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Show #15/1602
18th Century Vegetable Garden at Colonial Williamsburg


Mark Catesby
MARK CATESBY, ALTHOUGH UNKNOWN IN MANY CIRCLES, IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PEOPLE TO EARLY AMERICAN HORTICULTURE. Joe meets Robb Warren the person who, very interestingly and accurately, portrays Mark Catesby at Colonial Williamsburg. We learn more about Mr. Catesby. He was born in Essex, England at his grandfather's house, Castle Hedingham, where, he had the finest botanical garden, perhaps, in all of England. This inspired Mark's interest in botany. His sister married Dr. William Koch of Williamsburg City and he accompanied his sister to be with her husband in America. Upon arriving he saw that not only the flora but also the fauna of Virginia was incredibly different than that of Great Britain. He endeavored to start cataloguing, sketching, painting and sending specimens to England, particularly to determine those plants that could be cultivated in English gardens for economic purposes, as well as beautifying. Catesby has also been credited with his observation of the keen relationship between plants and animals. Before Catesby arrived the natural histories of North America had very few sketches and no color plates. As he endeavored to learn to paint what he saw, he realized it was important to put animals and plants on the same page, to show how the plant benefits from the animal and visa versa.

Click here for more info

18th Century Methods of Cultivation, Tools and Plants
IN THIS GARDEN THEY INTERPRET THE 18TH CENTURY METHODS OF CULTIVATION, TOOLS and plants that would have been found in the gentry gardens of the time. There are certainly similarities to gardening today but there are as well differences. They start with the tools, and they do look similar. The difference is the materials the tools are made from. Tools today are made out of steel, the older tools were made out of iron which is much softer and much heavier. Those tools meant a hard day's work. Using the shovel as an example, if one were to pull back on it, in the ground, it will bend. All that have been found in archeological collections have been split in the middle. This tool has been split, but it's now been welded. If steel had been used at that time it was for the edge only. And it would have needed sharpened quite often. They look at an old edging iron, which is very similar to a half moon edger. It has an iron body with a piece of steel welded on the top edge. It would have been too expensive to make it all from steel.

Click here for more info

18th Century Tools
MANY OF THE TOOLS IN THIS COLLECTION ARE BASED ON FRAGMENTS THE ARCHEOLOGISTS FOUND IN TOWN. The rake for example comes from a fragment found at the Wythe house which is the big brick house next to the church. Another comes from a fragment found at the Getty house, which is the white house on the corner. They compare rakes. One is a more expensive rake for the time. That makes sense because Mr. Wythe was a wealthier man than was Mr. Getty. The cost can be told by looking at the way the tools were made. With Mr. Getty's rake they bent the top bar to make the end tines. And they then essentially pounded nails through the top bar. The problem is that over time the nails would come loose which meant it would need to go back to the blacksmith to be tightened. The more expensive rake has cap pieces on the tines. It is trapped above and below the top bar. It basically locks in place, they can't come loose.

Click here for more info

Cold Frames, Hot Frames
MOST GARDENERS ARE FAMILIAR WITH COLD FRAMES. In past times they knew frames, not necessarily cold frames. The guys look at a hot bed frame. A hot bed frame is simply a pit in the ground, in this case about 2 feet deep, lined with bricks. The first of January Wesley loads this to the top with fresh horse manure, as fresh as he can get. Four days later he has a temperature of 135 degrees on the top of the pile. He packs it down, caps it off with 4 inches of very fine soil and typically 3 days after that, the soil temperature will run 70 degrees and that allows him to start his seeds. He starts spring cabbage, lettuce, leeks and artichokes here. Most everything here is later moved to the garden. He will plant peas along the brick wall and typically picks fresh peas the 2nd week of April.

Colonial Williamsburg Research - Heirloom

Heirloom Gardening



Click here for more info

Melons and Cucumbers
In another bed, THE 1ST OF MARCH HE STARTED MELONS AND CUCUMBERS. Melons and cucumbers don't transplant very well. So, he starts them in what he calls a melon basket. They are just white oak splits. He plunges them into the soil, sows the seeds within, then when ready to transplant the melon and cucumber he can easily lift the basket from the bed and transplant it.

Click here for more info

Tomato
Solanum lycopersicum Tomato is the most common vegetable in the modern garden and probably the most uncommon vegetable in the 18th century. THE TOMATO IS A NATIVE OF SOUTH AMERICA and appears to have been a single cell fruit, much like the cherry tomato which the Incas apparently didn't use. By unknown means the tomato made its way to Mexico, the Aztecs adopted the tomato and developed the multi-cell fruit. So when one opens a tomato today there are a series of cells within it. The 18th century tomato is contorted looking, almost like a bunch of little cherry tomatoes all plastered together. This was normal then but today wouldn't be used, it wouldn't even be used as a slicer. But the tomato in the 18th century was used in sauces, never as a ripe fruit. Wesley likes the way he grows his tomatoes.

Click here for more info

Perennial Garden or botanic Collection
WESLEY'S GARDEN ALSO HAS SOME GREAT PERENNIAL BEDS. In the 1700's it wouldn't be called a perennial garden. It would be a botanic collection. There was a great fascination with the natural world amongst gardeners in the 18th century. It was not only about wealth and beauty but a scientific pursuit, particularly amongst gentlemen. Botany was a more important part of a gentleman's education in the 18th century, more so than today. What we have in this garden is a collision between 2 worlds. They have the old world plants that people brought with them and the new world plants that were found in America. Put them together and you get the American garden. The old fashioned plants which were popular in the 18th century and popular in grandma's garden, are starting to disappear from our gardens. These are the bi-annuals. The term bi-annual confuses people. A bi-annual is a winter annual, a plant that comes up in the fall, then goes over the calendar year into the next year, then blooms again in the spring. The Consolida ajacis Larkspur came up last November, went over the winter and came back in the spring.

Click here for more info

Start Small
Wesley believes that the most important lesson for, particularly, beginning gardeners is to START SMALL. In March or April we have all this energy in the garden and start with a 100 X 200 vegetable garden and by August it becomes a weed patch of frustration. It turns people off to the experience. One can do a lot with a 10 X 10 spot whether growing vegetables, flowers or herbs. As you get that under control, get bigger from there. So, start small.

Click here for more info

 


LINKS:

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg Resort

Colonial Williamsburg Research - Heirloom

Heirloom Gardening

Garden Smart Plant List



Complete transcript of the show.


Today we take for granted many of the conveniences of gardening. In the 1700's simply having a garden was the exception rather than the rule. In this Episode Garden Smart visits Colonial Williamsburg and learns from the experts how they gardened in Colonial times.
MARK CATESBY, ALTHOUGH UNKNOWN IN MANY CIRCLES, IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PEOPLE TO EARLY AMERICAN HORTICULTURE. Joe meets Robb Warren the person who, very interestingly and accurately, portrays Mark Catesby at Colonial Williamsburg. We learn more about Mr. Catesby. He was born in Essex, England at his grandfather's house, Castle Hedingham, where, he had the finest botanical garden, perhaps, in all of England. This inspired Mark's interest in botany. His sister married Dr. William Koch of Williamsburg City and he accompanied his sister to be with her husband in America. Upon arriving he saw that not only the flora but also the fauna of Virginia was incredibly different than that of Great Britain. He endeavored to start cataloguing, sketching, painting and sending specimens to England, particularly to determine those plants that could be cultivated in English gardens for economic purposes, as well as beautifying. Catesby has also been credited with his observation of the keen relationship between plants and animals. Before Catesby arrived the natural histories of North America had very few sketches and no color plates. As he endeavored to learn to paint what he saw, he realized it was important to put animals and plants on the same page, to show how the plant benefits from the animal and visa versa. For example, the hummingbird loves to feast upon the flower of the Trumpet Vine. He's noticed that they often will go after the plant so voraciously, penetrate the blossom so deeply, that they oft become quite stuck. Their backwards flight aids them greatly in freeing themselves. There is also the bison, which will scratch his thick hide upon the thorny bark of the Acacia tree. While doing so, he drops his dung. The Acacia will drop its seeds into the bison's dung, thereby taking root in fertile soil, creating more Acacias, so the bison may scratch themselves more.
When he returned to England he endeavored to begin a natural history of the Carolinas, Florida and the Bahama Islands. He intended to include as many colored plates as possible to match the descriptive passages that he wrote. In order to do this he had to teach himself to etch on copper plates. Then he etched, printed and hand-colored every plate for every volume sold. He was sold by subscription and there were 100 subscribers for the first volume. This about doubled for the second volume and he has gone quite blind from the intense work done on this natural history.
Audubon, a very famous man after Catesby's time, took a lot of his information from the work Catesby did. Thomas Jefferson said of the burning of the Library at the William & Mary University that the greatest loss of all was the valuable works created by Catesby.
Joe does bring up the fact that Catesby introduced Poison Ivy to England. Catesby says it is so. He understands "that it's flourishing in several English gardens. He understands that some of his wittier friends will encourage their duller friends to rub the shiny leaves for luck. He imagines that there are quite a few unlucky people in England." Mark Catesby suggests that Joe next meet Wesley Greene of Colonial Williamsburg.
Joe has spent a lot of time in vegetable gardens but this is different. And, Wesley is the garden historian, in charge of this garden. Wesley first tells Joe about himself. It was his mother who stimulated his interest in gardening. His mom was a great gardener, she kept a large vegetable garden every year. He would get a penny a bean for picking beans. He would come in the kitchen with the bucket of beans and say "Ma, I've got 300 beans here." She would in turn say, "you know there is not a bean over 200." Working in that garden stimulated his interest in gardening at a very early age. He started working landscape jobs in high school, got a degree in botany from the University of Maine and came to Williamsburg in 1981. He spent the first 15 years in landscape maintenance overseeing 20th century crews. But one can't work in the landscape department here without cultivating an interest in history. So, in 1996 he proposed the Colonial Garden. This is where they demonstrate 18th century gardening, tools, plants and cultural techniques. And, it's all very interesting.
This would not have been a typical 18th century garden however. This is a reduced version of a wealthy man's garden, a garden one would expect to find 1 block away, where the 4, 6 or 10 acre estates are located. Those would have been the people of the time that had the resources, the funds and the labor, to grow a garden like this.
Top


IN THIS GARDEN THEY INTERPRET THE 18TH CENTURY METHODS OF CULTIVATION, TOOLS and plants that would have been found in the gentry gardens of the time. There are certainly similarities to gardening today but there are as well differences. They start with the tools, and they do look similar. The difference is the materials the tools are made from. Tools today are made out of steel, the older tools were made out of iron which is much softer and much heavier. Those tools meant a hard day's work. Using the shovel as an example, if one were to pull back on it, in the ground, it will bend. All that have been found in archeological collections have been split in the middle. This tool has been split, but it's now been welded. If steel had been used at that time it was for the edge only. And it would have needed sharpened quite often. They look at an old edging iron, which is very similar to a half moon edger. It has an iron body with a piece of steel welded on the top edge. It would have been too expensive to make it all from steel. It wasn't until about 1820 that the Sheffield Iron Works, in England, perfected the manufacture of steel and at that point steel became a more common component in tools.
Top


MANY OF THE TOOLS IN THIS COLLECTION ARE BASED ON FRAGMENTS THE ARCHEOLOGISTS FOUND IN TOWN. The rake for example comes from a fragment found at the Wythe house which is the big brick house next to the church. Another comes from a fragment found at the Getty house, which is the white house on the corner. They compare rakes. One is a more expensive rake for the time. That makes sense because Mr. Wythe was a wealthier man than was Mr. Getty. The cost can be told by looking at the way the tools were made. With Mr. Getty's rake they bent the top bar to make the end tines. And they then essentially pounded nails through the top bar. The problem is that over time the nails would come loose which meant it would need to go back to the blacksmith to be tightened. The more expensive rake has cap pieces on the tines. It is trapped above and below the top bar. It basically locks in place, they can't come loose. It has a socket rather than a tang which is a little more difficult to manufacture, thus a more expensive tool.
The Dutch hoe, or thrust hoe, comes from the most complete archeological fragment. This was found at the Hubbard site on Francis Street. Most hoes are draw hoes, one draws them toward themselves. This is a thrust hoe, you push it away. It allows one to go underneath melons, vines, squash vines, etc., to get very close to the stems. It is a favorite of Wesley's but it does take a light soil to use it.
Top


MOST GARDENERS ARE FAMILIAR WITH COLD FRAMES. In past times they knew frames, not necessarily cold frames. The guys look at a hot bed frame. A hot bed frame is simply a pit in the ground, in this case about 2 feet deep, lined with bricks. The first of January Wesley loads this to the top with fresh horse manure, as fresh as he can get. Four days later he has a temperature of 135 degrees on the top of the pile. He packs it down, caps it off with 4 inches of very fine soil and typically 3 days after that, the soil temperature will run 70 degrees and that allows him to start his seeds. He starts spring cabbage, lettuce, leeks and artichokes here. Most everything here is later moved to the garden. He will plant peas along the brick wall and typically picks fresh peas the 2nd week of April. If you have fresh peas in April, you can invite the Governor for dinner. No matter the effort needed, peas in April is worth the bother.
Another frame goes through the coolest part of the year. It is lined with straw. The sashes would be on in the middle of wintertime. At night straw goes over the top of the sashes with a mat over the top of that. He will heat needed water with a fire so he doesn't set the soil temperature back. And these beds are facing due south to maximize the exposure of the sun.
Top


In another bed, THE 1ST OF MARCH HE STARTED MELONS AND CUCUMBERS. Melons and cucumbers don't transplant very well. So, he starts them in what he calls a melon basket. They are just white oak splits. He plunges them into the soil, sows the seeds within, then when ready to transplant the melon and cucumber he can easily lift the basket from the bed and transplant it.
Presently, what is left in the frame are a couple of cantaloupes. Most Americans have never had a cantaloupe. We call orange flesh muskmelon, cantaloupe. But Wesley shows us a true cantaloupe, it is a Dejour cantaloupe. Cantaloupes are always ribbed, they often have warts and a thick rind and they're not as sweet as a muskmelon. A Prescott Fond blanc French cantaloupe is very different in appearance. Many mistake it for a winter squash or a gourd. But it's a good melon, but not as prolific as modern muskmelons. One can tell when a modern muskmelon is ripe, the stems slip from the fruit. These stems don't slip. It takes cutting them at the wrong time a couple of times to determine the correct time.
In the garden they have a collection of several types of heirloom muskmelons, cantaloupes and a very unusual Cucumbus melo flexuous Turkey cucumber, Armenian melon, as they're called. 18th century gardeners talked about the importance of not watering melons in the crown of the plant, instead watering around the perimeter. That is the only place Wesley waters these melons. It keeps water off the crown of the plant and encourages root growth into the larger soil around the plant. Later in the year, once the fruit is on the vines and the weather gets hot and often wet in the south one can frequently just see the vines melt away in a weeks time. The 18th century wisdom was to cover the vines in wet weather with melon frames. They were simply paper glued to the frame and hung with linseed. When it's first put on, it's quite transparent. The darker strips were put on last November for a winter crop. These go over the melons in wet weather, come off during the dry weather and that seems to preserve them from melting away in hot, wet weather.

Colonial Williamsburg Research - Heirloom

Heirloom Gardening




Watering was an important consideration in earlier times. The ability to water the garden has been a limiting feature to gardening throughout most of man's history. Between hauling the water from the well and putting out watering cans they typically move about 4,000 pounds of water a day. With warm summer weather that can often be barely enough to keep the garden alive. Wesley gets kids to haul water because this is a kid friendly site but in the 18th century that work was done by slaves. Slaves were expensive and most Virginians could not afford slaves, thus most Virginians couldn't reliably keep gardens in the 18th century. Thus vegetables were more of a luxury item, making them a small part of the diet. So a garden back then was a sign of status.
Melons will grow on the ground but cucumbers like to climb. Nature has equipped them with tendrils, that they use to climb structures. This requires less room in the garden and works well since the fruit is long and straight. When growing on a trellis it makes it much easier to find the cucumbers. Plus when cucumbers are growing on the ground the fruit is underneath the leaves which means one is often walking on the fruit, this means the fruit will die. Trellising is a much better way to grow cucumbers. Wesley's cucumbers are Cucumis sativus Black spine Cucumber, Everbearing cucumber heirloom. The more modern cucumber is Cucumis sativus White Cucumber heirloom. Modern cucumbers are called burpless. What puts the burp in cucumbers is the seed. Modern cucumbers have very tiny seeds, sometimes no seeds at all. The older cucumbers have good seeds and good burps which raised some suspicion about the healthfulness of the cucumber in the 18th century. They were often called "cowcumbers" because they were thought only fit for a cow. While the green was the most common of cucumbers, the white is by far the most prized. Although they're actually a light green.
Top


Solanum lycopersicum Tomato is the most common vegetable in the modern garden and probably the most uncommon vegetable in the 18th century. THE TOMATO IS A NATIVE OF SOUTH AMERICA and appears to have been a single cell fruit, much like the cherry tomato which the Incas apparently didn't use. By unknown means the tomato made its way to Mexico, the Aztecs adopted the tomato and developed the multi-cell fruit. So when one opens a tomato today there are a series of cells within it. The 18th century tomato is contorted looking, almost like a bunch of little cherry tomatoes all plastered together. This was normal then but today wouldn't be used, it wouldn't even be used as a slicer. But the tomato in the 18th century was used in sauces, never as a ripe fruit. Wesley likes the way he grows his tomatoes. He weaves sticks together. At home one could use latticework one might see underneath porches. Nail the lattice onto a 2 X 4 frame, stand it up on cinder blocks, let the tomatoes come up through the frame, the tomatoes will lay across the frame and Wesley can just pick them off the table. It's open to air circulation and sunlight which results in a nice, healthy, abundant crop.
Joe wants to know more about herbs that were indicative of the era. The knowledge and use of herbs was part of the house wifery skills that a young lady would learn from her mother. There are herbs one can cook with, herbs that can be used to medicate the family, herbs for fragrance and herbs to repel insects. One of the most pervasive myths of the period garden is the idea of a colonial herb garden. There was no such thing. Herbs were always a component of the kitchen garden. But, Wesley has even done it in this garden, there are vegetables in one space, herbs in another. He has done that for interpretative reasons, for the story telling ability.
One of Wesley's favorites is Sorrel. It can be used in Vichyssoises or cold soups. The tangy bite is always a nice surprise, just like crabapples. But, the leaves could have bugs because this is an organic garden.
Wesley shows Joe another plant, a favorite of the young at heart. It is called Mimosa pudica Sensitive Plant. Mr. Jefferson first acquired it in the West Indies in 1763. When touching the middle of the leaf it closes up. That is because herbivores, or animals that just eat leaves, will not eat a little leaf because little leaves are often diseased and importantly when a herbivore stumbles into the Sensitive Plant all the leaves appear to wilt and animals won't eat a wilted leaf. In the tropical world it is a obnoxious weed. It has now spread from the West Indies to the Philippines, Hawaii and India. People in these areas know it's trouble but it's a great curiosity in Williamsburg.
Top


WESLEY'S GARDEN ALSO HAS SOME GREAT PERENNIAL BEDS. In the 1700's it wouldn't be called a perennial garden. It would be a botanic collection. There was a great fascination with the natural world amongst gardeners in the 18th century. It was not only about wealth and beauty but a scientific pursuit, particularly amongst gentlemen. Botany was a more important part of a gentleman's education in the 18th century, more so than today. What we have in this garden is a collision between 2 worlds. They have the old world plants that people brought with them and the new world plants that were found in America. Put them together and you get the American garden. The old fashioned plants which were popular in the 18th century and popular in grandma's garden, are starting to disappear from our gardens. These are the bi-annuals. The term bi-annual confuses people. A bi-annual is a winter annual, a plant that comes up in the fall, then goes over the calendar year into the next year, then blooms again in the spring. The Consolida ajacis Larkspur came up last November, went over the winter and came back in the spring. It's now starting to set seeds, these seeds will hit the ground and come up this fall if the ground isn't mulched. A lot of these plants came back in grandma's garden - Love in the Mist, Dane's Rocket, the Larkspur - all came back because grandma didn't mulch. If one does mulch that keeps the weed seeds out, but it also keeps the flower seeds out. Wesley feels that mulch in a perennial bed is a mistake and the reason we're starting to lose some of these old fashioned plants in our gardens. Joe thinks maybe an alternative is to really fill the garden with a lot of pretty perennials. The lesson, don't let sunlight hit the ground.
Wesley feels that perennial plants are tremendously popular in modern gardens. Some have the idea that the perennial garden is the easiest garden to care for because the plants come back every year on their own. Wesley finds the perennial garden to be the most difficult to care for. Annuals like Marigolds and Begonias, for example, plant them in the spring, forget about them, they're good until frost. With perennials you're dividing them, separating them, moving them around, trying to fill gaps during the summertime, as one goes out of bloom, then comes back into bloom. He believes it's a real feat to pull off a good perennial garden. Much more so than an annual bed.
One of the more ancient perennials is Axanthus spinosus Bears Breeches. It's the foliage of the Acanthus on the Corinthian arches you'll see on table legs in Williamsburg. Beyond that, it's a good shade plant and gardeners are always looking for good shade plants. The Silphium sp. Rosinweed, Cup Plant is one of the few plants that does bloom just about all summer long. Here it has been in bloom since the 1st of June and it will bloom into September.
And, it's a tall plant. In fact Wesley believes his older plants are taller than modern plants. That is because the trend in horticulture over the last 50 years has been to make plants short and squat, so they don't require staking. Wesley has a grape arbor trellis to hold these plants up. Wesley likes the look and beauty of tall and short plants together in the garden. That's what makes the perennial border attractive to him. To construct the arbor he has pinestubs driven into the ground and grapevines laid across the top of that. It acts like a peony frame to hold peonies up. A very clever technique.
Top


Wesley believes that the most important lesson for, particularly, beginning gardeners is to START SMALL. In March or April we have all this energy in the garden and start with a 100 X 200 vegetable garden and by August it becomes a weed patch of frustration. It turns people off to the experience. One can do a lot with a 10 X 10 spot whether growing vegetables, flowers or herbs. As you get that under control, get bigger from there. So, start small.
Joe thanks Wesley. We see a lot of great gardens all across the country, this is truly a unique garden and a great learning experience. We hope many in our audience will have the opportunity to visit Colonial Williamsburg.
Top



LINKS:

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg Resort

Colonial Williamsburg Research

Heirloom Gardening

Garden Smart Plant List

   
 
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