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Renewal of the Boscobel Herb Garden

 

April 15, 2021

One of the Hudson Valley’s Premier Historic Properties

For nearly fifty years, the Philipstown Garden Club (PGC) has maintained the herb garden at Boscobel, one of the Hudson Valley’s premier historic properties. When the executive director of Boscobel recently gave the club a list of plants uncovered in the 1788-1803 Archive of States Dyckman, the PGC team undertook a revision of planting, restricting it to those found in early nineteenth century American gardens.  

How to start? Club members turned to some of the most entertaining and informative works written about herbs and Anglo-American gardens, including Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, and works from modern scholars such as Ann Leighton and Rudy Favretti. There was joy in contemplating how beneficial a plant such as native bee balm was to early Americans who made it into a tea, put it into potpourri, used it to attract bees, and to treat insomnia. Clary sage was a fixative in perfumes and added to beer to promote drunkenness. Flax was the source of linseed oil and linen. Acrid-smelling Santolina repelled insects that might destroy linen, and soapwort raised a lather that washed away greasy spots. These herbs and more are now fixtures of the garden.

The journey took PGC to places they hadn’t anticipated, and the club now leaves a buffer “wild” to nurture pollinators. This renewal project changed their relationship with the garden and their understanding of the natural world.

 

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