18th c. Culture 18th Century Garden Plants Claire's Garden Fraser's Ridge Outlander North Carolina

Garden Like It’s 1767!

March 19, 2020

We got a glimpse of Claire’s “Big House” garden in episode 505, Perpetual Adoration! Tara Heller has some good advice about gardening as well as how to get a Colonial garden without going back in time to get it!

As we look toward Spring, one of the things we think about is planning a garden. A garden is a great way to limit your dependence on the grocery store during the Summer and early Fall months. In the past year, I have become more and more interested in how gardening was done in Colonial America. Do you have the same interest? Then read on…

Planning Your Garden

One of the first decisions you should make when constructing a garden is where you want it to be in relation to your home. If you are going to be using herbs regularly in cooking or medicinal purposes, your plot should be within close proximity to your back door. Map out how you want your garden to look. Figure out what herbs you want to grow; what will you be able to use in your household? Make sure you know your gardening zone because that will help you know what grows best in your neck of the woods. Don’t forget to plant something for the pollinators! Bees are important to gardening success, and, as we all know, will be a symbol for the upcoming Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone. Planting native plants helps the pollinators in your region. Here is a great checklist for actions to take to attract pollinators to your yard. Consider adding companion flowers and herbs to your vegetables.

When selecting seeds, definitely check into heirloom seeds and heirloom starters. The reason for this is that they are good for seed-saving, unlike hybrid seeds. The seeds from an heirloom plant are closest to the original, and they tend to produce a better flavor and are more nutritious. Seeds for Generations sells heirloom seeds, and Johnny’s Selected seeds carries heirloom, organic, and open-pollinator seeds. Another great resource is the Seed Savers Exchange. This organization has not only heirloom vegetables but herbs and flowers, as well.

When you start to create your garden beds, keep in mind that the Colonials never used pesticides or chemicals. Their soil was what we’d now call organic. Nothing was wasted in the 18th century, and people used composted kitchen scraps and manure from their horses and cows to fertilize their plants. Many also had chickens that roamed free, and they enjoyed the bugs that they’d find on the garden plants. I started composting last year and while I am still a beginner, I have enjoyed re-purposing and not throwing out a lot of kitchen scraps. 

Just a few of the plants Claire mentioned planting in her garden in A Breath of Snow and Ashes:

  • Catmint
  • Lemon Balm
  • Turnips
  • Cabbage
  • Pole Beans
  • Onions
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Yarrow
  • Rosemary
  • Three Lavender bushes
  • A dozen large peanut bushes

Lavender and rosemary should be cut in the morning, though, when the volatile oils have risen with the sun; it wasn’t as potent if taken later in the day.

Claire in ‘A Breath of Snow and Ashes’

Another plant Colonists grew was hemp. George Washington is documented as growing hemp. Fun Fact: the original US constitution is written on hemp paper!  Hemp was used in making fabrics and other textiles. It was also used to make sails for ships, and the rope that hauled the sails.

Plant uses

A lot of the plants grown in the garden were used to make teas or tinctures, which was the easiest way to get medicine into a patient. This is how a lot of herbs were used to treat different ailments. It was important until the Townshend Taxation Act. Tea would have been shipped to London from China and would sit in the warehouse for years before being shipped to the colonists.

From the website tching.com, the types of tea that were dumped into the Boston Harbor:
“Benjamin Woods Labaree’s The Boston Tea Party says the three tea ships contained 240 chests of Bohea, 15 of Congou, 10 of Souchong (all black teas), 60 of Singlo, and 15 of Hyson (both green teas). It may surprise you to know that green tea accounted for about 22% of the shipment’s total volume and 30% of the value. “

As mentioned in the first part of this series, Bee Balm was grown and used as an antimicrobial (not that they knew what that meant back then but Claire certainly did. However, they knew it had healing properties). Lemon Balm has calming properties and is helpful with insect bites. Echinacea (or coneflower) is anti-inflammatory and bees and butterflies love it. Basil is anti- inflammatory and anti-viral. You can use it in tea and cook with it. Lavender has antiseptic properties and helps with sleep.

Yarrow (often mentioned in the books) stops bleeding and is great for circulation. It is also drought-tolerant. Sadly, I’m sure it can’t relieve Droughtlander! The leaves and flowers are edible and can be used in salads. The leaves can be chewed to relieve a toothache. And get this, soldiers would carry dried yarrow leaves with them into battle to treat wounds! I’m sure Claire, Jamie, and Roger did just that! Made into salve, it has anti-inflammatory properties and can relieve arthritis. Rosehips are anti-inflammatory and can be used in facial moisturizers. Calendula is awesome too, as it can be added to salads and soups, and medicinally, it treats skin ailments, digestive issues, as well as women’s issues. The dried blossoms were also used to make dyes. It’s an easy plant to grow, because as the seed head dries, the plant reseeds itself.

Adding Character to Your Garden

After you have your plan down for plants and how you are constructing your garden beds, you can think about some of the architecture or borders for your garden. How about creating a place in your garden as a sanctuary for your own quiet place to unwind? Claire had a bench that Jamie made for her sitting in a corner of her garden where she could enjoy the shade:

I waved him to the little bench Jamie had made for me in a shady nook beneath a flowering dogwood that overhung the corner of the garden.

Claire from A Breath of Snow and Ashes

Many Colonial gardens had picket fencing or wattle fencing, because a fence was necessary for keeping animals from eating the plants and vegetables. While wattle fencing is probably cheaper, it is time-consuming. It is really cool and artistic-looking, however, and gives a rustic appearance to your garden. You can use the same method to create trellises for your climbing plants.

Garden decor wasn’t necessarily popular during the Colonial period–gardens were necessities, and, unless you were well off, statuary wasn’t a common site among the bee balm and mung beans! Today, we have so many options to add some whimsy to our garden; if you want to add some Outlander to your plot, you can create your own miniature standing stone circle, or add or make homes for garden faeries! Here is a directional sign that I made last year for my garden as a way to add a little Outlander.

Yes, I added the actual miles!

Modern Day Home Apothecary

My herbalist friend has an amazing herb closet and stock. She was nice enough to allow me to share it with you.

For more fun, the Outlander Starz website has an interactive “Outlander Apothecary Cabinet” with herbs that Claire would have used–just scroll through the cabinet and when one of the herbs pops up, click on it to learn more. Check it out!

She Sells She Sheds…

Another fun structure I plan to add to my garden is a little She Shed. Would you consider Claire’s Surgery her She Shed?!? I tend to think so.

from Harmony L. Tersanschi

If you’re looking to create a historically accurate garden, or simply learn about the ways Colonials took care of their plants, Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way by historic gardener Wesley Greene is a great resource for Colonial gardening and practices. I hope this was helpful and can get you dreaming and brainstorming about starting your own Colonial-style garden like Claire. Come join me on Instagram as I plan to share my garden this year!

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