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Colonial herb garden opens at Historical Society

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The Wilton Historical Society celebrated the opening of their long-planned colonial herb garden yesterday with a wine and cheese reception. Planted and arranged as an herb garden might have existed in 1740, this garden was the work of Historical Society volunteers with the guidance of Master Gardeners Tom McGregor, Esther Johnston, Diana Abshire, Rosemary Volpe and Jackie Algon.

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McGregor, from the UConn Cooperative Extension Service was leading the tour of the garden. “This is laid out more like an English garden,” he explained. In Colonial times, they would have interplanted these herbs with their crops.

Some of the herbs’ strong scents would keep insects at bay and other serve to attract insects away from their crops.

This herb garden was the result of extensive research on what would have been planted in 1740. They consulted Thomas Jefferson’s diary, for example, because he kept extensive records on the plants on his farm and in his gardens.

Central to the display is a small scrub-like rose called the Apothecary Rose, because it was traditionally displayed in planters outside apothecary shops. According to their research, it was use to reduce wrinkles.

McGregor also pointed out the Comfrey plant, whose leave were used to make a tea to settle stomachs after nausea. Planted right next to was a Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) plant which looks virtually identical during the first year of growth. This unfortunately led to occasional poisonings by people picking Foxglove instead of Comfrey. The leaves do look identical, as do the young blossoms.

He also pointed out the Rue plant, which has been used to help with joint stiffness. However, in August, he said, the flower buds exude a milkweed-like sap which can be very irritating to the skin. Hence the name, “Rue.”

Rudbeckia triloba, the Thin Leaved Coneflower, was used as a tea for dysentery. However in Connecticut, rudbeckias, a class of daisies, are not doing well this year because of beetle attacks. On the other hand, Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is quite beautiful in the garden, and was used, as you know, as a cold remedy, although it now appears it actually doesn’t work very well.

You can stop by and see this garden any time. McGregor noted that things will look quite different in August and it’s worth another visit. If the Historical Society is open they have a very nice color handout of all the plants in the garden as well as a large book with detailed information on each plant.

They are open Tuesday through Saturday, 10-4.

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