For better or worse, Europeans brought a lot of seeds and plants to the Shenandoah Valley when they first arrived in the 1700s. Kitchen gardens contained vegetables, herbs and medicinal plants, enclosed to keep out foraging animals.
On Saturday, August 11, Sari Carp with the group Sustainability Matters and Chris Anderson, Executive Director of the White House Farm Foundation, provided a presentation on the history of the White House, built in 1760, and the types of colonial gardens typical of the time.
“Who has planted marigolds next to their tomato plants?” asked Ms. Carp. “This is one of the most common companion planting combinations but there are many others that Europeans used in their gardens.”
In the early colonial era, settlers utilized formal styles in their gardens with designs in the south tending to be more symmetrical than those in the north.
Visitors to Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia can see these layouts with neat gardens enclosed with woven willow fences and generally placed close to the houses.
“Of course, had it not been for the generosity and kindness of the Native American people in sharing their horticultural and pharmaceutical knowledge, Europeans would not have survived,” added Ms. Anderson. Indeed, the settlers were foreigners on foreign land and unfamiliar with the soils, insects pests, climate and weather patterns.
Unfortunately, many of the plants which Europeans brought grew with exuberance and abundance, a problem we see today with many non-native species often taking over and crowding out Native populations.
The desire to own and grow the most exotic plants became very popular in the Victorian era when international travel allowed more seeds to be sent around the world.
In the 20th century, Ms. Carp noted how Asian influence subtly affected U.S. garden design as soldiers returned from engagements in the far east. In the 1940s and 1950s, the dominance of large green lawns became the established ultimate in suburban yard design.
She concluded by encouraging everyone to consider including more natives in their landscapes, a garden trend that we at the White House Farm Foundation and other conservationists wholeheartedly support.