George Washington delighted in all the flowers and plants that grew in his gardens. Take a look at some of the remarkable plants and flowers in bloom here at Mount Vernon.
This North American native wildflower is the official state flower of Maryland. By 1732, it was being cultivated in Britain by James Sherard. The common name may originate from an old English poem by John Gay about ‘Black-eyed Susan’ searching for her sweet William. Botanically, it was given its scientific name by Carolus Linnaeus in 1753. In Latin, hirta means “hairy”; referring to its hairy stems and leaves. This wildflower is considered an annual or biennial, producing bright yellow flowers in late summer.
This citrus is native to Southeast Asia. The name shaddock is said to have derived from that of the ship’s captain who introduced the tree to Jamaica in the late 1600’s.
Records show that Margaret Tilghman Carroll sent George Washington two shaddock plants in 1789 along with a collection of other tropical for his greenhouse.
Native to Mediterranean and introduced into colonial gardens in the mid-17th century. They grow three to five feet tall and two to three feet wide. Martha Washington included a recipe for “Hartichoak Pie” in her Booke of Cookery, a collection of family recipes. Today, the artichoke flowers in the Upper and Lower Garden and in the Fruit Garden are a frequent stop for the bumble bees and other pollinators.
A native to central and southeastern United States, this perennial grows three to four feet tall and spreads two feet across. Many Native American tribes used it medicinally, as a painkiller, as dressing for burns and to treat coughs and sore throats. It was first sent to Europe by Reverend John Banister in 1678. Their late summer blooming flowers brighten the garden and provide seed for the finches.
This North American native perennial was grown in 18th century flower borders, reaching 5 to 7 feet in height and spreading 2 to 4 feet wide. Native Americans used this plant to cure fevers, nervous disorders and kidney problems with teas made from the leaves and roots. In our gardens, these large clusters of pale pink flowers bloom from July to September. Butterflies and pollinators love the flowers!
Native to India and Southeast Asia; the garden balsam was introduced into Europe in 1596. It was one of the first impatiens to be cultivated. By January 1793, their seeds were listed for sale in the Virginia Gazette and Richmond Daily Advertiser by Mr. Minton Collins, who had received a seed shipment from London. These annuals grow 2 to 2.5’ tall and bloom from May and until frost. The flowers are in shades of red, purple and white and are a frequent stop for bees and other insects. When the seeds are ripe, they self-seed by exploding out of the capsules.
This herbaceous perennial is native to eastern Asia. Jesuit missionaries in China sent seeds to Europe in the 1730’s and it was growing in English gardens by 1759. The plants are two to three feet tall and produce a long succession of striking orange flowers starting in July and continuing until September. After flowering, it will set seed pods that open to display black seed clusters reminiscent of blackberries, hence the common name, though the seeds are not edible.
This North American native herbaceous perennial is one of the few flowers actually mentioned by George Washington as growing in his garden. It was first introduced to England in 1626 and by the 1750’s, John Bartram was sending seeds to Peter Collinson in England. Native Americans used it as a root tea to treat stomach aches. The vivid red flowers spikes appear July to September, reaching heights of 2 to 4 feet and 1 to 2 feet in width.
This eastern United States native was used in herbal medicine by Native Americans. It is an herbaceous perennial growing to a height of 2 to 3 feet and blooms from July to September. The deep blue flowers attract butterflies and even hummingbirds. It is a great companion to the Cardinal Flower in a woodland garden.
George Washington’s records contained many details about his peach trees. They include notes about their planting, pruning and harvesting. Peach trees were espalier against the walls in the Upper and Lower Garden preferring the warmth of the brick walls during the winter. He planted peach stones in March 1775 and in later years purchased trees from John Bartram in Philadelphia. In the kitchen, peach paste confections were common. Peaches were also dried and used for making peach brandy.
Like his father before him, George Washington was a tobacco farmer in his early years. Tobacco grew at Mount Vernon in the early 1760’s. Virginia Indians grew Nicotiana rustica which tasted too bitter to the English. Nicotiana tabacum seeds were obtained by John Rolfe in 1612 from the Orinoco River Valley in South America. These plants produced a milder tasting tobacco that became the standard in Europe. They grow six feet tall and in September the leaves will be dried and cured.