Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Celebrating National Garden Week


It’s National Garden week in America June 4-10 and I thought I’d talk about American Colonial gardens and share some photos I have of the Colonial gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. I’ll also give you a peek at my gardens.

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.

Colonial Williamsburg garden (c) C. Castle
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. 
Colonial Williamsburg garden (c) C. Castle

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, complete with gravel beds and statuary. 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 such a kitchen garden might have looked like.

Early American garden example (c) C.Castle

 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 (c) C.Castle
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.

Colonial Williamsburg Governor's palace garden (c) C.Castle

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, at least in the rear of the house, pictured below. I will admit though, that like the wealthy colonial gardeners of yesteryear, I tried to design my garden for looks first.

Catherine Castle's early hillside garden (c) C. Castle
Today, my backyard hillside doesn't look quite the same as the hillside picture above. There are a few less flowers, and the bushes and trees are bigger. Space around the plantings has opened up allowing for easier maintenance, and less hardy plants have been replaced. But the hillside is still pretty when the trees, bushes and remaining flowers are blooming. That’s the thing about gardens, they are always changing, evolving, and aging—just like us gardeners.
The front beds have a bit more formality to them, and have been easier to maintain over the years. I did pay some homage to functionality around the house where my husband built raised beds I could work from at a sitting position.

Catherine Castle's front yard raised bed garden (c) C. Castle
Unlike the colonists, I don’t have large vegetable beds. I’ve only reserved a couple of 3-foot by 5-foot raised beds for a few tomatoes and cucumbers,  on the south side of the house, which you can see below. They're the empty beds. I plant infrequently in them, so I’m always fighting weeds. I have that in common with my American ancestors, as well as gardeners all over the world.
Catherine Castle's empty veggie garden beds. (c) C.Castle

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


Catherine Castle has been writing 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 romantic comedy with a touch of drama, entitled A Groom For Mama, is due out September 2017, from Soul Mate Publishing. You can follow her on Twitter @AuthorCCastle, Facebook or through her blog Romance for the Ages



  1. Loved the pictures of these Colonial gardens and yours. Flower gardens tend to over grow quickly with different flowers reproducing at a fast pace. Thank you for sharing.

    1. How right you are about overgrowing, especially wildflowers like those in my garden. They spring up everywhere. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. We visited Williamsburg back in 1970 when my husband was stationed at Portsmouth for a few months. Loved the gardens there! Now we are retired in central Missouri and rent. The ground is very rocky so my husband has green peppers and tomatos in large pots on the back covered porch. They are easier to maintain but still get some rain and sun! Thanks for a peek at your beds!

    1. You're welcome. I love visiting the gardens at Williamsburg. They are spectacular. Thanks for coming by.

  3. I loved seeing these beautiful fliwers. Thank you for sharing.

  4. It was my pleasure. Thanks for taking time to visit.