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

The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene

June 17, 2014

From the Garden: Of Celery, Shells and Horsemint

Shades over celery

Shades over celery

The celery trench which we discussed earlier this spring for blanching the celery stalks perfectly white has been entirely filled in and the plants are now earthed up and nearly ready for harvest.

Now, as we enter the hotter months of the year, additional precautions are necessary.  Mr. Randolph explains in his Treatise on Gardening, written in Williamsburg for the benefit of Virginia gardeners, “The sun is a great enemy to Celery, when it is very hot, wherefore I would recommend the covering of your plants with brush, at all seasons of the their growth, whilst the weather is hot, from 9 in the morning to 6 o’clock in the evening.”

Santolina planted in shells

Santolina planted in shells

As we happen to have on hand several sashes we use over the frames for starting fall crops in late summer we have adapted them to the purpose.

We are also making an experiment with the Lavender and Santolina plants in the herb garden.

It has been our experience that when the weather turns very hot with an overabundance of rain the plants quickly decline and die over only few weeks’ time.

However, this affliction is not nearly as common in a sandy soil leading us to believe that the plants require a sharper drainage to withstand the summer heat and rain.



In accordance we have excavated trenches 18 inches deep and filled them with shells such as are used to pave our walkways.

The Lavender and Santolina plants are planted directly into the shells in the hope that this situation will be more amenable to their culture.

The Horsemint, known to the botanists as Monarda punctata, is now in bloom.

This curious plant was first observed by the Rev. John Banister in the 1680’s who recorded while on an expedition to make discoveries in the wilds of Virginia, “In our way home ye rich low grounds abounded with a kind of wild Baulm, which being trampled by our horses as we rode thro it mightily refreshed us with its fragrant scent.”

Some feel it was from this description that the common name is derived.


Leave a Reply

  1. Good day Wesley,
    I hope you are well. With suggestions you provided last year, my vegetable garden is well on its way to providing a fine harvest. I did plant a few items later then I should have because of constant rain and muddy soil. Those too seem to be doing well for now.
    I just read an article from Horticulture Magazine that created worry for me about CW. The article was about Boxwood Blight. I immediately thought of the old boxwoods all around CW. Have you seen any sign of this in the gardens at CW? It would be a shame if CW were to lose the boxwoods, they are so much apart of CW.
    As always, your humble student,

    • Dear Christine,

      Boxwood blight is a very real concern for us and other historic sites that are heavily planted in boxwood. We have not seen the disease at Colonial Williamsburg and are very careful not to import it. Luckily, it is a fairly easy disease to recognize and the nursery industry has done a good job quarantining the sites where it has appeared. The danger is from the introduction of asymptomatic plants but we propagate much of our own stock which lessens the danger.

      Wesley Greene