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Backwoods farming

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Colonial orchard, herb garden become teaching tools at AJSP

By Nita Brown

In the late 1700s, there were no neighborhood grocery stores for food or seasonings or pharmacies for medicines in the Waxhaws.

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Self-sufficiency was a critical element of survival for the Scots-Irish settlers who were carving a way of life out of the wilderness.

That meant most families had a kitchen garden close to the house, where vegetables, fruit and herbs were grown. 

So it was with Andrew Jackson’s family on the Crawford plantation, located on what is now Andrew Jackson State Park. The park tells the story of the seventh president’s boyhood home.

To help tell that story, a backwoods herb garden – tucked behind a rustic fence to keep deer out – showcases some herbs typically grown during Jackson’s childhood, along with other plants common to our area. 

Not all herbs are for cooking. Some are multi-purpose, for use as medicines, dyes, insect repellents or insecticides. 

Many are still used today, but some aren’t, and have become hard to find. 

Park ranger Laura Ledford said colonial gardening was intense hands-on labor, but they did have some inventions to help, as she demonstrated how to use a thumb-controlled clay watering pot.   

The herb garden is one of two gardens at the park used for teaching about colonial life. Also protected by a rustic fence, an orchard is now flourishing. 

In 1999, Lancaster’s Master Gardeners planted heirloom peach, apple, fig and plum trees, blueberry bushes, and rosemary, a perennial herb in the orchard. The Green Gardner’s club added heirloom pink “Noisette” roses along the orchard fence in 2008.

About 10 years ago, the Lancaster Garden Club created the park’s herb garden and still refurbishes and maintains it year-round. 

Over the years, they’ve donated plants, soil amendments, mulch and their own labor. 

On April 18, garden club volunteers Margaret Bundy, Rita Brewington, Sis Yoder, Janesta Williams, Jackie Palmer and project coordinator Debbie Burgess gathered to clean up the garden and replace dead plants. 

Herbs planted or established in the garden include costmary, a multi-purpose herb with essentials oils that was used to make ale, medicinal stimulants and insect repellents. Other herbs planted at the park include chives, sweet mint, catnip, fennel, lemon balm, lavender, artemesia (wormwood), yarrow, lamb’s ear and bee balm. 

Marigolds, used for dye and as natural insect repellents for other plants, are mingled  with Johnny Jump Ups (heartsease) a tiny pansy popular in the late 1700s. Still needed are tansy and sage.

The club also donated a new sprinkler and a plaque describing the herbs and their uses, which will soon be erected. 

Williams lives nearby and stops in to check the herb garden, while Master Gardener Betty Broom checks the orchard for routine maintenance.

Burgess said the herb garden is one of the Lancaster Garden Club’s ongoing projects to educate the public and support the community.

Ledford said the ongoing support of a host of local volunteers has added much to the living history and nature education found throughout the park. “Especially in these times of budget cuts,” she said. “They (volunteers) make things possible we couldn’t otherwise have.

“Having these teaching gardens is a bonus for all our park visitors, and especially for school field trips,” Ledford said. 

If you have tansy or sage or other Colonial era herbs you’d like to contribute, call Ledford at (803) 285-3344.