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!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wetting the Bed

I wanted to title this blog post as a reference to the Beatles song, "Fixing a Hole," but no one got that, so you got this rather juvenile title instead.

As I try to expand the variety of plants that are featured in the Pry House Garden, I run into a problem; many plants that were utilized by Civil War Era healers and physicians, especially the Confederate Medical Department, are not well-suited to a typical backyard garden. Some are trees, like the Flowering Dogwood or Butternut. Other popular medicinal plants prefer very wet, almost swampy conditions, like the Blue Flag Iris, the Mayapple, and the Cardinal Flower. I am not about to turn the Pry House into an arboretum, but I am willing to try making a section of the garden a home for moisture-loving plants.

Mayapple - Podophyllum peltatum

There is a great deal of information available on how to drain wet soil for making a garden, but considerably less on how to intentionally make dry ground soggy. Still, I looked around the internet and founds some pointers that I hope have led me in the right direction.

I selected a location for the new "wet bed," one of the lowers spots in garden, and laid out a rectangle of about 9 feet by 4 feet. I began by removing all of the top soil from the bed, shoveling it out by hand, and piling it on an adjacent, empty bed.

Once I reached a layer of solid clay, the digging became much more arduous. I dug down about another foot, piling all the clay separately. Solid clay doesn't make for very good gardening in most circumstances, so, I will be disposing of that elsewhere on property. Ideally, it would have probably been better to dig down further and then line sides with clay. However, I did not have the time or energy for that kind of undertaking.

After digging out the hole for about two feet, it was time to begin filling it back in. Before doing so, I lined the  bottom with jute burlap sacks. They will slowly break down over time, but for a while they will help for keep moisture in the bed.

I added the top soil back into the bed, but added grass and weeds, straw, and compost-rich soil from the compost piles. This gives the soil in the new bed a lot of organic matter, making richer helping it to retain more water.

The new bed is a little bit lower than the surrounding ground, so water should drain into it, rather than around it. I gave the whole bed a long, saturating soak with the garden hose and covered it with a thick layer of straw to help keep the dirt very wet.

With a little luck and constant heavy watering, hard work will pay off and make a home for new hydrophilic plants in the garden.

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