Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg
Posted: August 31, 2012
On a recent trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, my husband and I were captivated by the lovely vegetable and flower gardens. We have traveled there many times, but the colors this year were so vivid and the plantings were truly exquisite. The professional gardeners that we spoke with stated that they have never seen such brilliance before. They attributed this magnificence to the weather the previous “winter.” They stated that they did not have cold weather at all and no winter season. We saw the largest cabbages that we had ever seen and foxgloves that were three feet high.
Gardens have always been an important aspect of the Colonial Williamsburg area, both in the eighteen century and today. A trip to Colonial Williamsburg would not be complete without attending a garden tour or two. This year we participated in a garden tour presented by two ladies who were Master Gardeners of Williamsburg. The Master Gardeners are in charge of a lovely garden which incorporates vegetables, herbs, and flowers. We saw cabbage, lettuce, horseradish, mustard, onions, beans, broccoli, carrots, dill, and basil interspersed with violas, larkspur, and anemones.
We also attended a garden tour about the Gardens of the Gentility in Colonial Williamsburg. Most gardens were vegetable and herb gardens. The herbs were grown for culinary, household, and medical purposes. Only the wealthy were able to have pleasure gardens (flowers and topiaries). Gardens were precisely symmetrical and balanced. The vegetable gardens were planted near the kitchen for convenience. Fruit trees were also an important food source. Apple, quince, pear, plum, peach, cherry, and apricot trees were all introduced to Williamsburg from Europe. The shrubs, flowers, vines, and trees found in the gardens of Colonial Williamsburg are those native to the tidewater area or those introduced by 1780.
Fences are common in Colonial Williamsburg and in the 1700’s it was a colonial law that each property was fenced in. A typical property would be one-half acre. It would be rectangular in shape and would be the same measurements as the neighbor’s property. The fences could serve as a lovely backdrop for wisteria or English roses. For a practical reason, a fence would prevent livestock from escaping.
A trip to Colonial Williamsburg would not be complete unless you visited the Colonial Nursery where you can purchase plants to take home. However, read the labels to see which zone the plantings will survive in because the climate is much milder in Southern Virginia than it is in South Central Pennsylvania. The Colonial Gardener is usually available at the Nursery to answer any questions. We have interspersed our landscape design with some plants from Williamsburg, including Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), Violas (Viola cornuta), Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber), Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica), Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria), American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), and Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens).
A well-kept secret in Colonial Williamsburg is that all yards and gardens, including those of private residents, are available to the public. If you have an opportunity to travel to Williamsburg, be sure to explore the backyards and enjoy the splendor of gardening in the colonial era.
Carolyn Black is a Penn State Extension Master Gardener from Adams County. Penn
State Cooperative Extension of Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road;
Suite 204, Gettysburg. Call 334-6271.