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Bowne House Garden News

Winter had its charms for passersby on Bowne Street during the Winter of snow.

The historic Parsons era maple tree, Acer palmatum, was a spectacular sight, with its graceful branches covered in a powdery snow. The tree has been a feature at the Bowne House, whose gardens contain a number of species grown in the nearby Parsons Nursery, founded by Samuel Parsons in Flushing in 1838. Bowne House, ca. 1661, was occupied by the family until it became a museum in 1945; the last occupants of the house were the Parsons sisters.

During the late 18th and well into the 19th centuries, Flushing was a site of several famous nurseries. These nurseries included the Prince and Bloodgood nurseries as well as the nursery founded by Samuel Parsons. Parsons traveled the world in search of unusual plant material to provide stock for his Flushing nursery. Some of his best known and most celebrated species, besides the maple, include the Weeping Beech, the rhododendron, and the Valencia orange. Many of these horticultural treasures, which are now common in American gardens, originated in Asian countries. Parsons passports and materials relating to his travels are in the archives of the Bowne House Historical Society.

This year, the Bowne House Historical Society is planning a program and exhibit on the Parsons Nursery’s contributions to horticulture.


THE BOXWOOD GARDEN AT THE BOWNE HOUSE

An interesting and historic feature at the Bowne House, the boxwood garden, located to the east of the kitchen and laundry area of the house, has its roots in English garden design. Boxwood (buxus) was introduced to America in the mid-1600's, about the same time that John Bowne, along with his father and sister, arrived in Boston. The first known boxwood garden was at the 17th century Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, NY. Interestingly, John Bowne was a frequent visitor to the Manor and kept some horses there. The Sylvesters were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) as was Bowne.

Designs incorporating boxwood became popular in medieval times. They were traditionally used in kitchen gardens, such as the one at the Bowne House. When used as hedging material, they provided separation between different varieties of herbals and medicinal as well as providing a formal, decorative effect. Often gravel pathways were a feature; this is the case with the Bowne House garden.

Boxwood reached a height of popularity in the early 19th century, at the period of the Parsons family occupancy. Our boxwood garden probably dates to that time and most likely came from the Parsons Nursery; there are references in our archives to its existence in the mid 1800's. In any event, it has been with the house a long time and is an important feature and part of the interpretation of the museum.

Boxwood comes in many species - over 90- and has almost 400 cultivars, according to the American Boxwood Society. Unfortunately, the recent arrival of a boxwood blight has presented a threat to American gardens. This is cause to be cautious in introducing new boxwood plants into the garden. Fortunately, the Bowne House boxwood has been with us a long time and is in robust good health, a tribute to its Parsons heritage.

 


Herbs in the Bowne House Garden

Since earliest times herbs have been used for medicines, tonics and all sorts of cures; to enhance the flavor of food and drink; to cover up unpleasant odors, or because they smelled nice in themselves; to repel insects and even as charms with magical powers. They were an essential part of daily living.

It was only natural that the earliest settlers brought with them seeds, cuttings, and plants from their gardens to start gardens in the new land, and that they added to them those native plants used by the people already living here.

The Bowne House herb garden is close to the kitchen door where it could be easily reached at any time. Now patterned after the Quaker Cross, a legendary piece of jewelry and Bowne family heirloom, it is still informal in feeling as it would have been in the days when the Bowne ladies tilled it. Planted in it are many of the herbs that they would have used, and although reference is made herein to medicinal uses, no medicinal remedies are intended. For easy reference, plants are keyed by number to their general locations in the garden plan.

  1. Angelica (Angelica archangelica) Herb of the Angels; symbol of inspiration. Once considered a sovereign remedy against witchcraft and the powers of darkness. Seeds anf roots used in medicines for rheumatism, colds, urinary complaints, colic, toothache. Stem candied, and seeds used as a substitute for juniper berries in gin.
  1. Balm, or lemon-balm (Melissa officinalis) Melissa from the Greek, meaning “bee”. Bees love it. Hives are rubbed with balm to keep the bees returning. Entire plant used: leaves as a wound dressing and to reduce fevers; as a salt for gout; as a strewing herb to make the house more festive for one’s guests; as a flavoring agent for Benedictine; bunches of leaves rubbed on furniture were the original lemon oil polish.
  1. Basil (Ocinum basilicum) Native to India and sacred to the Hindus. In Italy, token of love and sign of courtship. Used medicinally for tension headaches and nausea, for wasp or hornet stings and bites of venomous beasts. Culinary uses were for flavoring meat, fish, vegetables, soups and vinegar.
  1. Beebalm or Oswego Tea (Monarda didyma) Probably acquired name from Oswego Indians inhabiting area where found. Scarlet red flowers attract bees and hummingbirds. Leaves and flowers used for upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, colds, sore throats; also to flavor jelly salads. Leaves used as tea substitute after the Boston Tea Party limited imports of tea.
  1. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis) Native American plant. Red dye made from stem and rhizome. Powder from dried rhizome and roots was a stimulant, expectorant, emetic, tonic, and alterative for pneumonia, whooping cough, croup, bronchitis; used externally for ringworms.
  1. Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) Leaves cathartic, sudorific and alterative. Excellent for purging the bowels. Bark contains chlorophyll, wax, resin, sulphates of potassium.
  1. Borage (Borago officinalis) Symbol of courage. Given be the Queen of Egypt to Helen of Troy, and brought to Europe by Crusaders. Used as tonic herb with exhilarating effect on the mind, to ease fevers or kidney complaints. Blue, star-shaped flowers used as a garnish and in potpourris. Leaves have cucumber flavor, are rich in potassium, calcium, and salt, were used in salads.
  1. Burnet or salad burnet (Pimpinella saxifrage) Favorite herb of the Tudor, used to cure gout and rheumatism. Symbol of a merry heart. Three sprigs steeped in a cup of wine, preferably claret, thought to “quicken the spirits, refresh and clear the heart and drive away melancholy.” Fresh leaves gave cucumber taste to salads, vinegars, drinks and garnish. Pulverized root used to stop internal and external bleeding.
  1. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) Symbol of usefulness. Known for 5,000 years as a culinary nicety. Clumps were suspended to drive away disease and evil. Hollow stem said to indicate plants would cure diseases of the windpipe.
  1. Comfrey or knit bone (Symphytum officinale) The healing herb. Used for nasal congestion and catarrh; infusion of root for diarrhea, poultices made from leaves for sprains and bruises. (Name comes from Greek, “to bind” Used as pot herb. A favorite remedy for many ailments.
  1. Costmary, Alecost or Bible leaf (Tanacetum balsameta) Leaves used as bookmarks in Bibles and often chewed during long boring sermons. Also used to scent linen, to flavor ale, tea and sausage, or to strew on floors. As astringent and antiseptic “taken away in worketh more effectively.” Seeds given to children with worms.
  1. Dill (Anethum graveolens) Comes from the Norse “dilla,” to lull. All parts used: leaves in salads, potato dishes, fish, vinegar: seeds to flavor pickles. In white wine “a gallant expeller of wind and provoker of terms.” Used to ease swelling and pains, as a charm against witchcraft, to cure insomnia and, for digestive value, added to babies’ water.
  1. Egyptian onion (Allium cepa) The multiplying onion. All parts used, bulblets were a special treat for slaves building the Pyramids. Medicinally used as diuretic, antiseptic, and to eliminate warts.
  1. Feverfew (Pyrethrum parthenium) Used as tea to bring down fever and remedy dizziness, Decoction of sugar and honey used for coughs and wheezing. Flower head carried to repel bees and also as a repellent rum and applied hot it relieves toothache.
  1. Foxglove (Digitalis pupurea) Leaves first used as infusion for fevers and internal inflammations. Discovered in the late 1700’s. digitalin, extracted from 2nd year leaves, was pressed into pills and used as heart regulative.
  1. Garlic chives or Chinese chives (Allium tuberosum) Has flat leaves, and starry white flowers in the fall. (Bulb, leaf, even flowers are used in Chinese cooking.)
  1. Germander (Teucrium Lucidum) An evergreen, good clipped as an edging. Decoction a remedy for out and a diuretic.
  1. Horehound (Marrubium Vulgare) Symbol of health. Called an herb of Mercury and used for everything, from curing colds to counteracting poison. Used for tea, as an anti spasmodic, for clearing the lings, for purges and yellow jaundice.
  1. Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) The holy herb. Used for tea for chest diseases, coughs, colds, hoarseness. Helpful for rheumatism, bruises, and as a stimulant. Laid on wounds was thought useless until discovery that penicillin thrives on hyssop leaves.
  1. Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphylum) Called Indian Turnip, root used when partially dried as nutritive, when fresh used only on skin.
  1. Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans) Abscess root. Used for fevers, inflammation, pleurisy, coughs, colds, bronchial and lung complaints.
  1. Jhonny-jump-up (Viola tricolor) Called heart’s-ease, flowers used as ingredients of love potions and thought good for diseases of the heart.
  1. Lady’s Mantle (Alchemelia vulgare) Name comes from Arabic for alchemy. Fresh root used as astringent and styptic. Leaves said to resemble Kary’s Rose.
  1. Lamb’s ears (Stachys Byzantina) The colonial band aid. Wooly leaves laid in cut or wound would absorb blood, adhere, and keep it clean. Leaves also used in salads, despite fuzziness.
  1. Lamium (Lamium maculatum) Deadnettle, a member of the Mint family. Decoction of leaves used to stop bleeding.
  1. Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) Symbol of luck. Name comes from “lavare” to wash, and leaves and blossoms were much used in the bath, Infusion from flowers soothing for nerve disorders and for sore throat and hoarseness.
  1. Lavender cotton (Santolena chamaecyparissus) Both the grey and the green varirities (viridis) used in Knot Gardens. Fresh or dried sprigs used as moth repellent and to freshen linens. Also used as a vermifuge for children.
  1. Lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata) An infusion made with the leaves was used for lung troubles.
  1. Lovage (Levisticum officinale) Introduced to Great Britain by the Romans. Used as a cure-all for most illnesses; added to baths as a deodorant. Hollow stems used as snipping straws for sore mouth and throat.
  1. Marjoram (Origanum majorama) Sweet marjoram, the annual. Symbol of youth, beauty and happiness. Leaves and stems in infusion, used as gargle and for sore throats; as hot poultice for rheumatic pain. Dried and powdered leaves sniffed for headache.
  1. May Apple (Podophyllum peltatum) Native American mandrake. Root used as cathartic, emetic and alterative.
  1. Mints –

    a. Spearmint (Menthe Spicata)

b. Apple Mint (Menthe rotundifolia)

c. Curly Mint (Menthe crispa)

Mint infusions were used as carminatives, antispasmodics, stimulants and diuretics; also to flavor jelly and sauce, and for tea. As strewing herbs they were used to freshen the air.

  1. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) Flowers and leaves (rich in vitamin C) used as remedy against scurvy. Seeds pickled for Capers.
  1. Oregano or wild Marjoram (Origanum Vulgarum) The pizza herb, formerly used as infusion for nervous headache; the oil for toothache.

  2. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) Symbol of mirth, festivity and joy. Chewed to sweeten breath. Used to color wines and sage cheese. To prevent baldness the head must be powdered with parsley three nights a year.

  3. Peony (Paeonia officinalis) Root used to treat nervous disorders, headaches, convulsions. A necklace of the root eased the baby’s teething pains.

  4. Rhubarb (Pheum palmatum) Stalks, the first fresh fruit of spring, Used with soda as a spring tonic.

  5. Roman Wormwood (Artemesia pontica) Used for vermouth – less bitter than wormwood. Taken internally to dispel worms, used externally as insect repellent.

  6. Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) Symbol of remembrance. Used as a tea to quiet the nerves and restore the memory; leaves smoked for asthma. Used as a strewing herb, and thought to have disinfectant qualities. A sprig on the hot coals of the bed warmer delicately scented the sheets.

  7. Rue (Ruta graveolens) Herb of Grave or Herb of Pardon because English judges carried bunches of rue to protect them from diseases and lice from prisoners. Very pungent strewing herb also thought to be antitoxic and antiseptic.

  8. Sage (Balvia officinalis) Symbol of immortality and domestic virtue. Used as hair rinse and to whiten and polish teeth. The New England Herb, symbolizing longevity. “He who would live for aye (ever) Must eat Sage in the month of May.” Used as tea until tea was imported from China. Used by Iroquois Indians for stiff joints, cold and colic.
  1. Silver Mound (Artemesia schmidtiana) Much-divided, silver-gray foliage very decorative; used as edging plant.
  1. Solomon’s Seal (Convallaria multiflora) Root used for tonic; also was mucilaginous, astringent, emetic. Once used externally for bruises.
  1. Southernwood (Artemesia abrotanum) Has strong camphor smell and was used as moth preventive or burned in the fireplace to take away cooking odors. Was sniffed to revive sleepiness during long sermons. Called Lad’s Love, young men rubbed ointment on race to induce growth of beard. Also thought to keep out witches.
  1. Summer Savory (Satureia Hortensis) Rubbed on bee stings for quick relief. Leaves used as aid to digestion. Tea used for colds, fever, stomach upset.
  1. Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) Has fern-like foliage and anise-like fragrance. Seeds used to sweeten Chartreuse and as vegetable flavoring. Medicinally, used as an aromatic, stomachic, carminative, and expectorant. Used in wax to scent oak furniture and floors.
  1. Skirret (Sium sisarum) Used as a winter root vegetable. Dainty white flowers used in bouquets.
  1. Sweet Woodruff (Asperula odorata) When dry smells like new mown hay, so used as strewing herb and in sachets. Used in Church of England as Whitsunday herb, and fresh sprigs still an essential ingredient of May wine. Infusion of leaves used as stimulant and fresh leaves, crushed, laid on bruises and minor abrasions.
  1. Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) And Curly Tansy (T. vulgare crispum) symbol of Immortality. Planted around kitchen doorways said to repel ants. Tansy cakes, made with young leaves and eggs were eaten at Easter. Tea infusion used as tonic and stimulant for the children with worms. Indians drank tansy tea for backache, Before refrigeration, leaves rubbed over raw meat preserved and kept flies away. Root, preserved in honey and sugar, used for gout.
  1. Tarragon (Artemesia dracunculus) Symbol of sharing. One of the herbs grown at Mt. Vernon, and liksted as a “must” in American Farmer, Vol.2, April 7, 1820 under Kitchen Gardens for April.
  1. Teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris) Dried heads used by fullers to raise the nap of cloth.
  1. Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris) and Golden thyme (T. serphyllum aureus) Name comes from the Greek, “to fumigate.” Symbol of courage, energy and activity. Worn by a young girl was sure to bring a sweetheart. Used as disinfectant. Tea used for headache, giddiness, nightmares. Oil (thymol) used in cough medicines. Among the most highly favored of herbs, having 60 species of great beauty and more than usual usefulness to man.
  1. Violets – Both blue and white flowers and leaves used as anti-septic. Flowers candied and used as confection.
  1. Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) Member of the mint family. Leaves used as nervine and stomachic.
  1. Wild Geranium or Cranesbill (Geranium Raculatum) Native American plant. Root used medicinally.
  1. Woad (Isatis tinctoria) Good source of blue dye. Leaves must ferment before they will give up color, and hue is not evident until cloth is exposed to air.
  1. Wormwood (Artemesia absinthium) Leafy tops used to cut grease on roast goose. Ingredient of absinthe and vermouth. Infusion mixed with ink so insects would not eat pages. Used for ague, dropsy and worms.
  1. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) Because it was abundant was thought to have broad healing attributes. Tea made from dried foliage used as cold remedy, tonic, diuretic, and for “women’s problems.” It was taken as snuff and for toothache remedy, and used to flavor liqueur.