Friday, November 7, 2014

Gardens of Mount Vernon

Despite his many successes in his military and political life, George Washington saw himself first and foremost as a farmer.  This is according to the official guidebook of Mount Vernon.  By 1799, the last year of Washington's life, Mount Vernon was an 8,000 acre plantation divided into five farms, four of them devoted to agriculture.  The fifth was the Mansion House Farm.  He was quite knowledgeable in the latest and best farm equipment as plows, and he checked into what was the strongest animal to pull those plows- which is the mule.  He probably was the first in our country to compost animal manure and a variety of organic materials to cure into fertilizer.  Pictured below is his compost repository.
Archeologists revealed remnants of the brick foundation for the shed with the virtually intact cobblestone floor.  We first toured the lower gardens of the estate, which have been reconstructed by following 18th century gardening books.  Following that research two dripping cisterns were incorporated.

We learned later in the education center that Washington planted a wide variety of plants and vegetables, one of which was the artichoke.  We saw that plant blooming in the vegetable garden.
Also a lot of research had been done for the upper garden.  As I had alluded to in the previous posting Washington liked the naturalistic styling of English landscaping.  This garden is laid out in squares with boxwood parterres, the French fleur-de-lis a major design element.
The estate also had a fruit orchard where Washington planted pears, cherries, peaches, and apples.  A green house was completed in 1785 which allowed Washington to nurture tropical and semitropical plants.  He did not do well growing tobacco so wheat was his most successful crop.  He managed a series of gristmills and his whiskey distillery was his most successful commercial operation.  To accomplish all of this many slaves were needed, my next posting will be on the slaves of Mount Vernon.

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