Colonial Williamsburg®

What's New on History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene

February 26, 2014

Of peas and daffodils

On Thursday last the ground was finally dry enough to rake out the rows and plant the peas. This excellent esculent is judged by many to be the greatest luxury of the spring garden but they must be planted early so that they grow and ripen in a cool season. Peas which are sown too late mature in the heat of early summer which renders them tough and bitter.

Field pea bloom

Field pea bloom

The pea was one of the first crops domesticated by mankind but the primeval specimen was a very different legume than the one so universally admired today. The ancient pea was a hard, brown kernel, fit for grinding into flour or for feeding livestock but seldom used as a fresh shelling or sweet pea.

Sweet pea bloom

Sweet pea bloom

The sweet pea appeared in the 16th century under the name of the Hastings pea and reached its height of perfection and gluttony at the French court of Louis XIV in the form of the petit pois. Mademoiselle De Maintenoy while at court in Versailles observed, “The subject of peas is being treated at length: impatience to eat them, the pleasure of having eaten them, and the longing to eat them again are the three points about which our princes have been talking for four days. There are some ladies who, after having supped with the King, and well supped too, help themselves to peas at home before going to bed at the risk of indigestion. It is both a fashion and a madness.”

The ancient, or field pea, carries multicolored flowers of rose and violet while the modern sweet pea carries only white flowers.

This week the first crocus bloomed and the February Gold daffodils opened their yellow trumpets. A curious gardener who lives not far from here has kept a record of the first appearance of February Gold for more than 20 years and this is the latest date for which he has records. As a comparison, last year he recorded the first bloom on January 28 while this year the first bloom appeared on February 22, near a month later.

Comments

Leave a Reply

  1. Hi Wesley,
    I see CW is having a colder Spring than usual.
    The daffodils and other early bulbs seem to know when it’s “safe” to poke their heads out of the ground. A true harbinger of Spring. We, in the Chicago area, still have a snow cover of zero inches close to the house to 5 inches or so over the rest of the yard. We have a pile of street plowed and driveway snow at the end of the driveway that is almost 6 feet high with more snow expected tonight. I hope we have a Spring this year.

    Sincerely,
    Chris

  2. hi Wesley, so encouraging to read that spring is on the way. In SE PA we have bare ground up to 15″of snow depending where in the yard you attempt to walk!
    I wonder if you know what the early bloomer in the Wythe house yard might be? It looks like an oversize crocus or a very low to the ground tulip? I have heard of small species tulips…the ones we saw a few years ago were golden yellow and red. Absolutely amazing but have not seen in any bulb catalogs. Would love to find some…..

    • Dearest Paula,

      The tulips growing in Mr. Wythes garden are a variety known to the botanists as Tulipa clusiana, var. chrysantha. It is a robust little tulip that will naturalize to form large drifts. The closely related Tulipa clusiana, also known as Lady Jane is a similar tulip that carries white and red flowers.

      Wishing you an early spring,
      Wesley Greene


Switch to our mobile site