18th Century Vegetable Garden at Colonial Williamsburg
1700's 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.
The next group of plants are 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.