Garden History and Historic Gardens of the Northeast

Old Gardens - Remnants of Homesteads and Their People
 Old Gardens
 by Helen Mac Dougall Samson (1909-1995) in 1976
Photos by Joyce M. Tice 23 April 1999
Daylillies & Leeks surround an old foundation





It is spring and the flowers are blooming-blooming as they have been for over two hundred years when the first homesick colonist in the new world rejoiced that the seeds and slips carefully carried from home had survived a New England winter. The first gardens were planted out of necessity and great need for supplements to a diet of wild meat but the women, at least loved the new wild flowers and transplanted some to their doorstep plots. As new neighbors arrived, plants were exchanged. It was a poor home, indeed that did not have a few hardy flowers as well as a thrifty garden of vegetables.

The best known of the gentlemen gardeners was Thomas Jefferson. An exhibit in Washington this year is called, "The Eye of Jefferson" and shows the many interests of this patriot, from the fireworks that he brought from France to the art and flowers he loved. He was an inventor and his interest for the new and unusual did extend to his garden when at last he was free to return to Monticello he finished the landscaping and enlarged his experimental plots. The number of plants and seeds arriving from France increased and he returned almost as many from Virginia as he received. Because he kept detailed diaries, we know what he planted and how the flowers bloomed and even how long the blossoms lasted.

However, few people gardened on the scale of Jefferson. Certainly, few had scores of slaves and servants to carry out planned experiments. Neighbors traded extra plants of hardy flowers and it is no accident that old homes have the early red peony, called "piny" and eagerly watched before Memorial Day to see if it would be available for bouquets for the cemetery on that day. Little Scotch Roses, thorny and fragrant persisted without care and the lovely Moss Rose sprouted and spread without encouragement. Old Damask Roses came in several colors and the single red was most common. A striped variety was occasionally seen and it was called "York and Lancaster" in honor of the warring English families of the Middle Ages.

On the Ridge Road, most flower gardens have a few Johnny Jump-Ups, because the VanDuser family, early settlers gave these ancestors of the modern Pansy to neighbors. They were first raised by their great grandmother, Mary Spaulding furnished two generations of homemakers with extras from her flower garden plot and the old red "play" most certainly came from her home. A red tulip with an unusual odor of tea grows in at least on garden because elderly Mrs. Everhart gave a few bulbs to her friend, sixty years ago. These ladies are long gone but their memory persists in the flowers they cultivated and gave freely.

Today, it is possible to locate an old home site, buried in trees and grass by the tall old lilac bush pushing purple blossoms above an unseen cellar hole. Careful searching may reveal a few "poet’s" or Pheasant’s Eye Narcissus," a clump of Lemon Lilies, a Cabbage Rose or a Flowering Almond bush. Two ancient Maple trees may remain to mark the front door. Our ancestors made their homes in the wilderness but they were not too busy to beautify them with flowers.

Orange Day Lilies still appear along the back roads, escapees from a pioneer garden. Purple and white Rocket adds a colorful note and that too ran away from someone’s old flower bed. Before the roadsides were sprayed, herbs that seeded from a long gone bed often appeared – Tansy, Wormwood and fragrant Lemon Balm were among them. The pioneer mother relied on these and many more for remedies for all family illnesses.

Daffodils budding in the brambles can lead you to a long lost foundation Daylillies in the woods remain  from the garden of a long gone gardener
First Added to the Site  on 22DEC 2002
By Joyce M. Tice
Email Jyce M. Tice

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