John Caspar Wister
John Caspar Wister (March 19, 1887 – December 27, 1982) was considered the preeminent horticulturist in the
United Statesin the 1900s.
A member of the prominent Philadelphian family, the Wisters, John was born to William Rotch Wister and Mary Rebecca Eustis in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. John was the youngest of five children, being the brother of Mary Channing Wister, who would go on to marry her cousin
Owen Wister, the author of The Virginian. His family tree also includes well-known individuals such as Sarah Logan Wister Starr, William Logan Fisher, and James Logan.
Even at an early age, John Caspar Wister was interested in horticulture; as a small boy growing up in Germantown, Philadelphia, John would follow the gardener around the property trying to learn anything and everything he could about plants, and would spend his time admiring and contemplating the flowers, trees, fruits, vegetables, and greenhouses at the
Belfieldand Wister Estates owned by his family.
In 1909, Wister graduated from
Harvard Universityand went on to continue his studies at Harvard’s School of Landscape Architecture, and supplemented that program with courses taken at the New Jersey Agricultural College. His education took him to landscape architecture offices in both New Yorkand Philadelphia until he enlisted on July 10, 1917, as a private in World War I.
World War I
According to letters he wrote to his family during the war, Wister served most of his time in
Francein various ordnance departments, being promoted to Sergeant of Ordnance in November of 1917. Wister never strayed too far from plants and flowers, taking advantage of his leave time by visiting the gardens of Europe. He would often send plants back to his friends, the Arthur Hoyt Scotts, noted garden enthusiasts whom he met in 1915. After being honorably discharged from the Army on May 10, 1919, John Caspar Wister began a horticultural legacy which would span the next 70 years as a landscape architect in both the United States and in England.
John Caspar Wister’s research in cross-breeding produced hundreds of new hybrid species of common plants and flowers. In addition to the scientific research he performed on plants, he devoted a great deal of his time to sharing his knowledge of plants and the beauty he found in them with those around him. One of his many contributions to local Philadelphia horticulture was the campus of
Swarthmore College, where he worked for more than 50 years. In order to recognize the work of Wister’s good friends, the Arthur Hoyt Scotts, Swarthmore established the Arthur Hoyt Scott Horticultural Foundation and named Wister the foundation’s first director in 1930. The Foundation’s 240 acre public garden, with its 5,000 species of trees and shrubs adorns the Swarthmore campus, 40 acres of which were landscaped by Wister himself. He grouped plant families together within the garden to establish a more practical plan. Swarthmore College awarded Wister an honorary doctor of science degree in 1942 for his work with the college. Wister also operated a landscape architecture business out of the now-demolished Wister Mansion just off of La Salle University’s campus in Philadelphia.
In 1946, Wister became the first director of the 600 acre John J. Tyler
Arboretumin Lima, PA, serving as president of both the arboretum and bird sanctuary until 1968. In addition to this organization, he was active in most major scientific and conservation groups and was a member of about 50 horticultural societies and 30 scientific organizations. He served as secretary of the American Rose Society, president and founder of the American Iris Society, and secretary for 24 years of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He was also intimately connected with the John Bartram Association in Philadelphia.
Throughout his lifetime, Wister was the first recipient of four major horticulture awards: the
Liberty Hyde BaileyMedal, the Scott Garden and Horticultural Award, the A.P. Saunders Memorial Award from the American Peony Society, and the Honor and Achievement Award from the International Lilac Society. He was honored for his outstanding work with flowers at the centennial celebration of the founding of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The Brooklyn Botanic Gardenawarded Wister its Garden Medal for outstanding service in 1966, and in that same year, the Royal Horticultural Societydedicated its Daffodil and Tulip Yearbook to him, making Wister the first American gardener to receive this honor.
Being constantly absorbed in flowers and plants, Wister did not marry until the ripe old age of 73, when he took as his wife Gertrude Smith, a woman who was herself a noted horticulturist at the time. Wister referred to marriage as "the fatal plunge" in one of his war-time letters, a description which could also explain why he waited so long before marrying.
John Caspar Wister, considered America’s “Dean of Horticulturists”, passed away on December 27, 1982, at his home in Swarthmore. At the time of his death, Wister was director emeritus of both the Arthur Hoyt Scott Horticultural Foundation and the John J. Tyler Arboretum.
(Unless otherwise noted, all sources can be found in the Wister [http://www.lasalle.edu/library/speccoll/ Special Collection] of the
* "Arthur Hoyt Scott Horticultural Foundation, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA." No publisher or publication date available. Available at the Swarthmore College Library.
* "Bulbs for American Gardens" (Boston: Stratford Company), 1930.
* "Four Seasons In Your Garden" (Philadelphia: Lippincott Publishers), 1938.
* "A Horticulturist in the A.E.F." (Philadelphia: E. W. Haines), 1950. Subtitled as: "Letters from France from John C. Wister to Members of his Family, 1917-1919" and compiled by Ella Eustis Wister Haines.
* "The Iris: A Treatise on the History, Development, and Culture of the Iris for the Amateur Gardener" (New York: Orange Judd Publishing Company), 1930.
* "Lilac Culture" (New York: Orange Judd Publishing Company), 1930.
* "Lilacs for America" (Swarthmore, PA: Swarthmore College), 1943. Subtitled as: "Report of 1941 survey conducted by the Committee on Horticultural Varieties of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboretums." Published for the Association of the Arthur Hoyt Scott Horticultural Foundation and edited by John C. Wister. Available at the Swarthmore College Library.
* "The Peonies" (Washington, D.C.: American Horticultural Society), 1962. Written by Myron D. Bigger, et al., and edited by John C. Wister. Available at the Swarthmore College Library.
* "A Ten Year History, January 1, 1930 - December 31, 1939" (Swarthmore, PA: Swarthmore College), 1940. John C. Wister and the Arthur Hoyt Scott Horticultural Foundation are listed as co-authors. Available at the Swarthmore College Library.
* "Two Large Rhododendrons" (Aurora, Oregon: American Rhododendron Society), 1977. Published in the "Quarterly Bulletin of the American Rhododendron Society", Vol. 31, No. 2. (Spring 1977).
* "The Woman’s Home Companion Garden Book for all Sections of the United States and Canada" (New York: P.F. Collier), 1947. Written by 50 horticultural specialists and edited by John C. Wister and assisted by Harry Wood, et al.
* Belman, Laura Haines. "Remarks at La Salle University, October 1, 1994." Unpublished manuscript presented at the dedication of the Mary and Frances Wister Fine Arts Studio at La Salle University. Available in the Connelly Library’s Ethel Langhorne Wister Chichester Special Collection, Folder 137.
* Faust, Joan Lee. "John C. Wister, 95, Horticulturist." "The New York Times", December 28, 1982. "New York Times" obituary article. Available in the Connelly Library’s
Ethel Langhorne Wister ChichesterSpecial Collection, Folder 157.
* Haines, Ella Wister. "Reminiscences of a Victorian Child". Philadelphia: E.W. Haines, 1953.
* Van Atta, Burr. "John Caspar Wister, known as the dean of horticulture in U.S." "The Philadelphia Inquirer", December 29, 1982. "Inquirer" obituary article. Available in the Connelly Library’s Ethel Langhorne Wister Chichester Special Collection, Folder 157.
* Votaw, Galja Barish. "John C. Wister." "Chester Times", July 16, 1951. "Personality Sketch" from the "Chester Times". Newspaper clipping found on front inside cover of "A Horticulturist in the A.E.F: Letters from France from John C. Wister to Members of his Family, 1917-1919."
* [http://www.lasalle.edu/commun/history/greeting.htm Belfield and Wakefield: A Link to La Salle's Past]
* [http://www.lasalle.edu/commun/history/articles/jcwister.htm John Caspar Wister by Andy Gwiazda]
* [http://www.lasalle.edu/library/speccoll/ Special Collections at La Salle University's Connelly Library]
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