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!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Enemies in the Garden

It has been a while since my last post, but the garden is progressing. As it gets warmer outside, more beds in the garden are being filled, some with pretty plants, others with weeds. Unfortunately all of this warm weather has also brought out some of my sworn enemies.

Public Enemy No. 1: The Groundhog

I planted my cabbages in the garden recently, much to the delight of the groundhog, who quickly nibbled most of them to nubs before I got any deterrents into place. Thankfully that is all she has seen fit to devour thus far, but it is very frustrating.

The National Park Service is attempting to trap the groundhog, but after a week the miserable little rodent is proving too smart to take the bait.

For now my best line of defense is sprinkling bloodmeal on the ground in each of the vulnerable beds. It seems to be working for now, though perhaps she has simply already eaten the choicest greens and will wait to return for more.

I intend several other tactics to repel furry pests of all stripes. This will include spraying vulnerable greens with cayenne pepper water, planting mints, calendula (pot marigolds), borage, or other plants which may discourage pests, and placing cotton bags of pet hair near the vegetables. If you have any other methods of passive resistance to recommend, please share them!

Public Enemy No. 2: Field Bindweed

Field Bindweed is a non-native, very invasive perennial plant. It is a relative of the Morning Glory and also has a rather attractive flower when in bloom. Unfortunately is also grows incredibly fast and out of control, strangling other plants and climbing on just about every surface imaginable. It spreads both by seed and by an unbelievably impressive root system which can grow many feet deep. It is also resistant to chemical herbicides of various stripes.

Bindweed has taken up residence in the Pry Garden and there seems to be very little I can do about it, short of constantly pulling it's surface shoots as quickly as I find them. The speed of the plant's growth is genuinely amazing. It threatens to strangle just about everything in the garden if left unchecked.

Enemies of the small and multi-legged persuasion are not yet a real problem, but that is merely a matter of time. My first current line of defense is planting some sacrificial crops near my vulnerable plants. I have planted radishes among my cabbages and peas, which will hopefully be more attractive to pests like flea beetles. When the time comes for worrying about cutworms, I will be employing protective rings to deter those nasty critters. Slugs are already an observable presence in the garden; my tactic with these slimy pests will be beer traps, something that has worked very well for me in the past. Slugs are attracted by containers of beer, in which they promptly drown. The possible pests are quite diverse, and I will likely wait and see what will be a problem before I go too crazy with my preemptive tactics.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


 I have to thank Kevin Walker, historian in the cultural resources division at Antietam National Battlefield, for the contribution of some purple coneflowers, or echinacea purpurea, to the Pry Garden.

Echinacea was used during the 1800s similarly to today, as a treatment for colds, flu, and other common communicable diseases. For reasons that are not entirely known, it boosts the body's natural immune system. Echinacea is a common ingredient in over-the-counter remedies for shortening cold and flu.
Purple Coneflower in bloom

Monday, April 2, 2012

Spring Freeze

Spring may be here, but the cold is not quite ready to leave us. Our summery temperatures a couple weeks ago spoiled us, but we are back to more seasonable weather. For the second time since the official start of spring almost two weeks ago, we are expecting freezing temperatures overnight. As with our last freeze warning, I took some time this afternoon to cover the vulnerable plants and seedlings in the garden to protect them from the frost and cold.

I used old sheets, large burlap cocoa bean sacks, and straw to cover up the tender seedlings as well as some of the perennial herbs with vulnerable new growth. Hopefully it will keep the frost off the leaves and insulate the plants for in the wee hours of the morning.
Strawberries under a sheet

During the first frost I neglected to cover most of the hardier perennial plants, but a few of them were nipped by the frost. They will recover just fine, but I have taken care to cover those plants this time.
Marjoram with frost damage

Sage with frost damage

Lemon Balm with frost damage

Despite some cold nights, seedlings both indoors and outside are doing well. For the seedlings outside, it's just a matter of keeping some very invasive vines at bay, keeping the beds moist, and letting the plants do their work. Indoor seedlings should be ready for potting up soon and the cabbage plants can be moved outside. The next batch of seedlings should be along very shortly.


Leaf Lettuce