Garden Spaces: Create a Colonial Garden

| December/January 2011

  • Illustration by Gayle Ford
    Click on the IMAGE GALLERY, then NEXT, for the planting key.
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    Illustration by Gayle Ford

• Design Plans: Grow These Colonial Garden Plants 

Many garden ideas can grow from a study of horticultural history and tradition, and sometimes old ideas can offer solutions to new problems. The herb gardens of Colonial America are a case in point. These tidy, geometric gardens make a wonderful drought-tolerant alternative to a water-sucking front lawn, if they’re appropriate to the style of the home and the neighborhood. And even if Colonial isn’t your style, you can still find inspiration here.

We filled this front-yard garden with a bevy of old-fashioned, traditional plants (all herbs that would have been grown in the Colonies), including some natives and others that might have been brought over from the Old World and passed around among neighbors. Globe thistle, cardoon, valerian, foxglove, feverfew, yarrow, pansies and larkspur—these are all plants that are as beloved today as they were a couple of hundred years ago.

We chose a simple, geometric design that is reminiscent of a patchwork quilt pattern the colonists would have been familiar with. We laid a center walkway to the front door with mirrored square beds on either side of it, each of which has a diamond within it for a selection of statuesque plants, with small triangular beds at the corners. Making the walkways a light or contrasting color adds emphasis to the orderly geometry, which is a satisfying framework for the overflowing bounty of a thriving garden.

Prepare for Planting

A simple internet search and online photos of Colonial Williamsburg will give you lots of other ideas for designs and plant choices for your own Colonial garden. Once you’ve settled on a design that fits your space, in a location that gets full sun or at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day, then you can prepare that site as you would any bed:

Turn over the soil, adding in compost and whatever other amendments you need to create a nutrient-rich, porous soil that drains adequately. Remove all those pesky rocks and weed it thoroughly. If you’ve got time, let it lie fallow for a few weeks and repeat the process, getting rid of all the new weeds you created by unearthing weed seeds.

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