Posts Tagged ‘garden’
June 10, 2011
Nestled amid the historic houses, taverns and trade shops of Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area are the 18th-century-style gardens of the restored town. Programs and tours feature the history of the gardens from the colonial era to the present.
“Through the Garden Gate” focuses on the historic documents and archaeological evidence used in creating the Historic Area gardens. The tour begins at 9:30 a.m. on Mondays, June 13-27 and July 11-Aug. 29, Wednesdays, June 15-Aug. 31 and Saturdays, June 18-25 and July 9-Aug, 27. A free reservation is required along with a Colonial Williamsburg annual pass, Hotel Guest pass or Good Neighbor pass.
Guests discover how gardens reflected status and wealth in the 18th century during “Gardens of Gentility.” This escorted walking tour visits the gardens of the Governor’s Palace and other gardens along Palace Green. The program takes place at 9:30 a.m. Tuesdays, June 14-June 28 and July 12-Aug. 30 and Fridays, June 17-Sept. 2. A free reservation is required along with a Colonial Williamsburg annual pass, Hotel Guest pass or Good Neighbor pass.
A new tour, “Herbs in the Garden,” discusses tips on growing herbs and how they were used by the colonists. The tour is offered at 10:30 a.m. Mondays, June 13-27 and July 11-Aug. 29 and Tuesdays, June 14-Aug. 30. A free reservation is required along with a Colonial Williamsburg annual pass, Hotel Guest pass or Good Neighbor pass.
During “Meet the Gardener,” garden volunteers answer questions about growing flowers and vegetables in the Historic Area. The one-hour tour is offered at 10:30 a.m. Thursdays, June 16-Sept. 1. A Historic Area admission pass is required to take the tour.
For more information or to make reservations for these garden tours, contact 1-800-HISTORY.
April 1, 2010
Colonial Williamsburg’s large, formal gardens are justifiably famous for their tulip displays. The grandest may be the one found in the Governor’s Palace Garden, which is a series of garden chambers, reflecting the taste for small intimate green chambers made from boxwood, yew, and holly. Each chamber, or garden room, is distinctly planted.
The large garden lying west of the ballroom and above the canal is the Parterre Garden, composed of four grand panels of asymmetrical design. Within this pattern are planted 2400 “Rembrandt Mix” tulips, the multicolored and mottled tulips that were the rage of Holland. The bright red tulip variety “Kingsblood” dominates the central panel of the beds.
Other beds burst with “Negritta” (purple), “Bellona” (yellow), “Don Quichotte” (pink), “Striped Bellona” (yellow with red flame), “Jan Reus” (orange with pink highlights) and “Francois” (yellow & white). The beds are further accented with anemone “De Caen,” a very floriferous and large flowered form of the ancient Grecian windflower.
The tulips in the small holly garden which lies to the east of the main block of the mansion are “Couleur Cardinal” (red with purple highlights), “Sorbet” (white with pink highlights) and “Maureen” (white). In the arbors that flank the perennial beds and formal flower beds is a mixed planting of bulbs for different seasons of the year. The Persian fritillary can be found here, the “Delft Blue” and “Carnegie” hyacinths, and the later blooming martagon lilies.
Gardens throughout the Historic Area are awash in the colors of flowering trees, budding vines, and blooming bulbs. Plan your visit.
March 2, 2010
In March, the earliest spring blooming bulbs begin their color burst. Expect to see crocus, hyacinth, and narcissus begin to bloom, depending on the warming of the month. Spring starflower (Ipheon uniflorus) and Star of Bethlehem, with their white flowers striped with green, (Ornithagalum umbellatum and O. nutans) are very familiar to our return visitors.
This part of the South is lucky to have winter months mild enough to allow some annuals, such as English daisy (Bellis perennis) and pansy varieties (Viola sp.) to survive, and in many cases, bloom throughout the winter. These annuals are over-planted above tulips so that the spring effect is one of a multi-layered composition with complementary tulips blooming above a groundcover effect of hardy annuals.
In the last two weeks of March, expect to see periwinkle (Vinca minor) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) begin to bloom. If the days are mild, you might see golden Carolina Jasmine (Gelsimium sempervirens) begin to bloom on fences, while flowering quince and some fruit trees will bloom in their permutations of white and pink.
November 9, 2009
Gardeners are harvesting the last of the sweet potatoes from several kitchen gardens in the Historic Area. According to Colonial Willliamsburg garden historian Wesley Greene, the use of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) in Virginia predates the use of the white potato by about one hundred years.
English author Philip Miller wrote in his book The Gardeners Dictionary (1754) that the sweet potato was cultivated in Spain and Portugal and shipped to England. Miller writes that sweet potatoes “… are by some Persons greatly esteemed; tho’ in general they are not so well liked as the common Potato, being too sweet and luscious for most Palates.”
Whereas Miller describes their taste, Robert Beverly, a substantial planter and colonial official in Virginia describes what they look like in his book, The History and Present State of Virginia, (1705) saying, “Their [the Natives] Potatoes are either red or white, about as long as a Boy’s Leg, and sometimes as long and big as both the Leg and Thigh of a young Child, and very much resembling it in Shape.” Even though Colonial Williamsburg’s well-manured vegetable plots produce large sweet potatoes, they have not yet reached the size of a boy’s leg.
Another crop being harvested in our gardens now, unfortunately more by the squirrels than the gardeners, is the bull nose pepper. The three most common peppers in the colonies seem to have been the cayenne, tomato, and the bell or bull nose pepper. The bull nose pepper was grown at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson. It has been described as one of the best pickled peppers because of its mildness and thick rind. As the pepper matures from green to scarlet it becomes sweeter.
Wesley believes that although the bull nose pepper is the best representative we have today of the old bell peppers, it is probably larger than the original bell pepper. Wesley’s research indicates that although bell peppers are appropriate for the 18th century, we should grow them in only a few of our gardens, primarily at the homes of experimental gardeners or perhaps slave dwellings. Hopefully the squirrels will let us do so.
October 13, 2009
Colonial Williamsburg’s landscape department sustains the rich genetic heritage of plants by saving seed varieties. Ongoing research enables the department to locate plant varieties appropriate to the 18th-century. Once the seed is procured, it is carefully planted and tended with the intent of eventually harvesting and saving more seed for future generations to use.
By growing heirloom plants, we help prevent extinction and promote biodiversity in plants. The Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting and preserving heritage seeds from the past, estimates that over 90 percent of the fruit and vegetable varieties grown in the United States in 1900 have since been lost.
Fortunately, more and more people are realizing the importance of saving seeds and preserving the cultural and historical heritage of plants. Through the efforts of SSE and other organizations, Colonial Williamsburg’s landscape department has been able to obtain seed from around the world. Recently we have acquired a 14th-century variety of pea from The Henry Doubleday Foundation in England, an 18th-century cockscomb from the Thomas Jefferson Center for Plants, and a London flag leek from the Vavilov Research Center in St. Petersburg, Russia.
June 22, 2009
Colonial Williamsburg is known for its boxwoods. Both the American boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) and the English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘suffruticosa’) provide structure to our gardens and substance to our Christmas decorations.
Not as common, but just as historic, is a variegated form (Buxus sempervirens ‘elegantisima’) which can be found growing in the Colonial Garden and Nursery on Duke of Gloucester Street.
Prominent colonist John Custis grew variegated boxwood in his Williamsburg garden. Apparently Custis, like many of us today, grew what he liked regardless of current trends. In 1736, he wrote, “I am told those things (striped boxwood and variegated plants) are out of fashion; but I do not mind that I always make my fancy my fashion.”
Native to North Africa, western Asia and Europe, boxwood was introduced to North America in the mid-1600s. The wood, close-grained and of bonelike hardness, was used by the colonists for making musical instruments and decorative items. The inlay work on the staircase in the reconstructed Governor’s Palace is of boxwood and holly.
In June, one of the primary tasks for our gardeners is to shear the boxwood. Shearing is done annually to maintain the size and shape of the boxwood. Topiary work (pruning plants into various contrived shapes) is completed by mid-summer so that the new growth can harden-off before frost.
In addition to boxwood, yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is the other predominant plant used for topiary. Native to southeastern North America, yaupon holly is drought-tolerant and adaptable to a variety of soils.
Dr. Alexander Garden of Charleston found that “it makes a very good and most beautiful hedge and may be kept as short and neat as Box.” However, unlike the slow-growing boxwood that only needs to be sheared once a season, the fast-growing yaupon needs to be sheared at least three times a season.
Who was John Custis?
Born in 1678 on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, John Custis was a planter, a member of the House of Burgesses and served as member of the Governor’s Council in Williamsburg. He was William Byrd II’s brother-in-law, and the father of Martha Washington’s first husband, Daniel Parke Custis. Custis’ garden in Williamsburg became one of the finest gardens of its day in all the colonies.
The Philadelphia botanist, John Bartram, judged Custis’ garden as second only to John Clayton’s Gloucester County garden. Custis exchanged plants and corresponded with English botanist Peter Collinson from 1734 to 1746. Their letters survived and have been published in a book entitled Brothers of the Spade. Their twelve-year correspondence adds to our knowledge of plants and gardening in 18th-century Williamsburg.