A Statement of Purpose

Since 2012 I have been responsible for
the garden at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum on Antietam National Battlefield. The Pry House garden began as a 19th century style medicinal and kitchen garden, including medicinal plants, herbs, and vegetables. As close as possible, these plants mirrored those available to the Pry Family in the 1860s, meaning heirloom varieties. Since then, the garden has transformed to focus exclusively on medicinal plants, becoming an exhibit of the flora that was employed by military and civilian caregivers in the Civil War Era.

I am strictly an amateur, with no real experience in growing a garden. The purpose of this blog is to document my experiences as I learn by doing. It is anything but authoritative and I welcome any comments and advice for a greenhorn. Please be kind!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Starting Indoors

It is winter and the Pry Garden is still dormant, but there is already plenty of activity going on inside! This past weekend I sowed the first round of seeds to be transplanted into the garden as the weather warms in coming months. Already, many of them have begun to germinate!

Long before the first seed went into soil, a lot of work has already been done to prepare for the coming growing season. While most people can simply choose what they like to grow in their gardens, I had to do research to find out what kinds of plants would be appropriate in a Civil War era medicinal and kitchen garden. Thankfully there are a number of resources in print and online that discuss different medicinal herbs and their uses during the 1800s. Vegetable plants also require some research, as different fruits and vegetables were sometimes more or less popular in the past than they are today, and the specific varieties that we commonly enjoy often did not exist over a century ago.

Acquiring seeds for a 19th century garden can be a little bit more challenging, but the internet has made that easier. It's not as simple as going down the street to the local garden store and picking out your favorite seed packets of Burpee's best hybrids. Thankfully, there is a growing community of people dedicated to preserving and sharing the seeds of historical heirloom crops. Most of my seeds were selected and purchased online from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, as well as Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. These were far from the only reputable places offering a wide variety of heirloom seeds, but they happened to have most of what I was looking for all together.

The seedlings I have already started are Jersey Wakefield cabbage, Jaune Paille Des Vertus onions, and five different medicinal herbs: White Horehound, Yarrow, Echinacea, Toothache Plant, and Lobelia.

Look at how tiny these Yarrow seeds are!

I am using a simple, store-bought seed-starting kit to begin my seeds. It has 72 cells for different seedlings and a clear plastic cover to keep things moist, especially while seeds are still germinating. I keep this in the basement with our wood-burning stove to keep nice and warm. The planter is near a window and under artificial light, but unfortunately I do not have a florescent lamp, which would be even better.

My cabbage seeds popped up out of the soil after only a couple of days, and they are still looking great! The Jersey Wakefield Cabbage was introduced some time in the early1840s and remains a popular cabbage variety in home gardens today. If all goes well, it should produce small, compact heads of cabbage in the spring. 

Cabbage Sprouts


  1. Looks like your seedlings need a little blue light. Next nice day, put them in full sun and watch the color turn more green. Make sure to take their lid off...or you can get a full spectrum light bulb. They probably didn't have those in Jefferson's day...

  2. I'll have to follow your adventures. Gardener "with no real experience" = me, too. Please don't be offended if I laugh now and then--it's with you, not at you!