Rather than highlighting the fantastic flora present in the popular Upper and Lower Gardens, this week’s blog concerns a lesser-known cultivation area on George Washington’s estate: the Fruit Garden and Nursery. Washington referred to this area as the “Vineyard Inclosure,” and its original purpose–as can be extrapolated from this title–was as an experimental vineyard. Unfortunately, Washington’s foray into grape growing proved unsuccessful, and by the 1780s, this area was transformed into an experimental nursery.
This transformation can be elucidated from a letter Washington wrote to his farm manager, Anthony Whitting, in October of 1792. In this letter, Washington specifically requests for “the Vineyard Inclosure” to be “cleansed of all the trash that is in it” and put “in perfect order for fruit trees–Kitchen vegitables [sic] of various kinds–experimental grasses– for other purposes.” This list of produce and foliage provides insight into what George Washington might have grown in this very special garden.
Of the 4-acres dedicated to the Fruit Garden and Nursery, approximately two-thirds of this area was reserved for an orchard, where Washington cultivated apples, cherries, peaches, and plums. The first image above is a close up of one of the many plum trees present in the Fruit Garden and Nursery.
One of the “Kitchen vegitables” Washington mentions could have been artichokes, as French or Globe artichokes were commonly grown at Mount Vernon during Washington’s lifetime. In fact, this particular type of artichoke was one of Martha Washington’s personal favorites, and she even included a recipe for “Hartichoak Pie” in her Booke of Cookery.
The weeping willows pictured are an example of one of the “other purposes” Washington reserved this cultivation area for. In a separate letter to Whitting, Washington states that his Vineyard Inclosure was also a space for “seed which required still greater Space before they were adopted upon a large scale.” As the image above shows, weeping willows require a decent amount of space in order to grow. Washington reserved an area of his experimental garden specifically for willow cuttings, so would have a reserve of the trees to plant wherever he wished once they matured.
Certain winter annuals are also blooming in the Fruit Garden and Nursery this week. The Boston Marrow squash and Green Hubbard are both heirloom plants Washington specifically wrote about in his many diary entries and letters.
So be sure to tear yourself away from the splendor of the Upper and Lower Gardens on your next visit to George Washington’s estate. Otherwise, you’ll miss a very special garden where Washington really allowed his creativity and initiative to shine!