After some of the country’s first garden archaeology digs were completed by Arthur Schurcliff and Charles Pickney in the early 1930’s, it was suggested that some of the only garden features that were found at Stratford Hall were “Possible Asparagus beds”. These beds were roughly 4’ wide, 60’ long and had broken bricks at the bottom for “improved drainage”. Since there were four of these beds the Lee’s must have really liked asparagus. Now, I am not a Landscape Architect from Harvard, but I have my doubts about their conclusions and I am not alone.
In an attempt to verify and reanalyze the results from the 1930’s, Stratford Hall is digging up the past once again but with different techniques and tools. Last Spring the four “Asparagus beds” were partially dug up and these features are indeed there. But instead of just removing all the soil to find what is at the bottom, the archaeologists screened the soil looking for artifacts to help date the soil and even took samples of the soil to test for pollen that might help us determine what was flowering during the time the features were created.
This week and next, more of the East Garden is being dug up and analyzed. As we look in the ground to help answer our question, we are also looking at maps, pictures, paintings, letters and other documents that will help us with our decision on to best reinterpret the garden space for the next generation of visitors. Thankfully we are not alone as the Garden Club of Virginia and their Landscape Architect, Will Riley, are spearheading this project. Will it be a flower or vegetable garden? Will it be a nut and fruit tree garden? Will it be a garden of asparagus?
-Matt Peterschmidt, Director of Landscapes