Gardening Groundbreaker

DI native Martha Daniell Logan hailed as horticultural trailblazer
Perhaps it was the fragrant “Italian Jessamine” or a “Starry Hyacinth” that first caught her eye in the Lowcountry’s lush landscape. 
 
No one knows for certain what sparked Martha Daniell Logan’s love of plants – but her lifelong passion for botany almost certainly took root during her time as a young girl growing up on Daniel Island in the early 1700s. 
 
And now, more than three centuries later, Logan is being hailed by the website stacker.com as one of the “top 50 groundbreaking women in science” for her gardening pursuits. The site calls Logan a “trailblazer” and credits her and the other women named on the list for breaking barriers in their fields.
 
DIGGING DEEP
 
It is believed that Logan, the daughter of Gov. Robert Daniell, Daniel Island’s namesake, was born on the island in 1704. She was part of one of South Carolina’s most prominent families, as her father would serve as deputy governor of the northern portion of the Carolina Colony from 1703-1705 and deputy governor of the British Province of South Carolina from 1716 to 1717. 
 
But Daniell, who reportedly also had a nursery business, would pass away in 1718, when Logan was just 13. The following year, she married George Logan Jr., and it is thought that the couple, who would go on to have eight children, may have remained on the island for many years before moving to downtown Charleston.
 
Logan’s gardening skills would truly begin to blossom in the 1750s, when she started sharing horticultural advice in a popular state publication and running her own nursery on Trott’s Point in Charleston (near Hassel and King streets) selling roots, cuttings and seeds. In 1752, she published her very first “Gardener’s Kalendar” in John Tobler’s “South Carolina Almanack.” 
 
Titled “Directions for Managing a Kitchen-Garden Every Month of the Year,” the piece did not feature Logan’s name as author. It stated simply that it was “done by A Lady,” which would have been customary for the times as women did not typically hold positions of prominence, nor did they have many rights. According to Thomas S. Edwards and Elizabeth A. De Wolfe in their book “Such News of the Land,” Logan’s column was the “first gardening treatise published in America.” 
 
“Although the calendar did not appear under Logan’s own name until 17 years after her death – when it was published as ‘Gardner’s Calendar by Mrs. Logan’… Logan’s identity as author was probably common knowledge, at least among Charleston residents.”
 
In fact, Edwards and De Wolfe go on to report that “Logan’s calendar regulated the practice of gardeners in and around the city as late as 1809” and that it may have helped “boost the sale of plants, roots, and seeds from Logan’s nursery – if not by solidifying her own
identity as a master gardener, then at least by encouraging increased horticultural activity throughout colonial South Carolina.” Logan’s work was hailed by the authors as “remarkable” in its “science and artistry” and for “challenging the traditional concepts of gender as well as of genre.”
 
Logan offered month by month tips in her column, including instructions for what to do when cold weather arrives.
 
“When the weather begins to be so cold that you may reasonable expect a frost, take up your…cabbages, radishes, turnips, carrots, parsnips, etc. and put the roots in dry sand, in a warm cellar, or some other place where they will not freeze,” Logan penned. 
 
Author Buckner Hollingsworth also had high praise for Logan’s writings in his book “Her Garden Is Her Delight.”
 
“Here is good solid advice about planting and cultivating a vegetable garden,” Hollingsworth wrote, “Advice salted with Martha’s own personal experience with theories that stemmed out of a much older time.”
 
SEEDS OF FRIENDSHIP
 
In addition to publishing the gardening calendar, Logan also made a name for herself in higher circles – one in particular that had ties to His Majesty King George III in England. She met John Bartram, the Royal Botanist to the King, while he was on a visit to Charleston in 1760, and soon the pair began corresponding. Their letters detail a friendship based on mutual admiration of all things botanical. They would often trade seeds and roots in a silken bag, giving each the opportunity to share plants with one another native to their respective locales.
 
“(She) spares no pains or cost to oblige me, her garden is her delight and she has a fine one,” wrote Bartram, describing Logan in a letter to his friend Peter Collinson in May 1761. “I was with her about 4 minutes in her company yet we contracted such a mutual correspondence that one silk bag of seed hath repast several times.”
 
Logan would write to Bartram many times over several years, telling him of her favorite flowers and other plantings, while requesting he send her samplings of his own.
 
“The roots and Seeds you mention will be very exceptable [sic], and if the Crocusts are blue I shall Like them Still better, as I have two roots of yellow already,” Logan wrote.
 
While her gardening activities are well documented, not much is known of Logan’s personal life. In the 1740s and 1750s, presumably while still married to her husband, her family began to experience financial strains. She took out advertisements in local papers to promote her services, including boarding and educating children, and embroidering. She also marketed her botanical offerings and sold off properties. It is unclear why she needed to earn extra money, or whether or not her husband was bringing in an income himself. 
 
According to Brittany Lavelle Tulla, an architectural historian with Charleston-based BVL Historic Preservation Research, it was a bit uncommon to see women of this time period earning money on their own, although it did happen. 
 
Many questions also remain unanswered as to what happened to Logan’s husband, George Logan Jr., in his later years. 
 
Bartram described Logan as a widow in 1761, but records indicate her husband did not pass away until 1764. However, Logan began her business pursuits well before that. As Tulla explained, a husband would have allowed a woman to act solely in business endeavors, but he would have had to create an official legal document permitting it. 
 
“It was very difficult, so that’s why oftentimes when women are widowed they’re like ‘alright, that’s it, we’re going big now!’” Tulla said. “They have rights that married and unmarried women did not. And so it makes sense that we see this older woman kind of conducting business and acting freely… The circumstances had to line up perfectly for it to happen because it was kind of uncommon in a way. But once women had the opportunity, you can see they really blast off and come into their own.”
 
‘GREEN GENES’
 
Martha Daniell Logan’s accomplishments are impressive to many, but especially to those who have a personal tie to the Logan family. 
 
Barbara Smith is a consumer horticulturist with the Clemson Extension Home and Garden Information Center. She has more than 40 years of experience in the horticulture field, from teaching high school horticulture, to operating her own landscape design company, and working in the retail nursery business. And just last year, while researching her family genealogy, Smith dug up some fascinating history. She discovered that Logan is her seventh great-grandmother. 
 
“I tell people it’s like those old Kool-Aid commercials, where the pitcher of Kool-Aid bursts through the brick wall,” Smith said. “That’s what it feels like when you finally make a connection and see this breakthrough, this crack, and then you’re able to bust through it and find out who it is!” 
 
“I remember that day,” Smith continued. “I was stunned! Seven generations later, here I am a horticulturalist!”
 
But what impresses Smith the most is not just Logan’s botanical prowess, but her ability to stand on her own two feet, in a male-dominated culture, and do what she needed to do to support her family. Calling Logan “a very strong individual,” she compared her to Eliza Lucas Pinckney, who established her own successful business growing and selling indigo in the 1700s.
 
“Especially in Colonial America, how women were viewed,” Smith said. “The man was sort of the end all be all. Everything was the man’s decision. Eliza Lucas Pinckney always fascinated me. I’ve read a number of biographies about her and everybody just sort of poo-pooed her and said you can’t do this. And it was like, well, hold my beer and watch me!”

While Smith enjoyed reading all of her renowned ancestor’s gardening tips, one in particular stood out.

“My favorite advice that my 7th great-grandmother recommended is ‘Whatever was neglected the last Month, may be done in this with good Success, if it’s not too dry,’’’ wrote Smith in an online article on the Clemson HGIC website. “It would be nice to know that she’s smiling, knowing that her ‘green genes’ and love of gardening are present in her grateful descendant.”

Martha Daniell Logan’s story has also caught the attention of the Daniel Island Historical Society and the Daniel Island Garden Club. Both organizations are working on collaborative ways to celebrate Logan’s connection to the island through special events and displays.

“It humbles me to think that 300 years ago, our beautiful island inspired a young Martha Daniell’s love of gardening in the same way it inspires us today,” said Cheryl Boyle, president of the Daniel Island Garden Club. “I admire the way she developed her passion into becoming a pioneer in the science of botany. This was a tremendous accomplishment for a woman in the 1700s! The Daniel Island Garden Club wishes to commemorate her contributions to history as a gardener, botanist and trailblazer in the scientific community.”

“Martha is the daughter of the island's namesake, Robert Daniell,” added Michael Dahlman, vice president of the Daniel Island Historical Society. “It is very exciting to learn about her and the contributions she made to horticulture both locally and globally as well as her acumen as a successful 18th century business woman.”

Even though Logan parted from this earth in 1779, at the age of 74, her legacy remains.

“However poor or profitable her business may have been, hers was a richly rewarding life,” wrote Hollingsworth in “Her Garden Was Her Delight.” “She had a husband, children, friends and flowers – and because of her flowers a place in any history of American gardening.”

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555

 

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