest are the correspondence and minutes of Pennsylvania Horticultural Society that discussed award recipients. These records show the effort and thought put into choosing the recipients of medals; there also are numerous correspondence and notes documenting the historic importance of the medals.
The seventh series, “Publications and Printed Materials,” contains programs, pamphlets, information about Horticulture magazine, copyright information, correspondence, the Philadelphia Green Pages and information relating to that publication, newspaper clippings, and other outside publications. The series dates from 1862 to 1981 and is arranged in chronological order. The Philadelphia Green Pages was an alphabetical handbook of information and resources for gardening including topics such as recommended books, composting, horticultural organizations, and poisonous plants written and published by PHS. Also of interest is the PHS quarterly publication, the Pennsylvania Gardens, which contains a variety of horticultural articles written by notable PHS figures such as John Wister and Anne Werstner Wood.
The eighth series, “Other Collections,” dates from 1928 to 1974 and contains a variety of materials not published or created by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The records are arranged in chronological order. Organizations included in this series are the American Horticultural Council and the National Council of State and Garden Clubs. Materials include reports, minutes, pamphlets, and brochures from the various organizations. There is correspondence, mostly to Ernesta D. Ballard, in many of the folders.
The ninth series, “History of PHS,” contains four different sections: “Photographs,” “Meadowbrook Farm,” “Staff,” and “Unpublished history of PHS.” The records are arranged in the order listed and then further arranged chronologically within each heading. Photographs include various photographs used in exhibitions that feature a variety of PHS historical figures and buildings. The “Meadowbrook Farm” section discusses Meadowbrook Farm, which was part of the estate bequeathed to PHS in 2003 by J. Liddon Pennock, Jr., an original founder of Philadelphia Flower Show, Incorporated. Meadowbrook Farm contains the estate home, plant farm, greenhouse and garden nursery affiliated with PHS and traditionally has provided many plants to display at the Philadelphia Flower Show.
The tenth series, “Special Formats,” contains copper printing blocks, photographs, art and artifacts. The records are arranged chronologically. The photographs in this collection are of interest because their content differs from the normal photographs housed by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The photographs depict a variety of 1930s Philadelphia gardens, including public gardens, private business gardens, nonprofit gardens, and private home gardens. The gardens reflect the style and cityscape of the 1930s.
This collection would be especially useful for studies of horticultural societies, local history and environmental and social issues.
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
- Flower shows
- Urban beautification
- American Revolution Bicentennial, 1976
- Public relations
- Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Megan Atkinson and Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe
- Finding Aid Date
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
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Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.