Sunday, May 09, 2010

Guest Garden: Bacon's Castle

Bacon's Castle is a Jacobean house situated in Surry, Virginia. The tour guides tell me it is the oldest High Jacobean brick house in America - I can assure you it is definitely a beautiful one!

The original structure is the one with the peaked roof on the left- the other two were built a couple of centuries later. Yes, here in America is a house whose history is measured in centuries rather than decades!
Isn't it pretty?
The gardens are legendary. The original owner (a wealthy English settler) imported English loam just so he could grow the things he was used to... and when the house finally came into the hands of Preservation Virginia (otherwise known as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities) the gardens were long gone. Lucky for them, a previous owner had drawn a plan and they finally found them...
Nowdays, they are taken care of by volunteers- so of the six original beds, two are farmed and four remain as lawns.

You can see here two of the lawns- and in the distance, two of the farmed beds.
The beds surrounding the area are still cultivated... espaliered trees, cold frames... (the white fence thing on the right is an espaliered tree).

Herbs and veggies and medicinal plants...

The corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) was a frequently used medicinal herb- it contains a much smaller amount of the alkaloids found in the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) and can be used in much the same way- as a pain killer, sleep aid etc...

It's not the only herb either. Sage and the other culinary herbs were well represented- after all, it was a kitchen garden.

This is a South facing wall. It blocks the winter winds from the North, and is heated by the sun. That means that plants get an earlier start and it has a micro-climate that will often allow for tropicals to grow in otherwise inhospitable regions. Probably not here in Virginia though :) You'll be able to up your zone a notch or two- which in the case of England (whence this idea came) puts you into tropical territory. Here in Virginia, it allows you to garden year round ;) It is a fine example of a traditional English garden in fact- especially since it was most likely designed by the original (English) owner. Note the strategic placement of the cold frame. I'd bet that cool season crops can grow all winter long here- we are almost at sea level, which tends to extend the season ANYWAY (according to the wonderful Duke of Gloucester Street gardener in Williamsburg).

In fact, the leeks have been pulled from here, while other, warm season, crops are grown. At the far end (top right) are raspberry canes. This is quite a long way from the warm southern wall and so they are just about the same development as my own canes- which have their own micro-climate because they are at the top of a hill :)

I spotted some familiar faces- this fig had grown into a huge tree. With LOADS of figs! There was a strawberry that had so many fruits I was tempted to pick- and what I think is a pomegranate. I am not sure though- the day was windy with gusts going up to 40mph plus. It does not allow for close inspection- and my photos wanted to come out blurry- I was lucky to get what I did!

I would wait until the wind calmed a little before taking photos- but it means I sometimes forgot to read the labels :o. I forget what these are, but they are pretty! (And are next to onions from the look of it!).

It was so windy in fact- that this picture ended up being taken while the wind blew (it was gradually getting worse- and at this point did not calm down anymore). I was amazed it looked so good- the humble foxglove. I wonder if they used it medicinally!

The house is out in the middle of nowhere- it is after all, an old plantation. Yes, it had slaves at one point and was a tobacco farm. Nowdays it is in the middle of wheat fields- not quite amber waves of grain, but close! Stunning views all round!
If you ever find yourself in the region of Surry or Smithfield Virginia, then don't forget a visit to Bacon's Castle!

Why is it called that, you ask? Well Nathaniel Bacon rebelled against the then governor of Virginia, William Berkeley. There were a lot of raids by the native American Indians at the time, and there were a lot of policies that the people of Virginia disliked- so they complained to the governor. Who did not listen. He lived in the city of Williamsburg and did not have to suffer as much as the people. In protest, a young man called Nathaniel Bacon started a rebellion- which had an encampment here for a night. They pretty much trashed the place and decimated the owner (Arthur Allen's) wine cellar. Bacon died from some kind of infection a few days later, and is thought to have never actually visited there- but the moniker stuck!
This is a very brief retelling of the history, you'll have to read up on it for the best retelling!


Jill said...

What fantastic gardens! Now this is a house for me!

Spinneretta said...

Me too LOL. If only I could take photos inside!