Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Plant Profiles: Calendula and Onions

In his 1826 plans for a botanical garden at UVa, Jefferson wrote that the garden would be "restrained altogether to objects of use, and indulging not at all in things of mere curiosity." Here at the JDG we will follow this objective, focusing only on useful plants that have been historically important for people, and often continue to hold such importance. Calendula and onions, the first two plant species to be started from seed for the JDG, both have many uses, some of them well known, others less so.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis), syn. Pot Marigold, Marygold
Family: Asteraceae
Image from Kohler's Medicinal Plants, by F.E. Kohler (1887)
Missouri Botanical Garden. http://www.illustratedgarden.org

In addition to lending a bright, cheery yellow to the spring and fall garden, calendula has a wide variety of medicinal, culinary, household, and cosmetic uses. Both the flowers and the leaves are edible. The flowers can be boiled to make a yellow dye; they were even used to turn cheese yellow at one time. Valued for its soothing, healing, and antiseptic properties, calendula can be used in ointments for wounds, varicose veins, and insect bites, in softening skin creams, in healing mouthwashes, and in aromatherapy, just to name a few. While it is not known if Jefferson found calendula useful for these reasons, he did note sowing "Marygold" on April 2, 1767, at Shadwell. In fact, the seeds started for the JDG were recently collected from the gardens at Monticello.

Onion (Allium cepa)
Family: Liliaceae
Image from Flora von Deutschland, Osterreich und der Schweiz,
by Otto Wilhelm Thome (1885)

While Jefferson only noted growing marygolds, or calendula, once in his Garden Book, the planting of onions appears with much more frequency (1794, 1809, 1812, etc.). Certainly the onion was appreciated as a culinary staple at Monticello during Jefferson's day, but was it also grown for its antiseptic and diuretic qualities and use as a dyestuff? Mrs. Grieve, in A Modern Herbal (originally published in 1931), notes that "a roasted Onion is a useful application to tumours or earache." This particular method may not be gaining in popularity anytime soon, but you never know! Instead of discarding or composting your onion skins, try making a dye from them; depending on the mordant (used to set the dye), the resulting color can vary from orange to a deep yellow. At the JDG, we are starting our onions from seed because of the wider variety available, as compared to onion sets. This year we are trying 'Jaune Paille des Vertus,' introduced around 1793, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Just three weeks after sowing the calendula and onion seeds for the JDG, it was time to transplant the seedlings into larger pots. While the other students in the Winter Gardening short-course transplanted seedlings such as kale, wong bok, kohlrabi, leeks, thyme, and sage for future planting in the Hereford Farm Garden, Kaela potted up the calendula and onions that she has been tending for the JDG.

Nice work, Kaela!

Elaine, the course instructor and Hereford's garden manager, lends a hand.

Danielle and Deanna brave the dropping temperature to get their seedlings transplanted.

We hope to plant our calendula and onions in the garden mid-late March, depending on both the weather and our ability to construct all of the new beds by then! Check back soon to see the exciting garden plan designed by two landscape architecture graduate students!

Sources consulted:
  1. Bremness, Lesley. The Complete Book of Herbs. New York: Viking Studio, 1988.
  2. Grieve, Maud. A Modern Herbal. Darien, CT: Hafner Publishing Co., 1970.
  3. Jefferson, Thomas. Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book. Edited by Edwin Morris Betts. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1999.
  4. Sumner, Judith. American Household Botany. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2004.
*Please note: The above information is for educational purposes only. Consult a qualified practitioner before use.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Eliot Coleman in Virginia

Last week (Feb. 13) Eliot Coleman, celebrated organic farmer and author, came to UVA to give a talk about how to garden in winter and to discuss his gardening methods. He gave his workshop at the future site of the Jefferson Demonstration Garden, and we couldn't have been luckier.

It was surprising to see how many people actually came! Being a college student, I knew little about Eliot Coleman 'til I started helping with JDG. It is amazing the things he has come up with to be able to harvest his plants in all four seasons. We had people from babies (though I don't think she was listening) to people well into their 70's.

As a part of the presentation, Eliot Coleman showed us pictures of how he has made his hoop frames, cold frames, and so on. He was very open to answer any and all questions. The best part was that he demonstrated some of the tools that he designed himself. After the demonstration, he actually gave the tools to the mini farm at Hereford!

Well, that's all she wrote!
Deanna Storm (class 2012)
BA/MT Sociology and Elementary Education (2013)

Learn more about Eliot Coleman and his equally talented wife, Barbara Damrosch, here: http://www.fourseasonfarm.com/

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Getting Started

The Hereford Farm Garden has generously donated half of their garden space to the JDG. The space holds lots of promise and we are eager to get started. Thank you Hereford!

Approximately 35 different species of Jefferson-documented useful plants will be grown in the garden, including cotton, flax, indigo, peanuts, sesame, red clover, marshmallow and soapwort. We will be starting many of these plants from seed. In fact, our first seedlings are already flourishing, thanks to the students in Winter Gardening, a Hereford short-course. In addition to seed-starting, the Winter Gardening students will be helping with several tasks in the garden's early stages, such as soil amendment and bed-building.

During the first class on January 30th, the students sowed seeds for the Hereford Farm Garden and the JDG. Only two species needed to be started for the JDG at this early date--calendula (Calendula officinalis) and onions (Allium cepa). The bulk of the seeds will either be sown indoors in mid-March, to be planted out in May, or direct sown as the weather allows.

One week after the seeds were sown, the calendula and onions that Kaela started are looking great!

We will be transplanting the JDG seedlings in the coming weeks. Please check back soon to see how the seedlings have grown!

A Blog is Born!

We welcome you to the Jefferson Demonstration Garden blog! This will be the home of all things related to the JDG. Check back often for more information about the project, updates on our progress, and insights into the work of Thomas Jefferson. We are so happy to see you here, and we hope that you will join in on the conversation!