Monday, May 17, 2010

Gardens to Our Past

Despite the recent cool weather, many of us have turned to our gardens this spring. Gardening has played an essential role in societies for thousands of years. From the development of agriculture during the Woodland Culture time period to the recent surge in backyard vegetable gardens the desire to cultivate and grow foods has been necessary for survival. Gardening has also evolved to include domesticated trees and flowers, leading to the development of formal gardens. These gardens are present at such significant historic sites as Pennsbury Manor, home of William Penn and Graeme Park, residence of Provincial Governor Sir William Kieth. Archaeology conducted at both sites has aided in recreating the colonial gardens of these 17th and 18th century residents.

Archaeologists view historic landscapes, which include gardens, as cultural artifacts which can yield much information about the societies that produced them. Recent investigations at Old Economy Village, a Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission site, revealed important information for future interpretation at this historic site.

Old Economy Village was the home of the nineteenth century Christian communal group, the Harmony Society. Established in 1824, under the leadership of George Rapp, Economy was known worldwide for its piety and industrial prosperity. Members of the society followed Rapp from Germany seeking religious and economic freedoms. A central philosophy of the society was the expectation of Christ’s return in the Millennium and their desire for a “divine economy”. Both of these concepts are reflected in the layout of Old Economy Village and the gardens established by the society. The Harmonists were recognized for their successes in manufacturing, particularly in the production of wools, cotton and silk.

The formal garden, referred to as the Great House Garden, was created by George Rapp as early as 1824 and designed in four sections. These sections consisted of vineyards, a Grotto (a stone structure for meditation and retreat), fruit trees, flower beds and the central area for a pond and pavilion with fountain. Symbolic elements incorporated in the design by Rapp reflect the millennial ideals of this community. Elements include the orientation to cardinal compass points, the central pond or fountain, circular paths and the vineyard mount. Fountains and water have always played a significant role in church traditions and the role of water in Baptism. Influenced by German traditions and religious imagery the gardens were viewed as an expression of both social and economic position by visitors to Old Economy.

Rapp’s original garden has been restored and altered several times since its creation, but key elements were always retained. Extensive research of historic documentation and the recent archaeology have provided valuable information for restoration of the garden. Archaeologists were able to identify planting methods for vineyards, concentric planting patterns for the gardens as well as historic paths.

Archaeology was able to determine that the vineyard had undergone at least four planting schemes. The original pattern of concentric beds was changed to a radiating pattern sometime between 1858 and 1891. In 1922 the vineyard was replanted and slightly reconfigured from the radiating pattern and one more replanting occurred in the mid-twentieth century. Posts and vines were replaced as necessary, either in existing holes or in new ones. The archaeological remains of these planting holes, trellis posts and planting beds survive to mark these episodes.

Archaeology is able to paint a picture into the past that we often can not find in written documentation. It also allows us to connect to our heritage in even the simplest of pleasures, gardening. So the next time you put your shovel in the ground or you turn on the fountain in your garden, think about the role that gardens have played in your heritage.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

No comments:

Post a Comment