Thursday, May 23

Grumblethorpe Mysteries: Historic Home and Garden in Germantown


Historic Grumblethorpe on Germantown Ave. built in 1744 (photo source:

Herb Garden (in April) off of the kitchen with sundial 

I began my internship with Grumblethorpe in April with the task of bringing some order to the herb garden, designing a pollinator garden for the students who come to learn about caterpillars and butterflies, 
and to add signs and design a brochure for visitors.  

It has evolved into a mystery solving expedition for me: 

What plants were grown here by the Wister family historically? 
and how to exemplify the fantastic exploration and scientific  
curiosity with weather, rare plants, minerals, bees, forests, and astronomy 
that was a part of the Wister homestead?

 A vegetable and formal bed beyond, with the ancient Ginko tree on the left

 Formal bed with boxwood-border bed and pergola gates

 The observatory Charles Wister built

After reading Suzanne Wister Eastwick's compilation of the family garden records, 
the mystery only deepened with descriptions of family ties to Academy of 
Natural Sciences collections, the first person recollections of the wild garden filled 
with collected orchid and fern species from the Wissahickon, 
the "Beemaster" with 25 hives who brought a swarm 9 miles to the house in a wheelbarrow, 
the amateur astronomer who built an observatory to watch eclipses and the transit of Mercury, 
as well as the interest in meteorology, designing of iron rain gauges and clock-making.

Chickens looking for a bite to eat

 Side path around original stone wall

 Mixed greens in the high tunnel for farmers market Saturdays

The family kept meticulous records of the garden plantings and designed lush, 
colorful and hardworking gardens for the family and animals. 

I began searching for historical descriptions of the garden from visitors and found 
a few photographs of the garden in its earlier days:

Today the garden is well maintained and much effort has been put into 
bringing it back to it's former glory.  The gardens were overrun with overgrown and 
invasive species before dedicated staff and volunteers worked to 
restore the grounds as the home had been restored. 

Today the gardens are a mix of historic formal beds, kitchen herb gardens and crop 
beds for the fruits and vegetables grown for market by staff and teens.  
The produce is sold at market on Saturdays, starting May 25th.

 Herb Garden (in May)

 Aster along house wall (bushy aster?)

 Fence lined with hostas

 Bee zone with new wall of bee balm

 Potatoes students and I planted a few weeks ago (second row)

Three sisters spiral with high tunnel behind

The experience has been great, mixing historical investigation with 
plant identification and design with education. As more plants came up this Spring, 
I recognized the species from my research into colonial garden favorites 
or species mentioned in the Wister archives.

I'm also getting to apply all of the information I garnered this semester 
in my public horticulture class with Eva Monheim:
from talks on plant and insect relationships with 
Doug Tallamy to medicinal and culinary uses of 
herbs and foraged plants with Tama Matsuoka Wong.

Future home of the pollinator garden for birds and native insects

Look for more updates as the season continues and the seedlings 
I started in the high tunnel get planted in the beds.  I can't wait for market to start 
and start trying some of the hand-cranked ice cream or handmade jams!

Here is more on the market, though this posting is woefully old, the information is pretty accurate:

For some basics on the house:

1 comment:

51a350n said...

Wow, this is beautiful! Landscape design + CSI: Grumblethorpe + History Detectives. Best of luck to you and keep going strong!