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Garden Lifestyle

Visit to Williamsburg for HSA Conference

I recently attended and presented at the annual Herb Society of America conference, which took place this year in Colonial Williamsburg.

  • Hops were used quite often in colonial beverages, as well as being a calmative tea. Since this trailing vine gets very tall, they are grown on hop poles as well as trellises. Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Hoes, shovels, rakes and digging and weeding tools were used by the colonists, as well as this old-fashioned wooden wheelbarrow. They made their pots from clay. You won't see any plastic pots or plastic-handled tools here.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Heirloom greens are cultivated in the spring garden--here we have chard, lettuce and celery.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • I cover my brassica plants with floating row cover held up by fiberglass hoops to keep the cabbage moths from laying their eggs on them. Here, they hold to the historic materials of the time--they build the frames from saplings and cover the plants with cheesecloth.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • While I did see gardeners dragging hoses for the massive plantings outside of the historic town, rainwater is collected in large wooden containers and the watering cans are dipped in and filled for watering as was done in colonial times.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Attractive and functional trellises are built from saplings to support squash, beans and peas.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Replicas of colonial tools are for sale in the shop--and are used by the gardeners in the gardens.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Pot marigolds were grown to flavor soups and color butter and cheese. Calendulas were also grown for medicinal purposes, along with the deadly digitalis.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Peas were grown on trellises in early spring in Virginia--they are a good 3 to 4 weeks ahead of me in my zone 7 Maryland garden.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • In this practical herb garden, the mints are put in to pots and sunk into the garden earth to keep their roots from taking over.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Comfrey in bloom attracts pollinators. This plant was used as a poultice to heal bone breaks and sprains and also as fodder and fertilizer.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Johnny-jump ups, also known as "Heartsease", were grown to be used in tussie mussies, as well as for tea, beverages and desserts. They are often seen in the pleasure gardens in the spring and fall, though they die out with the hot weather.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

I recently attended and presented at the annual Herb Society of America conference, which took place this year in Colonial Williamsburg. If you haven’t visited Williamsburg, Virginia, or been there recently–it is a wonderful place for a getaway or family vacation. There is lots to see and do, many gardens to walk through, it is educational and historic and there are no amusement rides (well except for a horse and buggy) and no plastic. Things there are built out of wood and stone and brick as was done in colonial times.

Although there are many gardens in Williamsburg, both formal and backyard, when I go there, I head for my favorite place to see, and that is the The Colonial Garden and Nursery. There is a botanic garden featuring North American and European herbaceous plants and an herb garden with examples of culinary, medicinal, and household herbs used by the colonists. There is a Kitchen garden, herbs, flowers, fruit orchard, arbors and bowers and the garden and nursery display many rare and unusual varieties of heirloom vegetables as well as a collection of heirloom roses and fruits. If desired, one can return home laden with plants, seeds and even garden tools. The gardeners there are hands-on and well informed, not to mention happy to talk to visitors.

The folks who work in Colonial Williamsburg dress in colonial clothing and in many places there is first person interpretation. The tours and programs are scheduled throughout the day and it is worthwhile to take one or two so you get the historical aspects of life as it was. There are walking tours of the gardens, or you can pick up a map of the gardens–there are 26 of them featured–and you’d be hard put to see them all in one day! The gardens vary enormously from backyard kitchen gardens to formal gardens at the Governor’s Palace. There are pleasure gardens, topiaries, an apothecary garden, vegetable and herb gardens, and gardens featuring fruit and nut trees and ancient shrubs of boxwood and holly.

Below are some photos taken at the Colonial Garden and Nursery. It was hard to select just 12 out of over 100 in this garden alone (the blog only allows space for a dozen photos). There are many herbs featured here, due to the fact that colonists cultivated a lot of them, both to flavor food and as a source for medicine.

The Web site is very informative (www.history.org) and gives events, programs, times and prices for passes, and even virtual tours. There are many good places to eat in and around Colonial Williamsburg, however it is a good idea to make reservations in advance for the taverns and more popular restaurants. Wear comfortable shoes–there are convenient shuttles available (every 15 or 20 minutes) included with a day pass–however there’s a lot of walking from one end to the other.




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