Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Following George's Footsteps - a visit to Mt Vernon

Recently I was on a Colonial Garden tour with several other gardeners including Doug Welsh from Texas Texas A&M.  We spent a week in the Washington DC area visiting several locations and meeting with the head horticulturalist at each site.

Our first garden was Mount Vernon, George Washington's Virginia estate, where Dean Horton, director of Horticulture gave us a tour of the grounds.

It was my second visit, but this time I was able to see it as more than a grand house of our first President.  Thanks to Dean, I could really appreciate the gardens and get a feel for what Washington was trying to do, and once the tour ended, my favorite of all that we visited.

It was the vegetable gardens that inspired me here.  Great walled gardens near the house provided suitable microclimates to grow many fruits and vegetables that were not common at the time.  As Dean explained, Washington was a zone pusher - something many of us totally relate to.  (What?  Can't grow that here?  Just watch me.)  Washington firmly believed that agriculture was going to make America a great nation.  He vigorously put forth to the other founding fathers that it was their duty (as the .00001%) to experiment and test crops because the common farmer could not afford to do so.  He even had a greenhouse.  Of course it was heated by a slave-attended wood fireplace.   

Fruit trees were a big part of the garden and most were espaliered.  The stone fruit was next to the wall since they were more susceptible to frost, with the apples and pears used as divisions between vegetable beds.   My own yard is ringed with fruit trees but I think I will add some more and train them similar to what was done here.  I think a few more pomegranate, peach and fig varieties might do the trick.

Manure figured very prominently in the science of agriculture during Washington's time and great volumes were written about it.  In the garden next to the great house, tasteful outhouses were perched on the brick wall and fitted with hatches near the ground from which someone could retrieve the contents.
These were just delightful and made me think of how wasteful my grandfather's family was.  He used to boast about his outhouse back on the farm in Arkansas.  It was self-cleaning he always told me.  It had a similar hatch but it was the hound that cleaned up after everyone.  Pity Grandpa didn't know the Washington's.

Another big takeaway for me was how every vegetable patch was bordered with flowers.  This attracted pollinators as well as supplied fresh herbs and bouquets for the house.  Some of them were four feet deep and sported a variety of plants.  I use flowers too but usually interplant them with the vegetables.  
 I like this idea of a border and it gives me another chance to add some color.  I'm thinking a riot of salvias, lantanas and a liberal dose of wildflowers will do the trick in my yard.

I like thinking that George Washington was an active gardener.  Was he one of those landowners that did more than prowl his estate barking orders to people?  It's hard to know but I imagine that a soldier like Washington had no problem getting dirty.  What better way to retire from creating a new nation than puttering amongst the cabbages, artichokes, apricots and of course, cherries.  When you look at the letters he wrote during the time they are filled with references to plants.  I like that he, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams exchanged news on what they were growing, new crops they were trying, and other gardens they visited.  Think of it, not only were they the founding fathers but the first garden bloggers!  

Next up, my impressions from Jefferson's little mountain - Monticello.