March 26, 2014
From the Garden: Of ditches and daffodils
We are making an experiment with a new asparagus bed on the advice of Mr. Joseph Prentis, a Williamsburg attorney who keeps a fine garden on the edge of town. Being a person of methodical disposition he has left us his Monthly Kalendar compiled between the years of 1775 and 1779 and in which we may find these instructions: “Set out asparagus as follows. Dig a trench as wide as you intend your Beds to be, and two feet deep, lay a layer of Oyster Shells, six Inches, then lay on six Inches of Horse Dung, and as much Mould, continue so to do, till the Bed is done.”
This method appears to be unique to the Tidewater of Virginia as I can find no English precedent for the practice and travelers from other precincts appear to be ignorant of the procedure. Though it is practiced on many neighboring plantations not everyone agrees on its efficacy. Another Williamsburg attorney by the name of John Randolph, the loyalist, recorded before departing to England where his true sympathies lie: “A great apparatus was formerly made use of but now seems on all hands to be disregarded. Nothing more is necessary that to make your beds perfectly rich and light.”
We have decided to make a test of the two methods and are planting one bed in accordance with Mr. Prentis’ advice and one on the recommendations of Mr. Randolph. I shall report on their progress.
We are now happily in the embrace of daffodils. The little Jonquilla simplex, which often appears in unexpected corners of the garden, releases a delightful fragrance from its tiny blooms when warmed by the sun. The Van Sion, that most ancient of the Narcissus tribe, hangs it shaggy head of green and gold under the weight of its egg shaped blossoms. Campernelles, the thoroughbreds of the spring garden, multiply in glorious masses of fragrant yellow. Though all these forms were well known, even in the time of King James I, namesake for neighboring Jamestown, they are poorly represented in Virginia gardens. It is our intent to make a show of them in the garden to encourage others in their cultivation for there are few ornamentals that reward the gardener so splendidly with so little effort.