In the summer of 2007, “How Has Our Garden Grown,” an exhibition at the Read House in New Castle, focused on the history of the garden, an integral part of the property.
The garden is old, but not quite as old as the house itself. When George Read (1765-1836) built the house, his father’s house stood next door. The Read House’s original property was only as wide as the house itself, which gave it a much different appearance on the street than it has today. Over time, Read acquired additional property, and his father’s house burned in New Castle’s fire of 1824, so more land became available.
The garden that is such a pleasure today was first installed in the late1840s by William Couper, the house’s second owner. The name of the designer remains unknown, but it is known that some of the plants were purchased from Robert Buist, a noted nurseryman in Philadelphia. Couper’s garden included a formal flower bed in front and a kitchen garden in the rear, with a more naturalistic area in between. A pear tree from the early plantings survives and still bears fruit. Philip and Lydia Laird further developed the property with a swimming pool.
In the years since the Read House and Gardens have belonged to the Delaware Historical Society, the goal has been to preserve the spirit of the Victorian garden. Dedicated volunteers provide much of the work required to keep the garden beautiful. The Society is also developing a cultural landscape plan to guide the interpretation of the entire site.