Beautiful flowers are in bloom in the demonstration garden at George Washington’s Ferry Farm!
Sometimes nature can be stranger than fiction. At George Washington’s Ferry Farm, we are currently experiencing such a phenomenon: Apple Cedar Rust. Hideous in appearance, yet strangely fascinating, this fungus erupts on our cedar trees every few years when temperature and moisture are just right. It’s a monstrous growth with bright orange tentacles. Like some bizarre alien fruit, they hang from the cedars after which they shrivel up and disappear until the conditions are just right for the fungus to become active again.
But what are these odd gooey orbs, called ‘galls’, on the cedars and what do they mean in a greater context? Well, what we are seeing at Ferry Farm and all around the Fredericksburg, Virginia area is actually only one stage in the life of the Apple Cedar Rust. This fungus requires two trees to complete its two year life-cycle, as is evidenced by its name. The gall on the cedar erupts with orange protrusions, called ‘horns’, during the spring and release millions of spores that will float on the wind for several miles trying to find an unsuspecting apple or crabapple tree in bloom. At this point, the spores infect the leaves and blossoms of the poor tree, causing unappealing blemishes on the fruit and, occasionally, a total loss of the apple crop. At the end of the summer, the fungus that developed on the underside of the apple leaves also releases spores that travel back to the cedars, where they lay dormant for over a year before eventually sprouting the orange jelly-like grows and starting the cycle again.
This disease had the potential to devastate colonial-era apple crops. Although wild crabapple varieties were native to the Americas, European immigrants quickly introduced domesticated apples to the New World and widely cultivated the fruit. Baked into pies and puddings, dried, turned into preserves, and even added to savory dishes, apples were very popular. Not just prized as a food, the delicious fruit was also commonly converted into hard cider, which could be stored much longer than fresh apples and rivaled beer in popularity with colonials. In years of abundant crops, excess apples could even be used to finish livestock prior to butchering. As such, most colonial households grew at least a few apple trees. The loss of some or all of this fruit would have been tragic. Native Americans also suffered the loss of indigenous crabapples, which provided food for them and for animals they hunted and relied on.
It is unclear if the complex phenomenon of Apple Cedar Rust was understood by European settlers and Native Americans. Did they know that the strange orange masses on cedar trees signaled a drop in apple yields? It is a question to ponder. Lacking the fungicides of today, early Americans’ only recourse would have been to destroy all the cedars within a few miles of their trees – not a very practical solution. Most of us today do not grow our own food so Apple Cedar Rust is merely a gross curiosity, but to colonial farmers and past inhabitants of the early North American landscape, the ugly fungus may have caused real problems.
Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
While the various restorations of Kenmore itself over the years are usually the star attraction for visitors to the site, there was another restoration, equally as important, that occurred on the property in its early years as a museum. Kenmore’s gardens are well-known for their beauty now, but when the Kenmore Association acquired the property in the 1920s, the grounds were in a sad state. It would take generations of work and ingenuity from a variety of people and groups to return the gardens to their former glory.
Perhaps the most important moment in the history of Kenmore’s gardens was when the Garden Club of Virginia decided to tackle them as their first-ever restoration project in 1929. The Garden Club established Virginia Garden Week specifically to raise funds for the project. Their success in both completing the first restoration of Kenmore’s gardens, and in creating a significant annual event across the Commonwealth of Virginia lead to more than 50 historic garden restorations since, and the celebration of its 83rd Historic Garden Week next week.
In 1940, the next phase of Kenmore’s garden restoration began when the Garden Club agreed to fund the implementation of designs by the renowned Southern landscape architect Charles Gillette. His plans included the “secret garden” area in the northeast corner of the grounds, the brick wall that currently surrounds the property, and Kenmore’s iconic brick gate on Winchester Street. Gillette would continue his work at Kenmore into the 1950s.
Most recently, the Garden Club of Virginia undertook another restoration of the gardens in 1992. The Club remains a vital supporter of Kenmore’s landscape efforts to this day.
During Historic Garden Week, enjoy Kenmore’s gardens and experience the house in a new way! On Tuesday, April 26, try a specialty tour highlighting one of three topics—the restoration of Kenmore at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., American Revolution at Noon and 3:00 p.m., and ceramics at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. For more information and to view the specialty tours monthly schedule, click here.
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations
Each year, Historic Kenmore is the site of the Arbor Day Celebration for the City of Fredericksburg. This video shares sights and sounds from this year’s celebration held on Thursday, April 14, 2016.
Just outside a window of the Archaeology Lab near the demonstration garden at George Washington’s Ferry Farm stands a hummingbird feeder. We regularly receive feathered visitors to the feeder. Archaeologist Laura Galke recently captured some photos of a couple of the hummingbirds as well as a surprise guest.
Historic Kenmore’s beautiful grounds and gardens require much work to remain beautiful. On a recent morning, staff mowed and weeded flower beds in the unending effort to make the flowers and grounds look their best.
Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm always need volunteers to help with our gardens. If you might be interested in volunteering, visit http://kenmore.org/foundation/volunteers.html for more information.
George Washington’s Boyhood Home at Ferry Farm offers a wonderful blend of woods, fields, wetlands, and riverfront. Fox, groundhogs, snakes, lizards, turtles, and deer make Ferry Farm their home. In the meadows, bushy heads of grass seeds provide an important source of food for birds. Beautiful flowers and majestic trees abound across the landscape. A few weeks ago, we set out on a nature walk around Ferry Farm to enjoy the flora and fauna.
Learn more about Ferry Farm’s natural environment here.
Scenes from the Demonstration Garden at George Washington’s Ferry Farm on a peaceful summer morning. The garden contains a variety of colonial-era plants that would have been grown by the Washington family like tobacco, corn, and squash. There are also modern flower species plus birds and other wildlife.
Nature shaped the lives of English colonists and enslaved Africans living and working at Kenmore Plantation 200 years ago. Over centuries, humans changed Kenmore’s natural world from a plantation setting into an urban green space. Yet, nature remains just outside the door.
This past Saturday at Historic Kenmore, visitors had a chance to explore humans’ dynamic relationship with nature through the years during Our Urban Nature. They discovered — in some cases, held — the wildlife living right in town with Fredericksburg Parks & Recreation. They explored the meaning behind the color of the river’s water with Friends of the Rappahannock. Visitors learned about worm composting with the Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Management Board. They dug into the importance of dirt with the Tri-County/City Soil and Water Conservation District. Visitors also enjoyed a native plant and urban geology walk through the neighborhood and learned how to build terrariums from found objects and plants. Kids created a food web mobile, fairy houses, and built their own river.