Many people enjoy visiting the important historical sites in the Northern Neck and several of these sites include gardens that represent the historical period.
Over the last few years, several partnerships have developed between organizations that manage historical gardens and volunteers from the Northern Neck Master Gardeners (NNMG). The George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County and Historic Christ Church and Museum in Lancaster County are all benefiting from new or enhanced connections which allow for on-going care of these beloved gardens.
The relationship between the NNMG and the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, run by the National Park Service, is not new. There is a long and rich history of cooperation going back 20 years. Over that time Extension Master Gardener volunteers have helped to refurbish and maintain the large Colonial Kitchen Garden near the Memorial House in the historic area.
“This garden, which was established in 1932 in the Colonial Revival or Williamsburg style, contains some 650 linear feet of beds. From its creation, it was a jumble of flowers and herbs in borders, with four squares (surrounded by English boxwood) on the north side intended for vegetables. The entire garden is surrounded by a picket fence and crisscrossed by brick walkways,” said Betsy Hardy, leader of the NNMG team. “It is a challenge to keep up as is with the demands of the changing seasons.”
More recently, the NNMG volunteers expanded the educational impact of the garden area. On the south end of the Kitchen Garden, they established a Teaching Garden of eight herb beds. The Teaching Garden demonstrates what the Washington family would have needed and grown around 1732, the year of George’s birth.
“We have provided a rack card at the site to identify the different herbs used by the household for cooking, potpourri, medicines, and fabric dyes. The Washingtons relied on these essential plants for their health and comfort,” explained Wayne Condrey, a core member of the NNMG team. “Children are often fascinated by this glimpse into the past which, for them, is an introduction to a very strange world.”
Even though winter will soon be with us, the Birth Place is always a lovely location for a walk. Stroll along the paths that border Pope’s Creek, admire the layout of the beds and the borders in the Herb Garden, and study the information that brings the domestic realities of colonial times to life. Enjoy the tranquil ambiance of one of Virginia’s hidden treasures.
While the Visitor Center and Memorial House remain closed due to COVID-19, the gardens and many outbuildings are open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. For more details, visit www.nps.gov/gewa or call (804) 224-1732 x227.