Garden Tour: Great Hopes Plantation

If you've been wondering why I haven't posted in a while, there are two reasons. First, I have been in and out of the hospital for a heart condition (no worries — I'm cured!). Second, last weekend we traveled to Richmond, Virginia to visit friends and for Kirk's first marathon (no worries there either — he finished!).

Since I am staying home to rest from now through Thanksgiving weekend, I will share some of the excellent gardens and farms we visited on our trip. First up, Colonial Williamsburg.

Kirk and I have been to Colonial Williamsburg several times, but this was the kids' first visit. It had been about a decade since our last visit, though, so we were excited to find a new area: the Great Hopes Plantation. This is a re-creation of a Virginia farm around the 1770s, and it shows traditional gardening and farming techniques as well as what life would have been like for slaves of the era.


There's still quite a bit going on in the farm garden. Williamsburg is in zone 7b, which is quite a bit different from our garden in zone 6a. The photo above shows this difference: these large gourds that hang from vines definitely do not grow here in Massachusetts, at least as far as I have ever seen. It looks like most have been harvested, but this one was still on the vine. Around the slave quarters on this farm we saw the dried gourds in use as bowls and drinking cups.

Can you guess what the other southern veggie is below?


There are only a few pods left on these tall stalks, and it looks like most has been picked over or has died back for winter. A closer look:


It's okra! It's certainly other-wordly looking, at least to this New England gardener. We've been inspired to give it a try, even though it needs very warm soil to germinate. Perhaps we'll use some black plastic to warm up the soil early in the spring for okra and watermelon.

Not everything in this garden was an exotic southern plant, though. Regular old brassica rules this fall garden, just like up home:


The lighter plants in the foreground are (I am pretty certain) collard greens; to the back and left are various cabbages and kale. We were loving the wattle fence as well — filing that away in the garden design files for critter control that looks good enough for our (perhaps overly) designed potager.


Here you can see the two types of fencing. The wattle is to the left, and then a more rustic stockade fence takes over. More kale and cabbage and collards in rows here. In the back where the two types of fencing meet is a big patch of mint as well.

What is hard to tell from these photos is how haphazard the planting rows are in this garden. I think you can get a sense that the area isn't square, but kind of a rounded oblong shape, and the rows come at each other at funny angles (the two pictures above show this best, I think). I wish there had been someone to ask about why it was that way, but there wasn't an interpreter at the garden while we were there.

One final point of interest was the chicken coop:


In this photo you can see the ramp leading into the chicken house, as well as one of the chickens. The run is enclosed with rustic split-rail fencing. Over the top of the fencing is strung some heavy-duty netting. We saw this at the Wythe house too, but it was like a more traditional fish net material. I'm not sure if this is a period method of keeping chickens safe from predators or if it's a modern concession to tourists to keep the chickens from running around too freely. Either way, we are filing that idea away for our future chicken keeping. 

There were several other interesting things to see here: a small cotton field and demonstration about hand-picking the seeds, a tobacco field and drying barn, and many heritage breed of animals. You can check out a really beautiful slideshow highlighting some of the Great Hopes Plantation areas here. Definitely worth the visit if you ever have the chance!

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