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Celebrating Colonial Gardens


Colonial Williamsburg garden

It’s early September in my neck of the woods, and my garden is overgrown with weeds, thanks to the 1-2 inches of rain we’ve had weekly, an injured back this spring, and my numerous trips this summer. So, since my gardens are not in any semblance of photographic beauty, I thought I’d talk about American Colonial gardens and share some photos I have of the Colonial gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The Colonial period ranged from 1600 to 1775 and during that time most American Colonial gardens were planted in the style the gardeners were familiar with, which was the European and British gardens they had left behind when they immigrated to America.

These gardens tended to be square, rectangular, or pie-shaped beds framed on the outer edges with tree saplings Plantings were enclosed with hedges or picket fences to protect them from animals and damaging winds. Sometimes the beds were ground level, other times they were raised. Walkways of soil, gravel or crushed clamshells surrounded the beds. A larger, central walkway led to a focal point in the garden, which was often a well, a stone feature, or a bench, or topiary as seen below.

Topiary in Colonial Williamsburg garden

The size of a garden reflected the size of the household and the wealth of the home’s owners. Poorer colonists didn’t have the time or the resources to create the lavish gardens of the rich. Their gardens would mainly been simple kitchen gardens, located adjacent to the home for easy accessibility, and filled with plants they needed to survive. Here’s an example of what an average kitchen garden might have looked like.

Gantz early American kitchen garden


Kitchen gardens of wealthy and poorer colonists would have both held medicinal and seasoning herbs mixed in with the fruits and vegetables. A typical kitchen garden might have included: squash, cucumbers, cabbage, beans, peas, melons, lettuce, carrots, radishes, and peppers. Medicinal herbs could have included horehound, which was a popular remedy for asthma and coughs, and Angelica, which was used for colds and bronchial problems. Winter savory was used as an antiseptic and to relieve the pain of bee stings. Oregano was popular for toothaches and headaches. Other medicinal and cooking herbs included: sage, calendula, hyssop, lady’s mantle, nasturtium, parsley, rosemary, thyme, lavender, bee balm, and mint.

Note the difference between the example above of what a kitchen garden of a poorer colonist might have looked like and that of the governor of Williamsburg, pictured below. This kitchen garden is a tiered garden on the hillside behind the exterior kitchen building of the palace compound. Wouldn’t you love to have this garden on your hillside?

Colonial Williamsburg governor’s kitchen garden

Aside from the necessary kitchen gardens of all the colonists, ornate gardens, that served no economical function, were popular among the wealthy. I have to admit it was great fun to stroll in these gardens and imagine myself as a wealthy colonist in my sweeping gown and wide-brimmed hat taking an evening constitutional in the cool of the garden trees.

Williamsburg Governor’s Palace garden

My garden, in its early years after planting, looked nothing like the carefully laid out, symmetrical expanses of the Williamsburg Governor’s Palace. It was, and still is, cottage-like in its composition. I will admit, though, that like the wealthy colonial gardeners of yesteryear, I tried to design my garden for looks first.

It has, however, taken on a life of its own, less constructed than when I planted it, but just as full of those pesky weeds I’ve been fighting for fourteen years. As I age, I envy the tidy Colonial beds I love to visit, but I’m thinking more and more of filling my raised beds with gravel and lining them with big pots that I don’t have to bend to work in.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this stroll through Colonial Williamsburg’s gardens. What about you? What kind of garden do you have?


About the Gardener/Author:

Catherine CastleCatherine Castle has been writing and gardening all her life. Before beginning her career as a romance writer she worked part-time as a freelance writer. She has over 600 articles and photographs to her credit, under her real name, in the Christian and secular market. Besides writing, Catherine loves traveling with her husband, singing, and attending theatre. In the winter she loves to quilt and has a lot of UFOs (unfinished objects) in her sewing case. In the summer her favorite place to be is in her garden. She’s passionate about gardening and even won a “Best Hillside Garden” award from the local gardening club.

Her debut inspiration romantic suspense, The Nun and the Narc, from Soul Mate Publishing was an ACFW Genesis Finalist, a 2014 EPIC finalist, and the winner of the 2014 Beverly Hills Book Award and the 2014 RONE Award. Her newest book, a contemporary, romantic comedy with a touch of drama, entitled A Groom For Mama, is now out from Soul Mate Publishing and available at Amazon. You can follow her on Twitter @AuthorCCastle, Facebook or here through her blog Romance for the Ages

A Groom for Mama

Beverly Walters is dying, and before she goes she has one wish—to find a groom for her daughter. To get the deed done, Mama enlists the dating service of Jack Somerset, Allison’s former boyfriend.

The last thing corporate-climbing Allison wants is a husband. Furious with Mama’s meddling, and a bit more interested in Jack than she wants to admit, Allison agrees to the scheme as long as Mama promises to search for a cure for her terminal illness.

A cross-country trip from Nevada to Ohio ensues, with a string of disastrous dates along the way, as the trio hunts for treatment and A Groom For Mama.