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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 this fall at Mount Vernon.

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Celosia species

These brightly colored annual plants were commonly grown in 18th century flower gardens.

The name Celosia comes from the Greek word kelos, meaning “burned” referring to the flame shape of some of the flowers. In China, their area of origin, the flower is called chi kuan, meaning cockscomb.

In 1633, it was cited by English herbalist, John Gerard, as “Velvet Floures Gentle”. It was also known as purple amaranth, flor amor, and flower gentle. According to Raymond Taylor, the plant was growing in Virginia in 1739. In 1760, “Indian Branching cockscombs” seeds were listed for sale in Boston.

Globe Amaranth

Gomphrena globosa

The magenta flowers of the gomphrena are a wonderful addition to fresh and dried floral arrangements. They are native to Central Asia and were brought to England from India in 1714.

In the Colonies, it first grew in Pennsylvania gardens. In 1742, John Custis, of Williamsburg began growing them from seed that he received from Peter Collinson, of London. Letters between the two gentlemen reveal the excitement Custis felt as one plant produced 100s of flowers that bloomed until frost. In response, Collinson sent him instructions to dry them.


Tagetes patula and Tagetes erecta

French and African marigolds are native to neither of those locations but are instead from Mexico. These marigolds grow up to three feet tall and bloom from late summer until frost.

The French marigold made its way to Europe via France. The African marigolds were brought to Spain first and from there made their way to the northern Africa coast. They were later re-introduced to Europe from there.

They are believed to have been present in colonial America by the late 1600’s. The Striped French Marigold was illustrated in Curtis’ Botanical Magazine in 1791.


Zinnia peruviana, Z. haageana, Z. tenuifolia and Z. angustifolia

Zinnias are native to both South and Central America. Their name derives from the German botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn (1727-1759).

They range in size from 6 to 36 inches.

Spanish explorers found that the Aztecs were growing zinnias in their gardens in Mexico City. They attracted the attention of Spanish and Dutch explorers who brought them to Europe. Dutch immigrants are believed to have brought the zinnias to colonial America.

The Upper Garden has a showcase of Peruvian Zinnias, Persian Carpet Zinnias, Red Spider Zinnias, and Creeping Zinnias.


Callicarpa Americana

This deciduous shrub is native to the eastern United States. It grows 4 to 5 feet tall and produces very small flowers in June or July. In September, its berries begin to ripen to a beautiful magenta color, and they remain on the stems after the shrub has dropped its leaves in the fall.

It was first sent to England in 1724 by Mark Catesby. John Bartram was also sending specimens to Peter Collinson in London and, by 1792, it was listed in Bartram’s Nursery inventory.

Key lime

Citrus aurantifolia

This citrus tree is native to the Indo-Malayan region of Asia, and can grow up to 15 feet tall.

This key lime was introduced to the Caribbean and Mexico by the Spaniards and was reported to be growing in Haiti by 1520.

In historical documents, the key lime has been referred to as Mexican lime and West Indian lime among other names.

Amariah Frost’s diary entry from June 26, 1797 notes his strolls through the Mount Vernon gardens and the curiosities of figs, raisins, limes and oranges.

In Mount Vernon, citrus trees are kept in the greenhouse during the winter months.


Brassica oleracea

Cabbage is believed to have been brought to Europe from Asia around 600BC by the Celts. The cabbage name comes from the French term “caboche” meaning head.

Cabbage grows well in cold climates and stores well during the winter. Earlier varieties were more loose-leaf.

French navigator, Jacques Cartier, is credited for bringing cabbage to the Americas in the mid-1540s.

In 1766, cabbage seeds are in the list of seeds that George Washington ordered from London. Care of the cabbage plants also appears in gardeners reports.

Five types of cabbages are currently growing in the gardens at Mount Vernon.

Dipper Gourds

Lagenaria siceraria

Gourds have been cultivated by many cultures throughout the world, including the Native Americans. The genus name Lagenaria comes from lagena, the Latin name for a Florence flask. Gourds have been used as storage vessels for food and belongings.

On the vine, gourds are green and turn brown/tan with thick hard shells when dry. Dipper gourds were used as ladles, musical rattles, and birdhouses. These birdhouses attracted beneficial birds, aiding insect control.

Virginian colonists were also growing gourds as referenced by John Randolph and John Custis in their writings.

Winter squash

Cucurbita pepo, C. maxima, C. moschata

Winter squash, which includes pumpkins, have a long history as food plants in the western hemisphere. Native Americans ate both the fruit and the seeds. European explorers took seeds back to Europe and, by the mid 16th century, Europeans were growing different varieties.

In North America, squash was part of the “Three Sisters” (corn, beans, and squash), a farming technique the colonists learned from the Native Americans.

In the 1790’s, Thomas Jefferson was sharing seeds with other colonial farmers. He referred to them as potatoe-pumpkin as their taste resembled sweet potatoes.


Citrus grandis

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.

The Gardens at Mount Vernon

George Washington's mind was rarely far from the lush gardens and majestic views at Mount Vernon.

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