Bible plants grow in Colonial garden

August 30, 1998|By Kathy Van Mullekom | Kathy Van Mullekom,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

A small garden plot next to the Bruton Parish house in Colonial Williamsburg's historic area tells much about the Bible and its many passages.

The biblical garden on Duke of Gloucester Street took shape in 1995, when Donald Parker, a retired landscape architect for Colonial Williamsburg, constructed the wooden framework outlining the beds and laid the brick shaping its walkways. He also added crushed oyster shells - or marl - for a path that now encircles a weathered bronze sundial.

The garden is edged with small boxwood, and a fig tree is espaliered, or trained to grow on a white fence at the center back of the garden. Two dwarf pomegranates also flank the back.

Jane Johnson and Pat Caviston are the garden's dedicated caretakers. In addition to researching plants appropriate for a biblical garden and ones likely to succeed in Williamsburg's climate, they have done much of the back-breaking, digging-type work.

"We had a terrible time with the soil at first," says Caviston. "We dug out 2 feet of clay and replaced it with builder's sand, humus and top soil."

Once the soil was rich, they planted allium, coriander, crocus, cumin, dill, hyssop, mint, rue, sage, thyme and wormwood, all referred to in Scripture. They also added plants native to the Holy Land or part of English religious traditions, including basil, lavender, pennyroyal and rosemary. Flax for linen represents the fine garments worn by the priests and the fabric in the Shroud of Turin.

During biblical times, pennyroyal was known as a "manger herb" because it was placed among straw to prevent fleas. Pennyroyal, also once used to prevent bubonic plague, can be fashioned into a necklace that a dog can wear to ward off fleas. Leaves of costmary - also known as bible leaf - can be put between book pages to preserve them.

In Colonial times, worshipers put costmary in their Bibles and would chew on it to wake them, says Caviston. Costmary is an aromatic perennial that grows to be 3 feet tall, with yellow, buttonlike flowers.

The garden's shining moment, however, is its annual contribution of herbs for Bruton Parish Church's Advent wreath. Betty Babb fits a wreath form with floral foam and fills the water-soaked foam with freshly cut sprigs of rosemary, rue, lavender, sage, thyme, rose hips, globe amaranth and cockscomb.

"It smells so heavenly," says Caviston.

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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